Postcript: Marc Sangnier, Le Sillon and Thérèse of Lisieux

Here’s a nice postscript to my previous post on “Therese of Lisieux: Pius XI, Cardijn, the JOC – and the Sillon” thanks to French researcher, Dominique Laxague.

Dominique has pointed me to correspondence between two Carmelite nuns who had known St Therese that also sheds light on the special grace Marc Sangnier claimed to have received thanks to Therese.

The writer was Sr Marie de la Trinité (Mary of the Trinity), who has been described as “the favorite novice of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus” and who had “trained her to follow her path of trust and of abandonment.” She was writing to her colleague, Sr Germaine.

Dominique explains:

“This correspondence occurred in a very particular context, namely “the explosion of the cult of Thérèse in the universe,” the various steps and inquiries by the Church with a view to her canonisation, which were gaining pace, thanks to the ‘indefatigable dedication’ of Monsignor de Teil, vice-postulator of the cause.

“Sr Marie de la Trinité and Sr Germaine were also taking an active part in collecting the testimonies of miracles gained through the intercession of Therese of the Child Jesus.”

Thus, on 9 October 1910, just six weeks after the letter from Pope Pius X, Notre Charge Apostolique or Our Apostolic Responsibility, that signalled the end of the Sillon, Sr Marie wrote to her colleague, Sr Germaine, sharing with her an “outline of the grace” that she wrote down the very evening she learned of it.

“Kindly send it back to me because it will be of use to me in my testimony (for Therese’s canonisation process),” Sr Marie insisted.

“Your 1000 Aves (Hail Marys) of 6 September obtained a greater grace than the cure of the blind man,” Sr Marie explained to Sr Germaine. “You have no doubt heard of the ‘Sillon’ which has just been condemned.

“It was feared that the leader, Marc Sangnier, would rebel and take his comrades with him into schism,” she continued. “Thanks to Therese, this did not eventuate.”

“Surprised to read the beautiful letter of submission to the Holy Father by (Sangnier) and his comrades on 6 September, Our Mother Superior wrote to him at the invitation of Monsignor (Roger) de Teil, to congratulate him and asked him whether Thérèse did not have something to do with his attitude.

Here is an excerpt from a letter by which Marc Sangnier replied to her on 15 September:

“At the very moment when the cruel ordeal that I have just experienced befell me, I received a small pamphlet about Sr Therese of the Child Jesus from an unknown woman. No sooner had I begun to read it than I immediately felt a very sweet consolation and an interior comfort in making myself very small and abandoning myself to the will of God following the example of Sr Therese. It was this attitude that led me to write the two articles that you have read in our newspaper La Démocratie.”

In other words, Marc Sangnier’s letter confirmed that Sr Germaine’s 1000 Hail Marys had been effective in obtaining Therese’s intercession! The sisters, whose whole lives were devoted to prayer, were evidently deeply touched by this evidence both of the power of their prayer and Therese’s intercession.

“This letter will be of very great value in serving the Cause of our little Therese,” Sr Marie wrote.

Mgr de Teil, who was promoting Therese’s canonisation, was equally impressed and decided to show Sangnier’s letter to the Pope himself, Sr Marie noted.

As Jeanne Caron, the author of an extensive PhD thesis on the Sillon later published as Le Sillon et la Démocratie Chrétienne, recorded in an article in La Croix newspaper in 1973, “Mgr de Teil had the letter of 15 September, 1910 read to Pope Pius X on 29 October of the same year.

“He had first taken him through Thérèse’s letter on frequent communion. Pius X then expressed his satisfaction.

“And after reading Marc Sangnier’s letter – of which the Pope wanted to keep the original – his joy redoubled and he concluded insistently: ‘Bisogna far presto questo Processo.’ (This process must be concluded quickly.)”

“We are counting on your discretion not to disclose this information,” Sr Marie concluded.

So not only did Therese’s intercession aid Marc Sangnier but his own letter played a significant role in speeding up the process of her canonisation.

Fifteen years later, it was Pius XI who canonised Therese on 17 May 1925, just two months after he first met Cardijn and gave his approval to the nascent JOC.

As I have written elsewhere, Pius XI was certainly aware of the JOC’s indebtedness to the Sillon. Indeed, I believe that part of the reason that he backed Cardijn was precisely because the Holy See was looking for a successor to Marc Sangnier’s movement.

Was he also aware of Sangnier’s letter regarding the grace he received thanks to Therese? Hard to say for sure from this distance but I would think not unlikely given the significance with which he also regarded Therese’s example and canonisation.

Whatever the case may be, it’s an indication of the deep spiritual thread connecting these cases.

Stefan Gigacz

REFERENCES

Stefan Gigacz, Therese of Lisieux: Pius XI, Cardijn, the JOC – and the Sillon (Cardijn Research)

Lettres de Marie de la Trinité à Sr Germaine (Archives du Carmel de Lisieux)

Le témoignage de sœur Marie de la Trinité, la petite novice de sainte Thérèse de Lisieux (1874-1944) (Chaine Catholique de Arnaud Dumouch)

Roger de Teil (BNF)

Pius X, Notre Charge Apostolique/Our Apostolic Responsibility (Sillon.net)