The First Sister of Providence

Sister Marguerite Lecomte (1737-1835)

On a cold morning in January 1762, the fourteenth day of the month, two young priests entered the Church of Vigy, France and were welcomed by the Cure of the parish, Abbe Verniolle.  A young girl, sedate but simple and modest, accompanied them.

Their thanksgiving ended, the two priests and the young girl took the road that led to Saint-Hubert, a hamlet situated four kilometers from Vigy.  Fr. Jean Martin Moye knew this road for having traveled it during his missions, and it was a very good thing, since the snow, thick and clinging, in these Lorraine lands, hid it almost completely.

Marguerite Lecomte followed a few steps behind, praying her rosary.  Bright-eyed, sure of step, clothed in a heavy wool dress, wearing solid wooden shoes, she seemed indifferent to the cold.  She walked strong with an unshakeable faith in Providence, learned from the school of Fr. Moye, when the soul was wide open to confidence.

The arrival of the three travelers created a sensation in the small sparsely inhabited locality, little accustomed to their tranquility being disturbed by visitors.  The season of winter kept the inhabitants in their homes.  Notified of the event, they soon assembled around the three, bearers without doubt of sensational news.

What was their surprise when Father Moye announced to them that the reason for this visit was the proposal of a school teacher for their children.

After the first moment of astonishment, for it was a real surprise for these brave peasants, it was necessary to look at the practical side, suggested spontaneously by good common sense: this school teacher would be without doubt, useful, but it would be necessary to lodge her, feed her…this newcomer, despite her sympathetic appearance, didn’t look well-off…and all these families were poor…This was absolutely impossible.

The conclusion was evident: the offer was met with defeat…But we already know that this defeat was not of a nature to upset the apostles who had come to work for God.  Providence had not uttered the last word.

A brave peasant, mother of a large family, after having obtained the approving nod from her husband, timidly offered lodging to the young mistress.  A respectful silence greeted the proposal.  Heaven had resolved the question.

Sister Marguerite…we shall call her this from henceforth… received parting instructions from the two priests who, while blessing her, assured her of divine protection. They then returned to Metz, 14 kilometers from Saint Hubert.

For her part, the young mistress, after having answered some questions from the people who were self confident because of the morning scene, retired to the home of her charitable hostess and offered her services to her.

The day, fruitful in events, was coming to an end.  The family came together around the table for the frugal evening meal.  Sr. Marguerite used her poor provisions in order not to diminish the meager ration of the children, and the time for rest arrived finally…

It was eagerly awaited; the emotions of the day had worn her out, she longed for solitude.

How disappointed she was when the lady of the house indicated a corner of the common room which she was to share with the children and her and her husband.  As a matter of fact, this room served as kitchen, dining room and bedroom for the whole family.

“I didn’t sleep, but I wasn’t discouraged; I did not want to look back; I rested on Providence and I encouraged myself with the thought that our good Father Moye had told us many times: ‘Great things have small beginnings.’”As soon as daylight came, she left in search of just such a favorable place, sure that Providence would lead her.

Although heavy snow covered and hid the houses, Sr. Marguerite noticed an abandoned stable at the entrance to the village and near the home of her hosts; she examined it and found it favorable for her needs.  She easily obtained permission to make it her home and courageously she went to work.

The inhabitants of Saint-Hubert were beginning to be interested in this new-comer who seemed to be moved with the purest of intentions and who did not hesitate to accept all the sacrifices to procure for them and their children the blessings of the knowledge of God.  Her unselfishness especially struck them with admiration and, in her gracious goodness, they recognized the character of a true disciple of the one who said: “Love one another…Let the little ones come unto me.”

“The second day,” says Marguerite, “I was in my cubbyhole, happy and content.  I was there really like a grain of mustard seed.  The people sent me the three children of the house, but the space where I held them was so small that I was obliged to hold them on my lap. For this foundation, established under the sign of the cross and the most absolute destitution, was to live and bear fruit.  The ardent missionary stayed more than a half century in this region where the hand of Providence had placed her…  The grain of mustard seed, watered by divine grace, sprang up and blossomed.

“I called you at first the poor Sisters, the Daughters of the Infant Jesus”, said Fr. Moye, “since you are especially destined to teach children.  But the public universally gave you and still call you the Sisters of Providence.  And it’s the name that is most suitable for you, since it reminds you that you must abandon yourselves to this divine Providence. Rely only on Providence, without seeking human support.”