Sr. Odette Prévost of the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart lost her life for Christ on November 10, 1995. She was the last female of the modern Algerian martyrs to lose their lives.
She was born on July 17, 1932, in Oger, France. After graduation from school, she worked as a school teacher for three years before entering the Little Sisters of the Sacred heart in 1953, taking her final vows in 1959.
First sent to Morocco and then back to France, her order finally stationed her in Algiers in 1968. There, too, she taught students, typically the poorest of the poor.
Sr. Odette spent her nights helping young children with their homework.
Sister would make homemade yogurt so the local children would have “enough protein to grow.” In addition to her free tutoring, she played games with them. Because of this, there “was always a gang of them in the kitchen.”
Days before she died, she asked an Algerian Christian friend for a kiss goodbye. The friend, laughing, said, “‘No, I’ll come back tomorrow.’ She said, ‘Tomorrow might be too late.’”
Encouraged to leave Algeria, she refused “so as ‘to resist through solidarity’ the enveloping violence and chaos to show through their presence that ‘one can live fraternally with difference.’”
Benedictine Father Martin McGee writes, “Odette purposely decided to remain in Algeria in order ‘to be Christ’s own presence.’ She understood her decision to stay in light of the Eucharist–Jesus’ self-offering on our behalf.” In this light, her death on a Friday while on her way to the holy sacrifice of the Mass is fitting.
Along with Marist Brother Henri Verges, Sr. Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond became the first person in the modern era to undergo martyrdom in Algeria on May 8, 1994.
Sister was born in Paris on January 24, 1927, the eighth of ten children. She did scientific studies in Sorbonne but found her religious vocation, joining the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1952, so she could serve the poor. Subsequently she studied to be a nurse and made her final vows in 1960.
For roughly four years, Sr. Paul-Hélène worked amongst the poor in Rouen, before transferring to Algeria, where she was head nurse at an Algiers health center. She was a whirlwind of activity so that she would exhaust her fellow sisters and had to be told to go easy on them. She became so skilled she could perform minor surgery.
Archbishop Teissier says she was someone who “chose what she wanted to do and she did it.”
Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond was born in Paris on January 24, 1927, the eighth of ten children. She did scientific studies in Sorbonne but found her religious vocation, joining the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1952, so she could serve the poor. Subsequently she studied to be a nurse and made her final vows in 1960.
For roughly four years, Sr. Paul-Hélène worked amongs the poor in Rouen, before transferring to Algeria, where she was head nurse at an Algiers health center. She was a whirlwind of activity so that she would exhaust her fellow sisters and had to be told to go easy on them. She became so skilled she could perform minor surgery.
Reflecting on the violence that then reigned, she wrote that “one must start oneself to fight against one’s own violence.” To Msgr. Teissier who warned her of the danger all were facing, she replied, “Father, our lives are already given anyway.”
Sister, an engineer by training, had lived 30 years in the Maghreb (i.e., northern Africa from Morocco to Libya’s western border) serving the people there. Upon her retirement, rather than returning to France, she moved to the capital to assist Brother Henri Vergès in running the library, which served 1,200 young people from neighboring schools.
The French Wikipedia article on her says, “She was very helpful, unfailingly generosity, of a very logical mind, of a lively intelligence, and possessed of a great memory. However, her frankness, her outspokenness, and her lack of tact caused her relational difficulties, and her determined character sometimes made her difficult to live for the other nuns, but her humility, her fraternal spirit and capacity for dialogue promoted reconciliation. Her vast culture and knowledge also makes her known as ‘Madame Encyclopédie.’ The depth of her faith helped her to overcome her inner struggles. She remained very attached to prayer, individual and community.
Sister Esther was a nurse who worked with sick and disabled children and had painstakingly learned fluent Arabic. In the discernment meeting with Msgr. Teissier about whether to stay or go, she said to her sisters, “At this moment, for me, the perfect model is Jesus: He suffered, he had to overcome difficulties and led to the failure of the cross from which springs the source of life…. Nobody can take our life because we have already given it … Nothing will happen to us since we are in the hands of God … and if something happens to us, we are still in His hands.”
At the same meeting, Sister Caridad, who worked with the elderly and poor and had a deep devotion to Our Lady, noted, “I am open to God’s and my superiors’ will for me. Mary remained open to the will of God. Probably that cost her. In the present moments, I want to remain in this attitude before God.”
Again, their murders happened while on their way to Mass. They had set out with two other sisters, but before leaving, their Mother Superior, worried about the violence, said to not walk together so that if something happened it would be only to two and not to all four.
Sisters Esther and Caridad had turned a corner ahead of their companions when shots rang out. People ran past their two companions with fear on their faces, which impelled the women forward to see what had happened. Several young people held them back, however, and told the Sisters their friends had been shot.
The doctor who received them screamed in agony, “When will the killing end?! We no longer know where to put the corpses!”
Esther died first, a little over an hour after being shot, while Cari, transported to a military hospital, at first seemed she might pull through, even though the bullet had lodged in her head. However Sister Cari, too, died the next morning.
The Algerian journalist Saïd Mekbel wrote, “They were two women on their way to God to ask forgiveness. They were undoubtedly offering their little prayers for us, unfortunate Algerians, oppressed by the scourge [of violence]. Perhaps we will be lacking for a long time the final prayers of these two religious who wished to tip the scales in favor of peace and mercy. Towards what world of darkness will we now plunge, we who only dream of light.”
Less than two months later, terrorists also assassinated him.
During the aforementioned discernment retreat, which had lasted two days, Algiers Archbishop Teissier encouraged them to move to a less working class and dangerous neighborhood.
Their response: “This is the district where we are known, this is the district where we must remain.”
Sisters Angèle-Marie Littlejohn and Bibiane Leclercq were returning from Mass on September 3, 1995, when assassins cut them down.
For 35 years they had lived in Algeria training hundreds of working class girl dropouts in dress making, embroidery, and sewing. Continue reading
Announcement of the beatification of our nineteen brothers and sisters
Statement of the Bishops of Algeria
Our Church is full of Joy. Pope Francis has just authorized the signature of the decree of beatification of “Monsignor Pierre Claverie and his 18 men and women companions”. Continue reading