Born July 22, 1647, at L’Hautecourt, Burgundy
Died at Paray-le- Monial, 1690
“Love triumphs, love enjoys, the love of the Sacred Heart rejoices!” Saint Margaret Mary is nearly the antithesis of yesterday’s saint, Teresa of Ávila. As joyful as Teresa was; Margaret Mary was dour and humorless. Teresa was gregarious; Margaret Mary self- contained. Both were sickly, but dealt with it differently. Both were visionaries. This proves once again that no personality precludes sanctity.
Margaret Mary was the daughter of the respected notary Claude Alacoque and Philiberte Lamyn. Her father died when she was around eight, leaving her family in a precarious financial situation, so that for several years they were at the mercy of some domineering and rapacious relatives.
She was sent to school with the Poor Clares at Charolles. She fell ill with a painful rheumatic condition at 12 and was bedridden until she was 15. The family home had been taken over by her sister, and her mother and she were treated with undeserved severity and almost like servants. Her sister often refused her permission to attend church. “At that time,” she wrote later, “all my desire was to seek happiness and comfort in the Blessed Sacrament.
At 20, she was pressed to marry but after a long struggle with herself decided to fulfill the vow she had made earlier to the Virgin and entered the Order of the Visitation. She was confirmed at 22 and took the name Mary. Her brother furnished her dowry and she joined the convent at Paray-le-Monial. During her retreat before her profession, which she made on November 6, 1672, she had a vision of Jesus in which he said, “Behold the wound in my side, wherein you are to make your abode, now and forever.”
She worked in the infirmary, and the slow-moving, awkward Margaret Mary suffered much under the active and efficient infirmarian, Sister Catherine Marest.
On December 27, 1673, the feast of Saint John the Evangelist, as she knelt at the grill before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, she experienced a vision in which the Lord told her to take the place that Saint John had occupied at the Last Supper, and that she would act as His instrument. Jesus revealed His Sacred Heart as a symbol of His love for mankind, saying:
“My divine Heart is so inflamed with love for mankind . . . that it can no longer contain within itself the flames of its burning charity and must spread them abroad by your means.”
Then it was as if He took her heart and placed it next to his own, and then returned it burning with divine love into her breast.
She had three more visions over the next year and a half in which he instructed her in a devotion that was to become known as the Nine Fridays and the Holy Hour, and in the final revelation, the Lord asked that a feast of reparation be instituted for the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.
The Wisdom of God also told her, “Do nothing without the approval of those who guide you, so that, having the authority of obedience, you may not be misled by Satan, who has no power over those who are obedient.”
She told her superior, Mother de Saumaise, about the visions, was treated contemptuously and was forbidden to carry out any of the religious devotions that had been requested of her in her visions. She became ill from the strain, and the superior, searching for a divine sign of what to do, vowed to believe the visions if Margaret Mary was cured. Margaret Mary prayed and recovered, and her superior kept her promise.
A group within the convent remained skeptical of her experiences, especially when, in 1677, she told them that Jesus had twice asked her to be a willing victim to expiate their shortcomings. The superior ordered Margaret Mary to present her experiences to theologians. They were judged to be delusions, and it was recommended that Margaret Mary eat more.
Blessed Claude La Colombière, a holy and experienced Jesuit, arrived as confessor to the nuns, and in him Margaret Mary recognized the understanding guide that had been promised to her in the visions. He became convinced that her experiences were genuine and adopted the teaching of the Sacred Heart the visions had communicated to her. He departed not long after for England.
During the next years, Margaret Mary experienced periods of both despair and vanity, and she was ill a great deal. In 1681 Claude returned; in 1682 he died. In 1684 Mother Melin became superior and elected Margaret Mary her assistant, silencing any further opposition.
Her revelations were made known to the community when they were read aloud in the refectory in the course of a book written by Blessed Claude. Margaret Mary became novice mistress and was very successful.
Her revelations in the open now, she encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart, especially among her novices, who observed the feast in 1685. The family of an expelled novice accused her of being unorthodox, and bad feelings were revived, but this passed and the entire house celebrated the feast that year.
A chapel was built in 1687 at Paray in honor of the Sacred Heart, and devotion began to spread in the other convents of the Visitidines, as well as throughout France.
Margaret Mary became ill while serving a second term as assistant to the superior and died during the fourth anointing step of the last rites. As she received the Last Sacrament, she said, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”
She, Saint John Eudes, and Blessed Claude are called “saints of the Sacred Heart.”
Margaret Mary’s patience and trust during her trials within the convent contributed to her canonization in 1920. The devotion was officially recognized and approved by Pope Clement XIII in 1765, 75 years after her death. Her visions and teachings have had considerable influence on the devotional life of Catholics, especially since the inauguration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Roman calendar in 1856 (Attwater, Delaney, Kerns, White).
Depicted as a nun in the Visitation habit holding a flaming heart; or kneeling before Jesus, who exposed his heart to her (White).
In art, Saint Margaret Mary is portrayed as a nun to whom Christ offers His Sacred Heart (Roeder).