Mother Claudine Echernier
1801 – 1869
It was in the village called ‘vers le Creux’ in the parish of Feterne in Chablais, that Claudine Echernier was born on the 29th of may 1801. Her Fater, Francis Echernier, and her mother, Anne Dutruel, had nine children, four of whom died at a tender age.
Poverty was their lot yet they were very rich in faith. They possessed only a small cottage, consisting of a single room without wooden flooring and a small portion of land whose produce together with the work of the father who was a day labourer, kept the wolf from the door. The parents taught the children to fear the good God; they advised them to be good; that was all they could do.
Claudine evinces from her young age a most astonishing thirst for knowledge, and a great spiritual sensibility. At the age of 10, urged by necessity, her parents send her as a shepherdess to a rich proprietor of champagnes, Mr.Maillet. About the age of 15 she had the misfortune of losing her mother and had to replace her in tending to her brothers and sisters. Active and diligent, this girl of 15 had made up her mind to become a seamstress. A friend, Miss Poncet, an expert in the trade, taught her the art of cutting out and stitching.
But soon, a new trial arose: her father, having yielded to the lure of smuggling, might serve a sentence of several years in prison. Claudine became at once the head of the little family and the support of the prisoner. Being endowed with a generous heart, she fulfilled these austere tasks with all the vigour of her 20 years. After his release, Francois Echernier remarried. Then Claudine who was 26, being freed from her obligations as housekeeper, entered the service of the Parish Priest of Feternes who had just been appointed to the parish of Chavanod.
But her life was so well ordered that no one could point out the least thing that was disedifying; everything breathed piety, modesty, humility, charity and mortification; in a word, she was as exemplary in this parish as she had been at Feterne.
In the Parish House of Chavanod, she looks after the old mother of Father Delalex with much devotedness, and very soon she becomes conscious of this great evil- ignorance- and its harmful consequences. She , who never experienced the joy of crossing the threshold of a school, opens her kitchen to the little girls of Chavanod to teach them their A B C, give them some notions of needle work and at the same time, to speak of God.
Fr.Martin who was Claudine’s director advised her to apply henceforth to Fr.Mermier, superior of the Missionaries, for spiritual direction. From then on, Claudine was Fr.Mermier’s most humble and most obedient spiritual daughter. She never undertook and thing without consulting him, she did nothing without his permission.
She was strong and energetic because the Holy Spirit himself formed the spirit of this girl by his divine inspirations. Having found a loyal heart, he supplied all that lacked with regard to education, and rendered her, who was nothing in the eyes of the world, capable of great things.
Fr.Peter Mermier observing the simple and inspiring life of mother Claudine asks her to see the Bishop of Annecy, Mgr . Rey, to speak to him of her life and disclose to him the desire which she was no longer alone to foster. She was listened to with attention and kindness. And on the feast of St.Jane de Chantal 21.8.1838, Father Mermier conveys to her the following message: “Mgr Rey grants you full liberty to give yourself up to your undertaking, and does not prevent you from following the inspiration of grace, as long as they come from God, and a wise director recognizes them as such…”
Father Mermier drew up and gave them a small manuscript rule of life which already contained, with less details, the spiritual exercises prescribe by our present Holy Rules. Mother Claudine continued her classes for the little girls. She had about thirty pupils. As the sisters had no beds, they slept on the straw mattresses spread out on the floor of the two rooms. They ate what the children gave them. Occasionally, when the parents baked bread, they loved to send them a loaf. They did needle-work, knitting, spinning to earn their living.
They also went as workers to houses, which asked for their services, and worked in the fields or at spinning. In all her actions, in all her undertakings she had only the glory of god in view. She lived only for him. She sought him alone, all the rest was nothing for her. It was in her meditations and conversations with her God that she learnt so many things. She ascribed everything to God. When some admired the progress of her institute in front of her she said: ‘it is the good God who has done everything.’ on the 30th November 1862, Father Mermier who, since 1838, had been travelling the same road as the Sisters of the Cross, having finished his appointed task, ends hid earthly course.
In that year 1869, she was keen to pay a visit to all the schools run by the sisters. Once more she started on her way, from the mountains of savoy to the confines of dau-phine and of Switzerland, to visit the 39 houses in which 300 sisters of the cross were then working. Everywhere she derogated from her wonted austerity, showing great kindness towards all the Sisters and accepting the alleviations offered her. On her return she could say, “I saw all the Sisters. I am happy: everything is all right everywhere. “A last journey to La salette fulfilled the wishes of Mother Claudine who, for a long time, had been desirous to make this pilgrimage of thanksgiving.
Once she was back at Chavanod, sickness is not long in coming: on the 10th of August, at dawn, just as bell was ringing to wake up the community, Mother Claudine awoke to the brightness of God.