Mother Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard
Mother Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard
Poor Clare Nun Lusaka
Her parents were declared atheists and ‘fiercely anticlerical’
They were so infuriated when her grandmother
had her baptised clandestinely that….read more
The text below was sent to us by Mother Veronica after she received an account, in our Christmas inter-community newsletter, of our finding of the manuscript behind the Holy Name picture in 2009. (see THE MANUSCRIPT in this section). Although Mother Veronica’s account isn’t directly related to the 1914 Holy Name revival in Ireland, it demonstrates the universal nature of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus within the Franciscan Order and among the friars and sisters. Mother Veronica always kept in close contact with the Poor Clare Federation in this part of the world and we treasure the letters that she wrote to us on many occasions. She had great devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus and was very enthused on hearing about the story of Fr. Francis Donnelly and his links with our monastery. We were deeply saddened to hear of her death in November 2013. Describing her holy death, our African sisters recounted:
Having witnessed Mother Veronica calling the Name of Jesus till her last breath has left us a very deep impression about the Holy Name and since then sisters at recreation are often sharing about what they remember; various things that our Mother had shared to different sisters about the Holy Name
In his most recent letter to us, the former religious assistant to the Poor Clares in Africa, with whom Mother Veronica would have had frequent contact, told us that she often drew his attention to Number 2666 of the Catechism which says that the Name of Jesus as the only one that contains the presence it signifies.
We trust that Mother Veronica will continue to intercede for us all and we count her among the heavenly intercessors praying that the Name of Jesus may be ‘everywhere praised and glorified’.
The Poor Clare Sisters, Galway
THE MONOGRAMME OF JESUS NAME
Mother Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard
The following story may be somehow related to your IHS tiles. Parts of this were published long ago from the archives of our Monastery of Algiers and I referred to them in the life of Mother Clare of the Sacred Heart, the Abbess who received me in the Order. I wrote her biography in Chewa, so it would be useless to send it to you. Mother Clare of Namibia asked me to translate it into English. Here, I have no archives, no notes and no history, but I feel that I should try. The story is entirely true. I have checked what I will say of people and facts especially about Fr. Peirre-Baptist Gimet, Provincial of the French O.F.M. Friars; he brought his banished Order to England and was later on, Provincial of Canada, which explained why we had three Canadians in our monastery of Algiers.
He was also known for his admiration for St. Bernardine of Siena and like him he inspired in many a great love for the name of Jesus and trust in its power using the Bernardine monogram. The first time I went to England for the first Federation of Poor Clares in Africa, then embracing the whole continent, I found signs of his visits in the archives of a Monastery. In Algiers we had in our library a book written by Fr. Peirre-Baptiste on this subject, its first page reproduced the Bernardine monogram: there an angel with spread wings holds a shield on which was reproduced the IHS, the first Greek letters of Jesus’ name. Elsewhere only the monogram without the angel is shown. In my attempt to write this story the dialogues are not invented. I heard them several times from Mother Clare herself when I was her secretary. She was not easily victim of her imagination, as she herself remarked, and she had an excellent memory. I took notes of what I heard. I may have changed a word accidentally but not a meaning. Meaning demands that the work of God be seen in a certain context and the persons that he uses are sufficiently known, so I ask for your patience if some details seem unimportant or irrelevant; they have their place in the Mystery of God’s privileged intentions.
Will you now kindly follow me to Ortrhez, a small town, in the south of France in the last half of the eighteenth century? There lived a respectable, deeply Christian family, of the upper middle class but always concerned for the poor and of unusual generosity.
Mr. Gimet was a successful business man and lived happily with his devoted wife, a pretty teen-age girl and a very bright boy prepared to succeed him in business. His daughter had expressed a desire to become a Poor Clare and was told that she would be free to do so after her eighteenth birthday. But an unexpected bank disorder and a dishonest partner ruined her father’s business and soon let him close to bankruptcy then considered as dishonour. So one day his spouse called their daughter and said “we may soon be ruined, but it seems that God had pity on us. Our guest of yesterday that we know as a good man of great fortune and kind heart asked your father and me if we would allow him to ‘propose to you’ (In this time and class this was the right approach to a girl for marriage). “Last week your brother told us that he longed only to be a priest and we were obliged to answer that we could not pay for his seminary studies and that he had to help your father in the present circumstances. If you accept this honest offer of marriage there will be no problem for him or for us, but we do not want to put pressure on you. You must be able to love and trust the future companion of your life.” After prayer and secret tears, the daughter, putting her brother’s vocation above her own, married her suitor and it was after all a quite happy marriage by God’s grace. Her brother soon proved to be not only an outstanding student in his seminary but a true son of St. Francis from the time of his novitiate in the O.F.M. Order, receiving the name of recently canonised Franciscan martyred on a cross in Japan, St. Pierre-Baptiste. We shall call the future Friar by his anglicized name, Fr. Peter-Baptist Gimet. He was soon one of the most holy and successful leaders of the Order, thanks in great part to the sacrifice and prayer of his sister, in Orthez where she continued to live. She often visited one of her own sisters who was a fervent member of the Third Order. Her last born children, Joseph and Jeanne, were particularly gifted and united. Jeanne was born on the 16th of March 1877. On the day of their first communion together the boy was told by Jesus that he was called to priesthood in the Franciscan Order and Jeanne encouraged to join the Poor Clares. Indeed one day she was to be our Mother Clare of the Sacred Heart. It was not easy however and her uncle, Fr. Peter-Baptist, was a great help when faithfulness was difficult. It was especially so for the girl who was pretty, very gifted and attractive. Conscious of her vocation being in danger she entered the cloister of the new Monastery of Azille as soon as she reached her sixteenth birthday and lived generously a very penitent life under the harsh German Abbess .She was immediately employed in heavy construction work with no breakfast in the morning and not much more to eat in the evening, There was no heating either even in the snowy winters and there were two hours of prayer in the icy choir in the middle of every night. She was allowed with canonical dispensation to make her solemn Profession at eighteen but was too young too when tuberculosis of the bones began to eat her vertebrae. She was treated, like had been the eyes of our father St. Francis, by the application of a burning tool on her diseased bones.
Finally she found herself at death’s door in the infirmary with a Sr. Marguerite who was also dying but from tuberculosis of the lungs. (It was the time when in her French Carmel Therese was covering her crucifix with rose petals).Sr. Marguerite was known to have the gift of prophecy and Sr. Clare asked, “Do you know which one of us will died first?Sr. Marguerite smiled, “You will not die for a long time. You have too much to do” As the enlightened Sister went on to give another startling prediction. Sr. Clare did not ask what she ‘had to do’ It was to be elected Abbess in spite of her illness in the middle of World War I and later on to undertake and complete the difficult foundation of three Monasteries. The last one was in Algiers and she gave her full contribution also to the beginnings of the Monastery of Lilongwe before her death at 83. During all these years of prayer and labours she had to remain enclosed in a stiff corset from neck to heels even in the hot summers of North Africa and she needed to lean lightly on someone to walk more than a few steps but her spiritual strength was great and her pains joyfully borne even when they came from unfair accusations. Her uncle was also her spiritual counsellor and helped her to be both the dying seed and the lamp on a hill top.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE MONASTERY OF ALGIERS
Let us pass over the war when she had to replace the German Abbess who was sent to a camp in Spain after provoking the anger of the surrounding village against the Monastery. We cannot either stop on the difficult foundation in Morocco or the one which followed near Paris where she worked with a holy priest who lived in the border line between heaven and earth…Let us join her and six of her Sisters on a boat crossing the Mediterranean sea to Algeria in June 1932. The group counted a Canadian Vicaress, a Mistress of music and songs who was a piano virtuoso and a converse Sister who had never been to a school other than the small farm where she was born and from which she entered the cloister in Azille. When night fell on the boat she called out delightedly, “See! The moon is following us to Africa!” Fr. Peter Baptist had died recently “in the odour of holiness” The Sisters, who had known him well, decided to take him as the heavenly protector and director of the Foundation.
The Archbishop of Algiers, Mgr. Leynaud, who had urged them to come to his large diocese, had also written that he had found a suitable house for them and prepared everything so that they could resume their life immediately and make adjustments later on. He was at their arrival to collect them and to bring them up a high hill to the beautiful, eastern style, Basilica of Our Lady of Africa where their Queen blessed them. Then he deposited them in their new dwelling. This was three very small and practically empty rooms in the middle of a small Arab compound. Enclosure consisted in a single iron wire constantly trespassed without other excuses than “But, Sisters, my hen has laid an egg in your court” or “The wire is too high and my children too small; they don’t see it”…
In the dormitory a few hard couches were laid side by side on the floor. Most Sisters had to jump over the others to reach the door. During their first night the next neighbour beat his wife and the poor creature was not silent. At Mass the priest had only to turn from the tiny altar to distribute the hosts for communion. And there was no water to be had in the whole compound. The precious Jesuits were supposed to bring some in a drum when they could. So Mother Clare appealed to the Archbishop and was told if she wished to try and if she had money (she had not) he would give her his blessing to find another dwelling, on condition that it would be on the hill of the Basilica. The kind Superior of the Jesuits and a friendly ‘Franciscan of Mary’ Sister said they would be glad to accompany Mother Clare.
Her daughters in the small house would be with her too but invisibly: They took turn praying constantly the Litanies of the Holy Name of Jesus while Mother Clare was searching. A photo of Fr. Peter- Baptist was smiling in a corner of the mini-oratory.
Almost every part of this hill, close to the town but free from noise or pollution and rich with breathtaking views of the Mediterrean Sea, was explored on this day. There were a few more slum-like compounds as well as large, magnificent villas in woody parks or colourful gardens, but their sites could not be considered because of their prices and few were on sale. When the sun was low on the famous “Blue bay of Algiers” the car slowed down at a sharp turn and though Mother Clare was exhausted she exclaimed: “Look down at that charming Moorish house in the grove of orange trees! And there is a deep ravine which separates it from other properties…” The Jesuit answered quickly, “Do not dream of this place. This house has been here for more than 300 years and we wanted it for years but it has always been prized possession of an important Muslim family. It is only recently that they sold it to some Jews who are certainly not going to abandon it. Any way it is time now to go home. May I ask you to leave the car for a moment? It would be easier for me to turn here” The two passengers obeyed and found themselves near the wrought iron gate of the property which was just being opened by a young couple. They seemed surprised and annoyed to find strangers at their gate but Mother Clare said, “Our driver friend is trying to negotiate this turn and we are admiring your beautiful villa”. The lady almost cried out, obviously for the benefit of her husband with whom it became clear she had had a dispute on the subject, “it may be beautiful but far from the town and everything. It is a tomb for a young woman”
Mother Clare was quick. “Are you thinking of moving?” “ Yes, certainly.” “I am also in search of a new home.” “ Would it be convenient for you if we saw a little more of the building?” “Yes, you may come in” The husband was silently hostile but followed. The priest joined the small group who walked along a garden alley to a strong studded door. Of the first room they entered Mother Clare said later on, “I am not used to flights of imagination but what I saw in my mind was our future chapel. In a Poor Clare dwelling there was no other possible use for the graceful columns, the vaulted sculpted ceiling, the Arabic lines and the white marble floor of the reception room – and I could even already see the place of the grille and beyond it a very simple choir with unornamented wood stalls that we might make ourselves. But the chapel will be the palace of the king” They continued the visit through more ordinary rooms and a patio where a fountain reflected the hues of a dome of coloured pieces of glass. There the lady opened another door, the last one, announcing “Le fumoir” (the small room where the male residents retired after meals to enjoy silently their tobacco).
All the other guests entered but Mother Clare remained on the threshold, stilled by wonder. The two Jews were behind her. The room was square and simply whitewashed, but on the wall facing her three columns had been built, one in the middle and the others at the angles. Their capitals were moulded into clay figures of angels. Each one holding the same kind of shield with the monogram of Jesus – IHS so dear to St. Bernardine and chosen by Fr. Peter-Baptist to illustrate his book. But these were not some pictures on the wall. The capital of each column was in hard clay, well baked and covered with coloured ceramics. It was a considerable work, the angels being about 60 cm tall and pleasant to see, but probably not by a trained artist as were other ornaments in the house. Mother Clare heard distinctly her uncle say behind her, “ This is where Jesus wants you”. She turned but only the Jewish owners of the house were behind her. To explain her movement she asked, “What is this?” This time the man answered, “We don’t know, it is more than 300 years old and there are such things here and there, most often ceramic flowers”. The priest was astounded too. They all went out and another meeting was planned for the next day. When they walked to the gate the air vibrated with, deep, harmonious notes. It was not the voice of the Angels; they had given their message. It was the bells of the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa joyfully inviting the Christians to pray the evening Angelus.
The lady was so determined to move to the town and the husband so subdued that the price for the house and land was lower than expected and the benefactors generous.
Years later, a historian came to Algiers and was invited to visit the monastery. We asked him what he thought of the wall of what was now a small oratory where the Converse Sisters prayed the Office and that we loved to visit. He answered readily, “It is obvious: some Christian slaves captured by Muslim pirates at sea built the house. They were quite certainly Franciscan Friars, disciples of St. Bernardine among them who risked their lives to insert these Christian symbols in the wall .Who can know why?” Mother Clare and all of us in this now consecrated place thought we did. Time passed with new generations and new periods in the long history of the relationship between Islam and Christianity in a complex world politics. When we were more than forty in the Monastery I succeeded Mother Clare as Abbess and she encouraged greatly to undertake a new foundation in East Africa at Lilongwe. It was part of her last offering before God took her in his Kingdom. Years passed and the war of decolonization began, causing many victims on both sides. Though completely innocent of political plots in their cloister, the Poor Clares were informed by a highly placed friend that the Muslim masters of Algeria had them on a list of those who were in danger to the peace of the country; they could be not only expelled but killed. A hasty exile was organised by the Church and a French Monastery where the small community of four Sisters received them. After several years it was possible to obtain that the ceramics of the Holy Name, dug out from the wall, be sent to them. They are greatly honoured there and many think that they are not at the end of their journey. The veneration of Jesus’ Name, expression of his divine and human Person and of his power for salvation, continues to unite the Christian East and West and to inspire in us the love that burned and shone in Francis and Clare.
Mother Veronica Namoyo,