List Of Contents | Contents of Alvira- The Heroine of Vesuvius
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to bury the child.  With an unbounded confidence in the charity and
zeal of St. Francis, the bright thought struck her:  If she could only
get this good man interested in her behalf, all would be accomplished.
Accordingly, she made for the church of the Gesu by daylight.  Only
one individual was before her waiting for the church to be opened.
It was Magdalen.  Even from Magdalen she concealed the object of her
early visit, and pressed closer to her heart the dead treasure she
intended as a present for Father Francis.  The church opened; she stole
around the dark aisles, whence the daylight had not yet banished the
shades of night, and noiselessly approached the confessional of the
holy man.  She placed the dead child on the seat, and hurried to some
recess of the great church, where she could watch the happy issue of
this ingenious mode of disposing of her child.  The early morning
hours wore away, and at length the wished for moment came.  The vestry
door is opened.  The tall, mortified form of St. Francis appeared at
the foot of the altar.  He prayed awhile, and rose to go to his
confessional.  But the young mother watched with her heart leaping to
her mouth.  He did not go to his tribunal; he moved majestically down
the church, and came to Magdalen's corner where Alvira was wrapt in
prayer.  He whispered something to her.  They prayed for a moment,
then Alvira flitted like a shadow through the dark aisles towards
the confessional of Father Francis.  She entered and took the infant
child in her arms.  The child was alive.  The mother came rushing
from her hiding-place to claim the infant, and when she received it
into her embrace the man of God raised his index finger in the act
of warning, and with a sweet, forgiving smile on his countenance,
said to the young mother:  "My child, don't put any more dead babies
in my confessional."

Alvira had to undergo a severe trial in the absence of Father Francis.
He was directed by his superiors to commence his missions in the country
districts, and was virtually removed from Naples for some years.  Before
leaving, he fortified his chosen children with salutary admonitions,
but for Alvira he had special words of encouragement and consolation.
It pleased God to let him know in her behalf that, in return for her
sincere repentance and deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, before
her death three extraordinary favors would be conferred on her, which
would also be the warning of the setting sun of her career in life.
Alvira treasured his words in her heart, and in deep humility wondered
at the goodness of God.

Chapter XXVII.
The Privileges of Holy Souls.

An extraordinary miracle is said, in the life of St. Francis, to have
taken place in the house where Alvira was present.  St. Francis had
an aged brother living in the city--a man of eminent sanctity, but
suffering much from his infirmities.  St. Francis prevailed on Alvira
to attend him and nurse him in his illness.  He could not have been
trusted to more tender or willing hands.

Virtue and affection lent their powerful aids to render Alvira a
charming nurse.  But her labor of love was not very protracted, for
it pleased God to cast the last and fatal fever on Cataldus, the invalid
brother of the saint.  At the time the malady was increasing and death
imminent, St. Francis was absent from the city on a mission to Recale,
a place about sixteen miles from Naples.  Cataldus prayed to be
permitted to see his brother before death but the malady seemed to
increase so rapidly there was very slight probability of his return
in time.

Alvira had retired to an adjoining apartment to seek relief in prayer.
She suddenly heard some strange sounds in the room of her patient.
She flew towards the chamber, and there, to her astonishment, she
beheld St. Francis embracing his brother.

"Go," said the saintly man to the invalid--"go with courage and
confidence whither God thy father calls thee, and where the saints
await thee.  Remember God is a good master, and know that in a short
time I will follow thee."

Then drawing Alvira aside, he whispered to her:  "My child, know that
Cataldus is going with rapid strides to eternity.  You must still
assist him with love and patience.  To-night at four he will die.
I must be away now, but I hope to see him again before he dies."

Having thus spoken, alone and, contrary to his custom, without any
one to accompany him, he left the house.  Cataldus, Alvira, and a
servant in the house testified to having seen him in Naples in their
house; the servant even testified that he entered through closed
doors; whilst two fathers who were with him at Recale gave sworn
testimony that St. Francis was with them at the very time he was
seen and spoken to at Naples.

And when the hour foreseen by this great saint, in which death was to
place his cold hand on the brow of Cataldus, was at hand, the couch
of the dying was again blessed by his spirit; but Alvira did not on
this occasion see him, but she saw the recognition that cast a beam
of joy over the face of the dying man, and she heard the sweet accents
of consolation the saint was permitted to impart.

Chapter XXVIII.
A Vision of Purgatory--A Dear One Saved.

Like lengthening shadows of evening creeping over the silent ruin, death
was fast drawing the shades of its final night over the austerities
and the virtues of Alvira.  The promises of St. Francis filled her
heart with a cup of joy that rarely falls to the lot of mortals this
side of the grave.

Vespers are finished at the Gesu; the organ is silent, the crowd have
departed, and, in the mellow twilight of an autumn eve, we discern
only a few pious souls crouched behind the pillars, or pouring forth
their last fervent aspirations before some favorite altar or saintly
shrine.  Soon all have left, and the silence of the abandoned sanctuary
shrouds the fabric in greater solemnity.  The aromatic incense still
floats in nebulous veils around the tabernacle.

A loud breathing, an expression of joy from a dark recess, announced
the presence of some one still in the church.  The sounds came from
the quarter known to the pious frequenters of the church as Magdalen's
corner, so named because there was near to it an altar dedicated to
the great penitent St. Magdalen, and because here St. Francis' Magdalen
spent long hours in tears and prayer.  On the evening in question
Alvira had remained longer than usual to commune with Almighty God.
It was a festival day, and her soul felt all the glow of fervor and
spiritual joy which at times wraps the pious spirit into foretastes
of celestial happiness.  The hours passed swiftly by, for fervent
prayer is not tedious to the loving.

She pondered in her mind what could be the graces or favors promised
her in the last interview with her spiritual director.  Her humility
had not dared to seek favors; she was still overwhelmed with the
thought of the bitter past; more time for repentance would be the
signal favor she would venture to solicit from the God she had so
much offended.

Yet the mercy and goodness of God are more mysterious to us mortals
when we consider them lavished in extraordinary munificence on the
souls of poor sinners.  When we feel crushed to the earth in our
unworthiness, the forgiving spirit of God lifts us up and pours around
us consolations which are the privilege of the innocent.  Thus the
humble Alvira little dreamt what might be the grand consolations
destined for her; but the time of their fulfilment has come, and we
find her startled from an ecstasy in the church in which one of the
promised favors was bestowed on this child of grace.  She described
to Father Francis what happened with many tears of joy.

Whilst wrapt in prayer in the lonely moments that followed the
Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament and the closing of the church
doors, she suddenly saw the altar and sanctuary disappear, and in their
stead a luminous bank of moving clouds; they were white as the
snow-drift, and crystallized in a flood of light like Alpine peaks
in the winter sunshine.

These clouds moved rapidly before her astonished gaze, occasionally
she saw through their rents a tinge of red flame that glowed in the
fleecy mist like the crimson linings of sunset.  The brighter clouds
gradually faded; the flames became fiercer and more distinct; they
seemed to leap in fury around the altar and sanctuary.  Alvira
struggled in doubt for a moment.  Perhaps a real conflagration was
consuming the tabernacle.  A scream of agony was already on her lips,
when the scene glided into a still more vivid reality, leaving no
doubt as to its character.  In the burning element human beings
appeared writhing in pain; angels of dazzling brightness floated over
the fire, and every moment caught the outstretched arms of some
fortunate soul whose purgatorial probation had terminated; the angel
would carry the soul to a distant sphere of brightness whither
Alvira's weak mortal gaze could not follow.

Suddenly there darted from the far light an angel clothed with the
brilliancy of the sun.  With the speed of lightning he plunged far
down the purgatory fire; his brightness was so great that Alvira
could follow him even through the flames.  There the angel found a
young, beautiful soul, deep in agony, clothed with crimson fire.  A
smile of ineffable joy lit up the countenance of the sufferer--the
message from heaven was understood.  The angel lifted this soul from
the fire, and, pausing for a moment on the peak of a lambent flame,
the angelic deliverer and the liberated soul, now became angelic
in brilliancy, paused to look and smile on Alvira.

Her heart leaped, her soul trembled.  She recognized the features.
In a convulsive effort to utter the loved name of Aloysia, the vision
passed away, and she found herself in the dark church and on the cold
flags, weeping away the overflow of a heart too full of joy.

Chapter XXIX.
Unexpected Meeting.

Late on a cold night in the winter of 1706 a sick-call came to the
Jesuit college attached to the Gesu.  Alvira Cassier was ill, and
requested the attendance of one of the fathers.

Some months had passed since the consoling vision in which she saw
the purified soul of Aloysia carried to a crown of immortal bliss.
Since then the great St. Francis had passed to his crown.  His holy
spirit hovered in protecting love over Alvira.  She recurred to him
in her troubles, and always with remarkable success.  Miracles of
cures and conversion, effected through the humble prayers of the
penitent and the powerful intercession of the deceased apostle, are
registered in the great book of life, to be read on the great

Alvira sighed over the prolongation of her exile.  Her heart longed
to be with Christ; she soared in spirit over the abyss that separated
her from the object she loved.

Yet two more signs were to announce the happy moment of her freedom.
She knew the fate of Aloysia, raised from the searching flame and
introduced to the saints, was the first of these favors promised
by St. Francis.  The other was equally extraordinary.

The illness of Alvira caused a sigh of regret at the Jesuit College.
Every one whose heart was interested in the glory of God would have
reason to sigh over her lost example, her influence over sinners, and
the edification of her exalted virtues.

A priest is wrapped in his cloak; he carries the most Holy Sacrament
and the holy oils.  A levite accompanies him, carrying a lamp and
ringing a bell.  Unmindful of the inclemency of the weather, they
move on through the abandoned streets, now filled by crowds of unseen
angels, who take the place of man and honor the Holy of Holies.

The priest is a young Frenchman who has just come to Naples.  To
confer a favor on Alvira, the superior sent him to St. Francis's
penitent that she might have the consolation of her own language
at the trying hour of her death.  He is a tall, thin figure on the
decline of manhood; in the graceful outline of features sweet and
attractive we read the marks of much mortification.  A halo of religion
and sanctity envelopes him with that reverential awe we give to true

He has entered the room.  Alvira starts.

She has seen that face before; that noble brow; that lofty mien;
that irresistible sweetness of look.  He is some acquaintance, perhaps
met casually in the rambles of youthful folly.  Reverence for the
Blessed Sacrament banished further curiosity, and Alvira, with
closed eyes and hands folded on her crucifix, joined in the solemn
prayers recited on such occasions.

When all the prescribed ceremonies were completed, the good priest
drew near the couch of the suffering invalid, and, allowing a moment
for a relaxation of thought and for conversation, mildly enquired if
she suffered much pain.

So they tell me you have come from Paris, my child," we fancy we hear
the good father commencing a conversation that leads to a strange

"Yes, father, 'tis my native city."

"And what was your family name?"


"Cassier!" replied the priest, with a thrill of surprise.  "Did he
live in Rue de Seine?"

"Yes, father."

"You had a sister?"

"Yes; but she is now in heaven.  She was killed on Mount Vesuvius."
Alvira wept.

A startling suspicion had crept over the good priest.  Was it possible
that the invalid sinking into eternity in a sunset of sanctity and of
heroic penance, formerly the chivalrous captain of Vesuvian fame,
was no other than his own sister?

"And what became of your brother?" asked the Jesuit after a pause,
and looking anxiously into Alvira's emaciated countenance.

"Ah! father," she replied, "I would give worlds to know.  About thirty
years ago, when our home was comfortable, he suddenly disappeared
from us; no one could tell what became of him; we knew he was called
by God to a holier life, and it was our impression at the time he
fled to join some strict religious order.  Poor dear Aloysia and
myself used to pain him by turning his pious intentions to ridicule.
His disappearance broke my poor mother's heart, for she died very
soon afterwards."

A long, deep silence ensued.  Pere Augustin--for that was his name
in religion--held his hands clasped up at his lips whilst Alvira was
speaking.  He remained motionless; his eyes were fixed on a spot on
the floor.  It was evident a struggle was going on within him.  There
could be no longer any doubt, and he was puzzled whether he should
declare himself at once to be the lost Louis Marie, or bide his time
and break it gently to her.  As if seeking more time for deliberation,
he asked her another question  "And, my child, what became of your

Ah! how little did he dream of the wound he was tearing open.  His
enquiry was the signal for a new burst of grief from the broken-hearted
Alvira.  She buried her face in the pillow and wept violently.  She
remained so for several minutes.  This made Pere Augustin determine
his course of action.  As he had caused her so much pain, he must now
console her by letting her know who he is.  Drawing nearer to her, he
bade her be consoled, for he had some good news to give her; and
Alvira, after a great effort, raised her head and said:

"It is kind of you father, very kind of you indeed, to take interest
in my affairs; but perhaps, as you are acquainted with Paris and
belong to the Society of Jesus, you many know something of my brother.
Poor Louis Marie!  I should like to know if he is well, and happy,
and good.  Do tell me, father, if you know anything of him."

"Yes, I do," answered the father quickly.

"Is he alive?"


"And happy?"


"Where is he?"

"Here!" cried Louis Marie, bursting into tears--"here, within the grasp
of your hand."

Could joy be greater?  Those two holy souls blended into one.  Like
Benedict and Scholastica, they wept and smiled together in alternate
raptures of joy and grief.

Chapter XXX.

Now reft of all, faint, feeble, prest with age,
We mark her feelings in the last great stage;
The feverish hopes, the fears, the cares of life,
No more oppress her with torturing strife;
The chivalrous spirit of her early day
Has passed with beauty and with youth away.
As oft the traveller who beholds the sun
Sinking before him ere yet his journey's done,
Regrets in vain to lose its noontide power,
Yet hails the coolness of the evening hour,
She feels a holy and divine repose
Rest on her spirit in the twilight close;
Although her passions ruled in their might,
Now vanquished, brighter burns the inward light,
Guiding the spirit by its sacred ray
To cast its mortal oil and cares away,
And list its summons to eternal day.

Tossed on a restless ocean, and surviving a long and stormy voyage,
how the sight of the verdant hills and spires of the nearing port
must cheer the wearied mariner!  Joy has its sunbeams to light up
every countenance.  Merry the song that keeps tune with the revolving
capstan.  Old memories are awakened and dormant affections roused;
the husband, the father, the exile, each has a train of though laden
with bright anticipations.  Fancy and hope hasten to wave their magic
wings over the elated heart, and contribute the balm of ideal charms
to make even one moment of mortal life a happiness without alloy.

The wearied mariner returning home, quaffing a cup of joy, is a faint
but truthful simile to represent the pious soul in sight of the port
of eternal bliss, where loved ones are hailing from afar their welcome
to the successful mariner from the troubled sea of time.  Life has
its storms and its calms, its casualties and dangers; it also has the
bright twilight in the shadow of those eternal hills where existence
is immortal and joy beatific and unclouded.

Alvira, the heroine of our sketch, is now the faithful soul standing
on the bark in view of her eternal home.

The consolations promised by her sainted guardian have twice tolled
the death knell; once more some great joy will strike the last fibre
of her heart long tuned to spiritual happiness, and will break the
last chain that imprisons a spirit longing to soar on high.

In the deceptive phases of the consumptive malady she rallied at times;
she felt stronger--would venture out to the homes of the poor, and
faint at the alter of Jesus.  In her weakness she did not moderate
her austerities, save where the express command of her spiritual
director manifested to her the will of God.  Her little cottage was
surrounded daily by the poor and sick, who were her friends, and many
and sincere were the blessings invoked over their benefactress.

Long and interesting were her conversations with her brother Louis.
Her history as known to herself must have been replete with many
striking events besides those we have caught up from a scanty tradition
and a brief pamphlet biography.  How the secrets of her rambles in
disguise must have brought the smile and the blush to the countenance
of her simple-minded and sainted brother!

In deep and natural fraternal affection, which is more powerful when
mellowed by virtue, Pere Augustin saw the hand of death making each
day new traces on the frame of Alvira.  The hectic flush, the frequent
faintings, and the cold, icy grasp of her hand told the energy of
the poison that gnawed at the vital cords.  Sweet and gentle words
of encouragement ever flowed from his lips.  With eye and finger ever
turning towards heaven, whither his own soul yearned, he calmed the
anxious and penitent spirit of Alvira, who still feared her repentance
was incomplete.

She received Holy Communion every day from the hands of her brother.

What ecstasies of grateful love filled her breast when preparing for
those blissful moments of union with our Blessed Lord!  Deep and
eloquent the mysterious breathings of the pure, loving heart.  It has
a language known and understood ony by angels.  As the sun melts the
rocky iceberg, the coldest heart melts under the loving, burning
Sun of the most Holy Eucharist.

At length the bark is anchored in the port of rest; Alvira is summoned
to her crown.

The midnight of July 16, 1717, finds her in her agony; the blest candle
is lighted; the faithful brother priest is kneeling by her bed; the
solemn wail of the privileged few of the grateful poor is carried in
mournful cadence from the chamber of death.

Yet the bell has not tolled the third stroke of consolation.  Could
she have misunderstood the prophetic voice of her sainted Father
Francis, who knew the secrets of God in her behalf?  But no; the favor
will come--the last crowning, ineffable favor will come; it is at

Avira has opened her eyes.  She calls her brother near; with a smile,
the sweetest that ever lit up those expressive features, she told him
what the favor would be.  Father Francis and the Blessed Virgin would
see her before she should die.

Pere Augustin believes the shock of approaching dissolution has weakened
her reasoning faculty; he gently chides her, whispers some sweet
thought of humility, and breathes the holy name that banishes

But, lo! Alvria's features have changed; a glow of exstatic beauty
has suffused around her; the light of another land is shed on her
couch.  Recognition is read on her looks.

Pere Augustin, whose innocence and virtue entitled him to understand
the privileges of the saints, saw the splendor of a heavenly light
that filled the room, and heard from Alvira's lips expressions that
left no doubt on his mind of the promised visit of celestial beings.

The light faded, and from the feeble glare of the candle of death he
saw the holy spirit of his sister had fled; the sweetness of heavenly
joy still played on her marble features, and the smile that greeted
the heavenly visitors still rested on her lips.

Pere Augustin stood over the couch he had bedewed with tears, and
taking a long and affectionate glance at the hollowed form of his
repentant sister, turned towards the weeping people; he raised his
hand towards heaven, and solemnly announced the event that gave a
festival to the angels.  His voice faltered; he pronounced a short
and eloquent panegyric--"A saint is dead!"

The tableau is worth remembering; 'tis the last beautiful scene in
the eventful career of Maria Alvira Cassier!

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