Margaret Alacoque, the fifth of seven children of Claude Alacoque and Philiberte Lamyn, was born at Lhautecour in old Burgandy, now East Central France, on July 22, 1647. She was baptized Margaret, adding the name Mary only at the time of her Confirmation in 1669. At the age of four she took a vow of chastity, though "I did not then understand what I had done, nor what was meant by the words 'vow' and 'chastity'. From her earliest years she was tenderly devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin.
Her father died when she was eight. When she was eight and a half, she was sent to the school of the Urbanist Nuns at Charolles, where she received the only two years of formal education she ever had.
At the then early age of nine, she made her first Holy Communion. "This Communion shed such bitterness over all my little pleasures and amusements that I was no longer able to enjoy any of them, although I sought them eagerly." Shortly after this she succumbed to long illness. "But I fell into so pitiable a state of ill health that for about four years I was unable to walk. My bones pierced my skin. Consequently I was removed from the convent at the end of two years. since no remedy could be found for my illness, I was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin with the promise that, if she cured me, I should one day be one of Her daughters. Scarcely had I made this vow, when I was cured and taken anew under the protection of Our Lady."
Though her father, a royal notary, had been in good financial circumstances, Margaret and her mother were after his death subjected to domestic persecution and captivity in their home by some of their relatives. This drew the girl more to mental prayer, and brought her closer to Christ in His suffering. Eventually, her mother again became mistress in her own house and prevailed upon her now seventeen-year-old daughter to consider marriage. This brought about an inner conflict and a struggle began in her soul between the devil and the world on one hand and Our Lord and her vow on the other. Satan: "Poor fool, what do you mean by wishing to be a nun? You will become the laughing stock of the world, for you will never be able to persevere." Her Savior after the scrounging: "Would you take this pleasure, whereas I never had any and delivered Myself up to every kind of bitterness for love of you and to win your heart? Nevertheless, you would still dispute with Me!"
"I had indeed committed great crimes," she writes, "for once during the days of Carnival, together with other young girls, I disguised myself through vain complacency. This has been to me a cause of bitter tears and sorrow during my whole life, together with the fault I committed in adorning myself in worldly attire through the same motive of complacency towards the persons above mentioned."
She was induced against her better judgment to apply for admission into the Ursuline Order at Macon, but was suddenly called home just "as they were ready to open the convent door to me". On May 25, 1671, she paid her first visit to her "dear Paray,' where as soon as I entered the parlor, I heard interiorly these words: 'It is here that I would have you be'" She took the habit August 25, 1671, and made her profession November 6, 1672, as the first daughter, of the new superior, Mother de Saumaise, who was to figure so largely in her later life.
Christ had carefully prepared His servant for her great mission, through suffering, prayer and special guidance. Her sufferings were to continue to the end, her prayer would become ecstatic, the Savior Himself would be her personal spiritual director till death. In this way she would be able to present to the world the Devotion to the Sacred Heart in its modern form.
Our Lord made many revelations to Margaret Mary-perhaps forty. The most striking of these began on December 27, 1673; they ended with the greatest of them all, "Behold this Heart," in June 1675. It was during this year that Claude de la Colombiere, a saintly young priest of the Society of Jesus, was providentially sent to Paray-le-Monail and appointed extraordinary confessor to the Visitandine community of which Margaret Mary was a member. He encouraged and reassured her, and himself became an apostle of the Devotion of the Sacred Heart for the few years of life that remained to him. The notes of His Retreat made in London in 1677, where he was sent after only eighteen months in Paray, were to be a great instrument in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Margaret Mary was mistress of novices from 1685 to 1686. Her death came on October 17, 1690. Her body still rests at Paray-le-Monial. The process with a view to her canonization was begun in 1715. She was declared Venerable in 1824, Blessed in 1864, and became St. Margaret Mary on May 13, 1920.
INCORROUPT BODY OF ST. MARGARET MARY ALACOQUE
Most Honored And Dear Mother, It was not without mortification nor from lack of friendship that I chose to deprive myself of the sweet consolation of writing to you and telling you that I shall always have the same esteem for Your Charity. Since you are well aware that Our Good Master has intimately united my heart and yours, I am not at all afraid that they will ever be separated except by Him self. Since words fail me to express the gratitude I feel for your motherly tenderness, it must suffice to say that I shall continue to remember it in quite a special way before Our Lord. I beg Him to bestow on you His most precious graces and loving caresses during this wonderful time of retreat. I am sharing its delights with you.
A word about the blessings with which His goodness is favoring me at present. I can only describe them by saying that my whole life, body and soul, is nothing but a cross. Yet I cannot complain, nor do I desire any consolation than that of not having any in this world and of living hidden away in Jesus Christ crucified, suffering and unknown, so that no one will have any compassion on me nor remember me except to increase my suffering. I flatter myself, dear Mother, that you are too interested in me not to rejoice at this. Thank Our Lord who, after Himself, has nothing more precious than His love and His cross. By His Mercy He shares them with me. I know I am most unworthy, too, of the one He has given us in the person of our most honored Mother.
I cannot sufficiently express my esteem and affection for her charity. Ii have already experienced this charity many times, and can assure you that I think Our Lord will fulfill His promise through her. I beg Him with all my heart to do so in order that He may draw from this all the glory He desires. It was this dear Mother who told me to write at this time. Because of a slight indisposition, and also because you will be overwhelmed with letters just now, I would have put it off. do not hurry to answer; for no matter how you treat me, I will not doubt your affection for me. In time and eternity, in the Sacred Love of Jesus, I shall be Sister Margaret Mary. Blessed be God!