Saint of the Day – 6 March – St Colette P.C.C. (1381-1447 -aged 66) Abbess and Foundress of the Colettine Poor Clares, a reform branch of the Order of Saint Clare, better known as the Poor Clares. Patron against eye disorders, against fever, against headaches, against infertility, against the death of parents, of women seeking to conceive, expectant mothers and sick children craftsmen, Poor Clares, servants, Corbie, France, Ghent, Belgium.
She was born Nicole Boellet (or Boylet) in the village of Corbie, in the Picardy region of France, on 13 January 1381, to Robert Boellet, a poor carpenter at the noted Benedictine Abbey of Corbie and to his wife, Marguerite Moyon. Her contemporary biographers say that her parents had grown old without having children, before praying to Saint Nicholas for help in having a child. Their prayers were answered when, at the age of 60, Marguerite gave birth to a daughter. Out of gratitude, they named the baby after the saint to whom they credited the miracle of her birth. She was affectionately called Nicolette by her parents, which soon came to be shorted to Colette, by which name she is known.
After her parents died in 1399, Colette joined the Beguines, she was seventeen but found their manner of life unchallenging. She received the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis in 1402 and became a hermit under the direction of the Abbot of Corbie, living near the abbey church.
Renewing religious institutions is not easy. We would expect a person chosen to reform convents and monasteries to be formidable. Maybe even physically tall, overbearing, and somewhat threatening. God, however, doesn’t seem to agree. For example, in the fifteenth century he selected St. Colette, a young woman the opposite of these characteristics, to call Franciscans to strict observance of the rules of St. Clare and St. Francis.
Statue of Saint Colette
by Albert Roze, 1925 Corbie, France
Not that Colette was unimpressive. She was a beautiful woman whose radiant inner strength attracted people. However, her spirituality, her commitment to God, and her heart for souls, not her physical qualities, suited her for her reforming mission.
St. Francis appeared to her in a vision and charged her to restore the Poor Clares to their original austerity. When Friar Henry de Beaume came in 1406 to conform her mission, Colette had the door of her hut torn down, a sign that her solitude was over and her work begun. And she then prayed her commitment:
“I dedicate myself in health, in illness, in my life, in my death, in all my desires, in all my deeds so that I may never work henceforth except for your glory, for the salvation of souls, and towards the reform for which you have chosen me. From this moment on, dearest Lord, there is nothing which I am not prepared to undertake for love of you.”
Colette’s first reports to reform convents met vigorous opposition. Then she sought the approval of the Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, who professed her as a Poor Clare and put her in charge of all convents she would reform. He also appointed Henry de Beaume to assist her. Thus equipped, she launched her reform in 1410 with the Poor Clares at Besancon. Before her death in 1447, the saint had founded or renewed seventeen convents and several friaries throughout France, Savoy, Burgundy, and Spain.
Like Francis and Clare, Colette devoted herself to Christ crucified, spending every Friday meditating on the passion. She is said to have miraculously received a piece of the cross, which she gave to St.Vincent Ferrer when he came to visit her.
St. Joan of Arc once passed by Colette’s convent in Moulins but there is no evidence that the two met. Like Joan, Colette was a visionary. Once, for instance, she saw souls falling from grace in great numbers, like flakes in a snowstorm. Afterward she prayed daily for the conversion of sinners. She personally brought many strays back to Christ and helped them unravel their sinful patterns. At age sixty-six, Colette foretold her death, received the sacrament of the sick and died at her convent in Ghent, Flanders.
St Vincent Ferrer
St Joan of Arc
Helping a mother in childbirth
While traveling to Nice to meet Pope Benedict, Colette stayed at the home of a friend. His wife was in labour at that time with their third child and was having major difficulties in he childbirth, leaving her in danger of death. Colette immediately went to the local church to pray for her. The mother gave birth successfully and survived the ordeal. She credited Colette’s prayers for this. The child born, a girl named Pierinne, later entered a monastery founded by Colette. She would become Colette’s secretary and biographer.
Saving a sick child
After the pope had authorised Colette to establish a regimen of strict poverty in the Poor Clare monasteries of France, she started with that of Besançon. The local populace was suspicious of her reform, with its total reliance on them for the sustenance of the monastery. One incident helped turn this around. According to legend, a local peasant woman gave birth to a stillborn child. In desperation, out of fear for the child’s soul, the father took the baby to the local parish priest for baptism. Seeing that the child was already dead, the priest refused to baptise the body. When the man became insistent, out of frustration, the priest told him to go to the nuns, which he did immediately. When he arrived at the monastery, Mother Colette was made aware of his situation by the portress. Her response was to take off the veil given to her by the Pope, when he gave her the habit of the Second Order and told the portress to have the father wrap the child’s body in it and for him to return to the priest. By the time he arrived at the parish church with his small bundle, the child was conscious and crying. The priest immediately baptised the baby.
Colette was beatified 23 January 1740, by Pope Clement XII and was canonized 24 May 1807 by Pope Pius VII.
Stained glass window in a Franciscan chapel Paris, France
Stained glass window in Our Lady of the Rosary Church Saint-Ouen, France