Although a simple young woman of humble French birth, Germaine Cousin, a deeply spiritual shepherdess, “shone like a star.”
Germaine was born at Pibrac, in southern France. Her father was a farm laborer. Her mother died when Germaine was eight. In poor health since birth, the child had a crippled hand and a skin disease. Her father never liked her, and the woman he married as his second wife was dead-set against her.
The stepmother bore children of her own, but she kept them away from Germaine for fear her skin ailment might be contagious. She would allow her to sleep only under the stairs in the barn. Her food was scraps from the family table.
When she was old enough, Germaine was put in charge of her father’s sheep.
The little cripple accepted these humiliations with perfect grace. Sheepfold and grazing fields became her cloister, and she developed a prayerful intimacy with God.
Every day without fail she attended Mass. Sometimes she had to leave the sheep in order to get to church. But on those occasions she would plant her shepherd’s staff in the ground and say a prayer to her guardian angel to watch over the flock until she returned. Never once did they stray under these circumstances. Never once did the wolves of the neighborhood attack the sheep in her absence.
On one occasion a storm flooded the stream that she had to cross en route to church. The villagers who had observed her faithfulness to morning Mass were sure she would miss it that day. But two of them who were watching for her to come reported that when the shepherdess approached the brook, the waters divided like the Red Sea, enabling her to cross on dry ground and reach the church.
For a good while the townsfolk imitated Germaine’s family in ridiculing the girl. As time passed however, they grew more appreciative of her. Although she had few possessions to give, Germaine shared her meager food with hungrier beggars. One day her stepmother took a stick to her, accusing her of stealing a loaf of bread to give to the poor. When Germaine dropped her apron, which contained the food (her own dinner), there fell forth not bread but summer flowers. And this on a winter’s day!
Eventually the villagers came to recognize this Cinderella as a saint. Under the pressure of public opinion, even her family began to treat her less crudely. They invited her to live in her proper place in the home. But the saintly maiden preferred to make no change. Not long afterwards, her ill health triumphed. They found her dead in her cubbyhole under the stairs. She was then only twenty-two.
They buried Germaine in the parish church. Her body was accidentally exhumed in 1644, twenty years later. It was perfectly preserved. In 1660, it was still incorrupt.
Meanwhile the number of Germaine’s devotees had increased; pilgrimages were made to her grave; and miracles were attributed to her intercession. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 prevented her from being `sainted’ earlier. However, Pope Pius IX beatified her, and then, in 1857, proclaimed her St. Germaine of Pibrac, virgin-saint.
The Cousin family, like that of Cinderella in the fairy tale, had cast off Germaine as a social misfit. But a prince found her and transported her to his palace. The prince was the Prince of Peace. The palace was heaven. She did not have to worry about the stroke of midnight. This was eternity where everything is always. One of the meek had inherited the earth.
–Father Robert F. McNamara