As we travel along the Italian and French Riviera on our way to Lourdes, France, we have always passed by Toulouse — and, previously, we never thought to see what the Lord had for us there.
Then we were gifted to learn about a little saint, not well known in the United States, but powerful in her region of France: St. Germaine du Pibrac, who was born in 1579. Her shrine is about 15 miles east of Toulouse, and it is a tribute to the "Little Saint of the Unwanted."
She is so well loved by the people of the area that her feast day, June 15, is a cause for celebration on June 15 and 16. The theme this year is "With Germaine, Celebrate the Joy of Believing."
The turnout of local people is so great that the little church where she is laid out was not big enough to accommodate all who came, so the townspeople eventually built a beautiful basilica in her honor. It was begun on the feast of her death in 1901 and completed in 1965.
This precious girl’s story is one of the saddest accounts we have ever written about. She was born with a crippled and paralyzed right arm and scrofula, a form of tuberculosis that affects the neck. No one knew for sure who her parents were. She might have been left at the doorstep as a baby. She may have been the daughter of Laurent Cousin’s first wife. He took her in as his child but never cared for her. He remarried, and his new wife hated Germaine. She treated Germaine terribly. The child was kept away from her stepfamily, allowed to sleep under a stairway in the barn but never allowed to live in the house.
She lived in rags and never had a pair of shoes. She ate the stale bread and water that was left for her at the front door of the house every day.
The mood of her stepmother usually determined how badly St. Germaine would be treated. At any given time, the local farmers could see welts and bruises on her hands and face. Her father never interfered with his wife’s ill treatment of the girl.
The only concession Germaine’s father seemed to give her was permission to go to Mass every week, which she took advantage of whenever she could. This is where the Lord spoke to her. He showed her how her life could be; he gave her an understanding of the sacraments.
Germaine developed a hunger for the Mass. During the week, as she was tending her sheep, she could hear the church bells ring for the beginning of Mass. She wanted so badly to be there. Her spirit soared from the field — she took part in the Mass spiritually.
But a time came when that was not enough for her, due to her hunger for the Eucharist, which was to be the catalyst that brought about one of the miracles given to her.
One day, the Lord spoke to Germaine’s heart. She was out in the field, tending the sheep, as usual. She heard the bells that called the people to Mass and knew they were calling her to Mass, too.
So she took her distaff — a staff with a cleft end for holding flax, which she used for spinning her wool — and thrust it into the ground.
Then she huddled her flock of sheep around the distaff and told them to stay there together, not to wander off.
She ran to the church to take part in the Mass, while the sheep stayed behind, as instructed. That the sheep stayed together was a miracle, considering there were wolves all around them.
God had helped her meet him in the Eucharist — and he continued to do so.
Germaine’s time at Mass was not only the high point of her day; it became the driving force in her life. She would gladly suffer all that her stepmother and the weather in the fields and her illness and deformity handed out to her. But she could not do without her Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
Another miraculous manifestation that has been the talk of the village and St. Germaine’s followers all these years is what is called the "Miracle of the Flowers."
Germaine gave scraps of bread to the various beggars who came to her for help. But the few scraps she was given for her meals were not enough, so she snuck into the house to take crusts of bread from the kitchen.
One day, after Germaine had taken bread from the kitchen and was heading down the road to give it to some of the destitute people who depended on her, her stepmother discovered what she was doing. She ran after Germaine, calling her a thief, and demanded she open her apron so that the bread would fall out. This took place in the center of town, where everyone could hear. The stepmother planned it this way so that she could justify her wicked behavior towards the girl before the whole village. Germaine obediently opened her apron, thinking the bread would fall out and she would have to suffer the wrath of her stepmother. But the Lord stepped in, and, rather than bread falling out, beautiful flowers cascaded to the ground. The flowers were not found in that area of France, and definitely not in the wintertime, which is when this occurred. Praise Jesus!
Eventually, Germaine’s illnesses caught up with her, and the Lord took her to heaven, in 1601, at the age of just 22. When the villagers heard about her death, they were devastated.
Great pains were taken to make the day she died the most memorable one of her life.
Her body was brought, in solemn procession, to the church she loved so much, and she was buried there.
That was the end of Germaine’s story, or so everyone thought. But 43 years later, in 1644, a woman in the parish died. She had requested to be buried in the church near the altar. When the workmen dug up the floor near the altar, which is where Germaine was buried, they found Germaine’s body perfectly intact.
Miracle upon miracle came about through her intercession. A beautiful urn was created for her body, which is venerated inside the church to this day.
St. Germaine is a powerful intercessor. Get to know her. Ask for her help. She is very kind; she will come to your aid.