Religious Sister of the Order of Poor Clares of Talence
Jeanne-Germaine Castang was born on 23 May 1878 at Nojals, east of Bergerac de Périgord, France. She was the fifth of 11 children born into an impoverished but deeply religious family. Her father's relatives were landowners and her mother's, notaries. She was a pretty, resourceful child with her own strong character but who already showed an inclination to the consecrated life.
Poliomyelitis, which struck at the age of 4, left her with only one sound leg and a permanent limp. This disability did not affect her piety nor deter her from assisting at home, especially after her elder sister's admission to the Order of St Joseph at Aubenas and later, after the premature death of her mother in December 1892, while caring for her eldest brother who had tuberculosis. During that period she slept on the floor beside her brother's bed and it was probably then that she herself contracted the disease.
Jeanne-Germaine attended the local school run by the Sisters of St Joseph in Nojals. Here, she grew in faith and despite her young age became known for her devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is likely that here too, the seeds of her vocation flourished.
Her father was unsuccessful with the grocery store-café he had opened in Nojals. Thus, the family was forced to move from their home to a damp, dilapidated barn. They were so poor that Jeanne-Germaine was obliged to beg for food, going from one farm to the next despite the festering sore that had developed on her paralysed foot.
Unable to keep his family, her father left for Bordeaux in search of work; the family joined him later. Three of the children had died in Nojals; two others died in Bordeaux of TB and malnutrition. In 1892, Mr Castang found a job as doorkeeper at a castle in La Réole and his family went to live there.
Jeanne-Germaine, however, remained in Bordeaux, where she had been taken in at the outset by the Sisters of Nazareth, with whom she stayed five years. She underwent surgery on her foot at the local paediatric hospital. With the Sisters she learned to sew and was prepared for her First Communion and Confirmation.
After her brother's death in 1893, Jeanne Germaine desired to join her sister in the Order of St Joseph at Aubenas. When she was refused due to her disability, as she had been earlier by the Poor Clares, she returned to the Sisters of Nazareth.
At this time, Jeanne-Germaine went for a walk with a friend who suggested she visit the Ave Maria Community of the Poor Clares at Talence, not far from Bordeaux; seeing beyond her handicap, the Mother Superior was able to discern her exceptional religious disposition.
So it was that on 12 June 1896, she was admitted to the Community in Talence (today incorporated into the Community of Poor Clares at Perpignan). Her father did not wish to lose his daughter, but agreed on condition that she send him a photograph. The following 21 November, she was clothed in the habit of the Second Order of St Francis and took the name "Marie-Céline of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary".
The relentless advance of the tuberculosis did not stop her from fully immersing herself in the austere lifestyle of the contemplative nuns. Her love for God, the Church and her Sisters increased and she accepted with humility the supernatural manifestations of God's love.
When the Superior became aware of the deterioration of her health and called the doctor, it was too late. Sr Marie-Céline was permitted to make her final vows on her deathbed; she died of tuberculosis of the bone on 30 May 1897 when she was only 19 years old.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Sr Marie-Céline's burial place at the Convent of the Poor Clares of Talence became a pilgrimage destination; since June 2006, her mortal remains rest in the Parish Church of Nojals-et-Clottes, where she worshipped as a child.
The aura of holiness which had surrounded Sr Marie-Céline in her lifetime soon led to the introduction of her cause of Beatification. Pope Pius XII decreed her heroic virtues on 22 January 1957 and in December 2006, Pope Benedict authorized the promulgation of a decree concerning a miracle attributed to her intercession.
This young nun who wrote: "I am determined to be a violet of humility, a rose of charity, and a lily of purity for Jesus", lives on as a model for all those who are ill or suffer from physical handicaps, poverty and marginalization.
After her death, she appeared to many via fragrances, which earned her the nickname: "Saint of the Perfumes".