Saint Colette (13 January 1381 – 6 March 1447), born Nicole Boellet (or Boylet), was a French abbess and the foundress of the Colettine Poor Clares, a reform branch of the Order of Saint Clare, better known as the Poor Clares. Due to a number of miraculous events claimed during her life, she is venerated as the patron saint of women seeking to conceive, expectant mothers and sick children.
Nicole was born in Corbie in the Picardy region of France, in January 1381, to Robert Boellet, a poor carpenter at the noted Benedictine Abbey of Corbie, and to his wife, Marguerite Moyon. Her contemporary biographers say that her parents had grown old without having children, before praying to Saint Nicholas for help in having a child. Their prayers were answered when, at the age of 60, Marguerite gave birth to a daughter. Out of gratitude, they named the baby after the saint to whom they credited the miracle of her birth.
After her parents died in 1399, Nicole--henceforth known as Colette--joined the Beguines but found their manner of life unchallenging. She received the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis in 1402, and became a hermit under the direction of the Abbot of Corbie, living near the abbey church. After four years of following this ascetic way of life (1402–1406), through several dreams and visions she came to believe that she was being called to reform the Franciscan Second Order, and to return it to its original Franciscan ideals of absolute poverty and austerity.
In October 1406, she turned to the Antipope Benedict XIII of Avignon who was recognized in France as the rightful pope. Benedict received her in Nice, in southern France, and allowed her to transfer to the Order of Poor Clares. Additionally, he empowered her through several papal bulls, issued between 1406 and 1412, to found new monasteries and to complete the reform of the Order.
With the approval of the Countess of Geneva and the aid of the Franciscan itinerant preacher, Henry of Beaume (her confessor and spiritual director), Colette began her work at Beaune, in the diocese of Geneva. She remained there only a short time. In 1410, she opened her first monastery at Besançon, in an almost-abandoned house of Urbanist Poor Clares. From there, her reform spread to Auxonne (1412), to Poligny (1415), to Ghent (1412), to Heidelberg (1444), to Amiens, to Pont-à-Mousson in Lorraine and to other communities of Poor Clares. During her lifetime 18 monasteries of her reform were founded. For the monasteries which followed her reform, she prescribed extreme poverty, going barefoot, and the observance of perpetual fasting and abstinence.
During the Council of Constance she wrote to disavow Benedict, and during the Council of Basel she wrote to ask the bishops to withdraw.
In addition to the strict rules of the Poor Clares, the Colettines follow their special Constitutions, sanctioned in 1434 by the then-Minister General of the friars, William of Casale, and approved in 1448 by Pope Nicholas V, again in 1458 by Pope Pius II, and in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV.
Together with friar Henry of Beaume, Colette also inaugurated a reform among the Franciscan friars (who were known as the Coletans), not to be confounded with the Observants. These friars formed a unique branch of the Order of Friars Minor under Henry's authority, but remained obedient to the authority of the Minister Provincial of the Observant Franciscan friaries in France, and never attained much importance, even there.
In 1448 they had only thirteen friaries, all attached to monasteries of the Colettine nuns. Together with other small branches of the Order of Friars Minor, they were merged into the wider Observant branch in 1517 by Pope Leo X.
Colette died at Ghent in March 1447. She was beatified 23 January 1740, by Pope Clement XII (just a few weeks before his death) and was canonized 24 May 1807 by Pope Pius VII. Currently (2011) outside of France, the Colettine nuns are found in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, the Philippines, Spain and throughout the United Kingdom and the United States
According to tradition, Colette's parents had grown old without being able to have children. In desperation, her mother-to-be prayed to Saint Nicholas, a patron saint of children, to intercede for her that she might be able to bear a child. Despite her advanced age (she was sixty, according to some accounts), she did indeed conceive, and a daughter was born to them. The child was baptized Nicolette in honor of the saint whom the parents credited with the miracle of her birth.
While traveling to Nice to meet the Pope, Colette stayed at the home of a friend. His wife was in labor at that time with their third child, and was having major difficulties in the childbirth, leaving her in danger of death. Colette immediately went to the local church to pray for her.
The mother gave birth successfully, and survived the ordeal. She credited Colette's prayers for this. The child born, a girl named Pierinne, later entered a monastery founded by Colette. She would become Colette's secretary and biographer.
After the Pope had authorized Colette to establish a regimen of strict poverty in the Poor Clare monasteries of France, she started with that of Besançon. The local populace was suspicious of her reform, with its total reliance on them for the sustenance of the monastery. One incident helped turn this around.
According to legend, a local peasant woman gave birth to a stillborn child. In desperation, out of fear for the child's soul, the father took the baby to the local parish priest for baptism. Seeing that the child was already dead, the priest refused to baptize the body. When the man became insistent, out of frustration, the priest told him to go to the nuns, which he did immediately. When he arrived at the monastery, Mother Colette was made aware of his situation by the portress. Her response was to take off the veil given to her by the Pope, when he gave her the habit of the Second Order, and told the portress to have the father wrap the child's body in it and for him to return to the priest. By the time he arrived at the parish church with his small bundle, the child was conscious and crying. The priest immediately baptized the baby