The conversion of Madame Ernst to Christianity

An Irish newspaper provides an account of the conversion of the [Amélie-]Siona Lévy – the later Madame Ernst – to Christianity; as a famous, young, attractive Jewish actress, she was clearly a valuable catch. Some words, at the very edge of the original page, are hard to read, so I have placed semi-conjectures in square brackets:

The Univers has the following interesting particulars of the conversion from the Jewish faith of Madlle. Siona Levy, a distinguished actress of the Theatre Francais, who received [confirmation] last week from the Archbishop of Paris: – “Madlle Levy has a brother, a very distinguished artist, who on reading the gospel for the first time, felt himself to be so deeply moved that he all at once became an apostle to his own family, and proved, with the holy book in his hand, that all the promises of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christianity. He was instructed and baptized in the church of Notre Dame de Sion, and soon after he entered a religious [house] for the purpose of preparing himself for the priesthood. In order to prevent him from carrying out this latter resolution, his sister went to the priest, who was likely to exercise influence over him; but the light of truth which had [enlightened] he brother shed its beams also on her also; she recognized Christ as her Messiah, and became a Christian. It was the Rev. Father M. Ratisbonne, of the Society of Jesus, who conferred baptism on her. It is stated that this young Christian only awaits the close of her professional engagements to embrace a holy career.[”]

The Freeman’s Journal, Friday 28th May 1852, p.3

‘Ratisbonne’ is the surname of two famous Jewish brothers – Théodor (1802-84) and Alphonse (1814-84) – who converted to Catholic Christianity in the early C19th. Like Siona Lévy’s family, the Ratisbonne brothers came from Alsace, and in their case too, the older sibling converted the younger, and a vision of the Virgin Mary played a role in the conversion. Alphonse was a Jesuit whereas it appears Théodor was not, so it was probably Alphonse who baptized Madlle Lévy.

A short piece in a Nice newspaper from about 1904 (which I shall put on line as soon as I can relocate it) says that Ernst did not meet Siona after she had given up hope of a ‘holy career’ but that meeting him was the cause of her decision to abandon the devotional life. 

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