Introduction: This is the first of a series of brief segments about Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey, who decided at a young age to become a Daughter of Charity, a servant to the poor and a teacher. But later she was responsible for the discovery of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s home that John, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, built for her on Nightingale Mountain near Ephesus, Asia Minor, now Turkey after crucifixion of Jesus.
The call of God, the cry of the poor
She watched the tattered, ragged, unkempt and unemployed people line up daily to seek assistance from the women who wore the big white cornets, universally recognized as the symbol of the charity they practiced. These daughters’ religious habits were akin to the clothing of a country girl from one of the French provinces. Of course, they were the Daughters of Charity that St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac founded in 1633. These were their work clothes; they wore the same ones for religious services.
Vincent and Louise had been touched by the misery that surrounded them in seventeenth-century Paris. Their response -- to assist somehow to alleviate this misery so they organized young women to serve the needs of the poor. The first Sisters heard the call of God in their hearts, the cry of the poor and they endeavored to live a community life to serve under Louise’s leadership.
Marie de Mandat-Grancey was born into French nobility on 13 September 1837, the fifth of six children, at the Chateau de Grancey in Burgundy. She was privately baptized, with written permission of His Excellency Monsignor Claude Rey, Bishop of Dijon, on 14 September by the Pastor of Grancey-le-Chateau. Marie was the daughter of Count Gaillot Marie Francois Ernest de Mandat-Grancey and Eugene Jean Louise Laure Rachel de Cordoue, spouse of the count.
From the second story window of her parents’ Paris Townhouse at 13 Rue des Saussaries, young Marie curiously watched on the street below as peasant girls, shabbily dressed, walked into the convent that housed the Daughters of Charity. She had been watching this scene since her early childhood when she began spending half a year in Paris and the other half at the de Mandat-Grancey Estate at Burgundy. The family had already been splitting time between the two sites because of the cold winters and low temperatures in Burgundy.
One chapel the Countess chose for family prayer was at 140 Rue du Bac, the residence of the Daughters of Charity. This chapel had become extremely popular a few years before Marie was born. Our Lady had appeared there to one of the novice sisters and asked her to have a medal struck honoring her Immaculate Conception. Later, it was learned that the sister was Catherine Laboure, who would be one of Marie’s teachers.
Marie asked her mother about the peasant girls and the women in the big sunbonnets. Marie first learned then that these special ladies were dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, and her mother explained how the French Revolution had destroyed religious orders and that the tiny community of nuns actually did consist of peasant girls.
Her mother, the Countess de Grancey, was well-known in the Burgundy area because of her high spirituality that also was a major influence in her daughter’s early life. Thus was born Marie’s faith and her own high level of spirituality.
The countess also visited the poor, the needy and sick people in the region even if their disease was considered contagious. And when the countess was unable to visit, Marie stepped in for her and made the visits. The countess’ example planted a seed that would gradually grow in Marie’s heart.
Marie didn’t quite understand being poor. She had everything she needed, a wonderful home, all she wanted to eat, to wear, the best education because her parents were well to do and lacked for nothing.
Eventually she began to feel the nuns’ great warmth and love for the poor. So touched was her heart that she couldn’t resist the tremendous supernatural charm of genuine charity. She became so touched by their love that a desire to be one of them began to overflow. For whatever reason, she knew she was being drawn to the Daughters of Charity.
After the revolution, the Archbishop of Paris installed the Daughters of Charity on the estage of the Comtes de Lavalliere on the Rue du Bac. It was there that Marie spent part of the year with her family in the Paris townhouse and she was able to closely watch the Dames and Sisters of Charity do their daily work. She appreciated them so much that at the age of 20 – in 1857 – and in the radiance of her youth, in full bloom of her exuberant life and talents, she decided to enter the community of the Daughters of Charity. Marie was in the midst of the greatest promises of the world through her family’s notoriety and wealth, and without having experienced any deception and no other motive than the pure idea of sacrifice and of self-giving, she made the choice. She chose the title “servant of the poor” and sacrificed all the other titles of nobility that could have been hers for the taking.
Marie’s thoughts of serving the Lord were evident in her prayers even at the age of 10. There also was a hint of fear of Him in some of her offerings, but also great love for Him. That was in 1850. But it would be seven years before she would see clearly her destiny as a Daughter of Charity.
Segment 2: How her announcement about becoming a Daughter of Charity surprised the family and their reaction.
" I am not a priest and cannot bless them, but all that the heart of a mother can ask of God for her children, I ask of Him and will never cease to ask Him." ~ Sister Marie