Memorial of St. Alice, Cistercian Nun, at Mississippi Abbey

Today I want to honor St. Alice, a Cistercian nun in thirteenth century Belgium who was a leper.  Born in 1215, she entered the monastery at the age of seven for her education. Fr. Raymond of Gethsemani writes that “When it was found that God had blessed her with an exceptionally quick and keen intelligence, and a curiosity that focused on God and the things of God, plus a surprising evenness of temper, she became more than an attractive child, she became a universal favorite.”  Like the young Thomas Aquinas while still a child, who tugged at the robes of monks and asked one question, ‘Who is God?’, Alice also intensely desired to know God. 

At 18 she became a member of the community. But Alice had one complaint, she found everything too easy because of the happiness she experienced singing the psalms, doing manual labor and time for lectio divina.  

Around the age of 20 she became physically ill long before anyone in the community realized it, until a doctor broke the news: she had leprosy. Alice saw fear in everyone’s eyes, and noticed them shrinking back.  Her Latin biographer describes Alice’s own reaction, writing that “she, herself, almost died of fright.” Alice passed through a spiritual struggle but she didn’t ask to be cured. Instead, she raised her eyes to heaven and said, “Thank you.” I’m reminded of the abbot of New Melleray in the 1950’s. When told he had Parkinson’s disease Dom Philip knelt down and prayed, saying, “Thank you.”

At first, Alice was allowed a little corner of her own in the church and refectory.  As the disease progressed they built a little cell for her near the church but outside the convent building.  She suffered intensely when first placed in this tiny cell, like one who was excommunicated.  But she accepted her special part in union with the sufferings of Christ.  Even so, she said honestly, “I do not like pain.” William of St. Thierry had written that we should entrust to memory what we read in Holy Scripture.1 Within this remembrance of the Word of God Alice found comfort and peace. Her body slowly wasted away and she became blind.  After years of extraordinary suffering that she offered for others, she died at age 35.2 As the sun was rising down here she became engulfed with heavenly light up there fulfilling her strongest desire to know God.3   

  1. Golden Epistle (1971) Cistercian Publications CF 12: 51-52.
  2. Hidden Springs: Cistercian Monastic Women, edited by John Nichols & Lillian Shank, CS 113A, 377, 395
  3. These Women Walked with God (1956) Rev. M. Raymond, Bruce Publishing Co., 93.