Saint Mary of Oignies, Recluse

June 23

Today is the feast day of Saint Mary of Oignies.  Ora pro nobis. 

Mary of Oignies was born in the diocese of Liege in Belgium in 1167, of very wealthy parents.  While still very young, she rejected everything childish or vain — games, beautiful clothing, ornaments. Despite her desire to be a nun, she was obliged to marry a virtuous young lord. Her holy life caused admiration in her spouse and he decided to follow her examples.  Together they resolved to practice continence for life.   They distributed their wealth to the poor and consecrated themselves to works of piety. The devil tried every trick to make them relent in their holy resolution, but failed. They became blessed abundantly, as well as sarcasms and insults from the worldly.

Eventually unable to bear the frequent attention of devotees, Mary and her husband felt it God’s will that they should separate to live contemplative lives. Mary retired to a hermitage of Saint Nicholas in Oignies. There she prayed for the souls in Purgatory.  She gave spiritual advise to the disciples who gathered around her, among them James of Viry. She practiced asceticism worthy of the Desert Fathers, and was privileged to have mystical ecstasies and visions, mainly of Saint John and her guardian angel. Mary also continued to care for lepers.

Mary had the gift of tears.   She could not look at a crucifix without breaking into a torrent of tears or being ravished in ecstasy. When a priest told her to cease these exhibitions, she asked God to make him understand. (It is not possible for a creature to arrest tears which the Holy Spirit obliges to well up). And the priest, that same day while saying his Mass, began to shed so many tears that the altar cloths and his vestments were wet with them.

She saw the place destined for her in heaven.  Three days before she died, Mary began to sing in ecstatic strains in the Romance language concerning the Trinity, the Humanity of Christ, the Virgin and the Saints. She sang as if the sentences with their rhythm were written before her. She said, greatly rejoicing at it, that the Holy Spirit would soon visit His Church, and send laborers more abundantly than usual into the harvest.   She died on June 23rd, 1213, of natural causes.

The faithful who have addressed her were so impressed with the value of her intercession that her relics became the object of great respect. Buried at Oignies, her remains in 1609 were placed in a silver reliquary in its parish church of Our Lady; in 1817 they were transferred to the Church of Saint Nicolas at Nivelle, near her birthplace. (1)




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