THE SECRET OF LA SALETTE
BESIDE Adam, there stands Eve whose twists and turns in life cannot all be blamed on the lack of understanding or the malice of the wicked. It is important to pick out from her long life (she will die in 1904) the key events where her own action seems to us to be decisive : the same goes for the credit we should give to the writings she produced, on her own initiative.
The complexity of this life is due, among other things, to the contradictory judgements she aroused among ecclesiastics, some of whom, we are bound to think, must have been abused and others perspicacious : discernment was brought to bear by the definitive judgement of the Church. The controversy, even at the time, did not suppress apostolic goodness, as a missionary of La Salette, Fr. Perrin, thus summed up in 1867 :
“ Although she was the most terrible thorn for all those who gave her welcome, they were, however, inclined to take an interest in her, because she was felt to be more worthy of pity than of blame. ”
Corenc. The first blot. 1850-1853 (First disobedience).
In 1846, a few weeks after the apparition, Msgr. de Bruillard arranged for Mélanie and Maximin to be admitted to the school directed by the Sisters of Providence at Corps. They stayed there for four years.
On October 10, 1850, Mélanie entered as a postulant of the same order, at their convent at Corenc. She took the habit in 1851 under the name of Sister Mary of the Cross, where she edified her community. But, she had a passion for reading mystical writings and revelations of varying authenticity. But she lived in an atmosphere of unctuous admiration : visitors flocked to the convent, priests and lay people drank in her words and collected them to spread abroad. But her novice mistress was captivated, exalted her and encouraged confidences when it was her mission to keep her in the shade.
Finally, for a year or two, Mélanie suffered from spectacular attacks of the devil, which threw her to the ground, making her deaf and dumb, plunging her into despair and sometimes taking the form of terrifying animals.
In short, when the time came for her to take her vows, Msgr. Ginoulhiac, who succeeded Msgr. de Bruillard, thought it better to postpone them. He explained his decision in a pastoral letter addressed to his clergy, dated November 4, 1854.
“ Having become, since September 19, 1846, the object of delicate attention and tender, respectful consideration on the part of many people, even among the most important and most distinguished, resembling a sort of cult, if over the years she were somewhat affected by this, would it not be surprising if, in the end, she were not to allow herself to be won over by attachment to her own opinion, which is one of the greatest dangers incurred by souls favoured with extraordinary gifts ? This attachment to her opinion and to the peculiarities which naturally follow commanded our attention as soon as we were informed of them, and, although the community paid homage to her piety and zeal in instructing children in religious knowledge, we believed it to be our duty to refuse to admit her to the yearly vows, in order to form her more effectively in the practice of Christian humility and simplicity, which are the necessary and surest protection against the illusions of the interior life. ”
All these intentions – malevolent –, attributed by the mélanistes to the Bishop, do not alter the fact that Mélanie refused to accept the required year’s probation, with the result that an English prelate, Msgr. Newsham, Bishop of Hexham, asked the Bishop of Grenoble if he might take her with him, for the good of English Catholicism. The Bishop of Grenoble accepted with relief ! So did Mélanie.
Darlington, Second blot. 1854-1860 (Second disobedience).
She quickly disappointed the expectation of the English bishop, who soon lost interest in her, and we next find her in the Carmelite convent in Darlington. There are different versions of her entry into Carmel. But the Carmelites record that she was welcomed and introduced into the cloister to be looked after. She showed a desire to remain, and with great pomp – too much ! – she received the habit on February 23, 1855. However, with the objection that she had a “ mission ” to discharge on behalf of the Blessed Virgin, Mélanie refused to make her profession, then – constrained by her superiors, she says – she brought herself to do so, but interiorly she did not take the vow of enclosure.
When she wanted to leave attempts were made to restrain her, so she threw letters over the enclosure wall to let it be known that she was being sequestered. Hoping to avoid all scandal, Msgr. Hogarth had her taken back to Marseilles.
We find in the confidential reports she made on this subject to the curious Fr. Combe, in 1901, this enlightening summary on how she came to be judged wherever she went :
“ For a long time, the Prioress (of Darlington), forgetting her authority, did nothing without consulting her. After a retreat preached by a religious, the Prioress and the community turned against her. She was refused Holy Communion, even to make her Easter duties.
– “ My dear sister, Our Lord who gave Himself to you in communion at Dompierre, did He not do so at Darlington ?
– Oh, yes. ”
What was she accused of ? Making up stories. How did they see her ? As mentally unbalanced. The good religious who gave the retreat asked her after confession whether she had ever happened to see someone and then wonder whether she had already seen that person with her own eyes or whether she had dreamed it. She answered frankly :
“ Yes, once when I was travelling, I saw a person whom I thought I recognised, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen her ; or whether it was simply a dream.
– Ah ! he said to her, with a start, that’s a sure sign of madness ; yes, you are mad, well and truly mad ! ”
Marseilles. Third blot. 1860-1867 (Third disobedience).
Welcomed by friends who entrusted her to the direction of a Jesuit, Fr. Calage, who took pity on her and had her relieved of her simple vows, she was taken in as a boarder at the Compassion Order’s mother house, under the name of Sister Zénaïde. There, she wanted to adopt a habit indicated to her, so she said, by the Madonna, but she had to obey the founder of the order who made her wear the same habit as her daughters. After various missions within the order, and after a fruitless attempt at the Carmelite convent in Marseilles, she was admitted to take vows in the Compassion Order, provided she did not reveal her identity to the outside world.
She contravened that order, and the Superior, treating her as a witch and a traitress, obliged her to leave the congregation, the habit and… Marseilles !
Castellamare (Italy). Fourth blot. 1867-1885 (Fourth disobedience).
An Italian prelate, Msgr. Petagna, Bishop of Castellamare, known when she was at Marseilles, took an interest in her and installed her in the Palazzo Ruffo with a sister of the Compassion order. She attempted to found the Order of the Sons of the Mother of God, on the fringes of the regular 1852 foundation of the Missionaries of La Salette, but according to the rule she claimed to have received from the Blessed Virgin in 1846.
Summoned to Rome, in 1879, accused by Msgr. Fava, Bishop of Grenoble, supported, she maintains, by Leo XIII, she left without, in the end, winning her case, but not without writing a new version of the famous Secret. On her return to Italy after a long journey, her protector died, and the community was dispersed.
Return to France. The trial at Chalon-sur-Saône. 1885-1892 (Fifth disobedience).
Pursuing her dream of making a foundation in France, armed with a legacy left her by Fr. Ronjon and with the support of Canon de Brandt, she engaged in a feverish but fruitless activity. She will find herself caught up in a legal case against the Bishop of Chalon who contests the validity of the Ronjon inheritance.
This legal case, with all its repercussions, went on until 1895, and she lost. She fought the case tooth and nail, which made her protector and spiritual father, Msgr. Zola, say of her :
“ Sister Mary of the Cross had a quarrel with a French bishop. She showed very little submission towards her superiors in these circumstances, maybe through lack of guidance or of light, or for both reasons. ”
Wandering. 1892-1904. Fr. Combe.
Back in Italy, at Messina and then at Moncalien, in 1899, Mélanie, on the insistence of Fr. Combe, who was infatuated with her, returned to France, changing her address three times. Stormy relations with this priest made her flee to Italy again, in 1904. On leaving, they told each other a piece of their mind. He, that he is now persuaded that she is subject to illusion and that she does not see “ everything in God ”. She, that her former confessor and protector wanted to wrench all her secrets from her, and that he lacked intelligence and humility in wanting to interpret God’s will for her, in his way (cf. Guilhot, p. 481). On December 15, 1904, she was found dead in her house at Altamura. What a life ! And what an end !
But now let us look at her writings, in three parts :
The Autobiography, published in 1900, which transports us to the first fourteen years of her life, her Childhood Gospel.
The Rule of the Mother of God, as it was handed to Pope Leo XIII on January 5, 1879, and which would correspond to her Acts of the Apostles (those of the “ Last Times ”, according to her own expression).
The Secret of La Salette, the 1879 version, with the imprimatur of the Bishop of Lecce (Italy), which would be her Apocalypse.