Reprinted from Magnificat (www.magnificat.com)
Credible Witness: Venerable Anne de Guigné
By Heather King
Venerable Anne de Guigné (1911–1922), a devout French girl, exercised heroic virtue while dying at the age of ten from meningitis.
She was born to wealthy parents in Annecy-le-Vieux, the oldest of four. Lovable but strong-willed, she was not especially well behaved.
Still, the signs of sanctity were present early. On June 28, 1915, her mother wrote: “I am astonished by her intelligence: she talks to me a lot about her First Communion, and, above all, she asks me to talk to her about it. Her answers often surprise me and I am going to buy her a little catechism that I will help her to learn very gently.”
Then, in July 1915, Anne’s father died in the war while leading a charge against the Germans. One day she happened upon her mother, weeping, and asked how she could help. “Anne, if you want to comfort me,” her mother replied, “be good.” Anne was four at the time. It is said that from that day on, her behavior gradually improved.
In preparation for an early First Communion, she was interrogated by a priest and deemed ready. She reported her chief sins at the time to be pride and disobedience.
Anne made her First Communion on March 26, 1917, consecrating herself to the Virgin Mary. Her mother later observed: “The First Communion itself marked a second step: from then onwards, I could only see a regular and uninterrupted ascension.”
Two weeks later, she was confirmed by the bishop of Nice.
The practice of giving First Communion and Confirmation to very young children was an ancient one that had more recently fallen into disfavor. Prior to Anne’s reception of the two sacraments, Pope Pius X had reinvigorated the teaching that children should be prepared and ready to receive them as soon as they reach the age of reason.
By all accounts, Anne thereafter waged a continuous battle against impatience and quick temper. Gradually she mastered herself, turning her thoughts to others. She prayed for the sick, the poor, and especially sinners.
“We have many joys on earth, but they don’t last,” she observed; “the one that lasts is to have made a sacrifice.”
She had suffered for years from rheumatism, and in December 1921, she contracted a cerebral disease, generally thought to be meningitis, that left her bedridden.
So perfect was Anne’s obedience that on her deathbed she asked the nun in attendance for permission to join the angels.
She died at dawn on January 14, 1922.
Testimonies began pouring in, accompanied by articles in the press calling for her canonization.
The bishop of Annecy opened the beatification process in 1932. Up until then, the Church had never considered elevating to sainthood a child who had not been a martyr.
Yet, as Father Jacques-Marie Guilmard observed on the hundredth anniversary of her birth, “saintliness in childhood was already widely recognized. Saint Rita made a vow of virginity at the age of five. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux stated that she had never refused anything to Jesus since she was three. But these two became adults and were canonized as adults.”
In 1990, Pope John Paul II recognized the heroic nature of Anne de Guigné’s virtues, making her the youngest person ever to be so honored. She was proclaimed Venerable on March 3 of that year.