Reprinted from Magnificat (www.magnificat.com)
Credible Witness: Servant of God Claire de Castelbajac
By Heather King
Servant of God Claire de Castelbajac (1953–1975) specialized in the restoration of works of art in Rome and Assisi, and died at twenty-one of meningoencephalitis, offering her suffering up for the world, after an intense life of prayer.
Born into a Catholic family in Paris, Claire, the youngest of five, showed signs of early piety. Upon awaking each morning, she was said to have exclaimed, “O Mary Immaculate, I entrust to you the purity of my heart. Be its guardian forever.”
She was also generous, passionate, and marked by an infectious joie de vivre. Preparing for her First Communion in June of 1959, she carefully noted her little sacrifices: “(1) I didn’t take water; (2) Act of love; (3) I obeyed Mommy right away; (4) I didn’t complain about having a stomach ache.”
As she entered adolescence, she found the social and political changes of the 1960s profoundly unsettling. In part to ground her spirit, she formed a choir that continues to this day as the Chorale Claire de Castelbajac.
Upon reaching college age, she was accepted as a foreign candidate at the Central Institute of Restoration in Rome. There she was increasingly disturbed, agitated, and at last tempted by the counter-cultural chaos of the period.
“The only thing that interests them,” she observed of her “liberated” peers, “is pleasure in all its forms. So that depresses me and disgusts me a little.” At the same time, she feared for herself: “Sometimes, when I see the people around me, I think to myself that it wouldn’t be so bad to be like them. Then I pray to have the courage, I could even say sometimes the heroism, to resist.”
Her resistance failed her for a time. Later she would recognize her temporary descent into hedonism to be the result of self-absorption and vanity. She would turn back to Christ and to the Church. She once remarked to a nun: “I would like to give happiness to all those I approach and sow joy. Thérèse of Lisieux expected to be in heaven to make others happy. I want to do it on earth.”
She would also travel to Assisi, to work on two frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis. While there, on January 4, 1975, she fell gravely ill with meningoencephalitis, a serious neurological condition consisting in inflammation of the brain and surrounding tissues.
Knowing that her condition was terminal, she told her mother: “I am so happy that if I died now, I believe I would go straight to Heaven, since Heaven means praising God, and I’m already there!” She died on January 22, 1975. Her cause for canonization was opened in 1990.
She left behind letters, journals, and writings of richness and depth. But it may be a spontaneous prayer she composed before the age of six that best reveals her essential sanctity: “Jesus, make the bad people, and those who don’t love you, and those who don’t know you, become nice, and know you and love you, and make them say their prayers three times a day, so that they all go to heaven.”
“Did you think about offering your heart and your day this morning?” her mother once asked.
“Of course!” little Claire replied. “I always think about it! If I didn’t, what good would I be?”