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Parenting advice from the mother of a girl who may become a saint

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Famille Caron

Morgane Afif  - published on 02/28/24

As the diocesan phase of Anne-Gabrielle Caron's beatification cause gets underway, Aleteia interviewed her mom, asking, "How do you make your child love God?"

In front of the sea, a little girl smiles. She’s beautiful, with her fuchsia cardigan and Claudine collar. Her eyes are clear, luminous, and her radiant smile reveals her pretty child’s teeth. On her head, a striped kerchief hides the hair she’s lost. In front of the waves, on the shore, the sun floods her like the light from Heaven that she contemplates in her heart, which illuminates and animates her. The little girl’s name is Anne-Gabrielle. She’s 8 years old and, at the time of this photo, she’s about to die.

Putting God at the center of her life

Marie-Dauphine Caron picks up the phone. Her voice, soft and confident, is that of a mother who has raised five children. She frankly but gently admits, “You know, I wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of this interview when I was told you wanted the theme of the article to be, ‘How to make your child love God: Advice from Anne-Gabrielle Caron’s parents.’ The last thing I want is for people to attribute to me a role I didn’t have. I’m the first to be overwhelmed by everything that’s happened!”

It was the postulator of Anne-Gabrielle’s cause for beatification who convinced her. “I don’t want anyone to think that I’m presupposing positive conclusions of the process. If I say that I wished to have children who would be saints, it’s because I’m convinced that we were created for God, to be with Him. That’s what it means to be holy. It’s not a question of misplaced pride.”

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Ane-Gabrielle and Marie-Dauphine Caron

Anne-Gabriel’s mother recognizes a link between her daughter and Anne de Guigné, another little girl who died a hundred years earlier and has been declared venerable. “Of course, Anne de Guigné was a role model for Anne-Gabrielle, who was deeply influenced by her life,” says Marie-Dauphine Caron.

Offering everything to God out of love

When she was pregnant with Anne, Antoinette de Guigné was determined to live the exemplary life she wanted for her daughter. “For me, pregnancies were never great moments; I was always quite sick,” explains Marie-Dauphine Caron. “However, when I became pregnant with Anne-Gabrielle, I remember having an idea in my head that stayed with me throughout my pregnancy. Anne de Guigné’s mother told herself that she had to be very close to God; I was very worried that the world would spoil my child, so pure and so innocent. I felt the same anxiety during subsequent pregnancies, of course, but to a lesser degree.”

In the Caron family, “God is a person. Neither my husband nor I grew up in fear of hell, but in fear of hurting God’s feelings. That’s what we taught Anne-Gabrielle: the Lord is someone who loves us, someone we can trust and someone we have to please.” How? “We offer everything, we give everything. In this way, offering conferred transcendence upon Anne-Gabrielle’s illness, giving it meaning. Even as a child, Anne-Gabrielle was in the habit, like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, of offering sacrifices out of love—to, she used to say, ‘remove thorns from Jesus’ crown.’”

Always telling her children the truth

From the age of three, Anne-Gabrielle asked herself existential questions about eternity, the meaning of suffering, and the death of little children. Marie-Dauphine Caron was educated by the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Spirit, known for the solid training they give their students. She says, “We were at a loss to answer these questions, which were beyond us, even though we ourselves had been very much catechized… It’s important to catechize your children to nourish them intellectually by putting God at the heart of our conversations.” To address her daughter’s concerns, Marie-Dauphine drew on two books: Maman parle-moi du bon Dieu (“Mom, talk to me about God”) and Maman ne me quitte pas (“Mom isn’t going to leave me”)

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A page from Anne-Gabrielle’s journal. “I love ❤️ you my God” is written in pink in the middle of the page.

In the course of the conversation, Marie-Dauphine Caron fondly recalls those long conversations with her daughter, and the questions Anne-Gabrielle would ask her. “You always have to tell children the truth (…). I remember a book about a little child who asked a priest if he wasn’t going to be told later that Jesus in the Host was just another nice story, like the Christmas presents. When Anne-Gabrielle asked us questions, if they weren’t age-appropriate, I’d say, ‘You’re too little to know, I’ll tell you later,’ because I always refused to tell her anything untrue.”

Sometimes it hurts when the truth is revealed. However, that’s what gave rise to Anne-Gabrielle’s absolute trust in her father and mother. When an eight-year-old girl who loves life asks her parents, her voice torn by fear and grief, if she’s going to die, it causes the greatest anguish. It would be unbearable, without the grace to deal with it. “It was a terrible moment,” recalls Marie-Dauphine Caron, “but it had to be done. On the evening of the day I told her she was going to die, Anne-Gabrielle explained: ‘It’s just that I was very scared. Now I’m a little less afraid, because I tell myself that if I die, I’ll be with God.’”

Nurturing a child’s spirit

Marie-Dauphine Caron, a teacher in the French state education system, is well acquainted with young people who have difficulties. “Of course, as parents we’ve made mistakes. With Anne-Gabrielle as with each of our children. I think we have to recognize this and ask our children to forgive us.” From this love comes trust. “It’s the spirit of childhood. If a child understands that God is a father, she’ll have absolute confidence in Him. Anne-Gabrielle had this simplicity in her prayers when she said, ‘My God, I accept everything you ask of me, but please at least don’t make it too much.’ As a child, she always asked and obeyed. 

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“We always wanted our children to understand that the good Lord is a person, and that God’s love must be lived out concretely at home. For us, this meant catechetical formation and prayer. Anne-Gabrielle and I lived it concretely, because at the beginning of my marriage, I went to Mass every day,” continues Marie-Dauphine Caron. “I had the time, since I’d taken parental leave and we lived next door to a church. I’d go with her, then stay for the Rosary, so I was sure I’d devoted at least half an hour of my time to God.”

Since then, passing in front of a church has meant greeting Jesus, if only by genuflecting. Anne-Gabrielle grew up with the certainty that Jesus is in the tabernacle, and her love for God continued to grow.

Enjoying the simple joys of family life

“Anne-Gabrielle had a very strong temperament behind her shyness, like fire smoldering under ashes,” says Marie-Dauphine Caron with a smile. “She loved what we did as a family, such as playing cards, cycling, dressing up, cooking, baking, watching Papa Beaver’s Storytime on DVD, reading, drawing, and doing what she called her little crafts. She also fully embraced the Scouting spirit when she joined the Scouts, a spirit she shared with her father, who remained a Scout at heart.” (Editor’s note: There are very popular Catholic scouting groups in France, not affiliated with the American Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.)

In the Caron family, joy is embodied and lived every day in the simplicity of everyday life. “I can’t quite say that Anne-Gabrielle was a little girl like any other,” says her mother, in view of the existential questions her daughter used to ask since she was a child. “When you give the keys to God, you can’t help but do things right,” says Marie-Dauphine Caron. “It’s then he who acts in us: it’s exactly the same for bringing up children.”

Our children are not our own; they belong to God

When Marie-Dauphine and Alexandre Caron were told of their daughter’s deadly diagnosis, it caused them terrible suffering. As they were preparing to bury their daughter, they decided “to do everything in their power to ensure that she died a holy death.” “Of course we prayed for a miracle, but we also realized that our children don’t belong to us. They are entrusted to us, and we are only their guardians.”

At the end of this long and precious conversation, Marie-Dauphine Caron concludes, in the light of this painful hope of a mother who has lost her child, “Children, you know, sometimes have a mystical approach to eternal life… They aren’t very far from Heaven.”

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Anne-Gabrielle Caron

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ChildrenFamilyParentingSaints
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