The following is a poignant story of how the life of Saint Joan of Arc touched and affected one little girl named Margaret. It is a tale of how Saint Joan's life transformed this girl of thirteen to move like a wave out in ever greater circles to influence those around her. So we begin the true story of Margaret Jeanne Walsh:
In 1949 I found myself looking at a LIFE magazine with the picture of Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc on the cover. As I viewed this captivating image, I, for no apparent reason, started to cry and cry. I was far from a cry-baby type, rather I was a TOMBOY of thirteen who could often outplay the many boys on my block. Yet despite my initial reaction, I found myself going back to those same pictures, mesmerized.
It was not the religious element that struck me. I had been brought up in a Catholic family and the practice of my religion only meant attending Sunday Mass and catechism lessons. What was it that had so impressed me?
The picture of a radiant Ingrid and the story of Saint Joan never left me for long. I recall writing in another girl's autograph book that my "favorite film was Joan of Arc even though I had not yet seen it!
A few weeks later I finally got to see THE FILM. Just as I entered the theater I caught sight of "Joan" praying in a little burned-out chapel and I was paralyzed. I stood there, in the aisle, crying and crying without knowing why. For the next three days after seeing the movie I could scarcely talk. My poor mother thought I was sick. I counted the number of times I saw Joan of Arc in the theater but when I got up to sixty - something, I stopped.
I began a feverish search for books, pictures, statues ... anything that had to do with Saint Joan or Ingrid, that I could get my hands on. I even had my hair cut a la Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc). My friends started to tease me by calling me Ingrid or Joan. (I had a particularly difficult time with them when Ingrid left her husband and ran away with Roberto Rossellini.) In a word, Saint Joan became an all-consuming passion.
In 1952 when I was a junior in high school I discovered in a issue of LOOK magazine that the ring which Ingrid wore and is often quite visible in the film was the result of intensive research and was not just a prop. This ring was made of gold and was presented to Ms. Bergman as a souvenir at the conclusion of the filming. Ingrid was seen wearing it on her first finger from that time on. This same article which mentioned the ring that Ingrid wore also stated that she was bored and answered all friendly mail.
Of course, I had to have this ring and it was my great desire to have a copy of "Joan's" ring that caused me to contact LOOK magazine in hopes that they would furnish me with Ingrid's address in Italy. This they did and naturally, my letter was swift to follow. To my great surprise a wonderful letter from Ingrid arrived from Santa Marinello, Italy. In this letter Ingrid thanked me for my kind words about her performance in JOAN OF ARC. She also informed me that she believed the "ring" had been made by Tiffany's.
Doing my own investigation I found out that Cartiers' of New York could make me a copy of it for a mere $200.00! Needless to say, my mom gave me an emphatic "NO" to my request that she spend this amount. Determined, I made a crude drawing of the ring each time I watched the film and then took it to a jeweler. He made it for me for $36.00 with an apology for the "high cost" that they claimed to be the result of the engraving. For the past 46 years I have worn on my first finger this, my very own and precious JOAN OF ARC ring. Much later, in 1967, when I met Ingrid in person, I showed her my ring and she did a REAL TAKE. "I lost mine, you know," she gasped. I think she thought that I had found it!
Anyone who delves into Saint Joan's story cannot help but become inspired to be a better person and be more interested in the spiritual life. In my case, I ended up as Sister M. Jeanne d'Arc, SSND in Baltimore, Maryland. I had to give up my 26 books and medals and the rest of my collection when I entered the convent. (My mother kept my gold Saint Joan of Arc ring safe in her home.) But what I received in return! Sixteen fulfilling years and that name! (Many nuns kept their religious name when they departed the convent.) I still regret that I didn't change Margaret to Jeanne d'Arc when I left the religious life. Why did I leave? That's another story!
My experiences with and about Saint Joan as well as Ingrid would indeed fill a book. I have twelve letters from Ingrid Bergman. I know she wrote me because she remembered that in 1967 Ingrid had invited little Sister Jeanne d'Arc to met with her in her Broadway theater dressing room.
My life is replete with vignettes about Saint Joan. I made a journey to Boston to retrieve a "retired" statue courtesy of the sister of Saint Joan of Arc. During that visit, the curator of the Boston Public library opened the vault-like room containing Cardinal Wright's gigantic collection of Saint Joan of Arc books and other memorabilia. I got to see before it was even cataloged for the public. I was privileged to be able to make a pilgrimage to Orleans, France. I met there Marie Veronique CLIN who graciously guided me around the Museum Jeanne d'Arc even though it was closed at the time.
I am married with two wonderful sons. My husband, Arthur, has become devoted to Saint Joan also and has been the driving force behind my immense collection of statues, paintings, photos, posters from the 1948 movie as well as paper dolls, medals and the like. My husband and I have hosted two Saint Joan of Arc Festivals at our home during which we showed the original uncut version of JOAN OF ARC in our basement- converted-to-cinema. My friends and family search high and low to find something about Saint Joan that I don't already have. Our license plates read: JEHANNE and JD ARC.
Since 1949, Saint Joan of Arc and Ingrid Bergman have been an integral part of my persona. My highschool yearbook picture carried the caption: Our very own Maid of Orleans. Just yesterday, while going through some "treasures" that my two sons had made over the years, I discovered a touching drawing of a hospital room with a patient in bed. Two scrawled arrows indicted: "Ingrid" and "Nurse." I had carefully dated it 1982 right before Ingrid died. My seven year old son, Mark, was trying to cheer me up, I suppose.
Ms. Bergman was also profoundly interested in Saint Joan from her childhood and went on to play her in every possible vehicle: film, stage and in an oratorio which she performed all over Europe. When she died she had a collection of Saint Joan books and artifacts on her night stand along with a small pouch filled with earth from Orleans, France.
Saint Joan is more than an obsession or a mania. I don't consider myself a "fan." To me she has been and remains a friend who listens to me and guides me in all that I do. I am upset that the American Catholic Church has chosen to replace her feastday with that of the 40 African Martyrs. I am upset when I hear that she (Saint Joan) is a saint who is admirable but not imitatable. That she couldn't write did not make her less of a mystic; that she died in dishonor made her no less a saint. Regine Pernoud's book, The Spirituality of Joan of Arc, emphasizes what made Joan a Saint was not the winning of battles, nor the coronation of her king but solely her HEROIC VIRTUE.
Margaret M. Walsh