The Cinderella Saint
Did you ever hear of St. Germaine of Pibrac? She's quite fascinating and inspiring, but not quite as popular as saints like St. Agnes or St. Clare. Here's an essay I wrote about her some time ago. Maybe you can learn something from it. :)
The story of Cinderella has been around for hundreds of years. There are many versions of the story, and of course there's the Disney movie. Nearly everyone knows the story of the scullery maid who became a princess. But how many people, I wonder, know that there is a true story about a shepherdess who became a saint?
At first glance, this true story does not seem very much like the story of Cinderella. Instead of beginning once upon a time in a land far, far away, it begins in 1579 in Pibrac, France. That is the time and place of our little princess’ birth.
Her name was not Cinderella, but Germaine Cousin. And she did not look much like a princess. Her right arm was deformed and her neck disfigured by the disease of scrofula. No one would have thought that this small daughter of a poor French man would ever amount to anything.
But Germaine and Cinderella had something very much in common: a wicked stepmother.
Her name was Hortense, and she was as cruel to Germaine as Cinderella’s stepmother ever was. Using the sickly child’s scrofula as an excuse, she sent Germaine out to the barn to live. There, the poor girl suffered through winter cold and summer heat with the animals as her only companions. She slept on a sorry bed under the barn steps and ate what scraps the family saved for her. Every day, she drove the sheep out to pasture far from the house, and there she spent her days, whether the weather was driving rain or merciless snow, blistering heat or biting cold. It was a lonely life she led, out there in the woods and pastures of France. Yet, like Cinderella, she never complained or despaired, but remained joyful and kind – even towards her spiteful stepmother.
Why? Why was she so loving and gentle, when the wind and sun and snow and rain and loneliness of a shepherdess’ life should have hardened her heart and sharpened her tongue long ago? How could she have survived? Certainly her stepmother’s abusive treatment and her father’s neglect to protect her should have broken her spirit long ago. Why didn’t she give up and pray as she fell asleep to never wake again? Wouldn’t her hard life have killed her? It could have. It should have. But it didn’t.
Germaine had something that Cinderella didn’t. She had her Faith. She had her Church. She had the Mass. And these things strengthened her. They made her life worthwhile, worth suffering, worth loneliness. Every day when the church bells rang for Mass, Germaine longed to rush to the church to her Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. He was her Prince Charming, and one Mass was better than a thousand royal balls.
But a shepherdess cannot leave her sheep, and anyone would have advised Germaine not to abandon hers, even for a short while. The wolves that prowled the forests would certainly attack and kill them. And what would her stepmother think of that? Surely it would mean more beatings for Germaine if she lost even one lamb. But beatings were a small price to pay in order to attend the greatest event on earth. God was more important to Germaine than anything else in the world. So, she appealed to her Fairy Godmother – that is, her Guardian Angel. She prayed that he would keep the sheep safe. Then, trusting that her prayer had been heard, she set her shepherd’s crook in the ground, told the sheep to stay, and hurried to Mass. When she returned, she found the sheep perfectly safe. This she did every day after, and although every time her sheep were left with no earthly shepherd to protect them, not one of them ever strayed or was killed by wolves.
Even rushing rivers could not hinder Germaine from visiting her True Love. Several times a certain stream she had to cross became swollen with rain, so swollen that no one dared to cross lest they be swept away. But Germaine was not afraid. She calmly made the sign of the cross and prayed for help. Then, the waters divided, allowing Germaine to cross safely on dry ground.
Another time the stepmother chased Germaine, accusing her of stealing food. When she caught her, she made her open her apron, which she supposed held the stolen goods. But there, in Germaine’s ragged clothes, were beautiful flowers, unknown to the region; and this was in the midst of winter’s chill.
All the long years that Germaine lived in the wretched shed, no one but the village children understood how special she was. They would come to her and listen as she spoke of God. She loved Him so, and she knew Him well, for all those lonesome hours spent watching sheep and spinning wool were spent mostly in prayer. She had made a rosary for herself, and this she prayed often. Also, she went to Confession regularly. It is no wonder she became so familiar with heavenly things.
Germaine had been as holy as a shepherdess can be for a long while. She was 22 years old. Cinderella didn’t have to wait so long for her happily ever after. Where was Germaine’s?
One quiet night, in the year 1601, a priest and two religious were traveling through the woods near Pibrac. They were surprised to see a chorus of shining maidens in white dance through the forest. They went on towards Pibrac, but soon returned. This time they were even happier than they had been the first time, for they had been joined by another maiden. It was Germaine. The virgins had come to take her to heaven, which is far more wonderful a palace than Prince Charming ever offered Cinderella; they came to lead her to her bridegroom, who loved her more than Prince Charming ever could have loved Cinderella; and He gave to her the heavenly crown she so deserved, the crown of virginity, adorned with the jewels of all her good works on earth, which is more beautiful than any crown Cinderella ever wore.
And she lived happily ever after.