St. Coleta, Virgin, Second Order
For centuries the little town of Corbie in France was famous for a Benedictine convent where several saints had lived as well as many men renowned for their learning. Usually, several hundred religious dwelt there at one time. They were divided into three groups, who took turns in solemnly chanting the Divine Office before the Blessed Sacrament, so that day and night the “perpetual praise of God” resounded there – that was the name applied to this way of imitating the heavenly choirs, as established by devout princes in many a convent of the Middle Ages.
In this little town of Corbie, Coleta was born on January 13, 1381, of exemplary working people. She was a child of grace, an answer to her mother’s incessant prayers, for the latter was already sixty years old then and had been childless up to that time.
The little girl took great pleasure in prayer, in compassion for the poor, and in rigorous mortification, making of her soul and of her tender body a sacrifice to God. Up to her fourteenth year, she remained unusually small in stature; this was a great grief for her father. Coleta begged God to console her father in the matter, and then she began to grow very rapidly to normal height. On the other hand, she asked God to deprive her of the rare beauty she possessed, which she believed might be the occasion of danger to herself and others; that request, too, was granted, and Coleta developed features of a severe case that inspired great respect.
When both her parents had died, Coleta, at the age of twenty-two obtained the permission of the Church authorities to shut herself up in a small abode directly adjoining the church; from a small window in it she could see the Blessed Sacrament. There she expected to spend the remainder of her life as an anchoress. She had embraced the rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, in accordance with which she endeavored to live in perfect poverty, severe mortification, and constant prayer in order to become daily more and more like the Seraphic Father. She received many consolations from heaven, but on the other hand, she also experienced severe temptations and even corporal abuse from the spirits of darkness.
Almighty God had destined Coleta for something extraordinary. He excited in her the desire to re-introduce the strict observance of the rule of St. Clare, which many convents of Poor Clares then observed in a modified form. The humble virgin recoiled at the thought, which she tried to persuade herself was an illusion of the proud spirit of darkness. But the inspiration returned again and again, and when she continued to resist it, she was struck dumb and later blind, until she finally resigned herself to the will of God, like Saul before Damascus. “Lord,” she sobbed in her heart, “what wilt Thou have me do? I am ready to do anything Thou desirest of me.” At once her speech and her sight were restored. The Lord sent her a special director under whose guidance she was to perform extraordinary things. And so, after spending four years in her retreat, and with the authority and the blessing of the pope, she established one convent of Poor Clares after another, so that the number reached seventeen during her lifetime. After her death, similar foundations were established in countries other than France, in which the primitive rule of St. Clare began to flourish anew.
St. Clleta endured untold hardships in fulfilling the task assigned to her, but heaven supported her even in visible ways; numerous miracles, including the raising to life of several dead persons, occurred n answer to her prayers and in confirmation of her work. So, the great foundress remained very humble, regarding everything as the work of God, who often chooses the lowliest of people as His instruments.
On this foundation of humility, she endeavored to foster in her convents the spirit of prayer and simplicity of heart. She placed great value on the recitation of the Divine Office in the choir, undoubtedly in remembrance of the practice existing in her native town, and infused this esteem into her fellow sisters. She was also filled with zeal for the salvation of souls, and once in a vision, she saw souls falling into hell more swiftly that the snowflakes in a winter’s storm.
After laboring for forty years, she was to receive her eternal reward. She died in her convent at Ghent on March 6, 1447. At the moment of her departure from this world, she appeared to several sisters in different convents. Pope Urban VIII beatified her, and Pope Pius VII solemnly canonized her in 1807.
*from the Franciscan Book of Saints by Marion A.
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