Blessed Dina Belanger, a home-grown Canadian saint whom we commemorate today, was a saintly young woman from St. Roch, Quebec, a concert pianist who dedicated her numerous gifts to God in the religious life, and who died of tuberculosis – from a worldly perspective, far too young – at the tender age of 32 on September 4, 1929.
Dina signified clearly the daily battle required to practise ‘heroic virtue’, to dig deep, and not just avoid the obvious vices Christ condemns, but pull up even their smallest and seemingly insignificant manifestations by their very roots, with consistent victories over self. This was instilled in her early by her devout parents, her mother teaching her to make the sign of the cross early, and to pay attention at Mass, hiding the ceramic doll with which Dina was enamoured. When the young girl threw a tantrum – to which she was, like nearly all children, quite disposed to get her way – her father got up from the table and joined in. Dina was so mortified, she never succumbed to another.
And, as she grew, she learned more and more to internalize this discipline. As she demonstrated when another Sister complained about her – as one might expect, nearly perfect – piano playing, Dina not only did not allow oneself to feel upset, but, by an act of will, rejoiced that her fellow religious may just have said something sort of true, which would help her grow in virtue.
She strove for absolute perfection even in the smallest of things, seeing in each action the weight of eternity. This made her an excellent pianist – each key pressed just right – offering concerts around and outside Canada. In early womanhood, she offered herself as a postulant to the Religieuses de Jésus-Marie (Religious Congregation of Jesus and Mary, which still has 1300 members throughout the world), in which environment Dina strove even more for sanctity, beloved by all, but not standing out, nor conspicuous. She was just like everyone else, the other Sisters recalled after her death, only somehow, in some not-quite definable way, more perfect, never losing her temper, nor gossiping, just quiet and unassuming. But behind that humble exterior was a soul forged in the fires of sanctity, long years of prayer, grace and discipline.
Dina adopted the name in religion of Sister Cecile of Rome (appropriately enough), and adapted to the humble and hidden life of the convent. She who could play the most intricate of concertos with the best of them, would spend hours teaching D-major scales to little girls – but always ever-more perfectly.
In 1923, Sister Cecile contracted scarlet fever from a student, which developed over time into fatal tuberculosis. She offered up every ounce of her sufferings for the love of God and His Christ, Who would reveal Himself to her, and with whom she would speak interiorly. She was asked by her superiors to write her autobiography, which, as Christ prophesied, would do much good, and it indeed has.
Alas, even the intercession of Blessed Dina, and all the panoply of canonized, could not – or not fully – save Quebec, which has changed quite a bit from those relatively rosy Catholic days of Dina, when untold numbers of young women and men would flock into convents, monasteries and seminaries. Now, many of these majestic buildings dot the beautiful landscape, many are closed and deserted, or converted into apartments or discotheques. Reading her life, and of the province once steeped in Catholicism in which she grew up, is like reading of the Middle Ages, an era that seems gone forever.
But is it? As Saint Augustine describes his own conversion, God draws us to Himself as ‘beauty ever ancient, ever new…’, and, who knows, someday even Quebec, and Canada, may rediscover some of their Catholicism, which is to say, rediscover themselves.
There are still those with eyes to see and ears to hear that beauty, which is the beauty of holiness, too often obscured by those vices I just mentioned; may we pray with Blessed Dina today that such clarity as she had is given to many more.
Dina was beatified by a fellow saint, Pope John Paul II, on March 20, 1993, with whom she now rejoices – and intercedes – for us in heaven.
Bienheuruex Dina, pries pour nous!