From June 6 to August 22, 1944, dozens of bombardments demolished 2100 out of 2800 buildings and destroyed, along with two churches, most of the religious institutions, killing more than one tenth of the population [of Lisieux].
On the evening of June 7, fire devoured the residence of the Carmelite chaplains and the Office Central de Lisieux pilgrim center, thereby threatening the Carmel and its chapel. A less precarious shelter had to be sought in the crypt of the Basilica.
Leaning on the arm of one of her Sisters, Sister Geneviève slowly made her way up the hill. She was peaceful and calm:
“Since I cannot do anything about it, I am not worried. If our whole monastery disappears, its spirit will remain.”
As much as she worried, even in small matters, where her initiative was involved, she was detached when events rested in the hand of God alone. This is what she said a few days later when a man from Lisieux announced that a new fire was inevitably coming to the Carmel.
“It no longer depends on us; let us abandon ourselves to the Lord for whatever he allows. He has always had mercy on us. We can trust him.”
In fact, each time the fires approached, a gust of wind blew away the danger. It was as if an invisible hand had saved from destruction the sacred islet constituted by the Carmel, the Maison Saint-Jean and the Hermitage.
The Carmelites had settled at the top of the crypt, in the right-hand chapel, dominated by a reproduction of the Virgin of the Smile. A hundred people, sometimes swollen by temporary additions, shared the rest of the sanctuary. Despite the discomfort of the place and the ominous Matins sung by the shells and bombs, one can believe that the presence of the sisters of Saint Thérèse did not go unnoticed. “These ruins would be better off if they remained a mystery,” said Sister Genevieve with a bit of humor, whom this excess of interest tormented to the extreme. Following her old habit of sharing her confidences in writing, she opened up to Mother Agnes of Jesus in this message dated July 7:
After fifty years of eremitical life, to find yourself suddenly displaced and thrown into the middle of the world, with the veil lifted, for me, someone who is so untamed, this is a real martyrdom. It seems to me that I am in a railway station where everyone is rushing around, mingling. We are sleeping on the benches, fully clothed; we are eating our meals standing up, in haste, in the darkness; we are looking with astonished and saddened eyes at the ladies’ fashions, which are devoid of all dignity.
But that’s not what makes my life so hard; it’s the visits! Everyone wants to see the Sisters of St. Thérèse and they come to greet us one by one; they point at us. Oh, this one and that one! Little Mother, I can’t stand it anymore. It seemed to me, these days, that the annoyance I felt would make me sick, and I called upon the good Lord to help me.
For a moment, I rebelled, and then, during the Office, I thought with tenderness about this passage from the Holy Gospel: “Several Gentiles who had come to Jerusalem to worship approached Philip and asked him, ‘Lord, we would like to see Jesus! Philip went and told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus” (Cf. Jn 12:20–22). This is what happens to us all the time, they come and tell us the same thing!
So I have resolved to do as Jesus did and not to avoid those who wish to see me, even if they are intrusive. This will not prevent me from repeating after Him: “Father, deliver me from this hour” (Cf. Jn 12:27). But I am convinced that, like Him, this is the reason “I have come to this hour.” Yes, I am certain that I needed this ordeal at the end of my life.
Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Lisieux
Excerpt from the circular letter written after the death of Céline Martin, Sr. Geneviève of the Holy Face
Copyright 1961 by Carmel de Lisieux