North American Sanctity: Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine

My Savior and my All! If the demons’ sojourn in my body is pleasing in your sight, I am willing that they should stay there as long as you wish; provided that sin does not creep in with them, I fear nothing...

Welcome to "North American Sanctity," a new series on holy men and women, boys and girls, saints and those on the road to sainthood, from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Some will be familiar, others less so; but all are inspiring!

By Kimberly Bruce

Hailed by many, including Pope St. John Paul II, as one of the “founders” of the Catholic Church in Canada, Bl. Catherine of St. Augustine (feast day: May 8) made a promise “to live and die in Canada if God would open its door.”

And that He did. She is among the many courageous and holy men and women who left their native France for “New France,” modern-day Canada, to spread the faith, enduring great hardship and hostilities.

Mystical experiences
Catherine was born in Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, Normandy, France on May 3, 1632. By age 3 she wished only to do God’s will after having heard a Jesuit priest tell her, “It is certain that one does God’s will more in affliction, humiliation, and suffering than when one has everything one wants.” 

Ans so this little girl began asking for “many maladies” to offer up in prayer. She soon came down with an ear infection which ultimately caused bone decay. She suffered many other maladies joyfully throughout her life, including many ill-treatments at the hands of doctors in her day.

By age 5, Catherine began experiencing mystical experiences from God. By age 8, she knew she was being asked to be a saint. She is recorded as saying, “Remove from my heart every impurity, let me die now rather than allow my heart and soul to be soiled by the slightest blemish.”

At age 14, Catherine became a novice at the Hôtel-Dieu of Bayeux, a hospital run by Augustinian nuns. She took the name Catherine of St. Augustine and offered herself for their mission overseas in New France. A day after her 16th birthday in 1648, she took her religious vows. Later that same month, she boarded the boat for the New World.

Miraculously cured
While on board “Le Cardinal,” Catherine became sick with the plague, but was miraculously cured by the Blessed Virgin.

Arriving in Québec, Sr. Catherine began learning the languages of the natives and aiding the sick. It was hostile territory, and their workplace, she wrote, was “more like a hut than a hospital.” In 1650 when the nearby Ursuline Monastery burnt down, their nuns moved in with the Augustinian sisters for a time. This is where St. Marie of the Incarnation (foundress of the Ursuline sisters in Quebec) met Sr. Catherine. Saint Marie was profoundly moved by the virtues she saw exemplified in Sr. Catherine.

Over the course of the next 20 years, Sr. Catherine became the mission’s treasurer, director, and then novice director. She also continued in her mystical prayer life. 

Known to experience torments from the devil, Sr. Catherine strongly trusted God, and was willing to continue suffering if it was His will. In Fr. Paul Ragueneau’s La vie de Mère Catherine de Saint-Augustine, Catherine is quoted saying:

My Savior and my All! If the demons’ sojourn in my body is pleasing in your sight, I am willing that they should stay there as long as you wish; provided that sin does not creep in with them, I fear nothing, and I hope that you will grant me grace to love you for all eternity, even though I were in the depths of hell.

Blessed Catherine is like St. Faustina who, too, had experiences with the devil as revealed in her Diary:

When I was going upstairs this evening, a strange dislike for everything having to do with God suddenly came over me. At that, I heard Satan who said to me, “Think no more about this work. God is not as merciful as you say He is. Do not pray for sinners, because they will be damned all the same, and by this work of mercy you expose your own self to damnation. Talk no more about this mercy of God … At this point, the voice took the appearance of my Guardian Angel, and at that moment I replied, ‘‘I know who you are: the father of lies [cf. Jn. 8:44].” I made the sign of the cross, and the angel vanished with great racket and fury (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1405).

And another:

Satan has admitted to me that I am the object of his hatred. He said that ‘a thousand souls do me less harm than you do when you speak of the great mercy of the Almighty One. The greatest sinners regain confidence and return to God, and I lose everything. But what is more, you persecute me personally with that unfathomable mercy of the Almighty One.’ I took note of the great hatred Satan has for the Mercy of God. He does not want to acknowledge that God is good (Diary, 1167).

Spiritual strength
The sufferings Sr. Catherine endured she offered up in prayer for Canada and for forgiveness for the sins of its inhabitants. She cited Jesus in the Eucharist as being her main source of strength.

Sister Catherine also claimed God had assigned Fr. Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary to New France, to be her spiritual director. What’s amazing is that Sr. Catherine never met him; he was martyred in 1649 when Sr. Catherine was 17. From 1662 onwards, however, Sr. Catherine said Fr. de Brébeuf visited her frequently offering guidance and comfort in her mission. 

Sister Catherine died on May 8 at only 36 years of age. Saint François de Laval, the first Bishop of Québec, wrote, “I don’t need to see any extraordinary signs from her to be convinced of her holiness, because her virtues made me perfectly aware of it.” 

She was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1989, and her bones are preserved within a tomb in a shrine at Le Centre Catherine-de-Saint-Augustin in Quebec City.

Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine, pray for us!

Next in the series: St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, May 10.
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