On September 7, 1861, Marie Pauline Martin entered into the world at her parent’s home on Rue du Pont-Neuf in Alencon, France. At the birth of the child, Azelie, the mother, would pray: “Lord grant the grace that this child may be consecrated to you, and that nothing may tarnish the purity of its soul. If ever it would be lost, I prefer that you should take it without delay.”
Little Pauline resembled her mother both in personality and in looks. She became the second-born child of nine children of Louis and Azelie Martin. Louis and Azelie honored each of their female children with the first name of Marie in honor of Our Lady and honored each male child with the additional name of Joseph in honor of St. Joseph. The children’s second name was given after their godparents. Pauline’s godfather was her uncle, Isidor Guerin, and her godmother was Pauline Romet, a close family friend in Alencon. The blessed day arrived on September 8, 1861, when Pauline was carried in her mother’s arms to the Cathedral of Saint Pierre-de-Montsort and baptized by Father Lebouc.
Pauline studied her catechism fervishly, perparing herself for her First Holy Communion. She wanted to make every effort meaningful when it was time to consecrate herself to God. On July 2, 1874, dressed in her beautiful white gown and veil, Pauline walked down the aisle to receive her First Holy Communion. Her family surrounded her at the Visitation Chapel in Le Mans as she consecrated herself to God.
Pauline’s mother also focused her energy on Pauline maintaining her virginity. When Pauline was young, her mother would place her on her knees and tell her: “Only virgins would follow the spotless Lamb, Jesus, and that they would be crowned with white roses while singing a song that others could not sing.” Pauline reaffirmed to her mother that she would refrain from marriage and always remain a virgin for Jesus.
On August 1, 1877, Pauline completed her studies at the Visitation Boarding School in Le Mans, France. After spending five years at Les Buissonnets, it was time for Pauline to answer the call to the religious life. Her eyes were focused on the Visitation convent in Le Mans. She frequently went on visits to her former boarding school and spoke with the Mother Superior about entering the Convent. But God had other plans for her to serve Him. On February 16, 1882, while praying beside a statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at St. Jacques Church, Pauline received a revelation that she is to become a Carmelite Nun. Acting on this revelation, Pauline made frequent visits to the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux to speak to the prioress about entering into their Order. But at the time she was seeking to enter, there was not any room at the monastery. So, she looked into entering the Carmelite monastery in Caen. And as soon as she was going to make her final decision to join them, a postulant at the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux died suddenly which left an opening for Pauline to enter.
On October 2, 1882, she entered the Carmelites as a postulant. Louis, her uncle Isidore and Marie, her sister, escorted her to the chapel for Mass. After Mass was over, Pauline said goodbye to her family and then was greeted at the cloister door by Mother Genevieve. She changed her clothes and dawned a long blue dress covered with a black cape and a dark bonnet. The initiation in the traditions of the Carmelite Order had commenced for Pauline. She said: “My vocation is not where I live or who I live with or how many different prayers I pray. It’s simply a call from the Lord, an invitation to draw me closer to him in a life of total consecration.”
On April 6, 1883, Pauline began as a novice and was given the religious name of Sister Agnes of Jesus. During this time she learned the practice of devotion to the Holy Face under the direction of Mother Genevieve of Saint Teresa. The teachings of Saint John of the Cross was an essential part of her devotion. Sister Agnes of Jesus made her profession of vows as a Carmelite on May 8, 1884.
She maintained her focus soley on Jesus. John 12:23-25: “Jesus answered them, saying: The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loved his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.” He was the true and only source of her love for enduring many obstacles while she was in exile here on earth.
Prior to Mother Genevieve’s death, who was one of the founding sisters of the Carmel of Lisieux, saw great leadership qualities in Sister Agnes. She prophesied to her Carmelite sisters on her deathbed that Sister Agnes’s public life would soon begin as a future prioress of the Carmel. On December 5, 1891, Mother Genevieve gave her soul back to God. Sister Agnes was given the task of writing a brief account of Mother’s life.
The Carmelites used their skills to earn money to help support the monastery. In following with this tradition, Mother Agnes used her skills as a painter to paint miniatures to make some money. She also painted religious quotes from the Bible on the convent walls. In the prioress’s cell, she painted the quote from the Book of Wisdom 10:17, “And she rendered to the just the wages of their labors, and conducted them in a wonderful way, and she was to them for a covert by day and for the light of stars by night.”
On February 20, 1893, as Mother Genevieve had predicted, Mother Agnes of Jesus was elected as the new prioress. At the beginning of her term as prioress, her sister, Sister Therese prophesied to her that her reign would not go without receiving many “crowns” for Jesus. She comforted her by saying: “The vessels will be too small to contain the precious perfumes you will want to put in them; but Jesus, too, has only very small instruments on which to play His melody of love, yet He is skilled to use all those that we give Him.” The prophecy was not far from being a reality for Mother Agnes of Jesus.
In December of 1893, Mother Agnes was faced with an illness. Her godfather sent her some medicine to help relieve any discomfort she was facing from her illness. She used her suffering as an opportunity to save more souls. She soon recovered from her illness and resumed her duties as prioress. She related to Sister Therese: “The daily pains we endure only strengthens our love for Him, keeping Him ever close to our hearts. Invite our Lord into your heart and allow Him to bear your burdens as you are a witness to our Lord’s love.”
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