-Was born on the birthday of the Virgin Mary and miraculously cured on the day that Pope Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed the Dogma the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Marguerite Bays was born on September 8, 1815--the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary--in La Pierraz, a hamlet of Chavannes-les-Forts, Fribourg, Switzerland, in a French-speaking part of the country.
Marguerite Bays was the second eldest child of Pierre-Antoine Bays and of Josephine Morel Bays. Her father was a cobbler and had a family farm. The Bays had five more children: Jean, Mariette, Joseph, Blaise (who died at the age of 12) and Seraphine (the youngest daughter). Marguerite was confirmed in 1823, and received her First Communion in 1826. She attended school in Chavannes-les-Forts for a few years. As she grew into young adulthood, Marguerite learned the craft of a seamstress, and she made ends meet as a "day laborer" seamstress, offering her services each day from one household to another.
Daily life: Prayer, Mass and Work
Without jumping too far ahead in this little biography of her life, Marguerite spent her entire life in the little hamlet of La Pierraz. She was humble in her silence and kept all the favors that God granted her a secret. No extraordinary acts drew attention to her. On the outside nothing distinguished her from her fellow villagers. She remained quiet, unnoticed and this was her intention. Privately in her bedroom she had erected an altar where the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stood among iridescent bunches of primroses, daisies and violets. She would wake up very early, recite a prayer before the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then she would help milk the cows and help with the other farm work of the morning. Then she would grab her missal and set off for daily Mass--the Church was a 20 minute walk, and she went each day, year round.
After daily Mass, she would go from household to household, diligently performing her work as a seamstress. Marguerite was not only loved for the quality of her work, but also for the positive influence she had on children. When she took a break from work, she took an interest in them and told them about the life of Jesus.
Fervent prayers for the conversion of sinners
Marguerite always sought to live continually in the presence of God without drawing attention to herself. She was discrete and quiet, shunning gossip and arguments, which can easily lead to malicious rumors and slander. Without speaking very much herself, while at work she would listen and pay very close attention to the stories the women would tell concerning this or that person in town, for she cared very deeply about the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls. Her experience was not limited to her own personal salvation, and it deeply hurt her to hear of or see people living in sin, and not practicing their Catholic faith. So she would take these persons to her prayers, praying for their conversion. She offered her sacrifices and sufferings for them. She went as far as to spend half of her nights praying when she knew that someone was behaving badly. She prayed in reparation for their sins, and occasionally she would very discreetly ask one or two devout friends to pray with her for a certain sinner.
Marguerite considered herself as a mere sinner before God. She once said "Only the soul which knows her own misery can have great confidence in God, and unless she has such knowledge, it is impossible for her to have true confidence in Him."
While at first glance, Marguerite Bays seemed to be just like anyone else, however those who came to know her were immediately struck by her humility. She always tried to stay in the background and did not want to attract attention to herself. Yet, Marguerite's humility acquires a new dimension for us when we know the divine favors that she received. She did not talk at all about them and endeavored to hide them. The greater God's graces, the more humble she became.
Marguerite makes eleven 125 mile pilgrimages on foot to the Chapel of Einsiedeln
Notre-Dame des Ermites (Our Lady of Hermits) is a sanctuary situated in Einsiedeln, in the canton of Schwyz. In the 19th century, pilgrims went to Einsiedeln on foot. Marguerite was 20 years old when she went there for the first time. At the crack of dawn, she would leave La Pierraz with her bundle. She would then meet her companions and they journeyed together, saying the rosary and other prayers of the faithful. The 125-mile walk took three days, that is to say about 40 miles each day from dawn to dusk. At night, they slept in a barn, giving their hosts a little money. The next two mornings, although very tired and sore, they rose early and without complaint despite the burning sun, the long roads, the weariness and the foot injuries--all for the love of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary! After a couple of days spent in prayer and devotion, they would make the return trip, once again on foot. All told, Marguerite made eleven of these 120 mile (240 mile round trip) pilgrimages on foot to the Chapel of Einsiedeln.
Marguerite is miraculously healed on the day the Pope proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
In 1853, at age 38 Marguerite began to experience dizziness, acute pain in her stomach and nausea which caused her to vomit. Up until this point in her life she had never had any health troubles despite her frail appearance, and she was in fact a very active woman, generous in her work and capable of walking for hours, as we see in her pilgrimages to Notre-Dame des Ermites in Einsiedeln.
At first she wanted to hide her disease, not take any medicines and suffer silently. However, when her family noticed her critical condition, they made her see a doctor. The diagnosis was serious: intestinal cancer. Surgery was useless in changing the course of the disease and Marguerite's condition became increasingly worse. Marguerite turned to God through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Her prayers were answered and a miracle took place on December 8.
On December 8th, 1854, Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed as a sacred Dogma the Immaculate Conception of Mary. On that day, Marguerite Bays was bedridden and suffering great pain. She prayed nevertheless, sharing the joy of the Church with her heart full of faith. She prayed the Virgin Mary while applying a medal bearing the image of the Immaculate Conception to her wound. At the same moment, she regained her strength, the pain disappeared and the wound healed. Suddenly she was able to stand up. When her family got back from church, they found her sitting on the big stone stove in her room. She was saying the rosary. She was miraculously cured in an instant. She had received from the Blessed Virgin Mary the great grace that she had asked for. However, she did not beg God to ease her pain. On the contrary, she offered herself to God to suffer for the conversion of sinners in any way that He may choose.
Marguerite receives the stigmata
To this writers knowledge, there does not seem to be a description from Marguerite of exactly how she first received the stigmata. What is known is that shortly after her miraculous cure at age 39, Marguerite saw and felt intensely burning red blotches appear on her hands, on her feet and on her chest, and from then on, she was to be linked very closely to Jesus' suffering in His Passion. Marguerite began falling into ecstatic raptures on Fridays, during which she relived the painful Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Bleeding wounds opened in her hands, feet and side, and in her great humility, Marguerite hid the wounds from the outside world to the best of her ability, but eventually word got out and the news spread about the miracle.
Marguerite's reaction to the reception of the stigmata was deeply humble. Her humility made her strongly avoid being seen as an elected soul. After receiving the stigmata and recovering from the vision of our Lord's Passion, she was very concerned that her secret might be discovered against her wishes. Fearing that she would be publicly exposed, she supplicated the Lord that He remove the visible marks from her body. The Lord granted her prayers and the stigmata disappeared for awhile. However, Marguerite continued to be closely linked to the Passion of Christ. On Fridays---especially on Good Friday--she experienced the particular grace of accompanying Our Lord as He climbed up Mount Calvary bearing His Cross. Never did she talk about the divine favors and the confidences she received. When the stigmata reappeared, she would wear gray cotton mittens which covered her hands, except for her fingers.
Except for the medical examination in April 1873, only a handful of people had ever seen her stigmata. One of those who witnessed it was the former regional prefect Jules Grangier who stated:
"...I had vaguely heard of a person bearing the stigmata in the area of Siviriez. I asked a few clerics for information and they told me that a very simple and modest woman from La Pierraz had actually experienced supernatural phenomena on every Good Friday for fifteen or twenty years. I asked if I could see her, but it was pointed out that Marguerite wanted to remain unknown as far as possible and that her family did not like receiving visitors. However, my curiosity kept growing and, like Thomas, I wanted to see to believe. One day, I was ushered into Marguerite's room. I saw a woman in her 50's lying on a bed with her forehead bound. She seemed to be suffering in great pain. I only saw her right hand. On the back of the hand between the bones linking the middle finger and the ring finger, I noticed a round, indented wound...The palm did not bear any marks."
A neighbor of Marguerite, the Dean Prancois Menetrey, wrote the following testimony*:
"On every Good Friday at 3 pm, she was transported out of herself, living an ecstasy which lasted one hour. I keep very clear memories of having been able to contemplate the Servant of God during her ecstasy... Marguerite gradually fell in a deathlike state. All life seemed to have faded away from her. She looked like a real corpse. I had been there since 3 pm. Signs of life gradually reappeared a few minutes after 4 pm. She would begin to breathe again, slowly at first, then very fast, then normally. Color came back to her cheeks. She seemed to be awakening from a sound, deep sleep. Divine and intense joy illuminated her face. She then sighed and then she said words ablaze with faith, love and gratitude to God, Our Lord Jesus Christ."
*From: Summarium, part 1, p. 238
Given the interest aroused by her stigmata, the priest of Siviriez made a wise decision and opened an inquiry. He sought the unbiased opinion of Dr. Alex Pegaitaz, a 35-year-old doctor from Bulle whose diagnoses were well respected. Known for his keen intelligence and scientific ideals, his skepticism made him a great candidate for an investigation. The diocese tacitly approved of his engagement. On Good Friday, April 11 1873, not long before 3 pm, Doctor Pegaitaz arrived-in La Pierraz with a few clerics. District prefect Jules Grangier gave his own account of Pegaitaz' inquiry:
"At the beginning of the examination, the doctor only accepted the presence of Marguerite Bays' niece. I do not know what happened between the doctor and his patient. All I can say is that we could hear poor Marguerite sighing and screaming loudly from the nearby room. More than once we had to calm the mayor, her brother, for he wanted to throw out the doctor who was increasing his sister's suffering. When the screaming had finally died down, the clerics went into Marguerite's room. I was also allowed to do so.
"Doctor Pegaitaz bared Marguerite's feet and let us see the stigmata, which were perfectly similar to those on her hands. I then withdrew to the nearby room. The moaning gradually died down and stopped completely. The ecstasy had begun. It was around 3:20 pm. All the visitors entered to see the devout woman. She was immobile, with her eyes closed and a smile on her lips. She seemed totally absent . from what was happening around her. The doctor wanted to overcome her insensibility. So he began to tickle the soles of her feet. Then he pricked her between the toes with a sharp instrument until she bled. Nevertheless, her limbs remained motionless and her features expressed nothing. The doctor decided to deal with Marguerite's head. He inserted an instrument into her nose, in her eyes and under her eyelids. In vain. The doctor then successively opened both her eyes, but. they did not follow the movements of the light he shone on them. On the contrary, they seemed to focus on a fixed object sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left. He also tried to light a candle and put it right under her nose, but it did not work any better. So he took pliers to remove skin from the stigmata on Marguerite's feet and showed it to us, saying the skin had been burnt. The stigmatized seemed dead. The doctor then closed one of her hands, it stayed closed. He raised one of her arms, it fell back softly. He made her sit on her bed, she fell back naturally.
"After about half an hour of ecstasy, the scientific trials over, leaving Marguerite in peace, she eventually woke up smiling and looking around her. The Vicar went up to her and asked her how she was doing. 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm very well, oh I'm feeling very well!' she answered. And her face was glowing with joy."
"All agreed that Dr. Alexis Pegaitaz carried out a reliable examination and he had to admit that there was something he had not been able to analyze. He stated: "What confusion! What astonishment! I have been confronted with the supernatural and prodigious state of this stigmatized persons and it is beyond science. Science cannot understand or explain this phenomenon."
Years later Dr. Alexis Pegaiiaz died in Lausanne. When he became seriously ill, he had his friend Rev. Dean Henry Python, the chaplain of Les Sciernes come to visit him. He asked for and received the last rites of the Church with great faith.
One day as she was praying in her room, she "saw" three travelers walking towards La Pierraz. They went past the Notre-Dame du Bois chapel. One of them, a Brother from the Hauterive Abbey, entered the chapel and said a prayer to Mary. When the three of them reached the Bays' farm, Marguerite said: "Brother Joseph, it was good of you to go and pray the Blessed Virgin as you went past her chapel!"
At times she was given to know of certain events in the future. Mariette was the daughter of her brother Jean. Mariette's piety was so great that the sisters from the Fille-Dieu Abbey wanted her to share their devout life. But Marguerite told the Abbess: "Mariette will not come because she is going to get married. But her daughter will one day join your Community." And so it was that her great-niece Bernadette, who was born three years after Marguerite's death, eventually entered the Fille-Dieu Abbey and later she became Its Abbess, just as Marguerite had predicted many years earlier.
Her last years were a painful martyrdom. She spent most of the time lying in her room. A kind of inner fire kept burning her. She suffered acute pain in her head, in her throat and in her chest. Nobody knew what was wrong with her. And she would not say a word. She lived only on the Eucharist and drank primarily cool herbal tea and she had become very thin. Her brother Jean said that she felt like a bag of bones when he carried her. Her illness however did not make her at all demanding. She did not want to be relieved and did not do much to ease her suffering. She was given vinegar compresses and ice. She was administered unsuitable medicines, which she first took but then gave up. Eventually she became totally worn out, however she did not complain and patiently endured her great suffering. She did not want people to visit her because she did not want to show how much she suffered.
During Lent 1879, her state continued to deteriorate and she suffered tremendously before she died. She could only stand a few herbal tea's and a panade (a light bread soup with a little milk) every two days. A witness said that an ordinary person would not have survived so long and that Marguerite must have been strengthened by God. Rev. Dean Francois Menetrey alleged that she only lived on the Holy Communion at the end of her life.
An Angel gives her Holy Communion
Another extraordinary grace was reported by Sister Lutgarde Fasel, the Fille-Dieu Abbess and one of Marguerite's great-nieces. One day, her grand-father, Jean, confidentially told her: "I am going to tell you something I have never told anyone before. I am the only one to know this story along with Dean Jean Maillard and my sister, because my sister told him. During her last illness, Marguerite had longed all night for the Eucharist, we tried but we had not been able to fulfill her wishes. So the Good Lord took pity on His servant and an angel came and brought her the Holy Communion. I saw it, and I myself could not believe what I was seeing."
Her holy death on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Marguerite never complained. She endured her pain with angelic patience. She submitted silently to the medical treatments even if she had already realized that human remedies were useless. She suffered without telling anybody, simply repeating that one has to resign oneself. She often kissed her crucifix and contemplated the picture representing Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs (Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows). She said that praying gave her patience. Marguerite had begged God the grace to die during the feast day of the Sacred Heart and God answered her prayers. She gave her beautiful soul back to God during the octave (eighth and last day) of the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And so it was that on Friday, June 27, 1879 at 3 pm. the Servant of God died, worn-out by her suffering and sacrifices. She had once said "I am willing to breath my last breath in the wound of Thy Sacred Heart." and since she died on the feast day of the Sacred Heart, it seems that the good Jesus granted this special grace to her.
Marguerite Bays' reputation of sanctity has spread beyond Switzerland and numerous pilgrims have come from abroad to see and pray in the places where she lived. Her beatification by Pope John Paul II on October 29,1995 officially confirmed her sanctity, and reinforced the current of fervor and confidence in her holy intercession before God.
-Blessed Marguerite Bays, pray for us!
-"We will pray for each other. Pray for me especially because I am really pitiful. I need the love of God; this love for which I have so much difficulty in meriting."
-"Honor Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. We will never realize how much She suffered for us."
-"Oh holy Victim! Draw me to Thy side and we shall walk together!"
-"I am willing to breath my last breath in the wound of Thy Sacred Heart."
-"The poor are the favorite friends of Our Lord"
-Blessed Marguerite Bays
-Primary Source: "A closer acquaintance with the Blessed Marguerite Bays" by Father Claude Morel, 2008.