Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Therese and the Death Penalty

The following comes from William Dionio Jr. at First Things:

He was among the most notorious criminals of his time, and certainly one of the most brutal. Henri Pranzini—tall, charming, and charismatic—was a life-long petty thief who took advantage of vulnerable women in nineteenth century France, a vice that eventually destroyed him.

On the morning of March 17, 1887, the bodies of Marie Regnault, a prominent Parisian women, her servant, Annette Gremeret, and the servant’s daughter, Marie, were all found lifeless in an apartment. The New York Timesdescribed the terrible scene:

Regnault . . . was found on the floor of her chamber dead, her throat cut and her body terribly mutilated. Lying near the door leading from the chamber to the drawing room was the dead body of Annette, whose throat had also been cut, and in her bed in another apartment was little Marie . . . her head almost severed from her body by the murderer’s knife. It was obvious that Annette had gone to the rescue . . . and had been struck down by the assassin, and that the little girl had been murdered to put out of the way the only other witness of the terrible crime.

The motive was robbery—in this case, lucrative jewelry. When he was caught several days later, Pranzini indignantly protested his innocence, but signs of his guilt were everywhere, and the evidence mounted. In July, a jury took only two hours to convict him of the triple-murder, and he was condemned to die in August.

Shocking as it was, Pranzini’s crime would have likely been forgotten, had it not been for an extraordinary French teenager. Therese Martin—later to become St. Therese of Lisieux, and made a Doctor of the Church—was just 14 at the time, but she felt compelled to intervene. As she recounts in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul,she stormed Heaven for a man many thought beyond redemption:

Everything led to the belief that he would die impenitent. I wanted at all costs to keep him from falling into hell, and to succeed I employed all means imaginable, feeling that of myself I could do nothing. I offered to God all the infinite merits of Our Lord.

As Pranzini’s fate approached, Therese increased her prayers until he was brought before the guillotine on August 31. The next day, Therese read what happened in the paper and recorded how when he was about to put his head into the device, “he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him, and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance!”

Read the rest at First Things.

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