BRIAN BRINDLEY welcomes a long-delayed hagiography
Celine: Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face. by StephaneJoseph Plat, OFM, Ignatius Press £11.95
S1STER Genevieve of the Holy Face was the name in religion of Celine Martin, who was the older sister, by four years, of Therese Martin, whose name in religion was Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, familiar to us as St Therese of Lisieux. Another sister became Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, and another, Pauline, Mother Agnes ofJesus, who was responsible for converting the saint's literary remains into The Story of a Soul; Celine, in her last years, was to assist in the disentangling of Therese's own writings from such late Victorian lace-paper pieties. Leonie stayed at home to look after their father, who was in bad health.
The saint died in 1897, and was raised to the altars of the Church in 1925. Mother Agnes died in 1951. Sister Genevieve lived on until 1959, devoting herself within Carmel to painting arid photography, and looked on as the custodian of her sister's memory. It is largely thanks to her and her immense photographic archive that Therese strikes us as such a modern saint. Fr Plat, who knew the parents of St Therese and other members of her family, published his book in 1962; a second edition was called for in 1964. Now, 35 years later, it appears in an English translation, by the Carmelite Sisters of the Eucharist, of Colchester, Connecticut.
If this English version had appeared in the 1960s, it would by now be a wellworn paperback on all our shelves. Its belated arrival is nonetheless welcome. I cannot tell what caused the delay: perhaps the difficulty of translating by a group of people, even religious; Fr Piat's French prose was of a rather stately sort, and the translation, though perfectly readable and idiomatic, is a little hit stilted. Perhaps since the Second Vatican Council our expectations have changed as to what religious biographies ought to be like.
Fr Fiat's writing is unashamedly hagiographical, in a gentle way; one senses a feeling that there might be more than one canonised saint in the Martin family.
His book is a primary source for the home life of the Little Flower, and an invaluable insight into life in the Cannel. All devotees of St Therese (which means, or should mean, most Catholics) will wish to own it, and read it more than once.