Catherine was born Zoé Labouré on May 2, 1806, the ninth of eleven children born to a farm family in Fain-les-Moutiers, France. When only eight years old, her mother died and Catherine was made responsible for the running the house and helping her father. Although she would remain illiterate her whole life, she was allowed to enter the convent of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul on the Rue du Bac in the French capital when she was twenty-two and took the name Catherine upon her profession.
Late on the night of July 18, 1830, Catherine was awakened by the vision of a young child who led her to the convent chapel. Arriving there, she found the Blessed Virgin awaiting her. Our Lady spoke to Catherine for more than two hours and revealed to her that God wished to charge her with a particular mission.
On November 27 of that same year, Our Lady appeared to her a second time in the chapel. She held a globe in her hands upon which the word France was written. Our Lady told Catherine that it represented the entire world, but that she had a special desire to help France in particular. Then the vision changed and Sister Catherine saw Our Lady standing on a globe crushing the serpent under her foot, with rays of light streaming from her hands. These words surrounded the vision: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The vision changed again and another image appeared of a cross surmounted by a capital M, and below it, two hearts, one thorn-crowned and the other pierced with a sword. The Virgin then spoke and instructed Catherine to have a medal made in replication of what she had seen and promised special graces to those who wore it.
Catherine told only her confessor about these visions. Though he was doubtful at first, he soon came to believe. He and the Archbishop of Paris were the only ones who ever knew that she was the sister who received the revelations – not even the Mother Superior of her convent knew – and with their help the first medals were forged and distributed in 1832. Soon many miracles were being attributed to them, and it took only a few years for their fame to spread throughout Europe.
Sister Catherine was transferred to the convent of Enghien-Reuilly and lived there for over 40 years, unknown, carrying out the humble functions of a gate-keeper, head of the poultry yard, and caring for the aged in the convent’s hospice. Only eight months before her death did she receive permission from her confessor to reveal to her Superior, Mother Dufès, that she was the one who had received the apparitions of Our Lady. She died on December 31, 1876. Soon after her funeral, miracles began being attributed to her intercession; and when her body was exhumed in 1933 it was found completely fresh and supple. She was canonized by Pope St. Pius XII on July 27, 1947.