No one has ever doubted the authenticity of a seemingly unbelievable Grace of Confession which the highly regarded Swiss Cardinal Gaspard Mermillod (1824-1892), Bishop of Lausanne-Geneva, personally witnessed as a young priest during a pastoral visit to Lake Geneva, and testified and recounted many times.

Late in the evening, Fr. Mermillod was exhausted from pastoral work when a loud knock called him to the door. A young man, elegantly dressed, was standing outside politely asking the priest to come the next day at the same hour for a serious case, a lady whose life was in danger. The young priest made a note of the address, and the following evening — punctually as promised — found himself in the middle of a front garden of a beautifully lit villa with a magnificent view of Lake Geneva. Through the open windows came cheerful voices and laughter. Somewhat intrigued, Fr. Mermillod rang the bell. A servant answered and, when Father inquired about the terminally ill he had come to visit, the servant replied in surprize that there were no sick people inside and that the address he had received was incorrect. “But is this not Chalet Violet, and are we not in Rue Valois?” the priest asked. “Quite right, my lord,” replied the servant, “but there must be a misunderstanding.”

The master of the house arrived and also said, “We are very sorry, dear sir, to hear that someone without our knowledge has asked you to come. We cannot imagine who it could have been or what could have been the motive of such an inappropriate joke. There is no one ill in the house, we are not Catholic, and just now we are entertaining friends from the theatre. Please, join us at dinner though.”

Since the shepherd of souls had journeyed to speak about God to the people within, he accepted and told in detail about the mysterious visitor who had sent him there.

“We are delighted to have you among us, but what a weird experience!” the lady of the house said, graciously introducing him to the curious guests from the theatre. Most of them were Protestants and atheists who had never before personally met a Catholic priest. He had not been there long before his attentive listeners riddled him with questions, their greatest interest being Holy Confession. They wanted to know everything about it, and the eloquent Fr. Mermillod spoke intelligently and enthusiastically about the beauty of this Sacrament.

When the young priest took his leave late in the evening, a young actress pulled him aside and said, “Father, may I speak to you tomorrow? I have something very important to say, and I think that I can explain the mystery which so happily brought you among us tonight. You have done immeasurable good to some of us.”

Father Mermillod gladly arranged a meeting with the young petitioner. Blanche de Vaudois, for which the attractive actress appeared punctually the following day.

“Father, I am a Catholic,” she explained, “one of your wandering sheep. I am a cousin of the Countess de Vaudois, and my brother and I, orphans at an early age, were educated by her with a mother’s care. After my entrance into society, which was a brilliant affair, the world’s pleasures and vanities proved too much for me. I was feted and flattered and gradually lost my head. Gifted with what people called a ‘divine voice’, I resolved to try my fortune on the stage, despite all that my dear aunt and brother could say. It well-nigh broke their hearts. Again, success awaited me, for I have been the star of our company for many years. Unfortunately, I abandoned my religion almost completely, clinging to the solitary devotion of my Rosary, which my dear brother adjured me in his last letter, written on his deathbed, never to abandon.”

Father, for some months, my star has been declining. A young actress has taken my place. That I could have borne, for though hard, it is only what must be expected in our profession. Unfortunately, worse luck was in store for me, I have been almost hissed off the stage more than once. My role was not sympathetic, my nerves were shattered, and I had not my old charm and prestige to save me. My cup was full, and I had made up my mind last night to end it all.”

Everything was planned. I had marked the place in the lake where I intended taking the fatal plunge, a pool so deep with banks so high, that escape was impossible. Here are three letters, which I had written to dear friends begging their forgiveness. My doom seemed inevitably sealed, and I never dreamed that I could be dissuaded from doing what I had resolved to do. I felt no fear: I was in the hands of a power greater than my own. Certainly, I was the sick lady you had been called to see, sick unto death. Your visitor was my dear dead brother. Your description of him was vivid, a pen picture so clear that there can be no mistake. He promised in that last broken-hearted letter that he would ever pray for me before the throne of God. Father, he and you have saved me. I am ready to confess, if you deem me worthy of your care.”

Immediately, Fr. Mermillod led the actress to the confessional, prepared her, and following the confession, solemnly gave her absolution. Only a few days later, Blanche de Vaudois cancelled her contract with the theatre and visited Fr. Mermillod again before leaving Geneva.

Less than a year later, Sr. Dominique of the Holy Rosary, formerly Blanche de Vaudois, wrote him a letter from her new home, a Dominican convent. “I have found perfect peace here and now use my ‘divine voice’ for the glory of God. Use my story as you wish, good Father. It may help to save other souls like mine from irreparable ruin.”