In 1647, in Saint-Etienne, France—located at the foot of the Alps in the vale of Laus, a young peasant girl was born into poverty. Benoite Rencurel, a humble girl chosen as a visionary and pupil to Our Blessed Mother-- Our Lady of Laus-- grew up in a small town that was nestled in the green valleys of Dauphine. While the family was poor, they were rich in spirit, and Benoite’s mother taught her to pray the Rosary at a young age—an activity which she undertook faithfully every day. When Benoite was approximately seven years old, her father died, which forced Benoite to leave school and take two jobs shepherding the sheep of nearby farmers to help her mother pay the household bills. It was in the fields, with her sheep, that Benoite would meet the Mother of God and undertake her holy mission.
"Go to the valley above Saint-Étienne. That is where you will see the Mother of God." Benoite answered, "But Sir, She is in Heaven. How can I see Her there?" Saint Maurice assured her, "Yes, She is in Heaven, and on earth too when She wants." The following morning, Benoite hurried to the area he described, and upon reaching it, discovered a small grotto. There, she was graced by the appearance of a radiantly beautiful lady leading a child by the hand. Benoite, despite having been told by Saint Maurice that it was Our Blessed Mother, did not realize who she was. Instead, she was content-- overjoyed—to sit in her presence. By the reports of her family and neighbors, Benoite’s face changed overnight, overcome with serenity and grace, which she freely distributed to others with a cheerful humility and simplicity.
"My good Lady, I and all the people in this place are hard put to know who You are. Might You not be the Mother of our good God? Please be so kind as to tell me, and we will build a chapel here to honor You." Our Blessed Mother replied with a gentle smile that there was no need to build anything on that site as she had chosen a more pleasant spot. Then she added, "I am Mary, the Mother of Jesus. You will not see me here any more, nor for some time." After a month’s time, during which Benoite fell ill due to her sorrow of separation from the Blessed Mother, she again was graced with an appearance. Mary, Mother of God, informed her: "From now on, you will see Me only in the chapel that is in Laus," and she showed her the path that went up and over the hill toward Laus-- a small village that Benoite had heard about but never visited.
In the village of Laus, a small chapel—little more than a hut with a straw roof—had been built by the farmers, for those occasions in which they couldn’t make the journey to church. It was in this tiny chapel—a new stable of Bethlehem—that Benoite found the Blessed Virgin, surrounded by a most intoxicating and beautiful heavenly scent. The Blessed Mother instructed Benoite, “Soon nothing will be lacking here-----neither vestments nor altar linens nor candles. I want a large church built on this spot, along with a building for a few resident priests. The church will be built in honor of my dear Son and Myself. Here many sinners will be converted. I will appear to you often here."
"Build a church?" she exclaimed. "There's no money for that here!"
"Do not worry,” Mary gently answered. “When the time comes to build, you will find all you need, and it will not be long. The pennies of the poor will provide for everything. Nothing will be lacking." And so it was to be. During the long winter of 1664, Benoite made the four kilometer trek to the little chapel, wrapped in little more than a wool shawl. During this time, Our Blessed Mother encouraged her to give up her shepherding job to focus more fully on her mission. She also stated, consistent with all of Our Heavenly Mother’s appearances, “Pray continuously for sinners.”
“I asked My Son for Laus for the conversion of sinners, and He has granted it to Me." While church authorities allowed the celebration of Mass in the tiny chapel, they made no definitive pronouncement regarding the veracity of the apparitions.
"There is something extraordinary occurring in that chapel. Yes, the hand of God is there!" Over the next four years, a large church was miraculously built, mostly by volunteers. All who worked on the building reported being surrounded by the ‘scent of heaven’—sometimes so powerful that it would spill from the building and envelop the surrounding countryside. It was the perfume of the holy. At that time, Benoite took the veil as a Dominican Tertiary, known thereafter as Sister Benoite.
"Every time the Blessed Virgin honored her with Her visit, people smelled a heavenly fragrance that pervaded the entire church. Sometimes the shepherd girl's clothing was deeply permeated with the heavenly scent for up to eight days; these supernatural fragrances were so sweet and delightful that they lifted up the soul and surpassed all other fragrances on earth." Whenever Benoite returned from being with her good Mother, her face would seem to be ablaze, like that of Moses coming down from Sinai; she would kneel, recite the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, and then for the rest of the day she would be unable to eat.
In 1665, the Blessed Virgin instructed Sister Benoite that those pilgrims traveling to the church in hopes of healing need only to apply some oil from the sanctuary lamp to their affected limbs and be cured. A great number of miraculous physical and mental cures were recorded, and continue to be today.
“all at once” like “looking in a mirror.” She would lead those not in a state of grace away from the alter rail at Holy Eucharist, gently encouraging their conversion and purification. All of this was done with profound humility, stating, "The Mother of God commands me to do it in such a mild manner that I don't believe She absolutely wants it. And when I fail, my good Mother corrects me without getting angry. So because of the shame I feel on admonishing others, I often wait for a second command, and then I obey."
Overcome with sadness, Benoite exclaimed, "Oh, my Jesus, if You remain like this another instant, I will die!" The sight of His sufferings caused her such great distress that one day her Guardian Angel came to assure her, saying, "Do not be troubled, my Sister. Although our Divine Master has appeared to you in this condition, He is not suffering anything; it is solely to show you what He suffered out of love for the human race."
After that, Christ Himself spoke to Benoite, stating, "My daughter, I am showing Myself to you in this condition so that you may participate in the sorrows of My Passion." For fifteen years, every week, she experienced the pain and wounds of a mystical crucifixion after that moment until her ecstasies attracted so much attention she prayed they stop, saying, “"May my sufferings be even more cruel if such is God's good pleasure, but let them be less visible!" The Blessed Virgin appeared to her and said, "You will no longer have the Friday sufferings, but you will have many others."
"I would rather die a thousand times forsaken by Mary, than forsake Her for a single moment!" Before her death, her guardian angel, who appeared throughout her life to pray with her and open the door to the church for her, stated, “The Laus devotion is the work of God which neither man nor the devil can destroy. It will continue until the end of the world, flourishing more and more and bearing great fruit everywhere."
The Blessed Mother again encourages us to hold to our faith, find joy in our suffering in this world (for our reward will be greater in the next), and to pray for sinners.
Queen of Laus, kind and loving Mother, hear our pious pleas. Your son always hears your prayers, and you always hear your children.
O pure Virgin, ceaselessly watch over our hearts from heaven. Let no dirt tarnish the heavenly whiteness.
Be our support in virtue, all-powerful Virgin, and guide our feeble steps. If we fall, Compassionate Mother, kindly embrace us in your arms.
Give us shelter under your wings when the storms burst with fury, spare us from cruel agony, and may the sinner repent with true remorse.
Leave us not at our last hour, but let us sleep in peace at your maternal breast. And once awakening, drawing back the veil, we will see you in the splendor of heaven.
Our Lady of Laus, Refuge of sinners, pray for us who have recourse to thee.