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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
I am going to tell you a story which is a little long, but which, I think, will interest you a lot: it is the conversion of a young actress saved by the Blessed Virgin from the imminent danger of losing her soul by remaining in her dangerous profession.
At the time when Madame Louise, daughter of King Louis XV, was giving the Carmelite Order in France the most striking examples of religious humility and mortification, there was a saddler in Dôle in Franche-Comté called Cantagrel. He was a widower with two children, a son and a daughter. This man had remarried and had several children with his new wife, who treated her husband’s first children with excessive harshness. The father suffered a great deal from this, and often complained about it, but he could get nothing. Finally, unable to bear the sight of his poor children, so dear to his heart and so unhappy, he resolved, albeit reluctantly, to sell them to some actors who were passing through Dôle, without knowing the dangers to which he was exposing their souls. Fortunately these two lovely creatures, the little girl especially, had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Before the time of which I have just spoken, the young Cantagrel, whom we shall call Marie, if you wish, not knowing her true baptismal name, had been placed with a pious lady who taught catechism, taught the young people to read, and who applied herself above all to inspiring in them a love of the Mother of God. Little Marie had benefited so much from her teacher’s lessons that some time before her first communion she promised the Blessed Virgin never to marry and to make a lifelong profession of devotion to Her. When she was with the actors, although in the midst of dissipation and the greatest seductions of vanity, for she was so applauded in the theater that as soon as she appeared they clapped their hands, she did not forget the One to whom she had consecrated herself; she often invoked Her, begged Her to help her, and even had the simplicity to ask for Her protection before going to the theater, so that She would grant her the grace to declaim her role well. But the Blessed Virgin was preparing a much more precious grace for her, that of rescuing her from the perils that surrounded her innocence. Already enlightened by a pious maid whom she had met in an inn, Marie Cantagrel had also had the good fortune to receive the sacrament of confirmation, in spite of all the opposition of the actors; but her confessor had granted her absolution only on condition that she would make every effort to get out of the state to which she had been committed, and she had promised it with all her heart. When she arrived in a small town in Auvergne called Riom, she told an honest innkeeper, filled with the fear of the Lord, about her plan and begged her in the name of the Blessed Virgin to get her out of the peril she was in. The latter, touched by the dangers that such an interesting young child was running, promised to serve her as best she could. To this end, she made arrangements with the town’s priest, the criminal lieutenant and a virtuous young man who was involved in all the good works. It was agreed that on the first day that Marie was to go on the stage, she would retire to the wings after she had recited her part, would be at a window from which she would descend by means of a ladder that was to be kept ready, and that finally she would follow apostate guides who would lead her to a place where she could not be discovered. Everything being thus arranged, the young man of whom I spoke earlier went to the comedy, where he never went, so that he could put in work, towards the end of the play, the people whom he had instructed to consummate the execution of his project. The young actress, on her side, strengthened more and more in her resolution, throws her roles to the fire, saying:
“They will no longer cause anyone to be damned.” Then the young girl puts on her theatrical clothes like the other actors. But half an hour before the play began, struck more keenly by the danger of her profession, and in a hurry to get out of it as soon as possible, she took a pretext to withdraw for a moment: it was in order to invoke the Blessed Virgin; she ran to the window, where she expected to be called from outside; but she heard no one, except the actors who urged her to come. Quivering with the fear that they might guess her plan, she goes to the window again, saying, “Are you there?” No answer yet; then unable to hold on any longer, she recites an act of contrition and a Hail Mary, makes the sign of the cross saying: “My God, to save my soul, I abandon my body to Your holy care,” and throws herself out of a fourteen-foot high window without harming herself.
At first she was quite stunned by her fall: but soon realizing that she had not broken any limb, she got up, without seeing anything however and without knowing in which direction she should go. She was on her way to the city, where she would probably have fallen into the hands of the actors, when, by a new miracle of the protection of the Blessed Virgin, she felt, at the first step, pushed by a gust of wind to return to the opposite side. After walking for some time with all her theatrical paraphernalia, she met a woman accompanied by a man carrying a large sack: they were people who had been sent to rescue the young actress. They took her to a miller’s house, about a quarter of a league from the city. There she left her clothes, took those of the miller, and joined by the young man who had played the principal role in this affair, she took with him the road to the house which had been prepared for her. The night was dark, no stars shone in the sky, the path was full of mud and slippery; moreover, Marie was in clogs, a shoe to which she was not accustomed; she had so much difficulty in dragging them, that she was finally obliged to leave them. With almost bare feet, she slipped, she could hardly support herself, she even fell sometimes, and her guides were forced to carry her. Finally she arrived at Riom; but much greater dangers awaited her there: the actors, furious to have seen their play missing and to have lost the one whom they called their best actress, sought her by all means.
They walked in the same street where she had just entered, and they walked at such a small distance that Cantagrel could hear their voices. The poor child thought she was lost: “Holy Virgin Mary, she cried, save me!” The Blessed Virgin was not deaf to her prayer. Nearby was a monastery of Carmelites; the young man who protected Mary took her in his arms, doubled his pace, knocked at the door of the convent, and deposited in the tower the precious prey that he had just ravished from hell. The superior received the young actress with kindness, trembling and almost fainting, and, at the insistence of the parish priest, she resolved to keep her in the monastery. In vain the actors claimed the one they had lost: the superior was inflexible, and the magistrates themselves, struck by the singularity of the fact and the protection so evidently afforded by the Blessed Virgin, rejected their claims. Moreover, Mary’s young brother, who was no less displeased than she was with their profession, recovered his freedom a few days later. As for Mary, once she had entered the daughters of Saint Teresa, she never wanted to leave them; she found in the silence of the cloister delights that she had never known in the midst of the applause and festivities of the world; She soon took the white veil on a feast of the Blessed Virgin, made her profession of religious life with the fervor of an angel, and never ceased to bless all her life the august Queen of Heaven, who had rescued her in such a miraculous way from dangers where she would probably have lost her soul.
Excerpt from a letter from the Superior of the Carmel of Riom to Mme Louise, Carmelite.