Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine
Catherine was born on May 3, 1632, in a little village in France. She was baptized the same day. Catherine's family were devout Catholics. Her grandparents set the example especially because of their genuine care for the poor. Catherine watched wide-eyed as her grandmother invited a handicapped beggar into her home. She offered him a bath, clean clothes and a delicious meal. As Catherine and her grandparents sat around the fire that night, they prayed the Our Father out loud. They thanked God for his blessings.
Because there was no hospital in their small French town, the sick were nursed back to health in the home of Catherine's grandparents. Catherine began to realize that sickness and suffering take patience. She was just a little girl but she prayed to ask Jesus to make people suffer less. When she was still quite young, she joined a new order of Sisters of St. Augustine. They took care of the sick in hospitals. She received the religious habit on October 24, 1646. That was the same day her older sister pronounced her vows. In 1648, Catherine listened to the missionary priests begging sisters to come to New France or Canada. It was missionary territory. Catherine's sister was chosen to be one of the first of their order to go as a missionary to Canada. Sister Catherine was just sixteen, but she begged to be chosen too. She pronounced her vows on May 4, 1648. Then she sailed for Canada the next day. It was the day before her sixteenth birthday.
Life was hard in Quebec, Canada. Sister Catherine loved the people. The Indians were so grateful for her cheerful ways. She cooked and cared for the sick in the order's poor hospital building. But Sister Catherine learned about fear, too. The Iroquois Indians were killing people and burning villages. She prayed to St. John Brebeuf, one of the Jesuit priests who had just been killed by the Iroquois in 1649. She asked him to help her be true to her calling. She heard him speaking in her heart, telling her to remain. Food became scarce and the winters were terribly cold. Some of the sisters could not take the harsh life and constant fear of death. Sadly they returned to France. Sister Catherine was afraid, too. Sometimes she could hardly pray. And while she smiled at all the dear people she cared for in the sick wards, she grew sad. It was then, when things were darkest for her, that she made a vow never to leave Canada. She promised to remain, performing her works of charity until death. When she made that vow she was just twenty-two years old.
Despite the hard pioneer life of the French colony, more people came. The Church grew. God blessed the new land with more missionaries. In 1665, Sister Catherine became the novice mistress of her community. She kept up her life of prayer and hospital ministry until her death. Sister Marie Catherine of St. Augustine died on May 8, 1668. She was thirty-six years old. She was declared "blessed" by Pope John Paul II in 1989.
Jesus never promised us that our lives would be easy and without pain. But he did promise to be with us always. We pray that we may learn to trust him completely.