Eve Lavallière

Eve lived a life of privation and suffering until entering a theatre company. The sudden death of one of the leading actresses of the theatre became the opportunity for Eve and she did not disappoint. Her voice was exceptional and she was able to use it to convey every sort of emotion. Even the great contemporary actress, Sarah Bernhardt, told her, “What you do is innate: you create – you do not copy the characters. You give birth to them from within yourself. It is very beautiful.”

Her beauty, voice and poise took her to the best theatres in Paris. She became the foremost actress in France and the idol of the multitudes. At this time, Eve also became the mistress of a local marquis. He changed her name to Eve Lavallière. Ironically, this had been the name of a mistress of King Louis XIV who ended her days as a penitential Carmelite nun!

King Carlos of Portugal, King Leopold II of Belgium, King Edward VII of England, Henry of Bavaria, diplomats, magnates and princes all came to hear and applaud her. Dazzled by glory, she threw herself into the vast sea of sin. “Gold ran through my hands,” Eve confessed. “I had everything the world could offer, everything I could desire. Nevertheless, I regarded myself as the unhappiest of souls.”

Despite the fame, the money and the popular acclaim, Eve’s life continued to spiral out of control. She left the marquis, only to fall in love with a theatrical director with whom she had a child. However, this man was far from faithful and had several other women friends. Eve herself was also enjoying liaisons with a variety of men who rewarded her sexual favours. In her time, she was as famous in France as many of the Hollywood actresses are today. She was the “Belle Dame” of the Paris stage; often she acted before the kings and queens of Europe as they visited the capital. Yet, offstage, Eve was miserable. Three times she decided to kill herself, each time changing her mind at the last moment.

In June, 1917, Eve wanted to rest far from the world’s agitation to prepare the repertoire of songs and pieces she was to perform in the United States. So she rented the palace of Porcherie in Chanceux, near Tours. She retired there with Leonia, a young Belgian refugee she had met in Paris in 1915 and who accompanied her as a lifelong confidante. The trustee of this palace was the parish priest, Father Chasteigner, a simple, austere and pious man, genuinely solicitous of his parishioner’s souls.

The day following Eve’s arrival was a Sunday. Father Chasteigner, noting her absence from Mass, called upon her to express his concern. Eve promised him she would not miss Mass again, and on the following Sunday, when the good pastor preached on the great converted sinners, she attended the Mass with a frivolous attitude.

Returning to the palace that afternoon, the pastor commented to Eve, “What a pity that you have no faith!”

“But what is faith?” replied Eve, in the tone of one who has permanently lost it.

She then told him of her experiences with spiritism, in which, she said, the devil took part. “I took advantage of the occasion to ask him to restore my youth, which was what I most desired, and to cure me of enteritis. Satan promised he would do so on the condition that I would become his. I accepted, adding that my lifestyle was perfect for gaining him many adepts. Obviously quite content, he disappeared.

“Some days later I was at another session, with a new presence of the devil. I denounced him for failing to fulfill his promise. In reply, he guaranteed that he would grant what I asked, but under one more condition: that I not bless myself when I encountered a funeral. That was the only vestige of religiosity that remained in me.

“But Satan still did nothing for me. In the following session, filled with indignation, I called him an impostor and a cheat. By then I had concluded that spiritism was nothing but a farce and that the devil did not exist.”

“Well, I assure you that he exists,” the good priest said, and with that, he mounted his bicycle and left without further ceremony.

Eve, struck by his conviction, began to think. “If the devil exists, God also exists. And if God exists, what am I doing in this world? What am I doing with my life?”

“On the following morning,” Leonia recalls, “we were walking in front of the castle when the pastor appeared.”

Abbé Chesteignier

“Mademoiselle,” he said, “what you told me yesterday disturbed me. I confess that I spent the better part of the night in prayer, asking God to inspire me in your regard. I also celebrated Holy Mass for the same intention. Here, I brought you The Life of Saint Mary Magdalene, by Father Henri Lacordaire. Read this book on your knees and you will see what God can do with a soul such as yours.”

“After lunch,” Leonia continues, “Eve settled down near the kitchen and, opening the doors so that the servants might hear, began to read in a loud voice. Enthusiasm seized her. Never had I heard her read with such conviction. Sitting at her feet, I began to cry. The servants were likewise moved. Eve continued reading, her voice broken by sobs.”

Eve and Leonia spent the rest of the week in piety and recollection.

“Sunday arrived, the tenth of June,” says Leonia. “We went to Mass, but Eve’s disposition differed completely from that of the previous Sunday. It was on this day, during lunch, that I ventured to say to her, ‘I would like to make my first Communion. I have reached 23 years of age without ever receiving, but I want to do so.’”

Eve was quite moved. Not only did she encourage Leonia, but offered to make the necessary arrangements and affirmed that she too would receive Holy Communion with her. At the same time, she told her, “From now on do not address me as ‘my lady.’ Simply call me ‘Eve,’ for you are my sister and I am yours.”

When the pastor arrived later and learned of Leonia’s resolve, he promised to assist her. Since she first needed instruction, he said he would provide her a catechism. The priest then prepared to leave, but Eve detained him.

“And I, Reverend Father?”

“You?”

“Yes, me! I promised this little one that I would help her, be her sponsor, and receive Holy Communion with her.”

“But…”

“Yes, I know well. I am a sinner and have not lived as a Christian, but even so, I hope I still have the right to return to God.”

Leonia writes, “I can still see Eve on the main avenue of the palace, walking decisively at the pastor’s side and, in a loud voice, accusing herself publicly of her sins. The good priest seemed embarrassed.”

“Wait! Wait a moment!” he protested. “And above all, don’t shout so loud!”

“Wait? Wait for what? Can Leonia’s happiness not also be mine?”

“It’s just that… it’s that, compared to you, Leonia is a child. Her case is simple. You, you are Eve Lavallière… you are well known… your life is public. I cannot treat you in the same manner. Moreover, you gave yourself over to spiritism. We are talking about a reserved sin.”

“Oh, my God! How unhappy I am! God does not concern Himself with me because I am such a sinner.”

“Be calm, Mademoiselle! God does love you, and to prove that, I shall leave immediately for Tours, to request the necessary permission.”

“And if they do not wish to grant it?”

“They will. What motive would they have for refusing? Mademoiselle, I will be back in less than an hour, and I will come with all the powers.” With that, the good priest disappeared on his bicycle. Eve remained in a state of anxiety, lamenting and weeping.

Eve’s sole consolation amidst her sorrow, from Leonia’s account, was her confidence in Our Lady! “How good it now feels to think of her. In times past I used to love her, and I never completely forgot her. I used to send her the flowers they offered me. She will have pity on me!”

Nevertheless, as she waited, Eve’s anxiety grew. Despair nearly took hold of her. Falling upon her knees, she raised her hands to Heaven. Bathed in tears, she exclaimed, “Lord, take me! Send me death. I can endure no more!”

Just then, Leonia, peering through the window, shouted, “Good news! I see him, I see him at last! He is pedaling with all his strength!” Eve rushed out to meet him.

“For the rest of my life,” writes Leonia, “I will never forget her great cry of joy. I will ever see her there, kneeling on the grass, expressing to God her happiness and gratitude.”

“The peace of the Lord be with you, my daughter!” said the priest, leaping from his bicycle. “The Vicar General immediately gave me all the authorizations requested.” Eve stood up, calmed, transfigured. With what attention and gratitude she heard those words of peace!

For an entire week the two friends prepared themselves for confession and Holy Communion. They walked through the wheat-covered fields each morning to the rectory. There they sat side-by-side on the old sofa in the parlor and, like two well-behaved children, recited their catechism lesson. In the afternoon, Father Chasteigner would go to the palace to speak of Heaven and the things of God. Father Chasteigner gave each of them a Rosary, and it was Eve who taught Leonia how to pray it. Preparing for their general confessions, “We wrote out our sins on sheets of paper so as not to forget anything,” said Leonia.

On the afternoon before the important day, the two were in Eve’s room saying their prayers aloud. Eve said, “When I was a child, on the day before first Communion day, we used to ask forgiveness of our parents for the faults we committed against them.” Then, throwing herself on her knees at Leonia’s feet, she implored, “Forgive me, Leonia, for the bad example I have given you and all the affliction I have caused you.” Leonia, in turn, did the same, and afterwards they retired to await the great day.

Morning finally dawned. It was overcast and raining. “Naturally,” said Eve, “today you have precedence, for you are making your first Communion. Confess and receive Holy Communion ahead of me.”

They found the church draped in mourning, for a Mass was going to be offered later for a soldier killed in the war. “They are preparing for a funeral,” declared Eve, “and on this day, Leonia, we will also bury our life of sin.”

“Father Chasteigner was waiting for us in the deserted church,” Leonia recalls. “He lit a candle before the image of the Most Holy Virgin and entered the confessional. I went in first and knelt down. After I had confessed, Eve took her turn. After her confession, I had the impression that she had already received Holy Communion, such was the purity of her countenance and so great her recollection.”

Father Chasteigner returned to the sanctuary. Eve and Leonia knelt expectantly at the Communion rail. “While lighting the altar candles, the Reverend Father’s eyes were bathed in tears. As it had been agreed, I received Communion first and Eve right after. The priest’s hand trembled upon giving her the Sacred Host. She was white, as if dead, upon receiving her God. Returning to my place, I remained only a short time in recollection, for prolonged prayer was not for my temperament. But Eve seemed in another world.

“We had been invited to have brunch in the rectory. At a sign from the Reverend Father, I called Eve several times. But she, deeply absorbed, heard nothing. Finally, Father Chasteigner went and roused her himself and she returned to earth.

“What a joyful and radiant celebration! Afterwards, we returned on foot through the sun-drenched fields, the sun having overcome the clouds and rain.

“Eve was exultant with joy. ‘Does it not seem to you, Leonia, that the fields have prettier tones and that the flowers today are more beautiful than ever?’ We felt ourselves as delicate as shadows.

“Eve always considered that day, June 19, 1917, as the most special day of her life. She considered it the day her life really began. She renounced the theatre forever, cancelled her contracts, rid herself of her jewels, and repudiated all that reminded her of her worldly life. After her conversion, she was to affirm, ‘It was the devil that led me to God!’

“‘My resolution is made,’ Eve wrote. ‘From now on, only Jesus has a right to my life, for He alone gave me happiness and peace.’”

The house Eve retired to following her conversion

“She left Paris in order to be safe from its dangers, distributing her immense fortune to the poor, the missions, and religious houses, and went to live in remote locales. She asked of God much suffering in order to atone for her past sins and ascend to the heights of contemplation, virtue and sanctity.”

The Divine Majesty granted her request for suffering in a variety of ways. For example, she desired to enter a convent to expiate her sins and to labor for the conversion of sinners. Notwithstanding her great ability to love and her purity of heart, she was repeatedly rejected on account of her poor health and notoriety. It was a trial that she fully accepted, realizing it to be God’s will.

For four years, she devoted seven months a year serving on a lay-missionary nursing team in Tunisia, but poor health and periods of depression forced her to give up this work and return to France. There, with Leonia, she led a life of prayer, meditation, almsgiving and much suffering from illnesses.

She, who had been the toast of Paris, faced extreme suffering at the end of her life. There was not one of her once-beautiful features that did not become a means of expiation, sanctification and apostolate. Rendering gratitude to God, Eve herself said, “I have sinned through these faculties, good Lord. Now I thank Thee for permitting me to expiate my sins through this suffering.”

In 1929, a large Parisian newspaper published an interview of the former celebrity.

“Do you suffer a lot?”

“Yes, horribly,” she responded.

“Have you any hope of being cured?”

“None. But I am so happy! You cannot imagine how great my happiness is.”

“Even with so much suffering?”

“Yes, and because of it. I am in God’s hands. Tell my friends of days gone by that you met the happiest person on earth.”

In her last letter she wrote, “All my being and all my will are turned toward this last end: to love God, Who loves me so much in spite of my past and present miseries.”

She died on July 10, 1929, at the age of 63. On her grave was placed a simple cross with these words, engraved according to her request:

“I left everything for God; He alone is enough. O Thou Who didst create me, have pity on me.”

(Adapted from michaeljournal.org)

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17 Responses to Eve Lavallière

  1. toadspittle says:

    ..
    What a wonderful story!

    Toad was riveted!

    “Well, I assure you that he (the Devil) exists,” the good priest said, and with that, he mounted his bicycle and left without further ceremony.”

    (He liked that bit best.)

    Like

  2. Brother Burrito says:

    Toad has said it for me already, with almost exactly the words I was going to use.

    Like

  3. Rebrites says:

    “Be calm, Mademoiselle! God does love you, and to prove that, I shall leave immediately for Tours, to request the necessary permission,” the pedaling priest exclaimed.

    My question is: Why did he have to get permission to help convert a notorious sinner? What is this “reserved sin” of dealing with the Devil… does that require some extra priestly power to overcome? What was it he brought back with him from the big city, pedaling with all his power?

    Do tell! The suspense is wonderful! What a great story. Thanks.

    Like

  4. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I was amazed to read that in the 1920s that the word ‘brunch ‘ was used: “We had been invited to have brunch in the rectory”? Remarkable. Quite ahead of its time.

    And the whole account veers between British and American English, including the stilted dialogue. I wonder why.

    This has the ring of inauthenicity, I fear.

    Like

  5. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    And the name “Father Chasteigner” is too close to the French word for a chestnut to be coincidence.
    Yes, this is all a chestnut.

    Indubitably.

    Like

  6. joyfulpapist says:

    Rebrites, as I understand it, a reserved sin is usually one that results in the excommunication of the sinner. The sin is called ‘reserved’ because the decision to grant absolution is reserved to the bishop of that diocese or, in certain cases, to the Pope. For example, a priest who violates the confessional by absolving his partner in sexual sin (or murder or any other grave sin they’ve committed together) has committed a reserved sin that can only be absolved with permission from the Pope (gained by faxing or email the wonderfully named Apostolic Penitentiary).

    Basically, a priest gets the power to absolve sins when he is ordained, but the authority to do so from his bishop. He can’t absolve sins he has no authority over.

    Priests used to need permission from their bishop to absolve people who were notorious for their sin. I’m not sure whether that is still the case today. From the story, it would appear that spiritism had been declared a reserved sin by the bishop in that diocese.
    However, any priest can absolve any penitent in immediate danger of death.

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  7. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord……………….

    Like

  8. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    “King Edward VII of England”? Wot ‘appened to Ireland, Wales and Scotland? Did ‘e mislay ’em? Should be Eddie I of Great Britain shurely?….

    Oooo – I think we should be told…..

    Like

  9. bwr47 says:

    WEMW

    “To be fashionable nowadays we must ‘brunch’. Truly an excellent portmanteau word, introduced, by the way, last year, by Mr. Guy Beringer, in the now defunct Hunter’s Weekly, and indicating a combined breakfast and lunch.” [Punch, Aug. 1, 1896]

    Like

  10. mmvc says:

    Mr Whippy,
    Just to clarify about the British/US spelling, this is entirely my fault. English is not my native language and when trying to put the text into British English, I clearly missed some Americanisms along the way. Nothing more mysterious than that.

    As to the authenticity, there are short Wiki articles about Eve Lavalliere in French and Spanish, but apparently not in English.

    Oh and here is a lovely prayer attributed to Eve. It’s from the America Needs Fatima blog, but I’ll resist the temptation to tamper with the spellings 😉

    Oh my beloved Master, By Thy hands nailed to the Cross, I beseech Thee to wipe away all of the sins committed by my criminal hands.

    My sweet Jesus, by the painful fatigue endured by Thy blessed feet, by the divine wounds They suffered when They were pierced, wipe away the filth left by my guilty feet.

    Finally, Oh my Master, Oh my Creator, Oh my Savior, by the dignity and innocence of Thy life, by the holiness and purity which characterized it, wash away all of the stains of my impure life.

    May that abominable life exist no more in me, may the ardor of Thy love hold me entirely, for Thou art, Oh my King, the sole refuge of my soul; grant that I may be unceasingly consumed with the ardor of Thy charity.

    Give me, my Redeemer, above all, Holy Humility.

    Like

  11. toadspittle says:

    .

    But, surely …“the stilted dialogue” is the best bit!

    Wall Eyed Mr.W. is out to brunch on this one. Thinks Toad.

    .

    Like

  12. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Yes Toad, br and mm – I am well in the doodoo on this one. It’s a fair cop, guv’nors. I blame an excellent Spanish wine with an unusual name – Sax Loquntuur, or Loquntuur.

    The brunch info is truly amazing. Toad is right about the allure of that dialogue. mm – I apologise for the work you did to be then picked on by the likes of me.

    Mea culpa.

    And for my next trick, I’ll tell you my part in Murdoch’s downfall.

    Like

  13. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    or Loquuntur.

    Like

  14. Rebrites says:

    thanks, Joyful, for a clear and measured reply. What other sins are “Reserved?” I wonder how many I have committed with my guilty feet/criminal hands/impure life.. Or is this something I need to take up with my bishop?

    Like

  15. joyfulpapist says:

    Rebrites, the only current list of reserved sins I could find was the one in canon law for sins where absolution is reserved to the Holy See. According to one source, the Cardinal who is head of the Apostolic Penitentiary is the only one who can leave a Papal Conclave without having to explain where he is going, since he might be called on at any time to dash off an approval to provide absolution to a desperate penitent. Wonderful stuff. It deserves to be made into a movie – the penitent pacing the floor, sweat pouring from his brow, while in the next room the priest from whom he is seeking absolution hangs anxiously over the fax machine. Cut to the solemn scene in the conclave, cardinal en masse in quiet consultation as an aide appears at the elbow of one of them and passes him a slip of paper. He reads it, pushes back his chair, nods at his fellows, and rushes out. Cut to a closeup of the Swiss Guard on duty at the door (I don’t know if they’re on duty at the door, but I like the uniforms). One begins to put up his halberd to stop the hurrying cardinal, but his fellow stops him. “Don’t you know, Hans? That’s the Apostolic Penitentiary!”

    Like

  16. manus says:

    I find most of my sinning is entirely unreserved.

    Like

  17. kathleen says:

    This is a wonderful story mmvc – thank you very much.

    Eve’s manifest delight and gratitude in discovering God and His forgiveness for her many sins reminds me of Our Blessed Lord’s words to Mary Magdalene. Much was forgiven her too, and great was her love.

    Do you know if there is any biography written on the life of this fascinating woman?

    Like

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