Saint of the week

St Germaine Cousin, 15th June

St Germaine is the patron saint of victims of child abuse. She lived a life of heroic virtue in the midst of immense suffering, neglect, isolation and rejection until her death at the age of just 22.

She was the daughter of Laurent Cousin, a farm labourer, and his wife Marie Laroche. St Germaine was born in 1579 at Pibrac, a French village near Toulouse, with her right hand deformed and paralysed. She also suffered from scrufola, a disease of the lymph nodes which causes the emergence of ugly “cold abscesses” on the neck.

Her mother died in infancy and her father remarried. While Laurent showed no affection for her, Hortense, his new wife, actively disliked her and treated her harshly and sometimes with great cruelty. As a toddler she received so little food that she had to learn to take it from the bowl of the dog. She was left abandoned for three days on one occasion, and her step-mother scalded her legs with boiling water on another.

St GermaineThe saint was later separated from the other children in the family, made to sleep in the stable and she was fed on scraps which were sometimes mixed with ashes, just to add to her misery. As soon as she was old enough, St Germaine was sent out to tend the sheep in the pastures on her own. She remained a shepherdess for the course of her short life.

It was in the fields, however, that she grew ever closer to God, entering into a continuous dialogue of love with Him through prayer. She had scarcely any religious education but she would pray the rosary on knots tied into pieces of string. She would also fall to her knees when she heard the Angelus bell, even if she was crossing a stream. Her personal prayers were simple and pure, including for instance, this one: “Dear God, please don’t let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help me to please you.”

St Germaine also developed a profound love for the Mass and as soon as she heard the peal of the church bell she would plant her crook and distaff into the ground and take off, in the hope that God would preserve her flock from any attacks by wolves for the duration of the service (there was none).

Her faith led her gradually to catechise younger children and to practice the corporal works of mercy whenever she could. One way she was able to do this was to share her few scraps with beggars.

This infuriated her stepmother who one winter day pursued her with a stick, convinced that she was concealing stolen bread in her apron. She forced her to open up the garment and an array of bright summer flowers, which were out of season, tumbled to the snowy ground. St Germaine picked one of them up, handed it to Hortense and said: “Please accept this flower, mother. God sends it to you in sign of his forgiveness.”

Laurent soon began to feel remorse over the way his daughter had been treated and insisted that she be readmitted to the family home. St Germaine, however, was resolved to remain in the barn. She was found dead there, on a straw pallet below the stairs, one morning early in the summer of 1601.

St Germaine was buried in her beloved church in Pibrac and her body was found incorrupt when it was exhumed in 1644. It was placed in a leaden coffin in the sacristy and was still intact some 16 years later.

Even before that time, numerous miracles were reported among the stream of pilgrims who visiting her tomb and her cult increased immeasurably.

The French Revolution delayed the opening of St Germaine’s Cause for Sainthood by some years but she was eventually canonised in May 1854 by Pope Pius IX, who placed her on the canon of virgin saints. By then, the Church had documented more than 400 alleged miracles or extraordinary graces at her intercession.

Besides her veneration as a patron saint of child abuse victims, St Germaine is today also a patron of the abandoned, the sick, the disabled and of people considered by others to be physically unattractive. She is invoked against sufferings associated with poverty, illness and the loss of parents.