On his way to combat heresy in Britain, St. Germanus of Auxerre made an overnight stop at Nanterre, France. In the crowd that gathered to hear him speak, Germanus spotted Genevieve (or Genovefa), a beautiful 7-year-old girl, and he foresaw her future holiness. When he asked little St. Genevieve if she wanted to dedicate her life to God, she enthusiastically said yes. So he laid hands on her with a blessing, thus launching the spiritual career of one of France’s most admired saints.
At 15, Genevieve formally consecrated herself as a virgin, but continued to live as a laywoman. Because of her generous giving to the poor, she became widely known in the vicinity around Paris. At first, however, for some unknown reason Genevieve met great hostility. But St. Germanus defused it by authorizing her with public signs of his support.
Once when the Franks were besieging Paris, Genevieve rescued the city from starvation by leading a convoy of ships up the Seine to Troyes to obtain food. In this selection from her biography, we learn that she had to work a miracle to bring it home safely:
During the return voyage, however, their ships were so buffeted by the wind . . . that the high holds fore and aft in which they had stored the grain tipped over on their sides. And the ships filled with water. Quickly Genovefa, her hands stretched toward heaven, begged Christ for assistance. Immediately the ships were righted. Thus through her our God . . . saved eleven grain-laden ships. . . .
When she returned to Paris, her sole concern was to distribute the grain to all according to their needs. She made it her first priority to provide a whole loaf to those whose strength had been sapped by hunger. Thus when her servant girls went to the ovens they would often find only part of the bread they had baked. . . . But it was soon clear who had taken the bread from the ovens for they noticed the needy carrying loaves throughout the city and heard them magnifying and blessing the name of Genovefa. For she put her hopes not in what is seen but in what is not seen. For she knew the Prophet spoke truly who said: “Whoever is kind to the poor is lending to Yahweh” (Proverbs 19:17 NJB). For through a revelation of the Holy Spirit she had once been shown that land, where those who lend their treasure to the poor expect to find it again. And for this reason, she was accustomed to weep and pray incessantly: for she knew that as long as she was in the flesh she was exiled from the Lord.
From that time Genevieve enjoyed a heroine’s status, and used her influence and wonders on the city’s behalf. For example, she persuaded Childeric, who had conquered Paris, to release many captives. And in 451, when Attila the Hun was advancing on the city, she got the populace to pray and fast for their safety. The invader changed his course and Paris was spared. She also became a trusted adviser to Clovis, the king of the Franks.
When Genevieve died around 500, she was buried in the church of Sts. Peter and Paul at Paris. So many miracles occurred through her intercession there that it became a pilgrimage spot and came to be called St. Genevieve.