St. Germaine Cousin
Though she is not in the universal calendar of the Church, the Diocese of Toulouse keeps on June 15 the feast of St. Germaine Cousin. She is the patroness of our SGG Girls Camp this year.
St. Germaine was born in 1579 in the little village of Pibrac, which is about ten miles from Toulouse, in France. From her birth she seemed marked out for suffering. She was always a sickly girl and not pretty at all. Her right hand was deformed and helpless.
Besides these defects, St. Germaine was born with scrofula. This disease gives to the afflicted a chronic, painless mass in the neck, which is persistent and usually grows with time; and as the lesion progresses, skin may rupture, forming a sinus and an open wound. The children afflicted with scrofula were often very pale and skinny. In France the kings were thought to have inherited a miraculous power to cure this illness, and they used to touch the crowds of infected people. The touchings begun during the reign of King Philip I (1060-1108) and continued all the way until Charles X in 1825. This act of public healing by kings and royal family members gave scrofula the nickname “King’s Evil”. After the touching, the afflicted one was given a coin, that was to be hung around him by a ribbon, as a way of warding off the disease.
When Germaine was still an infant, her mother died. Her father soon married again, but his second wife, named Hortense, treated Germaine with much cruelty. The stepmother forced her to sleep in the stable under the stairs. For her food she was given only scraps, so little, in fact, that she had to learn to crawl in order to get to the dog’s dish. Hortense would beat Germaine or pour boiling water on her for any real or imagined misdeed.
The father paid little attention to her, and Hortense did not want Germaine around her own healthy children. Under pretense of saving the other children from the contagion of scrofula, the stepmother persuaded the father to keep Germaine away from the homestead, and thus the child was employed almost from infancy as a shepherdess. When she returned at night, her bed was in the stable or on a litter of vine branches in a garret. So Germaine slept with the sheep in the barn, even in cold weather. She dressed in rags and was laughed at by other children. When she came home at night with the flock of sheep she had tended in the fields, Hortense often screamed at her and beat her.
In this hard school Germaine learned early to practice humility and patience. She was gifted with a marvelous sense of the presence of God and of spiritual things, so that her lonely life became to her a source of light and blessing. No one expected her to have any use for education, so she spent long days in the field tending the sheep. Instead of being lonely, she found a friend in God. She didn’t know any theology and only the basics of the faith that she learned the catechism. But she had a rosary made of knots in the string and her very simple prayers: “Dear God, please don’t let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help me to please You.” Out of that simple faith grew a profound holiness and a deep trust in God.
To poverty, bodily infirmity, the rigors of the seasons, and the lack of love from those in her own home, Germaine added voluntary mortifications and austerities, making bread and water her daily food.
Germaine always managed to get to Mass every day, and she received Holy Communion as often as she could. When the bell rang for Mass, she fixed her staff in the ground, and left her flocks to the care of her Guardian Angel while she heard Mass. Her sheep never once wandered away from the staff she planted in the ground; and though the pasture was on the border of a forest filled with wolves, no harm ever came to her flocks. It was recorded that when Germaine was about to cross a raging Courbet River on the way to Mass, the neighbors saw the water separate to make way for her without wetting her garments.
She is said to have practiced many austerities as a reparation for the sacrileges made by heretics in the neighboring churches. Besides Holy Communion, she frequented the Sacrament of Penance, and it was observed that her piety increased on the approach of every feast of Our Lady. The Rosary was her only book, and her devotion to the Angelus was so great that she used to fall on her knees at the first sound of the bell, even though she heard it when crossing a stream.
In her missionary spirit, St. Germaine was a teacher as well. She often gathered the children of the village around her to teach them their Catholic Faith and fill their hearts with the love of Jesus and Mary. The villagers were inclined at first to treat her piety with mild derision, until certain signs of God’s signal favor made her an object of reverence and awe.
She tried her best to help the poor, too. She shared with beggars the little bit of food she was given to eat. One winter day, her stepmother accused her of stealing bread and chased her with a stick. But what fell from Germaine’s apron was not the expected bread. It was summer flowers! There was only one answer and Germaine gave it herself, when she handed a flower to her mother and said: “Please accept this flower, mother. God sends it to you in sign of His forgiveness.”
Her father at last came to a sense of his duty, forbade her stepmother to treat her harshly anymore, and wished to give her a place in the home with the other children; but she begged to be allowed to remain in the humbler position.
By now people no longer made fun of Germaine. In fact, they loved and admired her. But just when men were beginning to realize the beauty of her life, God called her to Himself. One morning in the early summer of 1601, her father, finding that she had not risen at the usual hour, went to call her. He found her dead on her pallet of vine-twigs. She was then twenty-two years of age. Confirmed reports say that on the night of her death, two monks traveling from Toulouse were sleeping in the ruins of a nearby castle, when they were awakened by angelic melodies. They saw a great beam of light from a distant house, extending into the sky. Heavenly figures were seen descending into the house and later ascending with another figure. Upon reaching Pibrac the next morning, they asked if anyone had died during the night and were told of Germaine’s death.
Her remains were buried in the parish church of Pibrac in front of the pulpit. In 1644, when the grave was opened to receive one of her relatives, the body of Germaine was discovered fresh and perfectly preserved, and miraculously raised almost to the level of the floor of the church. It was exposed for public view near the pulpit, until one noble lady presented as a thanks-offering a casket of lead to hold the remains. She had been cured of an incurable ulcer, and her infant son, whose life was despaired of, was restored to health on her seeking the intercession of Germaine.
This was the first of a long series of wonderful cures wrought at her relics. The leaden casket was placed in the sacristy, and in 1661 and 1700 the remains were viewed and found fresh and intact by the priests of Toulouse. Expert medical evidence proved that the body had not been embalmed, and experimental tests showed that the preservation was not due to any property inherent in the soil. In 1700 a movement was begun to procure the beatification of Germaine. In 1793 the casket was desecrated by a revolutionary tinsmith, who with three accomplices took out the remains and buried them in the sacristy, throwing quick-lime and water on them. After the revolution, her body was found to be still intact save where the quick-lime had done its work.
The private veneration of Germaine continued from the original finding of the body in 1644, supported and encouraged by numerous cures and miracles. The documents attest more than 400 miracles or extraordinary graces. The miracles attested were cures of every kind, besides the multiplication of food for the distressed community of the Good Shepherd at Bourges in 1845. In 1854 Pope Pius IX beatified Germaine, and on 29 June, 1867, placed her on the canon of virgin saints. Her feast is kept in the Diocese of Toulouse on 15 June.
The main virtue of this Saint was patience. She carried her heavy crosses well, and she could do that because she went to Holy Communion often. In our own little sufferings, we too should turn to Our Lord in Holy Communion and ask His help.