05 January 2012

From the archives, Mary Bernardina McNantz, Part II

Eventually (and strangely), her cough and all her consumptive symptoms and fever did leave.  Bernardina’s countenance became bright, her conversation sparkled, she laughed heartily, and she did not seem to become tired, but she then entered into a nine-day period of crisis. During that time, everything she said and did was spiritual, sometimes even mysterious, and she only reluctantly ate food at the sisters’ urging, after nearly fasting for three days. While resisting food she’d reply that nourishing the body was beneath her, and that she wanted to quit this earth and earthly things. She wanted to divest of all her possessions, even her clothes, so that she could ascend with Christ into heaven. Once she called herself Nabuchodonosor (a common earlier transliteration today often rendered as Nebuchadnezzar), and said that like him she would eat grass as an ox and dwell with cattle for seven years. Another time she called herself Abraham, and then again Isaac, with the latter character seeming to please her most because he was ready to be sacrificed. She recited long and complicated passages of scripture with great ease, as though she had always been perfectly acquainted with every part of them. She sometimes composed songs based on spiritual texts with advice for those present, often alluding to certain passages of the holy writings in a way that astonished everyone. Our dear Father Clorivière asked her where and how she had learned all these things. She laughed and said she had read them in the Holy Court, a large book owned by the community which she had been free to peruse, although she lamented that she often read too much of it. She sometimes related past events, and even those from the lives of others. She foretold a circumstance that came to pass within two months. During this period she remained fully sensible of everything she said and did, remembering every detail, and she sometimes wondered aloud why she had such a strange affectation.

After her nine-day crisis passed, Bernardina’s cough returned even worse than before, and as it turned out she had only three more months to live. Although she had always feared death, all dread left her a few weeks before she died. She said that if she only had to consider her actions by themselves and have confidence in them alone then she would have great cause to tremble at her last moments. However, when she reflected on the merits of Christ, she felt encouraged to meet her last hour with joy, and “thus did she animate and encourage herself to follow the will and good pleasure of her God in this dangerous passage from time to eternity.” This dear sister begged pardon of the whole community in general, and of each one in particular whom she believed she had offended in the least, with sentiments of the most profound humility and her own deficiencies. She also proved her resignation to the will of God, for when Fr. Clorivière was injured and confined to his room during the time when she was to receive the last sacrament, she had to receive it from Fr. Carey, with whom she was unacquainted, and she didn’t offer the slightest sign of uneasiness. Happily, however, her passing was delayed by two days, and Fr. Clorivière was able to come to the infirmary on crutches to comfort her and pray by her bed when “she finally closed her eyes to this mortal world.” She preserved her perfect presence of mind to the last; about a quarter of an hour before her death she said her feet were cold, and Fr. Clorivière directed that a warm brick be placed by them. The infirmarians didn’t hear his order, however, and concluded that her cold was that of impending death, so they asked her again what she wanted, and she said firmly, “Do what the Father has told you.” Then, after a short agony, she happily slept in our Lord.

It seems worthy to notice that all these three McNantz sisters, Bernardina, Isidora, and Mary Leonard, died on great Sundays, this one being the first Sunday of Lent. Isidora died on Easter Sunday, and amiable little Mary Leonard went on the first Sunday of Advent. In these three sisters may we have--as we may justly hope--three advocates in heaven where we all expect to meet one day, never more to part.

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