This article was originally published in The Catholic News Herald of the diocese of Charlotte.
There are many amazing saints named Catherine recognized by the Catholic Church; but I am not named after any of them. I was named after one of my mother’s aunts, and my spelling of Kathryn is more typical among Protestants than it is among Catholics. Spelling variations aside though, it is still inspiring to look at some of the amazing women throughout history whose name I share.
The first Catherine that might come to mind for most is St. Catherine of Siena, that well-known mystic and Doctor of the Church, who had so much influence with the popes of her time despite being a young woman who lived only to the age of 33. Another might be St. Catherine of Alexandria, a virgin martyr of the early Church who also later appeared in visions to St. Joan of Arc to give her counsel.
However, my own favorite Catherine was a modest nun who belonged to the Daughters of Charity in France, an order founded by St. Vincent de Paul. This Catherine was so quiet and humble that for most of her life only her own confessor knew how God and the Virgin Mary had blessed her and shown her favor.
St. Catherine Labouré was 9 years old when her mother died. Sorrowfully, St. Catherine turned for comfort to the Virgin Mary, declaring, “Now, dear Blessed Mother, you will be my mother.” Later, as a young nun in the convent, Our Lady personally appeared to St. Catherine; while they talked, St. Catherine rested her hands in Mary’s lap, just as a beloved daughter would. It was in their second meeting that Mary gave St. Catherine the vision and instructions for creating the Miraculous Medal. Our Lady appeared to her standing atop a globe, with rays of light streaming out from her hands, and framed by the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The Blessed Virgin said to St. Catherine, “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck. Those who repeat this prayer with devotion will be, in a special manner, under the protection of the Mother of God. Graces will be abundantly bestowed upon those who have confidence.”
When I came into communion with the Catholic Church in 2012, the Miraculous Medal was one of the first devotions I learned about. Our local parish prays the Miraculous Medal novena every Wednesday night during Holy Hour, and one of the first prayers I learned was that which Our Lady gave to St. Catherine. In 2015, I was blessed to be able to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and as part of our pilgrimage we visited the Miraculous Medal Shrine. It was there I purchased the necklace which I still wear.
Ever since I joined the Church, I have had a strong love and devotion to the Virgin Mary. However, it was just this past year that it was made clear the love and devotion which she has for me.
One Saturday afternoon back in May, I was out driving and pulled up to a stop sign not far from my house. It’s a four-way stop that I drive through nearly every time I go anywhere, and I know well enough to be cautious. On this day, a large truck pulled up to my right at about the same time I reached the stop, and I duly watched him until he indicated that I should go first. I began to drive through the intersection slowly, keeping an eye on the truck as well as on a car that had pulled up directly across from me. I never saw the car to my left, that apparently did not see the stop sign. I was hit on the driver’s side at full speed, easily 45 mph, and the first thing I knew was that my car was rolling over. It rolled completely at least once, because I was aware of being upside down, but, thankfully, landed right side up. My door was crunched so that I couldn’t open it, and there was a sprinkling of safety glass throughout the interior of the car.
When I say I was miraculously uninjured, I don’t use that term lightly. Not only did I walk away from the accident with nothing worse than some light bruising from the seatbelt and airbags, but I also quickly found my eyeglasses, undamaged, on the seat beside me. It took a little bit longer to find, but my phone was also undamaged – not even a cracked screen. In fact, the only thing that suffered damage was the car itself, and that was a light price to pay for saving my life.
Why do I call this miraculous and not just well-made manufacturing? Because the very first thing I noticed after the car came to rest was my Miraculous Medal on the floor at my feet. The medal had come off the chain still around my neck and was laying there as a clear sign to me of the Blessed Mother’s love and protection that day.
Perhaps it is the filial love for Mary that has always made me feel such a bond to St. Catherine Labouré. I am thankful to have a dear and loving relationship with my earthly mother, yet I have also looked to the Virgin Mary as a mother, too. It was her special protection I felt watching over me that day, and I have since said many prayers of thanksgiving to both her and St. Catherine. I have never felt my own name to be so appropriate.
In uncertain times, in a world that feels increasingly unstable, we could also use the steady love of our Blessed Mother. To learn more about St. Catherine and the Miraculous Medal, I encourage you to check out the website for the Shrine in Philadelphia.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.