This face is surely unknown to you, but in 1963, at the age of 17, she appeared on French television screens. Looking at a frame from the broadcast, we can guess that her cheeks were a little rosy despite the black and white of television of the time, and we may be caught off guard by the traditional regional headdress she wears proudly as she proclaims loud and clear to an interviewer that she is from Normandy.
Her name is Marie-Hélène Cardet, and she was crowned “best homemaker 1963,” a prize given to the winner of a contest testing a young woman’s skills for running a household.
She’s from a generation that knew how to milk cows by hand and how to make butter from milk … and perhaps these were even among the skills she had to demonstrate to win the title! But when a journalist asked her at the time, “Tell me, are you ready to have a husband soon?” she answered with good humor, “Oh no, not yet!”
A fiancé did present himself to Marie-Hélène, but not just any fiancé
Recently, almost 60 years after she won that contest, the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA, from its name in French) tracked her down and interviewed her in a video shared on Twitter. She’s now 76 years old but hasn’t lost her smile. And it turns out that her “husband” is Jesus.
Indeed, Marie-Hélène decided to enter a religious congregation. She belongs to the Sisters of the Christian Schools of St. Marie-Madeleine Postel.
First, she explains in the video, she worked in education, helping children with difficulties at school. Then she went as a missionary to the Congo for 12 years, where she worked alongside Dutch doctors treating children with sequelae of polio, as well as teaching girls to read, write, and sew: basic skills to help them get ahead. After her return to France, she was assigned to work in Barfleur, in her native Normandy, where first worked at the parish and then as chaplain at the Cherbourg prison.
Sr. Marie-Hélène now devotes her time to the spiritual accompaniment of the nomadic peoples of France (such as the Roma and Gypsies), whom she teaches catechism and helps prepare for Mass. It’s a rich life, according to the sister, who concludes, as she contemplates a beautiful view of the countryside in Normandy: “I think I was happy in 1963, even if there were difficult moments … And then, I think I have been happy all my life.”