Conversion of Alfons Ratisbonne

In year of establishing the Knights of Immaculata in 1917, the Catholic Church officially celebrated the Apparition of Most Holy Virgin Mary which occurred to Alfons Ratisbonne. Saint Maximilian reported to this fact many times, as an example of how the Miraculous Medal can convert a stubborn liberal, atheist man.

The below transcription of conversion of Alfons Ratisbonne has been created on basis of an article „Conversion of Ratisbonne in Rome” by authorship of Father Kolbe (1940).

In November 1841 twenty eight year old Alfons Ratisbonne, leaves Strasbourg, his hometown. Willing to recover his fragile health, he heads to Malta. Afterwards to Constantinople. By reason of a mistake done on the reservation of the ticket, he arrives on 5th of January 1842 to Rome. Trying to benefit somehow of the circumstances he arranges a meeting with baron Gustav de Bussières. Alfons is a jew, Gustav is a protestant. Despite of different spiritual background, they get on well with each other. Not only do they share common personal views, but also they both dislike Catholic Church. There was another thing about them: Both had older brothers (each of them named Theodor), who were converted catholics.

Alfons plans to quit Rome, but just before his departure to Constantinople, he would like to obtain info about Constantinople. The expert in knowledge about this city, is baron Theodor de Brussières, brother of Gustav. Baron is also a sincere friend to Fr. Theodor Ratisbonne, a brother of Alfons.

Alfons decides to visit Theodor de Bussières. Baron gives a quick guide to Constantinople, suggesting that he would accompagny Alfons in time of he will be in Rome. But in the first place he hands to Alfons the Miraculous Medal as a gift.

At the beginning, Ratisbonne does not want to accept the Medal, but in the end takes the gift, still thinking of it as of an superstition. Baron would not let go off the situation, and pleads Alfonso, that he prays every day, the “Memore” by St. Bernard, morning and evening.

Ratisbonne strongly disagrees, but after short term insistence, he stops resisting and comforts to Bussières urgency.

After that, he fullfills his demand to write down the prayer on paper. Thanks to that fact “Memore” clings into his mind, playing over and over in his head like piece of favorite musical piece: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother, to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.”

Baron de Bussières asks his family and friends that they pray for Alfons Ratisbonne. One of those friends is Earl Laferronays. Earl Laferronays truly worships Holy Mother and throughout his life he experienced frequently Her help. He promises that he will pray in purpose of Ratisbonnes conversion. Next day Earl Laferronays dies. Baron offers his help to family of Earl in preparing the funeral. Baron Theodor de Bussières being occupied with his matters, does not accompany Alfonso on the 20th of January during his sightseeing of Rome.

Nevertheless he meets him at Spanish Square and asks him to go with him to church of Saint Andrew, where he shall finish of the matters of the burial. He advices that Ratisbonne stays in carriage, however Alfonso prefers to go out to take a closer look at church.

He sees well the preparation of the forthcoming funeral. Asks then for the last name of deceased. De Bussières anwsers: “It is one of my good friends, Earl de Laferronays”. Ratisbonne never knowing Earl Laferronays, senses only light bitterness, typical after receiving news about someones death. Baron moves to sacristy, and from this moment on, he recites the happenings:

“Getting back to sacristy I perceive Ratisbonne kneeling down before the chapel of St. Michael Archangel. I approach him, jog him three or four times, until he acknowledges my presence. Finally he turns his face to me, all covered in tears, puts together his hands and says with an expression on face impossible to describe: Oh! How did he prayed for me, this man.

I alone was stunned, I felt exactly the same thing, that one can feel after experiencing a miracle. I lift up Ratisbonne, we go outside the church and I ask him what has happened, and where does he wishes to go now.”

He responds: “Take me wherever you want…after what I saw, I rest obedient”.

I urged that he at least gives any justifications of what has happened. He won't. He is moved far too strong. He reaches for the Miraculous Medal, kisses, and drops in tears.

I escorted him back home. Still I do not receive any explanations, even after instisting, nothing but a cry and deep interjections comes out of him: “Och! How lucky am I! How God is good! A plentitude of grace and mercy! Oh, how those who do not acknowlege this are worth a pity…”

I took him directly do the church of Society of Jesuits, to Father Villefort, who commanded him to tell the whole story. That was when Ratisbonne took the Medal, bussed and shouted out loud: “I saw her, I saw her! He was all emotional”.

Nevertheless, soon he became peaceful enough to construct the story: From a certain moment that I have been in church, I have become to fell affection of some kind. I took my eyes up and suddenly the whole building became invisible to me. Now, that chapel stood for me as for whole world. There was this illumination, where Our Lady appeared, standing on the altar, all high, full of majesty and sweetness. She was the same that is pictured on my Medal. Unstoppable force pushed me in Her direction. Holy Virgin gave me a sign with her hand to kneel down. She seemed to be saying: “That is good! Though she did not speak at all, but I immediately understood her”.

Ratisbonne recited this short account pausing quite often, probably to recover from strong emotional struck. We listened to him with joy and gratitude, wondering deepnes of Gods ways and unspeakable treasures of His Mercy.

One particular word astonished us by its depth: “Though she did not speak at all, I immediately understood Her”. Indeed, Ratisbonne, may one say, was overflowed by faith. He had so much of it in his heart, so much more he could contain spiritually.

He speaks about Her like a true believer. He has maintained full confidence in Her, that is the least to say. His belief has made him able to feel her presence in reality.

After we left Father de Villefort, we went to praise God, firstly do basilica of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, then do the of St. Peter.

Quite unlike to describe the exultations that Ratisbonne sustained while visiting these churches. “Oh — he denounced — I understand now why catholics hold so much piety towards their churches, and why are they willing to decorate them…it is so nice in would not like to leave... I know it is not earth anymore, it is almost heaven”.

Just in front of the Most Holy Sacrament the Divine presence overwhelmed him to the point where, if he did not went away, he would almost certainly lose his consciousness. So much burden was it to be standing before the True God, having been born with original sin. He took steps to the Chapel of Most Holy Virgin.

“Here — he said — I am unable, unable to fear, I feel protected by enormous mercy”. I prayed with zeal by the tomb of Saint Apostles. The history of St. Paul, which I told him about, became a reason of abundant cry.

I ask him for next details of his seeing. He alone, he could not explain, what made him to go across one side of the church to the other.

Firstly he went into the chapel kneeling. At first he could apprehend The Queen of Heaven in Her excellent beauty of Immaculate, but then his eyes would not withstand the glorious glow of Her.

He tried three times to fix his eyes on Mother of Mercy, and three times was his efforts in vain. Something did not let him to raise his eyes upon the blessed hands, from which the graces flooded out.

“Oh! My God — he called — Me, who blasphemed just 30 minutes ago, who felt rushing hatred towards catholic religion!.. But then everyone who know me, understand that humanly thinking I had all the right to remain a jew. My family is jewish, my fiance is jewish, and so is my uncle.”

Book "The conversion of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne" — download
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The youth Alfons Ratisbonne

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The Church of St. Andrew della Valle in Rome

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The altar, that the Immaculata had appeared to Ratisbonne and Father Maximilian offered his first Holy Mass

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Father Alfons Ratisbonne (on the right) and his brother Father Theodore