Sister Mary of St. Peter was born in 1816 on October 4th, the feastday of St. Francis of Assisi and also the anniversary of the death of St. Teresa of Avila (though we celebrate St. Teresa’s feastday on October 15th). She was named Perrine Frances, and baptized in Rennes, France.
At the age of one month, baby Perrine was accidently dropped into the flames of a fireplace by one of the children of her wet nurse; her face always retained a mark from that burn. At four years old, she contracted scarlet fever and nearly died; she was in grave danger for nineteen days.
In her autobiography and revelations, Perrine speaks of her disposition as a child as being mean, often angry, stubborn, jealous of her older sister, disagreeable, proud, full of self-love, always misbehaving at home and at Mass.
She made her First Confession at the age of six-and-a-half, and over the course of the next few years found herself improving. Her parents told her beautiful stories about the Blessed Virgin, and she prayed to Mary to help her in this improvement. She began to enjoy prayer, and no longer had any difficulty in behaving when at Mass; quite the opposite. She enjoyed her Catechism classes very much and also began saying the Stations of the Cross, deeply moved by the sufferings of Jesus. As young as she was, she had heard there was a kind of prayer called “mental prayer” and wanted to practise it, but because she didn’t understand what it was, she tried practising it as vocal prayer but without pronoucing the words! Intuitively she knew this likely wasn’t correct, because it always left her feeling that she “hadn’t said her prayers”. Not long afterwards she was in church and heard a sermon being given on meditation: “I, therefore, opened my ears and my heart to such a happy instruction, rejoicing to know at last how to make mental prayer”.
At the age of ten-and-a-half, Perrine made her First Holy Communion “with great fervor”, having prepared for it with the sacrament of confession, where her heart was greatly touched by the Lord’s grace. She gave herself completely to God at this time. That very same day she received the Sacrament of Confirmation and was also invested with the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, placing her under the protection of our Blessed Mother, to whom, she says, “I felt I owed my conversion”.
At the tender age of twelve, Perrine experienced what she called a great trial sent to her by her Saviour, intended to drive pride out of her heart forever. She felt under attack by Satan in the form of doubts and scruples, believed herself to be committing sins every moment and agonized over her past childhood failings. She examined her conscience endlessly, but avoided confession because she never felt well-enough prepared or sufficiently contrite. Doubt even entered her prayerlife and she would continually re-start her prayers thinking they had not been said well enough: “This repetition was as ridiculous as it was sad.”
Also at this time, Perrine’s mother died. Remembering that St. Teresa of Avila’s mother had also died when she was twelve, she followed Teresa’s example and begged the Blessed Virgin to be her mother: “The most holy Virgin must have granted my petition, for ever since that time I have always felt her maternal protection.”
Several years later the Lord delivered her from her “interior darkness and her scruples.” A lady-friend mentioned Perrine’s problem of being too afraid to enter the confessional to the parish priest, explaining how she turned and left the church every time her turn in the line-up came around, after having prepared for hours. The priest was moved to intervene the next time the situation occurred, encouraging her to the point of ordering her to make her confession without delay, paying no attention to her doubts and arguments. He absolved her, then counselled her on scruples and also on her prayerlife. She felt that “Satan was overthrown by my obedience”, and she was “filled with confidence and peace of mind.” Perrine came to be granted “signal graces”at Holy Mass and “inundated with consolations” in Holy Communion. At this point in her life she became “continually aware of the presence of God.”
[The Golden Arrow. The Autobiography and Revelations of Sister Mary of St. Peter (1816-1848) on Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, edited by Dorothy Scallan; translated by Father Emeric B. Scallan, S.T.B.]