Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and the Conversion of an Atheist
THE CONVERSION OF RATISBONNE
The most famous as well as dramatic account of a Miracle attributed to Our Lady’s intercession through the Miraculous Medal is that of Alphonse Ratisbonne. He was an Austrian Jew, very well off in material possessions, a man of the world. He harbored a great hatred for Catholics, and all things pertaining to the Catholic Church. This was due in part to the conversion of his older brother, George, to Catholicism. To make matters worse, he also became a priest. Alphonse never forgave his older brother, but blamed the Church for bewitching the man.17
In retrospect, it becomes so obvious that the bizarre incidents leading up to the dramatic instance of Ratisbonne’s conversion could not possibly have been coincidence. A Master plan was launched to bring this angry man to the bosom of Mary, from which he would never leave. Prior to his upcoming marriage to a Jewish girl in Austria, Ratisbonne thought it would be nice to travel to Malta. Needless to say, he never arrived there. A succession of mishaps brought him to a city he vowed he would never visit, the center of Christianity, Rome. While in the ancient city, he did another thing which was completely out of character for him. He made the acquaintance of a newly converted Catholic, Baron Bussieres.
During a raging argument with Bussieres, in which Ratisbonne spewed his hate for the Catholic Church, Bussiere was able to get the Jew to wear the new medal to Mary from Paris, as a dare. He was even able to convince Alphonse to write down the words to the MEMORARE, and repeat the prayer. Ratisbonne accepted the challenge with outright mockery. He allowed the Baron’s daughter to put the medal around his neck.
Our Lady then put a dying man, Comte de la Ferronays, in the path of Bussiere. They met at a dinner party in Rome. Baron Bussiere discussed Ratisbonne with the Comte, who promised to pray the Memorare for him at the Church of St. Mary Major. The Comte de la Ferronays went to the Church, and prayed twenty Memorares for the conversion of the angry Jew. After having prayed, he returned home, and died the same day.
Ratisbonne wanted to leave Rome. He went to Baron Bussiere’s home to thank him for his courtesy, which was his custom, and to return the medal to him. Bussiere, not wanting to lose Alphonse, asked him to accompany him to the Church of St. Andrea’s, where Bussiere was to make funeral arrangements for Comte de la Ferronays. The fact that the Comte had prayed for Ratisbonne made him feel obligated to join his friend.18
While Baron Bussiere made arrangements in the sacristy, Ratisbonne wandered about inside the church. He had a feeling he should leave. As he turned towards the front door, a huge black dog blocked his way. The animal was vicious, baring his fangs. Ratisbonne was frozen in his tracks. He couldn’t move. Suddenly the dog disappeared. Directly in his path, at a side chapel, a brilliant light glowed. Ratisbonne looked up to see Mary standing there, above the altar, in the pose of the Miraculous Medal, which he still wore around his neck. He looked up at her. Her face was peaceful, but her eyes bore deep into his soul. He could not stand the brilliance of the light. He had to look away from her enchanting face, her captivating eyes. He looked at her hands, which, according to his own words, “expressed all the secrets of the Divine Pity”. She never said a word, but he “understood all”.
The vision lasted but a few minutes; the effects a lifetime. When his friend emerged from the sacristy, he found Ratisbonne on his knees, sobbing. He insisted on being baptized immediately. The story spread all over Rome. In a matter of months, Alphonse Ratisbonne was baptized, received First Holy Communion, and was Confirmed. He went on to become a priest, taking the name Marie Alphonse Ratisbonne. He joined his brother in Jerusalem to form the Daughters of Zion, whose ministry was to evangelize among the Jews. He tried to meet the Sister who had been given the vision of the Miraculous Medal, but without success. Catherine’s gift was hers, and Ratisbonne’s experience was his own to cherish for the rest of his life.
By 1836, millions of the medals had been distributed throughout the world. The unusual quality of the medal was that it was most effective in seemingly impossible situations. Cures of the hopelessly incurable, conversions of the worst enemies of the Church were noted, as well as miracles of every kind. The original title of the medal was forgotten, because everyone called it THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL. Eventually, the official name was changed to the “Miraculous Medal”, and a feast day was instituted by the Vatican in its honor.19
Catherine Laboure was transferred to a hospital for old people called Enghien, on the outskirts of Paris. She spent the next 45 years taking care of the sick, as St. Vincent de Paul had predicted in her dream, when she was 19 years old. She was completely inconspicuous, though many of her sister nuns suspected that it was she who had been given the gift of the vision of Mary. She cared for old sailors, whose foul language and abusive behavior towards her was almost more than she could bear.
Her life in the hospital was one of total submission to her vocation. She fought against her humanity to achieve as high a level of spirituality as possible. She suffered greatly. She experienced a spiritual dryness, which is common to all saints. (She could not feel the presence of the Lord in her life. During this time, she had to rely on Faith alone) St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, referred to it as “The Dark Night of the Soul”. St. Teresa la Grande, of Avila, the great mystic and Doctor of the Church, lived through 20 years of Spiritual dryness. On her road to spiritual perfection, Catherine had to pay her dues, and she did.
She never gave her secret away. Finally, she was ordered by her confessor to write down everything that had happened. She wrote of the events in the chapel first in 1841; then wrote again in 1856 and a last time in 1876, the year of her death. It was in these writings that Catherine revealed that Our Lady had not wanted the figure on the front of the medal that we see today. She had wanted the image which showed her holding the globe in her extended hands, to be the front of the medal. This was not possible because of the difficulties the engravers would have in recreating the three dimensional aspect of the image.
Our Lady had asked for a statue to be made of the image she preferred, that which depicted her holding the world in her hands. It was not made. Catherine was furious on more than one occasion because of this. Towards the end of her life, she feared that Our Lady would be unhappy with her because she had not accomplished 20
this. However, before she died, her mother superior had a statue built of the image which Our Lady had wanted for the medal. It stands in the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal today.
Catherine surrendered herself into the arms of Mary on December 31, 1876. Her mother superior wanted her to be interred in the chapel at Reuilly, but was not able to figure out how it could be done. Through the intercession of Mary, she was shown the way, and Catherine was buried in Reuilly, not in the chapel, but beneath it. On May 28, 1933, she was beatified in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
As part of the Canonization process, the body of the saint had to be identified. In a solemn procession, her coffin was removed from the vault under the chapel at Reuilly, and brought to the Mother house at Rue du Bac in Paris. In the presence of the Archbishop of Paris, civil officials, and various doctors, the coffin was opened.
We have to envision our Heavenly Family gathered also in this room, including choirs of angels, with Our beautiful Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Catherine in the foreground. As the lid was removed, the choir of angels broke out in hymns of praise to the power of God, for what the humans beheld was the body of St. Catherine, which had been in the ground for 57 years, completely incorrupt. Our Lady had given her a gift reserved for her most special people, including St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and we’re told, Jacinta Martos of Fatima.
Today, more than 110 years later, that body is more beautiful than when she was alive. It’s as if Our Lord Jesus honored Catherine by leaving us her body in this remarkable state. You have but to go to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, on Rue du Bac in Paris, sandwiched in between those two department stores on the notorious Left Bank. St. Catherine Laboure, canonized in 1947, is waiting for you, to prove what a beautiful contradiction Mary gives us.
This apparition has a great deal of meaning to us. It was the first instance in modern times when the Mother of God visited us. There had been no mention of an apparition by Our Lady since 1531, when Our Lady of Guadalupe came to Juan Diego in Mexico. There were many messages given the people of God. The most important truth given to us in Paris in 1830 was THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.
There was a great need for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary to enter into the consciousness of the people. A radical heresy, Pantheism, had taken hold of most of Europe. Pantheism claims that man is on a level with God, equal to Him. God is not a being, but is manifested in all the forces of the universe. It began as a belief in 1705, when the term was coined by J. Toland in England. Originally, only the intelligentsia understood and accepted the heresy. But by the French Revolution, it had sifted down to the common man. They were led to believe, and accept, that because of the great strides being made by man, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, they didn’t need God anymore.
Pantheism is a direct contradiction with the centuries old belief of Catholics regarding the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Our belief that only Jesus and Mary were born without sin clashed with the new heresy of man being equal with God, which had caused confusion and division. There was a need to make the truth clear to the faithful.
Mary began her crusade for renewal of devotion to her Immaculate Conception on the Rue du Bac in Paris. She continued pressing the point home until Pope Pius IX officially proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854. In the event that there was still any doubts in the minds of the faithful, she appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in 1858, and said the words I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. In 1846, the Immaculate Conception was declared Patroness of the United States, and in 1913, the cornerstone was laid for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.22
Sweet Mary has always loved us. She comes to us in times of trouble. She ignores the hostilities against her, but fights like a tiger to protect her Son against attacks. France of the Middle Ages had a sincere love and devotion to Mary. Cathedrals in honor of her were built almost every year in the 12th Century. We believe that her first appartion to us in the modern world, in Paris, and her subsequent apparitions in France at La Sallette in 1846, Lourdes in 1858, and Pontmain in 1873, were strong attempts on her part to bring her beloved children of France, the eldest daughter of the Church, back to the fold.
The battle goes on, but she shows no signs of weakening. She’s up to it. She’s dug her heels into the earth, and promises not to give up on us, as long as there’s still time, and even a handful of believers.