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Header-Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

by Armando Santos

 

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.


While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières. Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.


On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture. Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into theMiraculous Medal
house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

 

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During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.


A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.


When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”


When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 


Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.


The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.

 


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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for October 29, 2020

An action of small value performed with much love of God is...

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October 29

 

An action of small value
performed with much love of God
is far more excellent
than one of a higher value
performed with less love of God.

St. Francis de Sales


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Narcissus of Jerusalem

Accused of an atrocious crime, which Eusebius does not speci...

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St. Narcissus of Jerusalem

Born toward the end of the first century, Narcissus was advanced in age when he was elected bishop of Jerusalem. Many miracles were attributed to the saintly prelate, one of which the historian Eusebius relates: the deacons being out of oil for the lamps to be used in the Easter Vigil liturgical solemnities, the bishop bade them draw water from a well. Pronouncing a blessing over this water, he poured it into the lamps, and it immediately turned to oil to the astonishment of all the faithful. Some of this oil was still preserved when Eusebius wrote of the miracle.
The general veneration of all good men for this holy bishop could not shelter him from evil tongues. Three incorrigible sinners, resentful of Narcissus’ strictness in the observance of ecclesiastical discipline, accused him of an atrocious crime, which Eusebius does not specify. They stressed the “truth” of their shameless slander by terrible oaths: one wished that he would perish by fire, the other to be struck with leprosy, and the other that he to be made blind.

Despite the fact that the faithful unwaveringly believed their bishop innocent, Narcissus – notwithstanding the shock of the detestable calumny – retired into solitude.

Sometime later, divine vengeance pursued the calumniators:  the first man died with his whole family in a fire that consumed his home; the second contracted leprosy, and the third, deeply repentant, died blind from the amount of tears he shed.

So that Jerusalem was not left without a pastor, the surrounding bishops appointed three consecutive pastors to lead the church. On the third bishop’s term, Narcissus reappeared, as one returned from the dead. His innocence having been authentically proven, his whole flock wished to reinstate him. Narcissus acquiesced, but because of his great age, he soon asked St. Alexander to be his coadjutor.

Narcissus continued to serve his flock and even other churches by his earnest prayers and exhortations as St. Alexander testifies in a letter to the Arsinoites in Egypt. In this letter he writes that Narcissus was, at that time, one hundred and sixteen years old. The Roman Martyrology honors his memory on October 29.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

The recitation of the Rosary was always a great help to Vero...

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The Rosary Saves Soldiers in Kuwait

Veronica first learned of the Rosary as a small girl watching her father fingering the beads. At first she thought he was “playing” with the shiny strand, but later, realizing the full meaning of her father’s action, and under the promptings of Grace, she became a devotee of the Rosary as well.

The recitation of the Rosary was always a great help to Veronica, who felt the Blessed Mother’s protection in her life. But then, when her youngest son, Randy, was stationed in Kuwait during Desert Storm, the devotion was to play a crucial role.

While attending a convention of Catholic Women, and greatly concerned for her son’s safety, she confided to a presiding priest that Randy was serving overseas. The good priest then suggested she and others in the group join him in praying a Rosary for Randy’s safety and other pressing intentions. Something compelled Father and the ladies not only to say five decades, but to persevere for several hours.

Two weeks later Veronica received a letter from her son in which he described that he and fellow soldiers had been in a harrowing conflict. As the bullets whizzed by, he feared for his and his buddies’ lives and prayed with all his heart. Suddenly, a great calm came over him and he heard a voice, “from the sky” that assured him they would be alright.

Conferring dates and times, mother and son marvelled at finding that the time in which he and the others were in dire peril was the same day and hour Father, Veronica and her friends were persevering in reciting the Rosary.


Note: Based on a story from 101 Inspirational Stories of the Rosary by Sister Patricia Proctor, OSC

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The recitation of the Rosary was always a great help to Veronica, who felt the Blessed Mother’s protection in her life.

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