Book Spotlight #2: A Memory for Wonders, A True Story

Genre: Autobiography                                                                       
Author: Mother Veronica Namoyo le Goulard, P.P.C
Length: 189 pages
Publisher: Ignatius Press, 1993

God loves challenges. Despite the obstructions of atheistic, Marxist parents to allow their daughter to find God, little Lucette le Goulard nonetheless discovers Him as if by instinct. A Memory for Wonders, A True Story, reveals God’s grace in action, as He persistently draws a child to Himself.

Childhood in Brittany

Lucette’s childhood begins in Brittany, where the wild contrasts of the landscape – crashing waves, rocks, strong winds, and lovely skies, mirror the personalities involved. On the one hand, a strong anti-clerical and atheistic worldview dominates her parents and grandfathers; on the other hand, the gentle piety of the grandmothers saves her soul.

The parents of Lucette forbid all mention of God or religion to their child. Hence, the grandmothers work by stealth to assure her baptism. However, Lucette’s fiercely anticlerical parent’s find out and are enraged. They decide to leave Brittany for Morocco, so that, nobody could speak to me of God and no one could influence the development of my mind with oppressive superstition.

Childhood in Morocco

Morocco in North Africa was a bit like the Far West – a type of wild frontier that attracted young French citizens. Mother Veronica describes the culture, people, climate, and animals of the place with living detail: the heavily jeweled women, the intense heat, and the Saharan sirocco. The latter are sand storms whipped up from the desert that make life miserable for several days.

In fact, it was during a respite from a sirocco that Lucette palpably experiences God for the first time. Though only three years old at the time, she has a memory for wonders. Particles of fine sand still floated in the air and mingled with a glorious sunset of scarlet, crimson, and deep purple.

I was caught in limitless beauty and radiant, singing splendor. And at the same time, with a cry of wonder in my heart, I knew that all this beauty was created, I knew God. This was the word that my parents had hidden from me. I had nothing to name him: God, Dieu, Allah, or Yahweh, as he named by human lips, but my heart knew that all was from him and him alone and that he was such that I could address him and enter into a relationship with him through prayer. I made my first act of adoration.

The family moves to the town of Safi near the Atlantic Ocean. Lucette falls in love with the ocean and the natural surroundings – wildflowers, cacti, sheep, colorful beetles, and pasture lands.

The Man on the Cross

One Sunday afternoon, to keep her occupied, Lucette’s mother hands her a large mail order catalog from Paris. It contains illustrations of every imaginable item, such as dresses, perfume, furniture, etc. Something catches her attention: three crucifixes. She had seen a cross before on top of a church, but it had no meaning for her. However, the crosses in the catalog had a tiny man fixed on it.

While I was silently looking at these strange pictures, I suddenly knew: this man on the cross had been killed, and it was for all men, women, and children. It was for me. He was a man, but he was also the Son of God whom I was already adoring as Creator and loving, universal presence.

She comprehends the mystery as though by deep intuition and later ties it to her baptism as an infant. The grace of baptism was coming to unexpected fruition. She secretly tears the largest of the crucifix illustrations out of the book and stores it in the crevice of a baby toy. Over the months, she so often contemplates and kisses the paper image, that it finally wears out from repeated handling.

Extended Stay in Brittany

She visits her relatives in Brittany while the parents stay in Morocco. Despite only dim memories of her infancy there, she soon feels at home. Unlike Morocco, she makes friends and enjoys school life where her Aunt Jeanne is a teacher.

Two events awaken her quest to know God. Once, while at her grandmother’s house, she sees a crucifix in one of the rooms. Lucette asks with a pointed finger, Grandma, who is he? The grandma sighs, takes Lucette’s hand, and says, my little one, I cannot tell you. Lucette responds with heat, Why? Tell me now. Please, tell me! She’s close to crying, but the grandmother explains, No, I promised your father that I would never tell you about him; and if we speak of him, your father will never see me again. Lucette is confused – what’s this apparent antagonism between her father and the man on the cross, whom she loves above everything else?

The second experience involves the discovery of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Out of curiosity, she ventures into the servant girl’s small bedroom and examines everything. She sees a paper image of a pretty lady on the wall, that is titled, Mary of the Springs. Again, as though by instinct, she understands that this is the Mother of the Crucified One. That night in bed, she keeps the lights on to read her grandfather’s newspaper. Her mind is fixed on the thought, Mary is his Mother. Desiring to address her as Mama, she puts God to the test. She prays that if He permits her to call her Mama, that the lights go out on the count of three. She counts and at exactly three, her grandmother opens the door and turns off the light.

A Difficult Child

After the year in Brittany, she departs for Casablanca, where her parents have taken up residence. Even with her advancing prayer life, Lucette is a challenging child. Perhaps it is because she is an only child that she frequently causes mischief. She steals on several occasions, damages expensive items that she finds unattractive, and has strained relations with her mother. The general atmosphere of the household is tense – the father is often away at Communist meetings, the mother works strange hours and feels neglected, and Lucette is often left alone.

One night, Lucette finds a cupboard belonging to her father. It’s locked but she manages to find the key. She examines the contents, which included love letters between her parents, some pornography, and drugs, such as ether. A few nights later, as she is looking out at the starry sky before bed, a large black bird of prey forms from the black sky and comes to life. The bird lands on her and digs its talons into her shoulders, attempting to kidnap her away. Lucette calls on God with all her might and feels herself becoming rock-like and unmovable. As her shoulders feel sore for several days, she’s convinced that it was an encounter with evil. Somehow the examination of the forbidden cupboard brought it about.

Though a difficult child, yet God loves a challenge.

Youth Through Adulthood

In brief, as she advances through adolescence, she excels at swimming and diving, gains two close friends who are faithful Catholics, and finds herself increasingly drawn to Catholicism. She loves to read. Sadly, when she tells her father of her desire to become Catholic, she receives a beating. Nonetheless, she eventually succeeds in this hope while a college student in Algiers.

One significant moment at Lourdes makes the Virgin Mary come alive in her life. While visiting at the Grotto with her mother, she hears a crystal-clear voice in her heart, you are not meant to marry. She understands it to be the Virgin Mary’s request, yet she hesitates to accept the proposal. Then a sense of deep trust envelops her and she surrenders herself to the Lord.

Despite this grace, she is fascinated with Communism due to her father’s influence. She eventually joins the Party, even while remaining Catholic. She also takes on social work in the vice-infested slums of Algiers until she finds herself crawling with lice.

The Casbah of Algiers, where Lucette worked among the poor. Photo by Paebi.
Monastic Calling

Breezing through many interesting events, including the harrowing days of World War II, we arrive at her calling to religious life. At twenty-two, Lucette has a promising future ahead of her: she’s the director of the social services in Algiers and rubs shoulders with prominent people, such as General de Gaulle. However, she feels increasingly drawn to the Poor Clare Monastery of Algiers.

Nonetheless, serious obstacles impede this choice. In the first place, she knows that the news will devastate her parents; secondly, she has a dominating personality, which will make obedience a tremendous challenge. Thirdly, there are aspects of her chosen community that repel her, such as certain devotions and an apparent lack of intellectual stimulus.

Yet, as God loves a challenge, so does Lucette, and she crosses the threshold.

Final Assessment

Lucette perseveres in her vocation and becomes Mother Veronica, the abbess of the Algiers monastery, and then abbess for all of Africa. After a long tenure, she steps down from authority and writes her autobiography in obedience to her new abbess.

I do recommend this book for lite reading but have reservations. It’s no doubt entertaining – Lucette narrowly escapes death on several occasions. It is also humorous, spiritual, and poetic in many ways. God’s work on her is extraordinary.

Yet her behavior as a child is disheartening, with so many tales of stealing, destruction, and rudeness to her parents and others. One is often tempted to think, “what a little brat!” It’s likewise questionable why she is a card-carrying Communist to the day of her entrance into the monastery. On the other hand, these factors glorify God’s patience until perfection arrives. As St. John Vianney says, the saints did not all start well, but they all ended well.

Notwithstanding these aspects, there is much good. As the forward by Mother Mary Francis makes clear, Mother Veronica becomes a vital and holy member of the Poor Clares in Africa. The story also ends happily as the parents return to the Sacraments, thus reaffirming God’s intervention in impossible situations.

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