“The contemplative branch, which Father Theodore mentions in the Constitution and which Mother M. Gonzalès founded, began entirely providentially. God alone led everything, using the most unsuitable and least prepared instrument to realize Our Father’s desire.
We really exist because of a very special result of Our Lord’s love for his people.
I had nothing which made it possible to foresee what happened…!”2
Marie Marguerite Labitte was born in Paris on February 5, 1865 to a profoundly Christian family. When she was very small, she felt attracted to God: “Jesus took me entirely from my childhood on. I will never be able to thank him enough.”
When she was 13 years old, her mother became ill and she and her sister were brought to Sion as half-boarders. When she was about 16 years old, she confided to her mother her desire for religious life. The following year, her father died at the height of his strength, leaving behind six orphans, the youngest of whom was 4 years old; then her mother became seriously ill again.
“From then on, I waited. It was a long wait.”
She entered the Sion novitiate on September 1, 1888 and she made profession on September 8, 1890.
“It seemed then that my religious life would consist of nothing but teaching; I had entered for children, I loved them; above all, poor children attracted me. It cost me something to become directress of the arts department, but even more to be named to the novitiate; I was only the second assistant novice mistress, but I felt like I was in chains.”
In 1894, she was named superior of the house in Royan, where she remained until it was closed in 1903.
Mother Christine was then sent to San José, Costa Rica, again as superior. There, on October 15, 1910, during her retreat, after the big earthquakes of that year, she received the grace of a special conversion:
“This is my great conversion… it only concerned my soul and didn’t reveal anything of what followed…”
The decisive event for the foundation of La Solitude was on October 24:
“A few days later, I was in our country house, then at Tres Rios; during our stays there, we had the Blessed Sacrament in a tiny chapel; the solitude was really wonderful. On October 24, I was meditating there on Our Lord’s agony, when what I later wrote to Our Mother General happened; all I can say is that I was led to see the pain caused to the agonizing Heart of Jesus by seeing what was reserved for him in the Eucharist… From then on, my life could not remain the same… On the one hand, I was intensely happy, but on the other hand, I also felt that I needed contemplative life… So what to do? Leave Sion?… I was torn apart by that thought, but I was so far away from active life!”
A long search for light began for Mother Christine.
At the end of two years, which she lived day by day, and after reading the new edition of the Rule during her retreat, she wrote to the superior general, Mother Gonzalès, on October 25, 1912:
“I saw with great joy that the few modifications [to the Rule] leave unchanged the passage in which Our Father speaks of a contemplative house of Sion, if Providence gives to the Congregation the personnel and the necessary resources. I am very surprised by the fact that God has led me to speak to you about this, but the longer I wait, the more God tells me this forcefully (at least that is what I believe I am feeling ). As for the rest, I only know this much: that God is asking you to “think” about it when you have the opportunity… Forgive me. You know well that I don’t like to get involved in things that are none of my business. – I said that this is none of my business, although I am very willing to be part of such a house if you send me there, as I am willing to remain here until I die…”
At the same time as Mother Christine’s letter, Mother Gonzalès received a legacy from Brazil for the contemplative house. Later, Sr. Désirée entered Sion with a contemplative vocation, then Mother Marie. Several other sisters had already wanted a contemplative life in Sion, but they had died without this desire being realized. Mother Christine continued her life in San José while receiving light from God for the future contemplative house:
“It was around 1918 when I received some precisions, especially one January 20 during nocturnal adoration. First, begin humbly, in a small way, very poorly, in some corner of a Sion house; then later, have a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed until it becomes possible to have it thus day and night so that ‘the Sun may no longer set in Sion.’”
In 1919, she returned to France for the General Chapter and was named superior of the house in Grandbourg. There, she waited another 7 years until the contemplative Sion began on October 31, 1926, on the day the Church celebrated the feast of Christ the King for the first time.The three sisters’ life was organized around the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Mother Christine put the foundations of this new life into writing:
“The journal of the first days was written during the month of November, when new questions needing a solution came up every day and when we had to set up everything.”
All the questions were submitted to the superior general. For her, obedience to the superior general was one of the most important points. In 1927 she wrote: “My conviction is formed, I have decided that we must be obedient in everything.” She had wanted a very austere life, but she was not given permission for this to the extent that she desired it!
“She was convinced that the Branch could only live if attached to the Congregation and the superior general.”3
In December of that same year, Mother Christine became seriously ill, which raised fears as to the future of the community. Slowly, she became better, and on April 1, 1927, the sisters left for Lyon, where a house was prepared on the Fourvière hill, next to the active sisters.
For 3 years, the community developed, when suddenly a new trial came: the collapse of the hill above the house and the dispersion of the sisters. Again the question arose: is this the end of the community? After several months of waiting:
“The collapse of Fourvière led us to La Solitude, where we began our life again in great poverty; we had to go to Grandbourg for Mass, there were very few of us, but we trusted in God and we were happy.”
In this house, La Solitude, Mother Christine continued her task in the midst of the community.
The sisters who knew Mother Christine remember her as a person who lived life intensely: “She was passionate in her orientation but was very present to daily reality, though very simply, in a very ordinary way, very stripped of self. Her entire life was permeated by that intensity, which showed itself in her words: ‘God alone’ – ‘unconditional gift of self’. What occupied her, preoccupied her: Love, Charity.” She often said: “My little children, love one another.” She insisted very much on charity and obedience.” Not to think of love in small doses, but to hasten to it madly.
One gesture was characteristic:
“It was in 1958. I had come to La Solitude on Sunday, and I saw Mother Christine again the next day, seated in her portable armchair, at the feet of the Blessed Virgin on the esplanade. With a joyful face, she took the (double) hem of her apron in her hand, between her thumb and her index finger, to tell me: ‘You see, my child, this is double,’ and stretching her index finger with an energetic gesture, she declared: ‘We must become simple!’”
Mass and her times of loving presence before the Blessed Sacrament, which was the ‘center’ of the life of the house, were the foundation of Mother Christine’s days.
“While on the one hand, Mother Christine became weaker and weaker, she continued to pray in the chapel, where she stayed for entire mornings, writing in her little notebook so as not to fall asleep. It was her joy to remain before the Blessed Sacrament.
That was the great Love of her life. For her, Jesus was someone alive, present there. Everything else flowed from that.”
During the last months of her life, Mother Christine could no longer walk, a consequence of her weakness at the age of 93, and she had become entirely dependent on others. She was taken to the chapel every day in an armchair.
On August 19, 1958,around 4 o’clock, after such a long wait, such an ardent and constant desire to see God, her breathing suddenly stopped. It was the feast day of St. John Eudes; the proper of his Mass sums up Mother Christine’s testament: “God is Love!”
The last message she left for the Solitude was:
“Apart from love, there is nothing.”