Renewing religious institutions is not easy. We would expect a person chosen to reform convents and monasteries to be formidable. Maybe even physically tall, overbearing, and somewhat threatening. God, however, doesn’t seem to agree. For example, in the fifteenth century he selected St. Colette, a young woman the opposite of these characteristics, to call Franciscans to strict observance of the rules of St. Clare and St. Francis.
Not that Colette was unimpressive. She was a beautiful woman whose radiant inner strength attracted people. However, her spirituality, her commitment to God, and her heart for souls, not her physical qualities, suited her for her reforming mission.
At seventeen, upon her parents’ death, Colette joined the Franciscan Third Order. She lived for eight years as a hermit at Corbie Abbey in Picardy. Toward the end of this time, St. Francis appeared to her in a vision and charged her to restore the Poor Clares to their original austerity. When Friar Henry de Beaume came in 1406 to conform her mission, Colette had the door of her hut torn down, a sign that her solitude was over and her work begun. And she then prayed her commitment:
I dedicate myself in health, in illness, in my life, in my death, in all my desires, in all my deeds so that I may never work henceforth except for your glory, for the salvation of souls, and towards the reform for which you have chosen me. From this moment on, dearest Lord, there is nothing which I am not prepared to undertake for love of you.
Colette’s first reports to reform convents met vigorous opposition. Then she sought the approval of the Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, who professed her as a Poor Clare and put her in charge of all convents she would reform. He also appointed Henry de Beaume to assist her. Thus equipped, she launched her reform in 1410 with the Poor Clares at Besancon. Before her death in 1447, the saint had founded or renewed seventeen convents and several friaries throughout France, Savoy, Burgundy, and Spain.
Like Francis and Clare, Colette devoted herself to Christ crucified, spending every Friday meditating on the passion. She is said to have miraculously received a piece of the cross, which she gave to St.Vincent Ferrer when he came to visit her.
St. Joan of Arc once passed by Colette’s convent in Moulins, but there is no evidence that the two met. Like Joan, Colette was a visionary. Once, for instance, she saw souls falling from grace in great numbers, like flakes in a snowstorm. Afterward she prayed daily for the conversion of sinners. She personally brought many strays back to Christ and helped them unravel their sinful patterns. At age sixty-six, Colette foretold her death, received the sacrament of the sick, and died at her convent in Ghent, Flanders.