Sister of Charity. Born at Fain-les-Moutiers (near Dijon) of a large farming family, she looked after her widowed father for several years, then worked as a waitress in her uncle's café at Paris. She joined the Sisters of Charity at Châtillon-sur-Seine in 1830. She made her novitiate at Paris (rue du Bac) and was professed there. She lived inconspicuously for 46 years in her community at Reuilly (Paris) as portress, looking after the elderly in a rest-home and tending the poultry. Superiors described her as ‘matter of fact, unexcitable, insignificant, cold, and apathetic’. Until a few months before her death hardly anyone knew about the visions she had experienced as a young nun.
These had several saints as their subject, including the founder Vincent de Paul. Most famous however were visions and dialogues with the Blessed Virgin, whose content included world-wide disasters, the violent death of a future archbishop (possibly Mgr. Darboy in 1871), and Catherine's future difficulties. Once Mary appeared as in a picture standing on a globe with shafts of light coming from her hands: an inscription surrounded her: ‘Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’ On the reverse side was a capital ‘M’ with the cross above and two hearts below. Catherine believed she was ordered to have this produced as a medal: 1,500 were minted in 1832, authorized by the archbishop. In 1834 an account of its origins and efficacy was published: 130,000 copies were soon sold. In 1836 a canonical enquiry into the visions declared them authentic. This judgment seemed to be confirmed when Alphonse Ratisbonne, an Alsatian Jew, was converted to Christianity in 1842, became a priest, and founded the Fathers and Sisters of Sion. From that time onwards this ‘Miraculous Medal’ and the associated devotion has been very widely propagated.
Catherine died on 31 December and her body remains incorrupt in the convent chapel at rue du Bac, Paris. Miracles were reported at her tomb. She was beatified in 1933 and canonized in 1947. Feast: 28 November.
C. Yves, La vie secrète de Catherine Labouré (1948); O. Engelbert, Catherine Labouré and the Modern Apparitions of Our Lady (1959); B.L.S., xi. 220–1; N.C.E., viii. 301–2; Bibl. SS., iii. 1045–7.