Image: Statue of Saint Germaine Cousin by Alexandre Falguière – by Wikimedia Commons
Germaine Cousin was a 16th-century shepherdess who lived from 1579 to 1601. Born with a lame right hand and the disease scrofula (a non-tuberculous infection of the lymph nodes of the neck), she projected quite an unsightly appearance. The only child of Laurent Cousin and Marie Laroche, Germaine lived about 1.5 miles west of Pibrac, France. When she was just five years old, the plague suddenly took her dear mother, and her father soon after remarried. Germaine was physically and mentally abused by her new stepmother, Armande de Rajols.
Armande’s hatred of little Germaine was so intense that she forced her to live 17 years in the family barn and to watch the sheep near the wolf-infested La Bouconne forest, hoping the wolves would kill her. Isolated, cold, and lonely, Germaine embraced a life of prayer, penance, and almsgiving; she assisted the poor and hungry, even though she herself was malnourished. She offered up her suffering to God.
It was while these abuses were taking place that miraculous wonders began to surround Germaine. People from the village witnessed her, on several occasions, parting the turbulent spring waters of the Courbet, which she had to cross to get to Mass in the morning.
On another occasion, Germaine had filled her apron with surplus bread from her meager daily rations so that she may feed the poor. Her stepmother pursued her into town, hoping to expose her to the townspeople as a miscreant and a thief who was stealing from her household pantry. After catching up with her in the public square, she forced her to reveal the contents of her apron. When Germaine opened her apron, it wasn’t bread that came flowing out, but summer flowers. It was the middle of winter. Everyone was amazed and began to see Germaine in a different light. The stepmother, however, was unmoved, and continued to persecute the young girl until her death. This wasn’t for much longer, as Germaine soon died alone in the barn where she had been forced to live for 17 years.
Mysterious lights enveloped the barn the night she died. Two monks who were traveling from Gascony noticed the light from far off. Approaching cautiously, they witnessed angels descending upon the barn in large numbers and taking a soul robed in a virgin’s gown up to heaven. It was only at Germaine’s deathbed that the stepmother finally began to weep bitterly for her mistreatment of the girl; she eventually repented.
The story of Germaine’s life was soon forgotten.
In 1644, some 43 years following her death, the body of a noblewoman was being interred in front of the sanctuary of the church when a workman accidently exhumed Germaine’s incorrupt body from under the flagstone floor. Her body looked and smelled as fresh as the day she had passed away. News spread like wildfire throughout the town. Her body was exposed in the church in the hopes of eliciting religious fervor.
Madame de Beauregard, a prominent lady, put a stop to this. She complained to the parish priest about the disgusting exhibit of a corpse near her pew. She threatened to withhold alms if Germaine’s corpse continued to be exposed. The priest complied with her request and removed the casket.
Not long after, Madame de Beauregard was stricken with a fatal disease. Distressed by his wife’s condition and her irreverence toward a possible saint, her husband pleaded for her life before the tabernacle of the church, requesting that Germaine intercede. Moments later, Germaine appeared in spirit to Madame de Beauregard and healed her instantly of her ailment.
Despite these apparent signs of sanctity and several attempts at initiating the cause of her canonization, Germaine wasn’t beatified until May 7, 1854 – 210 years after her incorrupt body had been found. Her canonization finally took place on June 29, 1867.
Saint Germaine was forgotten, neglected, and unloved for most of her life. Even after her death, it seemed that the Lord purposely kept her well hidden. Most Catholics have never heard of her, and that includes religious and priests. In our complex and fast-paced world, Germaine’s simplicity, charity, and piety don’t seem to fit in anywhere.
The reason is that we have now brought up entire generations of entitled young people who see themselves as central to the universe’s purpose. They are the first to complain if things don’t go their way. In recent news, is it not surprising to learn about a woman stabbing her fiancé over their wedding color scheme? We are witnessing the consequences of a narcissistic culture that seeks pleasure without any kind of moral compass to guide the conscience.
How could Germaine’s life story fit into such a culture? It would seem, that we are not quite ready yet.
We and our children were brought up on the idea that our “self-esteem” needed to be enhanced. In this way, we’ve made an entire generation incapable of seeing its own darkness, empowered with the perception of its own strength and unique gifts. At the same time, this generation’s children, disconnected from any moral compass, think they can do no harm. Meanwhile, a mother in her thirties was sucker-punched while walking with her daughter. No apparent reason was reported, but the public was outraged that such random acts of violence could take place. It was part of the “knockout game,” a depraved form of entertainment for young people.
It is imperative that we begin, once again, to talk to our children about living virtuous lives of self-effacement and not self-empowerment – lives of temperance and not overindulgence. It is pressing that we share with our children the idea of living a simpler life that is rooted in love, penance, alms giving, and prayer.
Our children need to hear that the Lord Jesus is drawn to those who are small, hidden, and pure, not just to those who are smart, rich, attractive, and self-empowered.
In the book Germaine: Requiem of a Soul, Andrew St-James recounts the full history of Saint Germaine. She was a pure soul who abandoned herself completely to divine providence, who learned to surrender her will completely to God.
This inspirational story shatters all the conventional theories modern man may have about God and about the modern concepts of self-empowerment. For when Jesus approaches, He does not strengthen and empower the individual, as most Protestant evangelists claim. Instead, as Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes, “when the Lord approaches, he weakens.”
God is not distant from the suffering of man. The story of Germaine Cousin attests to that truth. The events that surround the life of Saint Germaine have been clearly documented and can be regarded as a reliable historical record of her most remarkable life. It’s a story that has been lost, but it is time now for it be told to our children and loved ones.
Dr. Bissonnette is an associate professor of nutrition at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he does obesity research. He advances that obesity is a mere symptom of a much greater social malaise which medical science has failed to address. He is the author of two textbooks: It’s All about Nutrition: Saving the Health of Americans and Nutrition for Healthcare Professionals: Introduction to Disease Prevention. He produced the documentaries Obesity in America: A National Crisis and A Diabetic Nation: An American Tragedy. He also produced the documentaries The Theology of Human Suffering and The Mystical Revelations of the Sacred Heart.