(Part 4)

“Conversion of Fr. Alphonse Marie Ratisbonne, Nds”

Perhaps one of the most renowned miracles credited to the Miraculous Medal was the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne. He was the son and heir of a wealthy, aristocratic family of Jewish bankers in Strasburg, France. When he was a child, his older brother, Theodore, had converted to the Catholic faith and become a priest. Alphonse’s family cut off all contact with Theodore, and Alphonse himself, resolved never to so much as speak to his brother again.

Many years later, while in Rome, Alphonse met an old classmate, Gustavo de Buissières and they renewed their friendship. Gustavo had an older brother, the Baron Théodore de Buissières, who had also converted to Catholicism and was a very close friend of Alphonse’s brother, Theodore. Surprisingly, Alphonse and the Baron became good friends, but this still did not change Alphonse’s hatred of the Church. He thought nothing of making sarcastic and blasphemous remarks against the Catholic faith to his new friend. Finally, the Baron, having endured more than he could stand of the irritating behavior on the part of Ratisbonne, challenged him with a proposition. Showing him a “Miraculous Medal” he dared him to wear it around his neck for one month, along with the promise to recite the “Memorare” prayer every morning and every evening.

Ratisbonne was stunned; he didn’t know what to say. The Baron went on to say, “Alphonse, although I know this would seem only ridiculous to you, I attach great importance to this medal, please, submit to my request.” And through some special grace from God, Alphonse, though almost in a daze, allowed the Baron’s little daughter to place the medal around his neck, and laughing, he joked, “Now I am a Roman, apostolic Catholic!” Then, wasting no time, the Baron de Buissières contacted his Catholic friends, asking them all to pray for the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne.

Not long after, the two men met on the street in front of the basilica of St. Andrea delle Fratte in Rome. The Baron was arranging for the funeral of a very close friend. He asked Ratisbonne to wait for him inside the church while he went to speak with the monks in the monastery. Upon his return, he found Ratisbonne kneeling before the altar of St. Michael, sobbing, his face bathed in tears, pleading to be taken to a priest for confession! This is what he related to his friend:

“I had been but a few moments in the church when I was suddenly seized with an unutterable agitation of mind. I raised my eyes; the building had disappeared from before me; one single side altar had, so to speak, gathered and concentrated all the light. And in the midst of that radiance I saw standing on the altar loft, clothed with splendor, full of majesty and of sweetness, the Virgin Mary, just as she is represented on the medal.

“An irresistible force drew me towards her; the Virgin made me a sign with her hand that I should kneel down; and then she seemed to say, That will do! She spoke not a word but I understood all.”

At the time of this miraculous vision, Ratisbonne was twenty-seven years old, preparing to take his place as a partner in his uncle’s bank and engaged to be married to his beautiful cousin. His fiancée was only sixteen at the time, so it had been deemed reasonable that they should postpone their wedding and for this reason Ratisbonne had decided to take a trip through Europe. That is what had brought him to be in Rome on that day.

Ratisbonne realized that to convert to the Catholic faith would mean that he would have to sacrifice all his earthly hopes and interests, but this thought did not dissuade him. He later wrote:

“…I felt ready for everything and [immediately] insistently demanded baptism. They wanted to delay it.’But how!’I exclaimed,’the Jews who heard the preaching of the Apostles were baptized immediately, and you want to delay it, even though I heard the Queen of the Apostles!”  

Eleven days later, Ratisbone was baptized, made his First Holy Communion and was confirmed. After breaking off his engagement to his fiancée, he entered the religious life and was ordained a priest in 1847. It was his great desire to dedicate the rest of his life working and praying for the conversion of his fellow Jews and for Muslims, and with his brother Theodore, he founded an order of nuns – the Congregation of Our Lady of Zion – to pray for this very intention. He and his brother moved the sisters to the Holy Land and built two convents, With deep faith and unquenchable hope, Alphonse forged ahead to build the Ecce Homo Convent on the Via Dolorosa, another Convent in the Village of Ein Kerem (St. John de Montana) and a Boy’s Trade School at St. Peter’s de Sion (Ratisbonne Monastery), in Jerusalem.. There he labored, with a few more companions (the Fathers of Zion) until his death in 6th May 1884, just seventy years of age. He is buried in the beautiful Sion cemetery of Ein Kerem (St. John de Montana).

“20th January is a light. And in this light, there is another light: Mary – Sion – Jerusalem”

-Fr. Alphonse Marie Ratisbonne -(1814-1884)
Notre Dame de Sion (Religious of Our Lady of Sion)

*Texts in italics, taken from Congregational Journals and Writings, edited by Sr. Marie Carmelle, Nds






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