St. Germaine Cousin lived hundreds of years ago in the little village of Pibrac, France. She was born with a crippled right arm, in 1579, and had a disease called scrofula. This disease showed itself on her neck and cheek, and it affected her bones and joints, often causing swelling and open, running sores.
Perhaps Germaine's mother died when the girl was only a baby, but when Germaine was only about five years old, a woman called Armand married Germaine's father, and took over the house. The sight of Germaine only filled Armand with hate and she kicked the little girl out of the house! Germaine lived in the barn and was not allowed into the house, because her disease might spread to the other family members.
The poor girl was clothed in rags and her feet were always bare! Every morning Germaine would go to the house and wait to be told what her duties for the day were. At the same time her stepmother would usually toss the girl a chunk of stale, old bread. Germaine's main job was to look after the family's flock of sheep. This made Armand happy because she knew that the girl would be gone for most of the day, and that she would not have to be embarrassed by the sight of the sickly girl. Germaine was gone every day, all year! Some days Armand would send her to mind the sheep in the field beside a forest, filled with hungry wolves. The wicked stepmother was hoping that the wolves would eat Germaine, so then she wouldn't have to see the sickly girl any more!
Armand was so mean towards Germaine that one day she even poured boiling water on her. And many times Germaine's body was covered with bruises and sores because her hateful stepmother used to beat her so terribly! Besides minding the sheep, Germaine had to spin by hand, a certain amount of wool every day. Yes, even though the girl had a crippled arm and hand, she was asked to do this difficult work even when the weather was cold and made her fingers stiff. And to make things worse, nothing Germaine did, however hard she tried, would please her wicked stepmother.
In spite of all her hardships, Germaine's main consolation was to be able to go to Mass every Sunday. There she would take to heart the words of the sermon, and the catechism lessens given by the priest after Mass, to the village children. It was at church that the seed of the Catholic Faith was planted in her heart and Germaine watered it by her good works. In time she learned that life was a chain of trials and that she could gain Heaven through life's trials if she offered them to God, and suffered them well. As our saint grew older, she saw with her pure mind that she and her life was a mission of love, to sacrifice and gain graces for others; yes, even for her wicked stepmother!
Germaine learned her catechism lessons by heart and would think about them during the week while minding the sheep. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament became her great strength during her lonely life. Often she would stay in church and pray for hours. Germaine's love for Jesus and Mary grew. From the meadow where she was herding sheep, she could see the parish church and upon hearing the bell for morning Mass, she would unite her heart to God during the time of Mass. One day, feeling a great desire to attend Mass, she called her sheep together and planted her distaff, (used for winding wool), in the ground next to them. Then, making the sign of the cross, she ran to the church. Upon returning from Mass, Germaine was glad to see that her sheep were quietly resting by her distaff. The holy girl continued to do this and attend daily Mass. And though the wolves ate the sheep from other flocks, Germaine's sheep were always protected by God, whether the girl was minding the sheep or at Mass.
The village children loved Germaine and would run through the fields after school, to see her. They would often find her kneeling before a little shrine and praying her rosary. She loved to sit on a rock, spinning her wool, and with her friends gathered around her; she would speak to them about the Catholic Faith. When her friends would pity her because of her rags or lack of food, or asked her about her bruises, Germaine would help them see that these sufferings were something that she could offer up to God, and be like Our Lord, who was once beaten and whipped for our sins.
Day after day, month after month, and year after year, Germaine continued her life of loving God, suffering for God and doing her daily duties. The freezing cold of winter and the heat of the summer were hard enough to bear, without the added sufferings of the scolding and beatings from her wicked stepmother.
One day God worked a miracle for Germaine, who wanted to go to Mass. Usually the Courbet was just a small stream, but it was early spring and the melting snows had made it a rushing river. It was too late to walk to the bridge. Two of her friends on the other side of the river warned Germaine that it was too deep and dangerous to cross. But Germaine just made the sign of the cross and the waters parted, leaving a dry path for her to cross, just like the Red Sea did for Moses! More than once, Armand heard about this miracle happening for Germaine, but it didn't change her hardened heart.
Germaine's heart was full of charity for others. Beggars would come to her for sympathy and to share the scraps of bread which she had. When Madame Cousin heard about this she would often beat Germaine while screaming, "I'm not going to feed every tramp that passes by." Then one cold winter day Germaine went into the kitchen to get some scraps for her hungry friends, when suddenly her stepmother walked in. The angry woman thought the girl was carrying some bread in her apron.
She grabbed a stick and chased the girl to an open area, hoping to prove to all that Germaine was a thief. Armand demanded that Germaine open her apron. The frightened girl did and suddenly a wonderful miracle took place. Instead of scraps of bread, a bunch of beautiful, fresh flowers, not from that area, tumbled to the ground! This only increased the admiration and love of the villagers towards Germaine, and stepmother was shown to be a tyrant. Other miracles too were reported, which proved that God showered His blessings on the poor girl. It was reported that the barn where she slept was flooded with light at night and that heavenly singing was heard by those passing by.
Finally after almost twenty years of neglect and abuse, Lawrence Cousin put his foot down and demanded that Germaine's living conditions be changed for the better. He apologized for his neglect and asked the girl to take her place inside the house and live with the family. But Germaine told her father, "Papa, I am perfectly happy living in the barn." In living alone and in suffering, the girl found Jesus and would not exchange Him for the comforts of the world!
Germaine's years of prayers and sacrifices finally began to change the heart of the cruel stepmother. Armand was not given much time to make up for the past years of her wicked treatment towards the poor girl. Germaine's life was now coming to an end; her illnesses had worn her out and she had little strength left.
In the spring of 1601, a priest was traveling to the city of Toulouse. It was night when he reached the town of Pibrac and he could hardly see his way in the darkness. Suddenly a beautiful brightness lit up the sky and the priest saw a vision of a beautiful procession of virgins in brilliant light, coming down from Heaven into the village of Pibrac. Then he saw a virgin going up to Heaven, who was wearing a brilliant crown, in the company of many angels that were brighter than the stars. That same night, two religious, also having lost their way in the darkness, saw the same vision as well. But neither the priest nor the two religious understood the meaning of the lovely vision.
In the morning, Lawrence could hear the sheep bleating and realized that Germaine had not taken them out as she had done in the past eighteen years. "Germaine," he cried out, but the girl did not answer. Going into the barn, he stopped suddenly; there he found his poor daughter dead, on her bed of straw. Her rosary was entwined around her fingers and her face was shining like an angel. She died as she had lived; without human comfort.
Meanwhile that same morning, the travelling priest and the other two religious hurried to tell the villagers saying: "Last night I saw a virgin going up to Heaven. She was wearing a brilliant crown and was accompanied by a crowd of angels that were brighter than the stars." Up to that time the villagers did not know about anything special that happened in their town, but from the description that the travellers gave, they knew at once that it was Germaine, the holy shepherdess.
Running to the Cousin farm, the villagers found that Germaine had died, but she was beautiful to look upon; God had healed her body. She looked more like an angel than a person! Her faithful friends, the children, had gathered wild carnations and stalks of rye to make a wreath for her head. And the converted Madame Cousin dressed her poor stepdaughter in a beautiful dress, and placed a candle in her hands. Germaine's body was then buried in the village church where she had loved to pray.
But this is not the end of the story. In 1644, forty-three years after Germaine's death, an older woman asked to be buried in the church near the pulpit. Two workmen removed some flagstones and they were surprised to see just below the surface, the body of a young girl. Like madmen they ran through the village telling about their discovery and bringing back a crowd of people with them. Two of the people who had known Germaine during her life, testified that the body of the girl was indeed that of the Germaine Cousin, the shepherdess. The body was then removed and placed in a glass casket. Then it was put in the vestibule of the church for all to see.
Devotion to Germaine grew and many people prayed to her. In 1789, almost 200 years after her death, the French Revolution had begun. The Masons; who are enemies of the Catholic Church, tried to destroy everything that was Catholic. But they were having a hard time destroying the faith of the people in the region of France where the body of Germaine was honoured. To help destroy the Catholic Faith of these people, three soldiers dug a hole and threw the body of Germaine into the hole. Then they covered it with quicklime and dirt, to cause the body of the holy girl to turn to dust.
Those who had performed this sacrilegious deed were suddenly struck with different diseases. The neck of one soldier was deformed so that it turned till his face looked backwards! And another was scarcely able to walk without the aid of crutches. The third soldier carried his punishment with him to his grave, but the other two soldiers repented of their sin and obtained a complete cure through the prayers of Germaine.
In spite of what the Revolutionaries had done, the faithful continued to pray at the new grave of Germaine, the holy shepherdess. After the revolution, her body was removed from the grave and it was found to be as fresh as ever. Thanks to the power of God, the quicklime had not injured Germaine's body in any way!
Many years later, because of all the miracles which Germaine had obtained from God through her prayers, in June, 1867, Blessed Pope Pius IX canonized her as a saint and made June 15th, her special Feast Day. St. Germaine Pray for Us.
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