By Denise Trull
Today is the feast of St. Colette, a little known heroine of the domestic churches our families each inhabit. She sometimes gets lost in Lent, although I don’t think she minds, for she was a contemplative nun who delighted in her God within the silence and hiddenness of the cloister. However, in God’s rather roundabout efficiency, Colette was to be given the special duty of caring for parents and children in a beautiful way.
Colette was born in 1380 to a carpenter and his wife who lived in Picardy, France. They were a good and faithful couple and yet they spent many long, sorrowful years without children. Colette’s mother prayed faithfully to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, day after day through those many years. She never gave up hope. St. Nicholas’s kind intercession was heard at long last and a pretty little baby girl was born to the overjoyed couple. They named her Nicolette after their loving intercessor.
Colette was a quiet child who loved to sit and watch the birds and the trees for hours. She spent much of her time alone and her wise mother let her be. When Colette was quite young, she woke, once, in the middle of the night and heard singing floating up through her bedroom window. It was the Monks praying Matins down below in the Abbey where her father was the Master Carpenter. She quietly slipped out of the house and into the Church mesmerized by the music and the candlelight. It is here, to the sound of singing monks, that Colette discovered her vocation. God asked her that night to be his faithful friend. What a beautiful way to receive a vocation - in the midst of singing monks. It WAS, however, the middle of the night. Her distraught mother, finding Colette’s bed empty, searched high and low until she found the child sitting on the stone floor quietly praying. She knew then that Colette had a specific call from God. She waited and watched as Colette grew older.
Although she loved sitting by herself outside among the trees, the children of the neighborhood sought out her gentle company and came to rest from their games, always leaving with a kind word and a smile. She had this kind of attraction for people all her life. She was quite easy to love.
When Colette was seventeen, her mother and father both died. She was left in the care of the Abbot of the Monastery in Picardy. She asked her Abbot Father for a small hut and he and his monks built a lovely little place for her tucked up against the Abbey wall. They made sure she could hear Matins drifting through her window in the middle of the night.
Many people soon learned she was there and they came to her with prayer requests, problems that needed to be solved, and some who asked her to pray that they might be blessed with a child as her dear mother had been blessed. Colette prayed and comforted them all at the little window of her hut.
One evening as she was gazing out her window, she heard a voice behind her. A kind and merry voice. She turned to see a short friar in a ragged habit. She wasn’t at all afraid of the vision, as he spoke in such a soft and friendly manner. His name was Francis. Saint Francis. He explained to Colette that his order of sisters, the daughters of his great friend St. Clare, was in great need of someone to help them live more faithfully. He wondered if she would be that someone. Colette was terrified of such a request, but she said yes nonetheless. If Saint Francis appears at your door, you find the courage somehow to do whatever he asks.
She closed the door to her little hut, said good-bye to her lovely Abbey family, and set out on the adventure mapped out by Francis. She traveled to many Poor Clare Monasteries and taught them how to pray and live faithfully once again. She showed them by her own example how to fast and suffer for the Church. It was a daunting task, traveling from one house to another, but she was given great strength by God to accomplish this.
Small and petite as she was, she carried a large walking staff when she traveled and a wore a large brimmed peasant hat. People began to recognize her on the road. She always told her sisters to live with this motto: Viriliter! Manfully, like a soldier. For even though they were women, they had the power of grace to do brave and courageous things within their cloistered lives for all the people of God.
It was in her travels from house to house that Colette’s life was to become woven into the Domestic Church.
One evening she arrived at the home of a friend. His poor wife was in the last throes of a long labor. She was sadly dying and he was very distraught. Colette quickly found a chapel where she prayed fervently through the night for the child and the mother. In the morning she found a tiny little bundle held quietly in her mother’s arms. The mother knew she owed her life and the life of her child to Colette’s prayers. Years later, the little girl born that night, Pierinne, became a sister in one of Colette’s houses, and was to become the one who would write down the events of Colette’s life.
On yet another journey, Colette was staying at one of her Poor Clare houses. One night, a man whose wife had just delivered a stillborn child was weeping quietly at her bedside. Hearing of St. Colette’s kind holiness, he picked up his pathetic, lifeless bundle and walked all the way to the house where Colette was staying. He begged her for a miracle. Colette quietly took off her veil and gave it to the man to wrap up his child. She instructed him to go to the priest of the town. When the priest saw the lifeless little baby wrapped up in this black bundle, he was at a loss. He did not know how to tell the man that he could do nothing. But suddenly there was a faint cry from inside the veil. Both priest and father marveled at the miracle and hastily baptized the now lustily wailing child whom Colette had brought back to life.
Because of all these miracles, St. Colette became the patron saint of many surprisingly domestic things. Because she herself was a miracle baby, she is the patron saint of all those seeking to conceive a child. She is the patron of sick and dying children, as she was given the gift to raise several stillborn babies from the dead. She is the special protector of expectant mothers as well.
I find it so lovely that this quiet little woman, who loved silence and contemplation, who was called to be a nun in the order of Holy Clare, became the champion and protector of Catholic families in so many vital ways. The Body of Christ is one. We are all members who depend on one another. Those who pray at the heart of the Church, those who raise children for God’s glory, those who pray in silence, those whose lives are loud with the blessing of children. All of us in great need of each other’s prayers and support. God sometimes reminds us of this with the lives of saints like Colette. How very loved families truly are by the nuns who pray for them daily and through the night. It is good to think of them singing Matins while we might be doing a night feeding in our homes. It is then we can remember St. Colette and ask her prayers for our domestic Churches. She is, in every way, our champion and friend.