Clémentine Beauvais, an atheist meeting Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque

In the family, we have always spoken of Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, this saint and mystic of the XVIIe century at the origin of the cult of the Sacred Heart – and incidentally a distant grandmother of Clémentine Beauvais, whose maternal grandmother is called Alacoque.

The young author, agnostic and feminist, doesn’t care a bit. But now grandmother Alacoque loses her memory and declines. For her part, the young woman is expecting a child from her companion… Catholic!

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Sandwiched between two generations, both heir and conveyor of a story that goes beyond her, she ends up discussing it with a friend who is an editor and also Catholic (also), who jokingly offers to write the biography of her holy grandmother. The joke hits the mark. Clémentine Beauvais takes the plunge, her atheism slung over her shoulder.


In a book that keeps its promise to stay “offbeat”, Clémentine Beauvais tells her story. While unfolding the life of her canonized grandmother, she expresses the questions of a young woman well in her time on a religion that she discovers through Saint Marguerite-Marie, but in which she does not recognize herself.

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With her sharp pen, Clémentine Beauvais describes a sociology, almost a parallel universe made up of dress codes, tics of language and ways of thinking that are contrary to her own references. It is only the people of Emmanuel who say “it’s hot”, nobody says that! “, she jokes, sitting on the terrace of a Parisian cafe, wearing a baptismal medal. It was my companion who gave it to me, eh ”, she defends herself.

Clémentine Beauvais caught in a vice

To defend oneself. To justify oneself. In the course of her biographical work, the young author uses this stratagem with what she calls her “home environment”. The progressive and rather anticlerical literary and academic milieu in which she lives at York University – after years of atheistic and feminist activism while studying at Cambridge.

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Throughout the story, we feel Clémentine Beauvais caught in a vice: on the one hand her Catholic publishers, for whom it would necessarily make a hell of a beautiful story that Clémentine meets God while writing this book; on the other, her atheist friends who, listening to her unfold her story, cannot help worrying about seeing their friend pass “to the other side”. All under the benevolent but amused gaze of the author’s Catholic companion.

Spiritual glass ceiling

In my community, we don’t think well of Cathos, we don’t talk to Cathos, we are the enemy of Cathos. […] We have no problem with them, as long as they just go to Mass only once or twice a year, don’t really believe in any of it, don’t proselytize, but focus their Catholicism on helping people. poor and refugees“, she writes in her book.

Because in love with a Christian and future mother, the young woman takes this work on Marguerite-Marie as a game, the aim of which is to satisfy her curiosity. I had a desire for understanding“, admits the young woman. But she never manages to get rid of this external gaze, that of the agnostic who watches the scenes of faith. “Like through a window”.

“I am present, but something separates me from those who believe. “ Something is blocking. The strike for all“, Clémentine Beauvais responds immediately to explain the origin of this spiritual glass ceiling. The Demonstration for All caused a lot of injuries around me. She transformed the Catholic religion from old-fashioned folklore to the enemy.

Through the Saint of Paray-le-Monial, for whom the author gradually fell in love, the two facets of Clémentine Beauvais made peace. Through Marguerite-Marie, I was reconciled with the person I have become. More completely militant atheist and anticlerical… but not catholic either. In an uncomfortable position, certainly, but totally assumed.


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