The following story appeared in the June 9 Idaho Catholic Register.
By Emily Woodham
The story of St. Germaine Cousin is heartbreaking. She was violently abused by her stepmother, and no one in the little town of Pibrac, France, not even her father, intervened. But even in the depths of loneliness and pain, St. Germaine found consolation in God’s love for her.
Germaine Cousin was born in 1579. Her right arm was crippled at birth, but she was otherwise healthy.
Her father was a poor farmer, who was terrible with money. Her mother died when she was 4. Right away, her father remarried a widow, who had children of her own. Most likely, he wanted the security of his new wife’s wealth more than her household
skills or for a relationship of love. This proved to be disastrous.
Around the time that her father remarried, Germaine became ill with scrofula, which is tuberculosis of the neck that can spread to the face. The disfiguring cysts and sores were contagious and had no cure at that time. So her stepmother, who already despised Germaine for her crippled arm, sent her to live in the barn away from her children.
Years after St. Germaine’s death, during her canonization process in the 17th century, people who knew the Cousin family testified that Germaine’s stepmother was cruel toward Germaine. The girl slept on a bed of sticks and leaves under stairs in the barn. She had no shoes and was never given nice clothes. For food, Germaine was given a daily allowance of only bread and water.
Her stepmother constantly criticized Germaine, unjustly accused her of wrong-doing, beat her, and once punished her by pouring boiling water on her.
Germaine was given the task of shepherding the family sheep. Despite dangerous wolves in the area, the wolves always left her and her sheep alone. She also had to spin wool, which was nearly impossible given her crippled arm. Despite the difficulty of the spinning, if she did not meet her stepmother’s standards, Germaine was severely beaten.
Germaine was permitted to go to Mass on Sundays and feast days, which she loved to do. Although she was illiterate, she paid close attention to the parish priest’s instructions so that she could receive First Reconciliation and First Communion.
Because of her scrofula, the townspeople also rejected Germaine. It is assumed that she must have struggled with despair, but all that is known is that in her loneliness she found consolation in thinking about Jesus and the Blessed Mother. While tending her sheep, she would contemplate the lessons from Mass and pray. (She made her own rosary out of knots of hay.) When the church bells for the Angelus rang, she would immediately stop whatever she was doing and kneel, even in mud or water.
As her devotion to the Holy Eucharist grew, she began to long to go to daily Mass. With no one to help her, she asked her guardian angel to tend her sheep so that she could go. To the amazement of the townspeople, when she returned, her sheep would be grazing peacefully around her staff, with not one lost or harmed.
Although the adults continued to be wary of Germaine, as she became a teenager, the children looked up to her. They saw in her a model of love and kindness. Over time, children would gather around her while she tended her sheep. She would provide them catechesis and pray with them.
Her devotion to daily Mass became so strong that nothing could deter her. In a testimony during her canonization, it was said that one day the river, which she had to cross to go to the parish church, was overflowing. Running late, she didn’t have time to get to the river’s bridge, so, legend has it, she made the Sign of the Cross, stepped into the river, and the waters parted for her.
Throughout this time, her stepmother’s abuse continued. When Germaine was 20, someone had taken her bread from the barn. She found it in the kitchen. When she tried take her bread back, her stepmother accused her of stealing for the poor. Instead of standing still so her stepmother could beat her, Germaine ran away with the bread in her apron. Her mother chased her with a stick into the center of the town. When Germaine let go of her apron, flowers spilled out. Everyone in the town was astounded, and from then on, she was held in high esteem.
It is not known if her stepmother had a true change of heart, but her abuse stopped. Germaine’s father asked Germaine to live in the house, but Germaine refused. Accustomed to uniting her suffering to Christ’s suffering on the Cross, she wanted to continue to offer a life of austerity to God. It was testified that she was never known to be bitter or unforgiving.
One night in 1601, people traveling in from different sides of the village, noticed a glowing light in the sky and saw a vision of a luminous young woman accompanied by angels. In the morning, Germaine was found dead. She was 22.
She was buried in her beloved parish church of St. Mary Magdalene. Forty years later, the parish needed to take up the stone floor for another grave. In their digging, they found Germaine’s body incorrupt. She was placed in a glass coffin, and people began praying to her.
Her canonization process was delayed because of political unrest and the fact that the dossier to the pope about her was lost in transport.
In late 18th century France, during the Revolution, a commander ordered soldiers to desecrate the incorrupt body of Germaine Cousin. (Although she was not yet beatified, the devotions in southern France to the Blessed Mother, the Eucharist and to the Pope were attributed to her influence and prayers.) Soldiers threw her body into a pit, poured quicklime over her and then covered her with dirt. However, the violent acts of hate on her frail body left only a few burns. Her body remained incorrupt, and the miracles through her prayers continued.
St. Germaine was finally canonized in 1867. She is the patron saint of victims of abuse, those with disabilities, and those who have been abandoned.
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