From the Editor’s Desk (Tuesday, 10-26-2015, Gaudium Press) The life story of “Eve Lavallière”, a converted French stage actress, is one of those stories that once known it can never be forgotten.
Her real name was Eugénie Marie Pascaline Fenoglio. She lived in the early twentieth century, born in France in a poor family of Italian background. ‘Lavallière’ was the name of an elegant type of tie, fashionable at the time, which Eve used smartly, and from there her nickname comes.
Orphaned at an early age, her father shot her mother and killed himself, she had an indomitable spirit, which sometimes could become wild. When 18 she was full of illusions and great ambitions for life.
She started working as a seamstress and was good at it. But the job was too boring for her; she wanted to become a celebrity.
A rich uncle in Nice, asked her to come to live with him, raising the hopes of Eugenia. But frivolous and superficial, before the train reached Nice she spent three days of partying in Montpellier without notifying his uncle who was waiting for her. When she finally arrived to her uncle’s house he just told her at the door “You can go where you like, I do not want to have anything more to do with you”. The door was closed and she was left without a penny to fend for her life. She went to a park and start crying. Miraculously and unexpectedly she was approached by a gentleman who took her to Paris.
Walking through the “The City of Light”, she saw an advertising in which it was written: “diction, singing, dancing.” Eve had no art education, only the vehement desire to succeed. At her first lesson her teacher exclaimed: “What a beautiful voice!”.From there on she just went up the ladder to fame and glory. Her greatest achievement was, perhaps her playing of the heroine in Le Roi (The King), which had a sensational ‘First Night’ on the 24th April, 1908. So brilliant was her interpretation that Sarah Bernhardt, sparing as a rule of her compliments, was one of the foremost to pay her tribute after the performance. The great tragic actress was outspoken in her admiration. ‘What wonderful gifts you have!’ she exclaimed.
In 1911, she had a serious operation and spent some weeks in a nursing-home conducted by the Sisters of Saint Saviour. The ten days that followed the operation was the first period of peace and calm she had known for many years. Her courage and patience edified the Sister in charge of her, to whom she spoke of the life she was leading and of which she repented. But after that ten days, her door was opened to visitors and the world claimed her once more. Her repentance if genuine was short-lived, and after a period of convalescence at the fashionable watering-place of Evian, she resumed her old life. Yet her disillusionment was increasing with every year. She had tasted all that the world could offer her: fame, wealth, excitement, admiration; all her dreams had come true.
And she saw the emptiness, the hollowness of worldly success. ‘Even when I was at the height of my success,’ she said years later, ‘I used to leave the stage victim to sadness I cannot describe.’ And again: ‘A voice seemed to follow me everywhere saying: “Eve, you weren’t made for this sort of thing,” and sometimes I despaired even to the point of wanting to commit suicide.’
At a certain given point she decides to purchase a lonely castle where she cuold have some rest. She chooses one called “Chateau La Porcherie” near Tours which was under the care of a priest who administered the property belonging to two orphan girls.
This parish priest, Father Chasteigner, was the administrator of that property and therefore met Eve.
The day after her arrival was a Sunday and in the afternoon, Father Chasteigner decided to pay a visit to his new tenant. He found her in the byre seated on a three-legged stool, watching with a town-dweller’s interest the cows being milked.
Reluctantly leaving the novel spectacle, she enthused over the perfections of country life to the Cure as they strolled up and down the farmyard. Monsieur le Cure listened smiling, for awhile; then he said quietly: ‘By the way, Mademoiselle, I did not see you at Mass this morning.’
Lavalliere was startled. It was a long time since anyone had challenged her so directly.
‘Well, Monsieur le Cure,’ she said at last, ‘I didn’t like to come without your permission; after all, you know who I am – ‘Lavalliere of the Variétés’ – Still, if you’ve no objection. . . .’
Now, the Cure knew too much of the world to be surprised at her absence; but she was one of his parishioners now and he would treat her as such. So he replied: ‘Objection? Why should I object? The church is open to everyone. Anyway I shall continue to expect you.’
It was the beginning of a radical conversion, leading Eve to the high peaks of virtue. From that day on she did not miss Sunday obligation. Shortly after, she did a great confession of her sins. He broke with all her past and wanted to enter Carmel, but God asked her to renounce this desire and instead she end up becoming a member of the Franciscan third order.
She established herself in Lourdes, where he lived in a pension house, going avery day to the grotto.
Finally she bought a small house in Thuillières, which she painted blue and white in honor of the Immaculate Virgin. There she lived with her servant Leona, to serve the poor, doing great works of charity in with she spend most of her money.
One day the superior of the White Fathers suggested her to take care of a center for nurses just opened in Tunisia. Without hesitating she leaves for Africa, and there she spends what was left of her health.
My God, Blessed are You, I love You with my whole soul,’ she prays. ‘Lord God of my heart and soul, behold me. I am Yours. The flesh is weak and complains, but my soul is ready. Fiat voluntas Tua! (Let it be done according to Your will!) Even did I wish to love something other than You, Lord, I could no longer do it. Anything that I might have loved is now only desolation, ruin, infamy.’
In the midst of her sufferings, her soul knew periods of heavenly joy, when she exclaims: ‘Oh, Jesus, what must Heaven be if I am to judge of those brief moments when my soul is no longer of this world, when my happiness is ‘beyond all description’, for words are finite and my happiness is infinite. My God, I love You.’
Her charity has already been referred to, but Eve knew that true charity consists in more than the bestowal of material benefits.
‘Love, love to give and have nothing of your own,’ she writes to a friend. ‘Give even your generous thoughts, give your sufferings, give your merits, divest yourself of everything in order to become the dearly-beloved of Jesus, in order to gain an immortal crown.’
Her sufferings increased rapidly until at last she could no longer leave her bed. Yet Eve was happy, supremely happy.
‘You cannot realize how happy I am,’ she said to Robert de Flers.
‘In spite of your sufferings?’
‘Because of them.’ And her last words to him were: ‘When people mention me to you, make it quite clear to them, all those who know me, that you have seen the happiest, indeed, the most perfectly happy of women.’
Yes, it was because of her sufferings that Eve was happy. ‘I am and always will be very seriously affected – failing a miracle,’ she writes to Father Chasteigner two years before her death. ‘But I don’t ask our Lady for that, because I know the value of accepted sufferings, and that everything which happens to us has been foreseen from all eternity for the glory of God and our own greater good.’
Her eyesight had begun to fail but it troubled her little. ‘Open the eyes of my soul,’ she prayed, ‘that I may contemplate You and love You, adorable Trinity, even if I must pay for it with the death of my bodily eyes.’ And God heard her prayer.
‘My gallant Eve is suffering horribly from her eyes,’ Leona writes to Father Chasteigner in 1929. ‘The left eye is completely lost. They had to perform a very painful operation on it, to avoid taking it out and that without deadening it first, because she couldn’t support the cocaine – what a martyrdom!’
But Eve never faltered. ‘You and I, Jesus!’ she said, and ordered the doctor to proceed. The operation was unhappily a failure, and the doctor decided that it would be necessary to sew up the eye-lids. An anaesthetic was again impossible, but Eve submitted to the torture with unbroken calm. ‘It is only just,’ she said, ‘that God should punish a sinful thing such as I am.’ Her sufferings were atrocious, yet she seemed to welcome them, and when they diminished, exclaimed: ‘There, you see, Jesus is abandoning me. He finds me unworthy to suffer because I complain too much.’
Yet in actual fact, she bore everything with perfect resignation. ‘If God wants me to live, He will cure me,’ she said. ‘If not, I shall go joyfully.’
It was the summer of 1929 and Eve’s long pilgrimage was nearly at an end. She felt it herself and said: ‘Saint Joseph will be coming to fetch me one of these days,’ and it was on his day, Wednesday, that the end came. She died at daybreak on 10th July, 1929, as the Litany of the Blessed Virgin was being said at her bedside. On her humble tomb in the little cemetery of Thuillieres may be read the words which, chosen by herself, sum up perfectly the motive of her life:
“I Have left all for God. He alone is sufficient for me!”
By Saúl Castiblanco/Gaudium Press. Source:” Eva Lavallière, Terceira franciscana – Uma conquista do Amor misericordioso” by Mgrs Ascanio Brandao. Ed. Vozes. Petrópolis. (1948); and Australian Catholic Truth Society No. 775 (1947)