When Hortense decided to marry Laurent Cousin in Pibrac, France, it was not out of love for his infant daughter. Germaine was everything Hortense despised. Weak and ill, the girl had also been born with a right hand that was deformed and paralyzed. Hortense replaced the love that Germaine has lost when her mother died with cruelty and abuse.
Laurent, who had a weak character, pretended not to notice that Germaine had been given so little food that she had learned to crawl in order to get to the dog’s dish. He wasn’t there to protect her when Hortense left Germaine in a drain while she cared for chickens — and forgot her for three days. He didn’t even interfere when Hortense poured boiling water on Germaine’s legs.
Germaine found no sympathy and love with her siblings. Watching their mother’s treatment of their half-sister, they learned how to despise and torment her, putting ashes in her food and pitch in her clothes. Their mother found this very entertaining.
Germaine was soon entrusted with the sheep. No one expected her to have any use for education so she spent long days in the field tending the sheep. Instead of being lonely, she found a friend in God. She didn’t know any theology and only the basics of the faith that she learned the catechism. But she had a rosary made of knots in string and her very simple prayers: “Dear God, please don’t let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help me to please you.” Out of that simple faith, grew a profound holiness and a deep trust of God.
And she had the most important prayer of all — the Mass. Every day, without fail, she would leave her sheep in God’s care and go to Mass. Villagers wondered that the sheep weren’t attacked by the wolves in the woods when she left but God’s protection never failed her. One day when the rains had swollen the river to flood stage, a villager saw the river part so that she could cross to get to the church in time for Mass.
As the whole village began to talk about this holy child, even Hortense began to soften her feelings toward her. She even invited Germaine back to the house but Germaine had become used to her straw bed and continued to sleep in it. There she was found dead at the age of 22, overcome by a life of suffering.