St. Collette: 6 March

Br. Columba Maria

Early life

Colette was born in 1380 in Corbie, Picardy, in the cottage of Robert Boellet, a carpenter, and his wife Marguerite, a pious couple whom charity united, work occupied, and religion consoled. Until this event, their renowned piety seemed almost unrewarded, but they were nevertheless noted for their charitable works. The birth itself was portentous, since this was Marguerite's second marriage and she was over sixty years old. It was 13 January and the baby received the name as a diminutive of Nicholas, to which saint the parents were devoted. Happy the parents who, like Colette's, understand the nobility of the task entrusted to them. Happy the children who, by their obedience, appreciate and benefit from the grace God has granted them in placing them with pious and virtuous parents. At only four years of age, aside from school, Colette's only excursions were to the local church to renew daily at the altar her consecration to Jesus that her parents had already made.

There was a Benedictine convent in Corbie which ran a school, and it was here M. et Mme. Boellet entrusted the education of their child. At only eleven years of age, Colette showed such piety that she went each night, before dawn, to assist at matins. Her father, alerted by a neighbour that it would weaken her health, forbade her to go, and gave her an upper room in the house. Colette, not desiring to disobey her father, nor the promptings of grace, asked the help of a man next door, a confidant of her father. This good man could only suggest providing a ladder every night, and taking it away on her return. This went on for some time. Of course her father found out, but relying on the witness of this good man, who praised her vitality, he allowed her to continue so. Years later, Colette said herself that she saw all the problems of the world, and the remedy she would herself undertake later, clearer then than she saw them twenty years later.

Added to her prayers were alms and penances. She regularly gave her school lunch to poorer children, and delayed her return home to prolong her fast. She made a cilice of a knotted rope and bound it tight; she slept on the floor on thorns. Her humility and chastity were affronted one day by a lewd man in the church. She responded vehemently by wishing him the grace of God to see his shameful behaviour. The man, confused, attempted to leave but was struck blind! Colette obtained his sight again and kindly showed him the door.

Two wonderful miracles showed her influence with God. She was, it seems, very small, and this was a sorrow to her father. She made a pilgrimage to a local Marian shrine, and begged of God that while she would happily be short in this life and a giant in the next, nevertheless, if it was not against His will, and not an obstacle to her salvation, could she possibly increase a bit! She hardly finished her prayer when the desired adjustment was achieved. Still only fourteen, she was now quite an attractive proposition to many young men. But anxious over the regular compliments she received on this point, she begged again of God to take from her these unnecessary charms. Again, God replied immediately, and her looks from then on were a mirror of the purity of her soul.


When Colette was 18, she lost both her parents in quick succession. A short period of reflection persuaded her that her best option was to sell what she had inherited, give to the poor, and follow Her Lord. But follow where? That was the question. At 22, she met the visitor of the Franciscan houses in Picardy, one Father Pinet, who divined, from Colette revealing her soul to him, and from the relaxed state of all the Orders at this time, that the Franciscan Third Order might work for Colette, coupled with an eremitical existence. Colette felt an end to her anxiety over her vocation and was duly clothed with the habit of Saint Clare. At length, having gained the permission of her local parish priest, and the usage of a house attached the church, she made her vow:

For the love of God, in the presence of the Queen of Heaven, I engage myself by vow to keep poverty, chastity and obedience, and perpetual closure.

Her confidence in God was not disappointed. All the time she spent in her hermitage at Corbie, she did not lack her daily bread. A hatch was created between her cell and the church, so that she could say her prayers, and speak to her Lord in the tabernacle. A parlour, too, was arranged where she could converse with people from behind a grille, and great was her influence. Her corporal austerities knew no bounds, and the devil was never far away from this favoured soul. One Father Raoul tried, by unscrupulous means, to induce her to leave her cell. In later years, he would appear to her in her convent bound in chains. “Don’t worry,” Colette would tell her terrified consoeurs, “It’s only Father Raoul from Purgatory!”

At this time, the Church was just at the end of the Great Western Schism, when her faithful had their faith in the rock that Christ had established as the cornerstone, and promised that it would not collapse, undermined. Diffidence was spread in every part. Individual monasteries were divided over who was Peter's successor. In all her crises, it is to her religious especially the Church looks for support. But whence was it to come on this occasion when the houses were divided?

Jesus appeared to her one day, and He was very angry due to the sins of men. Our Lady and a host of angels came too. Saint Francis of Assisi knelt before Our Lord, and begged mercy, at the same time entreating Him to appoint Colette to reform the entire Franciscan Order. The Blessed Virgin Mary supported his appeal. Colette could hardly believe what she was witnessing and prayed for deliverance. At this critical moment, Father Pinet was called to his reward. Another priest, Father Henri de la Balme, was divinely inspired to come and persuade her, and after Colette spent six days deprived of speech and sight, she acceded to Heaven's request.

The reform

Father de la Balme secured all the necessary dispensations from her enclosure of four years, and then they went to the pope to get permission for the reform of the French Franciscan houses. In these days of a pope and an anti-pope it was widely held that the faithful could negotiate with whichever “pope” was recognised as such in that district. And so it was that she visited and received the necessary authorisation from Benedict XIII at Nice. He granted her two requests, to be allowed enter the Poor Clares and to be allowed association with others who wished the primitive Rule of Saint Francis. The pope initially referred the request to his college of cardinals, who refused, but changed their mind when all those who were against were struck down by a pestilence! Benedict himself clothed Colette on 4 October1407.

Their first house was at Besançon, where the Pope granted them possession of the relaxed Clarisse convent, so relaxed that only two sisters remained. One, sister Simonette, decided to stay and became a fervent daughter of Saint Clare, dying a holy death. The other departed to another convent. All the property the convent had acquired over the years was donated by Colette, with the advice of the local ordinary, to build and establish the convent chapel with a regular stipend for two priests. Thus, the reform began in true evangelical poverty.

At one point, the devil deployed his minions as a real army marching through the cloister, blowing trumpets and all! Another time, the sisters on their way to prayer, were assailed in the corridor by a troop of demons parading as immodest men and women of the town, pulling and haranguing the sisters. More than once, Colette cured her religious of serious illness. Several times she divined water for her communities in unlikely but necessary places. A multitude of people were brought back from the dead by our saint, amongst them little children unbaptised, and one of her own religious, dead in body and soul, who returned to make her confession before returning to her coffin. These miracles all had many witnesses. One of her sisters, on another occasion, was negligent in confessing a sin. Colette saw the sin clearly and saw that the novice would not easily relinquish its hold over her. She waited until the sister was on her knees at the confessional, then had another sister approach and exclaim the sin audibly to the confessor. This expedient did the trick.

She told the sisters of Besançon two events that would and did happen over a hundred years later: telling them that, on the night when the crucifix in the cloister would topple over, they must gather everyone and everything valuable to the end of the garden to avoid the fire which would engulf the house and chapel; and second, that a pestilence would spare so few of the sisters that they would (and did) need reinforcements from other convents. (She also, it seems, told the same Sisters at Besançon that their house would persevere to the end of time. Alas, since the second Vatican Council, the convent has been sold and is now a hotel!)

One of her heaviest trials occurred when Saint John Capistrano, a Franciscan and a special emissary of Pope Eugene IV, came to implement a Franciscan reform of this pope, who was anxious to unite the Franciscans in a comparatively lighter Rule. Colette was shocked, and begged three days to consider. Saint John returned to his cell in a nearby monastery, and was there visited by Our Lord Himself, who told him that Colette's Rule pleased Him. Saint John begged forgiveness, and the future saints became good friends and mutual supporters from then on.

Amongst the overwhelming signs of the heavenly favour of our saint were a golden cross, containing a relic of the True Cross, and a golden ring, both awarded to her by Saint John the Evangelist, and shown to the people each year until they were lost to the Huguenots.


Saint Colette is a very special saint. For as we have seen, she passed from a pious infancy to a still more pious youth, and from there to a maturity that carried her to the perfect life that ended in union at death and a glorious eternity. She once said that a day without suffering something for Jesus would be a day that she would suffer most!

She died, as she had predicted, on 6 March 1447, having just turned 67. Her remains are at Poligny in Eastern France.

View all articles from Ite Missa Est