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MADAME DIGBY A REMARKABLE KILDARE LADY

Leinster Leader July 29 1911
 
 
 
Madame Digby
A remarkable Kildare Lady
 
 
Madame Digby, fifth Superior- General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, died at Ixelles, near Brussels, on the 21st of May. During sixteen trying years she had wisely governed more than six thousand religious in convents scattered over the whole world, her burden made more heavy by her own delicate health and the infirmities that accompany old age.
Sixteen eventful years they were. She had the consolation of seeing the saintly Mother Barat raised to the altars of the Church, and that ardent missionary, Mother Duchesne, declared Venerable; but these joys came after her heart had been broken by the French Government’s ruthless confiscation of forty-nine of her convents, many of them especially dear to her, and to her daughters, because they were closely associated with the memory of their foundress and with the early traditions of the Society. But with rare foresight and as the result of excellent management, Madame Dibgy was prepared to open wide the door of another house as each of the loved ones was closed behind her reluctant feet. The convent at Ixelles, chosen to be the new mother-house, quickly became, in customs and in spirit, an exact reproduction of its predecessor in Paris. Then, her life-work accomplished, she lingered not, but hastened home to heaven.
Marie Josephine Mabel Digby was born at Osberstown, Co. Kildare (being a member of the Landenstown family), in April 1835, and was therefore past seventy-six years of age at the time of her death. As a child she had an intense dislike for everything Catholic, to the sorrow of her mother and older sister, who were fervent converts. Her conversion, when she was eighteen years old, was most wonderful, and she loved to attribute it, and the grace of her vocation, to the intercession of a great uncle, a Jesuit, who was martyred for the Faith in England in the sixteenth century. Hearing one day that some celebrated soloists were to sing at Benediction, she accompanied her mother and sister for the sake of the music. She sat throughout the first part of the service, showing no reverence, much less devotion; but when the Blessed Sacrament was raised high over the heads of the kneeling congregation, she prostrated herself and remained on her knees long after everyone else had left the church. Her mother and sister were dumbfounded. As soon as they reached home she exclaimed, “After what has happened, I am going to be a Catholic!” At once she arranged to receive the necessary instruction, and not long after was baptised.
Soon Our Lord demanded a sacrifice in return for His signal grace. He asked her to leave home and friends, and to take up her Cross and follow Him. And so in 1857 she entered the novitiate of the Sacred Heart. The greater part of her religious life was spent at Roehampton as mistress of novices, superior, and finally as vicar. In August 1894, she was made assistant-general of the Society, and a year later was chosen to fill the first place left vacant by the death of Madame de Sortorius.
It was not without good reason that she was given one after another of its most responsible positions. Herself of a generosity of soul that hesitated at no sacrifice for God, she inspired those under her guidance with something of her own ardour. Despite the delicate health that crucified her during many years, her energy was phenomenal, a quiet energy that “worked tranquilly”. There was in her no trace of that “littleness that bustles and cries out and makes a great noise”. Disquietude was alien to her. Peace was the keynote of her soul, a peace won at the point of the sword, for as Francis Thompson quaintly says, “It is the crudest of fallacies to suppose that saints are fashioned customarily from tea and carpet slippers”. It was because she lived her real life far above the thousand petty annoyances that beset her, above the flagrant injustice that persecuted her, that she was always serene. Such things were not allowed to intrude on her close union with God in the depths of her soul.
Madame Digby was the first Superior-General of the Society of the Sacred Heart to visit America. She landed in New York in the summer of 1898, and returned to France in May of the following year, after having visited all the houses of the institute in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. She was greatly pleased to find the traditions of the Society so faithfully carried out by her “independent Americans”, whom she admired for their straightforwardness and their loyalty to those in authority. But she could not have realised what happiness and strength she brought to the religious and pupils of her American convents. Everyone loved her. She had indeed a “a face like a benediction.” She was all sweetness and simplicity and kindness. To the pupils at “Maryville” she gave two mottoes printed in gold letters on small cards. They were the keynote of her own life. “Take always the straight line, cost what it may, come what will” and “Ne pensez pas qu’en dirait le monde, mais qu’en dirait Dieu.” (Do not think of what the world would say of it, but of what God would say).
It was her simplicity and her humility that most impressed all who came in contact with her during her American trip. The general of a great institute, the feted guest of hundreds who loved her as a mother and revered her as a saint, she spoke and acted with the simple directness of a child, though with a wisdom that was the admiration of all who were in a position to see its workings. Truly, as Earnest Hello has it, “Humility stands amid the perils of dreadful heights, pride is too feeble”.
And now her long journey toward Eternity is ended, and at last she “lies within the light of God”. Where “the weary are at rest.” – Florence Gilmore in “America”.

Madame Digby who became fifth Superior-General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and who was born in Kildare, is the subject of this article in the Leinster Leader of July 1911.


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