History, Saints Stories

Algerian Martyr: Sr. Odette Prévost

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.

 

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History, Saints Stories

Algerian Martyr: Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond

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.

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History, Saints Stories

Algerian Martyrs: Sister Caridad Alvarez Martín and Sister Esther Paniagua Alonso

On October 23, 1994, Sisters Esther Paniagua Alonso and Caridad “Cari” Alvarez Martín were each shot in the head as they walked to Mass.

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.”

 

 

 

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History, Saints Stories

Algerian Martyrs: Sisters Angèle-Marie Littlejohn and Bibiane Leclercq

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

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Saints Stories, Uncategorized

Meszlényi: The Magyars’ Martyred Bishop

Bl. Zoltán Lajos Meszlényi, martyr 
Memorial: March 4

The second of five children, Bl. Zoltán was born January 2, 1892, into a strong Catholic family. His father was a teacher and a school principal. He attended grammar school in Rimaszombat and began high school at a Protestant institution before moving to Esztergom and finishing at a Benedictine high school in 1909. After graduation, his patron the archbishop of Esztergom, Kolos Cardinal Vaszary, OSB, sent him to Rome to continue his education. As a pupil at the Collegium Germanico-Hungaricum, he studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University where he earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1912 and a degree in theology in 1913. He also earned a degree in canon law.

As a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy’s enemy during World War I, he had to leave Rome during that conflict, which forced him to spend studying some time in Innsbruck. It was there on October 28, 1915, that he received holy orders at the hand of His Lordship Franz Egger, the prince bishop of Brixen (then in Austria, now in Italy).

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His Lordship Franz Egger, the prince bishop of Brixen

Upon his return to Hungary, he was appointed chaplain at Komárom, but a few months János Cardinal Csernoch called him later to Esztergom, where the primate’s chancellery entrusted him with more important tasks.

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János Cardinal Csernoch

From 1917 to 1937, he held a variety of progressively important curial posts. Then Pius XI appointed him coadjutor bishop of Esztergom. All throughout this time, he continued his studies in canon law and authored a significant book on the subject and taught it, as well as a member of the Peter Pázmány University theology faculty.

In 1945, Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty became the new primate of Hungary, and he confirmed Meszlényi in every one of his offices.

The communist state security apparatus arrested Cardinal Mindszenty on December 26, 1948, and convicted him after an obscene show trial.

mindszenty-trial

After this, the archdiocesan finance minister and vicar general János Drahos took over. He died in 1950, however.

Bishop Meszlényi then became vicar of the archbishop of Esztergom, first because the chapter recognized his rectitude and firmness, and secondly because they refused to elect Nicholas Beresztóczy, the candidate promoted by the communist state. In his inaugural address as vicar, Meszlényi said, “Christ – because He is the faithful shepherd of the Faith and our Church – out of loyalty, we will not deny Him ever! So help me God.”

The communist regime could not forgive him for the chapter electing him vicar over their own candidate. On June 29, 1950, 12 days after his election, the communists arrested Bl. Zoltán and put him in the Kistarcsa internment camp, where he was kept in solitary confinement and tortured.

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So began eight months of cruel captivity, consisting of starvation and lack of heating. Indeed several witnesses claimed the communists forced him to live during the winter with an open window day and night. These hardships were exacerbated by forced labor and violence and unspeakable torture, of which the oppressors were masters of all time.

All the while no charges were brought against Bishop Meszlényi. He was detained without trial. Furthermore the state machinery gave the public no news about the fate of the arrested bishop. It seems to have also subsequently erased by any documentation related to the arrest, if ever there was any.

Because of the torture and lack of medical care, Bishop Meszlényi died sometime between January 11, 1953, and March 4, 1954.

As soon as they learned the news of his death, those who knew him saw the seal of martyrdom in his story.

He was buried in an unmarked grave but exhumed in 1966 and his remains transferred to the cathedral in Esztergom.

The Christian martyr is different from those of other faithsHe is killed. He does not kill. He is killed out of hatred of Jesus and His gospel of life and truth. But his answer is not to hate but to love, not to seek revenge but forgiveness. It is not a retribution of resentment but prayer and blessing for one’s persecutors and tormentors.

This is the great lesson of life that Bishop Meszlényi leaves us today.

 

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