Germaine Cousin was born around 1579 in a little French village called Pibrac, where she lived her short life. She was a sickly child and her right hand was deformed and disabled. When her mother died and her father remarried, her stepmother did not want Germaine around her own healthy children. So Germaine slept with the sheep in the barn, even in cold weather.
She was dressed in rags and was laughed at by other children. Her stepmother often abused and beat her: one time she poured boiling water over Germaine’s legs, another time she left her in a drain for three days. Her step-sisters put ashes in her food and thought it funny.
Germaine nonetheless learned to talk with God and to remember that he was with her all the time. Never having a chance to go to school, she was put in charge of the sheep and spent long days in the field where she found a friend in God. She had a rosary made of knots in string and her very simple prayers:
Every day, without fail, she would leave her sheep in God’s care and go to Mass. Villagers wondered how the sheep were never attacked by the wolves in the woods, but God’s protection never failed her.
Germaine often gathered young children around her to teach them about the faith. She wanted their hearts to be full of God’s love. She tried her best to help the poor, too. She shared with beggars the little bit of food she was given to eat. The locals laughed at her religious devotion, and called her ‘the little bigot’.
One winter day, her stepmother caught Germaine carrying something bundled up in her apron. Certain that Germaine had stolen bread to feed the beggars, she began to chase and scream at the child. As she began to beat her, Germaine opened her apron. Out tumbled bright beautiful flowers that no one had expected to see for months. Where had she found the vibrant blossoms in the middle of the ice and snow?
There was only one answer and Germaine gave it herself, when she handed a flower to her mother and said, “Please accept this flower, Mother. God sends it to you in sign of his forgiveness.”
As the whole village began to talk about this holy child, even her stepmother began to soften her feelings toward her. She invited Germaine back to the house, but Germaine had become used to her straw bed and continued to sleep in it. There she was found dead at the age of 22, overcome by a life of suffering.
With all the evidence of her holiness, her life was too simple and hidden to mean much beyond her tiny village – until God brought it too light again. When her body was accidentally dug up forty years after her death for a church renovation, it was found to be undecayed. The villagers started to talk about what she had been like and what she had done. Soon miracles were attributed to her intercession and the movement for her canonization began.
In this way, the most unlikely of saints became recognized by the Church. She didn’t found a religious order. She didn’t reach a high Church post. She didn’t write books or teach at universities. She didn’t go to foreign lands as a missionary or convert thousands. What she did was live a life devoted to God and her neighbour no matter what happened to her. And that is all God asks.