A Catholic convert can help us love Mary more

2 mins read
Virgin Mary

One of the 20th century’s greatest writers about the Virgin Mary was a most unlikely convert from Judaism. Born Raïssa ​​Oumansoff, in the Russian Empire, she emigrated to France with her family and took up her studies at the Sorbonne. Despairing at the emptiness of materialism, her passionate search for truth led her to the Catholic Church. Her conversion, along with that of her husband, Jacques Maritain, heralded a renaissance of Christian thought in the 20th century. Raïssa’s writings, imbued with poetic grace and profound theological insight, reveal a soul ardently devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Raïssa was a reluctant convert to Marian devotion. Once, during a bout of illness before her conversion, Raïssa was visited by Jeanne Bloy, wife of French author Léon Bloy, who placed a Miraculous Medal around her neck. Raïssa describes herself as being initially somewhat vexed at the imposition. However, she says, “In a moment, and without truly realizing what I was doing, I was confidently appealing to the Blessed Virgin, and then fell into a gentle and healing sleep.”

Raïssa Maritain

The journey to faith

Raïssa soon became very close to the Virgin Mary. Describing a day marked by great consolation in prayer, she writes, “I was seized with a feeling of familiarity with God, with Jesus, with Mary. I wept and exulted. It was as if there were a perpetual spring of joy, of sweetness, of happy certainty welling up in me — it lasted a long while — and the memory of it has not been effaced.” Raïssa’s prayer is marked by a sense of God’s nearness, of tenderness, particularly through the Blessed Virgin.

“Friends, turn to the Blessed Virgin this month. She was for Raïssa, and is now for us, our Mother, our model and our delight!”

Raïssa’s relationship with the Virgin Mary is both a source of comfort and a theological anchor. In her diaries, Raïssa shares intimate reflections that reveal the depth of her Marian devotion. “Ever since morning, I seem to feel the presence of the Blessed Virgin (yesterday too),” she writes. This closeness to Mary is emblematic of Raïssa’s broader spirituality, which embraced contemplation to probe the depths of wisdom. For Raïssa, “the grace of Christ assists us in contemplation — so do the merits of Mary.” She considered the Virgin Mary a master in contemplation, who, with Jesus, is a model and mediator.

Her writings frequently reference the Virgin Mary, not only as the Mother of God but also as a model of perfect discipleship and trust in God’s will. As Jacques struggled to reorient his philosophical career, Raïssa reflected on the need to opt for God in their decision-making. She placed her confidence in Mary: “Baptism, for us, was one of those moments … And now we must risk many things for love of the Blessed Virgin.” Raïssa followed the Virgin Mary’s courage and bravely moved forward in her own life, striving to follow God’s will.

Devotion to Mary

Her devotion to Mary also profoundly shaped her views on suffering and compassion. In Raïssa’s reflections, Mary is often a consoling presence during times of hardship, serving as a beacon of hope and resilience. During a particular bout of illness for his wife, Jacques recalls that Raïssa has described the Virgin Mary “bending over her mercifully” despite her tremendous suffering.

The Virgin Mary is not just a subject of Raïssa’s writings, but also a guiding light that illuminates her path of faith and philosophy. We ought to make Raïssa’s love for the Blessed Virgin our own. Raïssa writes in her journal, “The whole of heaven gazes on her with delight. She plays before the ravished eyes of God himself.” Friends, turn to the Blessed Virgin this month. She was for Raïssa, and is now for us, our Mother, our model and our delight!

Father Patrick Briscoe

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is a Dominican friar and the editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Along with his Dominican brothers, he is host of the podcast Godsplaining and a co-author of "Saint Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God." He is also the author of the OSV seasonal devotional, "My Daily Visitor."