Another French Saint for the Poor

Portrait of Vincent de Paul by Simon François de Tours (1606-1671)
Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) only wanted to have a comfortable life as a priest in France, and it certainly appeared that the bright young man would get his wish quickly. But everything changed when he was serving as a tutor for the children of a count.

In 1617, he was staying in the countryside with the count’s family. As a priest, he was called upon to hear the confession of a peasant who was considered to be near death. In that confession, the lives of both priest and penitent were changed. Father Vincent and the peasant discovered that the man’s lack of understanding of the faith had made his past confessions literally sacrilegious, as the peasant freely told others afterward.

While some interpret the rest of Vincent’s life as focused on serving the physical needs of the needy, his primary goal from that point onward was to improve the spiritual state of human beings. He began by educating the poor about the fundamentals of the Catholic faith and confronted the rich and powerful about their immoral behavior. He and the priests, nuns, and sympathetic laymen who followed him eventually brought the Good News of God’s love to galley-slaves, sick people in hospitals, those suffering from the effects of war, and ordinary people, not only in France, but in Poland, Scotland, Ireland, and north Africa.

Vincent’s accomplishments were even more remarkable in that he started with no money, no fame, and with (according to Vincent himself) a bad temper. But God’s grace, his time spent in prayer, his zeal for personal virtue, and his dedication to serving others won him the admiration of many people during his own lifetime, along with canonization by the Church in 1737. He is remembered on the date of his death, September 27.

Saint Vincent, show me how to serve the spiritual and material needs of those around me.

A Forgotten Saint

Saint Teresa Couderc
Marie Lydia V / CC BY-SA (
Wikimedia Commons

It was an innovative and (to some) scandalous idea at the time: letting nuns organize retreats. But when Saint Teresa (Therese) Couderc (1805-1885) was still a member of a teaching order of nuns and was invited by the priest-founder of her order to help him establish an order of nuns to run retreat houses, she agreed.

This novel order was more than just a good idea; it addressed a serious practical problem. When men or women of nineteenth century France traveled, both men and women were generally thrown together in the same bedroom. Women who wanted to make pilgrimages found themselves in awkward, uncomfortable, or even dangerous situations. Teresa’s order, as a sister order to an order of priests providing retreats to me, provided them with a holy and safe alternative.

Unfortunately, after some time, the source of funds for the order dried up, and Teresa blamed herself for the order’s debts. The bishop of the diocese took control of the order away from Teresa and placed it in the hands of a wealthy widow who had only joined the order very recently. Teresa accepted this humiliation with peace, obediently served the order for decades, and was generally forgotten as the founder.

A story demonstrates her lifelong humility. A cardinal came to visit a retreat house where Teresa lived and was introduced to all the sisters. He recognized spiritual depth and holiness in Teresa’s face and demeanor, and when she was missing at a later meeting, he asked the sisters, “Where is the sister who has been left out?”

Humble and patient to the end, Teresa died quietly, peacefully, and in the background when she was eighty years old. She died on September 26, 1885.

Saint Teresa, help me accept humiliations with peace.

A French Saint for Teachers

Saint Emily de Rodat
sœurs de la sainte famille / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

As previous posts this month have demonstrated, many French Catholics, particularly priests, were executed during the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. Today’s saint, Marie Guillemette Emily de Rodat (called Emily by her family and friends), was born in 1787 and was therefore a young girl living in a remote area of France during much of that violent time. She was devout when she was a child, but, as has happened to many a teenager, her fervor cooled a bit when she got older. However, on the feast of Corpus Christi when she was about seventeen years old, that changed. Emily fell in love with God and with prayer, considered religious life, and began to teach children about the faith as a catechist. That’s when she realized that the Revolution had yet another unpleasant consequence: a serious lack of Catholic schools in which French children could be educated.

Emily rose to the challenge, beginning her life’s work by teaching forty students for free in a single room. Eventually, other women followed her example and leadership, and she became the foundress of an order of sisters, now known as the Congregation of the Holy Family of Villefranche. Though her order was predominantly a teaching order, they also visited prisoners, cared for orphans, and included a branch of cloistered religious to pray for the more active members. She inspired her sisters to live lives of “holy cheerfulness”, as she called it, despite her own bouts with poor health. She died of cancer in her eye, after decades of labor caring for those in need, in 1852. She is remembered by the Church on September 18.

Saint Emily, help me to bring a holy cheerfulness to those around me.

Saint of the Day

A Holy French Shepherd

Saint of the Day

When the man known to us now as Saint Peter of Tarentaise (1102-1174) was only twenty years old, he was so convinced of God’s call to religious life that he joined a Cistercian monastery in the Tarentaise hills of France—and he talked multiple relatives into entering religious life as well at the same time. Later, he talked a count into giving him the financial support he needed to build a hospital to care for the sick.

When he was elected archbishop of Tarentaise, he wasn’t able to talk his way out of the honor, though he tried, but he eventually became an excellent shepherd to his flock. After more than a decade, however, he ran away, changed his name, and literally hid in another Cistercian monastery so that he could return to the simplicity of monastic life. This time, he wasn’t able to talk others into believing him; people rather quickly figured out his true identity.

He returned to his position as archbishop and became well known for—you guessed it—his diplomatic skills. His last assignment before his death was as a peacemaker between two feuding kings. He is remembered by the Church on the date of his death, September 14.

Saint Peter, give me your gift of leading others to greater holiness.

Another French Saint of the Prisons

Engraved image of 19th century hulk by Louis Le Breton
Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

In 1795, the brutal violence of the French Revolution had burned itself out. Prison hulks (unseaworthy ships that were used to warehouse prisoners) in the city of Rochefort were emptied, and the prisoners were released. Many of those who had been incarcerated in these hulks were Catholic priests and religious, whose only crime was refusing to abandon their faith and obey the Revolutionary government rather than the Church.

As the prisoners were allowed to leave and tell their stories, the truth about the circumstances of the hulks came to light. It is estimated that 827 Catholic clergy and religious were imprisoned in the prison hulks of Rochefort, and, of that total, 542 died of starvation, mistreatment, and lack of hygiene or medical care. One of those men, Pierre (Roger) Sulpice Christopher Faverge, was particularly remembered by the survivors.

Brother Roger was a religious brother and teacher in the Brothers of the Christian Schools before the French Revolution. During his imprisonment, Roger cared for other needy prisoners, retained his faith in Jesus Christ despite the inhuman conditions of their prison, and died of an illness before the prisoners were liberated. The Church has declared him a blessed for his heroic witness and martyrdom and commemorates him on September 12.

Blessed Roger, show me how to serve those in need around me.

A French Saint for Former Slaves

Blessed Jacques-Desire Laval
Misters Chambay and Lecorgne / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Over the centuries, France has sent missionaries to many corners of the globe to preach and serve those who have never heard the Gospel before. One of them, Blessed Jacques-Desire Laval, is a more recent example.

Born into a pious family of simple farmers in 1803, Jacques initially decided to become a medical doctor. But after only four years of a medical career, he fell from a horse in an incident that could have killed him. Deeply affected, he “re-evaluated his life choices,” closed his practice, and went to study to become a priest.

After ordination, he was sent by his religious order to serve the people of Maritius. Slavery had only recently been outlawed on this island off the coast of Africa; helping the poor, uneducated freed slaves learn how to improve their living conditions became his life’s work. He also learned their language and served them through his medical knowledge.

Not only did sixty-seven thousand people eventually convert to the faith through Blessed Jacques’ witness, the respect he showed for people of other faiths earned their respect as well. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, as well as Catholics, attended his funeral in 1864. He is commemorated by the Church on September 9, the date of his death.

Blessed Jacques, teach me how to show respect for all those around me.

A French Saint for the Poor

Bust of Antoine-Frederic Ozanam
Schaefer Frères / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

When most people think of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society—a charitable organization that currently serves needy people all over the world—they think of Saint Vincent de Paul. Father Vincent is indeed celebrated by the Church on another day in September, but he wasn’t the original founder of the organization that bears his name.

Blessed Antoine-Frederic Ozanam was born in Italy in 1813. His parents had fourteen children, though only three survived childhood. Frederic, as everyone called him, became a teacher, and he married and had a daughter. He was also an author, and one of the things he wrote about was how Christianity benefits both individuals and the communities in which Christians live. Putting his faith into practice in France, he founded an organization called the Conference of Charity in 1833 to serve the needy around him. That organization is now called the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and serves the needy in 153 countries, with an estimated 800,000 members.

Blessed Frederic died in the year 1853, but his service lives on in those who follow his ideals. He is remembered by the Church on the date of his death, September 8.

Blessed Frederic, help me find a way to serve those how are poor around me.

A French Saint for Trauma Survivors

Saint Cloud meeting the hermit, Saint Severin
Polmars, French Wikipedia; Public domain; Wikimedia Commons

When Saint Cloud (sometimes called Clodoald) was born in the year 522 in France, he was the son of a prince. His father, Clodomir, was killed in battle when he was still young, so Cloud and his two brothers were raised by their doting and faithful grandmother, Saint Clotilda.

However, dysfunctional families are not a modern invention. Two of Cloud’s uncles recognized that the only thing standing between them and control of the entire country was a little thing called murder. The two men arranged a meeting with Clotilda and then brutally and personally killed two of their own nephews in front of her. Cloud somehow escaped and lived as a hermit. The evil uncles apparently considered him no longer a threat, perhaps because of Cloud’s decision to enter religious life or perhaps because he was only eight years old at the time. Either way, the two men continued to live and control the country as they pleased.

But Cloud is not acclaimed a saint because he narrowly escaped an undeserved death. He spent the rest of his life in solitude, having learned enough about “the ways of the world” to prefer a life focused on God and bringing the Gospel to others. According to tradition, Cloud became a hermit under the direction of Saint Severin, retired to a more remote location when Severin died, and then returned to Paris. He became a priest there, but then became a hermit again, dying he was only thirty-eight years old. The Church commemorates him on the date of his death, September 7, 560.

Saint Cloud, teach me about the peace of Christ.

A French Saint of the Prisons

Engraved image of 19th century hulk by Louis Le Breton
Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

During the French Revolution, some regions of France were safer for Catholic priests than others. Blessed Scipion Jerome Brigeat Lambert (1733-1794) had become a priest and vicar general for his diocese, but he fled to his hometown to escape the anti-Catholic violence that was sweeping the countryside. Unfortunately, officials from the Revolutionary government found him. When Father Scipion refused to take the oath of allegiance to the government, he was arrested and put in prison.

Fans of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s novel and a popular play and movie, will recognize the “hulks”, the unseaworthy ships that were docked in harbors and used as prisons in eighteenth century France. These wretched vessels were not only used to incarcerate those guilty of relatively trivial offenses, such as the fictional Jean Valjean, they were also used to incarcerate priests. The prison ships of Rochefort housed many Catholic clergy and laymen whose only crime was their faith. Scipion was one of them.

On September 4, 1794, Blessed Scipion died as a result of the mistreatment and starvation he endured during his imprisonment in the hulks. He was later acclaimed a saint by those who had lived with him and seen his faith, even in the terrible conditions of their imprisonment, proving that it’s possible to love God and neighbor even when imprisoned unjustly.

Blessed Scipion, help me to forgive those who mistreat me.

Saint of the Day

The Martyrs of September

Saint of the Day

On September 2, the Church commemorates the “Martyrs of September”. To better understand these martyrs, it helps to better understand the French Revolution.

Though the American Revolution (1775-1783) preceded the French Revolution (1789-1799) by only a few years and though the two events are popularly assumed to be similar in their goals, the reality is far different. While Americans rebelled against the British crown for its refusal to treat them fairly as citizens, among other things, the genesis of the French Revolution was rooted in anti-Catholicism. Leading up to the outbreak of the French Revolution, many French thinkers and leaders openly rejected and mocked Christian faith and stirred up resentment against the French king and his government. It is not surprising that angry mobs eventually followed their lead and violently took control of the government. It is also not inconsequential that the Revolutionary government went so far as to make radical changes to the French calendar; the clear goal was to eradicate any Christian aspects of French culture, even including any references to the year of the birth of our Savior.

The Revolutionary government created a new civil constitution, which included a demand that all Catholic clergy swear their allegiance to France first and foremost, not the Catholic Church. The Vatican, of course, objected to this oath, and faithful Catholic bishops and priests refused to take it, leading to many arrests.

On the afternoon of September 2, 1792, in Paris, a violent mob of several hundred people, led by Revolutionary leaders, attacked four carriages carrying some Catholic clergy who had refused the oath, killing the priests with swords. The Revolutionary leaders then led the way to a nearby Carmelite monastery which was being used as a prison for 191 other Catholic clergy and vowed religious. Two of the more notable prisoners were Blesseds Francis-Joseph de la Rochefoucauld and Peter-Louis de la Rochefoucauld; the two men were brothers and also bishops. The archbishop of Arles, Blessed John-Marie du Lau d’Alleman, was the ranking ecclesiastic incarcerated with them.

When the mob entered the Carmelite monastery, they were carrying swords, pikes, and pistols. When the abbot (now Blessed) Hebert saw the mob approaching, clearly bent on executing some or all of the clergy, he asked for a trial; he was shot. The archbishop of Arles, Blessed John-Marie, fell to his knees in prayer, then rose and echoed the famous words of our Lord (John 18:4), “I am the man you are looking for.”

Although the archbishop and some men were killed outright, a pretense of a trial was set up for most of the other prisoners. None of them would accept the oath of allegiance to the Revolutionary government, and all of them were brutally killed. The executions took all night, and it’s said that the blood from the violence literally filled the gutters outside the building.

Since all 191 of these Catholic clergy and religious died for refusing to join a schismatic church, they are remembered today as martyrs and are all acclaimed as blesseds.

Martyrs of September, show me how to respond to violence with peace.