CHEVALIER AND FAMILY
From Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur, September, 1874
For many years, souls devoted to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart have been asking earnestly the grace to give themselves to her service in a Congregation which would he her own.
This holy desire has just been accomplished.
The first religious of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart have inaugurated their newly-formed community at Issoudun, in the shadow of her Basilica, on the 30th August of this year.
They bear the title Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
The house occupied previously by the ladies of the Third Order of the Sacred Heart is now theirs. They will devote themselves to works of piety, education of girls, and will set aside a part of their building for ladies coming on pilgrimage and those who would wish to spend some days of retreat at the feet of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
The Archbishop of Bourges, in approving this foundation, very kindly blessed the first twenty religious and their religious habit.
We ask the fervent prayers of the Association for this important work.
May the Sacred Heart of Jesus bless this new family, lead it Himself in His own spirit, and make it ever more worthy of the beautiful title of Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.*
'Note: Those who wish for information concerning admission into the community of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, or concerning enrolment in the boarding school for girls soon to be opened, may apply directly to Mother Francoise Lefevre, Superior of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Place du Sacre-Coeur, 10. Issoudun.
2. THE CONGREGATION OF THE RELIGIOUS OF OUR LADY OF THE SACRED HEART, ISSOUDUN
Fr. Jouet, from Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur, October, 1874
Translation of article which appeared in the French Annals of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, October 1874. The issue for September, 1874, had already announced the foundation of the Congregation on August 30, 1874. The purpose of the following article was to give details of the new foundation. Though it bears the initials of Father Victor Jouet, M.S.C., official documentation exists (cf. The Designs of His Heart, p. 99) to prove that Father Chevalier acknowledged it as the expression of his thought.
I. ITS ORIGIN
The origin of the new Congregation goes back to the very beginning of the Association of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
From the very first time that Mary was given the name Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, it was impossible to forbid oneself the thought that the Queen of the Sacred Heart of Jesus would soon form for herself a court of honour which, in union with her and under her protection, would be consecrated entirely to the service of the Adorable Heart of Jesus. "After her shall virgins be led to the King." Ps. 44
How many there were who. right from that time expressed the des*irc for this foundation and envied the happiness of those who would he chosen by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart to he offered in the temple of the Heart of Jesus, 'Adducentur in laetitia et exultatione in templum regis.' Ps. 44
This happy presentiment has now been realised. During several years. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has herself been preparing the members of her new-family, and it was on August 31, feast of St. Rose of Lima, that she brought them together from different points around her attar. (Mistake in the date - perhaps a mis-print. See article in September Annals which gives August 30 as the correct date of the foundation). No feast could better have been associated with the birth of a Congregation. For is not St. Rose of Lima the model of a true Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart?
'Henceforth', said ihe Blessed Virgin lo Rose, 'you will be called daughter of
'Rose of my Heart,' had added the Divine Master, 'be my bride.' (Breviary).
These words seemed to echo in the Basilica when the new religious, clothed in the colours of the Virgin, received in her sanctuary, never to lay it aside again, the insignia of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart inscribed with the motto: MAY THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS BE EVERYWHERE LOVED!
II. ITS END
Hie end of the new institute is to devote itself to the Heart of Our Lord Jesus through Our Lady of the Sacred Heart for the sanctification of priests.
To devote itself to the Sacred Heart. That says everything. It signifies the perpetual worship of honour and reparation which the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart wish to give Him, and the measure of the love which they want to have for Him. The Heart of Jesus is to be their all, in everything, everywhere and always to an increasing degree. Such is the fundamental end in view of which their holy rules have been written.
To devote itself to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. This is the best means and one which the Sisters wish ceaselessly to use.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The Archbishop of Bourges, in the special address which he delivered to them on the day of the pilgrimage, said:
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart - see in her your Superior, your protector, your model. Look at her and reproduce her faithfully in your whole way of life. She is Virgin, she is Mother, she is Queen. Be virgins by your virtues, mothers by your works, queens by your prayer so efficacious with the Heart of Jesus. All in union with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart - without her nothing.
For the sanctification of priests: Our Lord one day asked Margaret Mary Alacoque, the apostle of His Divine Heart, to make Him an entire donation of all that she would do or suffer so that He might dispose of it in favour of those whom He willed. She generously consented, and her Divine Spouse several times showed her how He made use of her offering in favour of priests and religious in order to lead them to an exemplary and wholly angelic life.
Following her example, the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart will offer entirely to the Heart of Jesus, through the hands of Mary, their activity, prayer, penance and merits in order that priests who are the chosen instruments of God for the sanctification of His people may themselves be holy, reproducing in themselves all the virtues of this Divine Heart, and receiving from Him all the graces of which they have need.
III. ITS WORKS
1. Daily perpetual adoration of the Heart of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist
This will be their work of predilection. Ceaselessly, throughout the whole day, replacing one another, there will be one or more of them in adoration, in order to respond to the reproach which the Sacred Heart of Jesus one day made to Blessed Margaret Mary:
I have an ardent desire to be honoured by men in the Blessed Sacrament and I find almost no one who will make any effort to satisfy this desire." Always this adoration will be made in union with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart - the first and most perfect adorer of the Heart of Jesus.
2. The education of girls
Education is of the first importance in promoting the glory of the Sacred Heart since it holds the key to the social regeneration of the world. Thus the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, as so many other teaching Congregations, will interest themselves very particularly in the education of youth and will spare nothing in order to put their boarding schools on a par with the best educational establishments.* They will provide for the girls confided to their care a solid Christian education, developing their minds in all useful branches of knowledge and forming their hearts to a sense of duty and to the practice of virtue.
In celebrated centres of pilgrimage, e.g. that of our Lady of Montserrat in Spain, there is to be found beside the venerated sanctuary a religious house where children whom a Christian mother has consecrated to Mary and who have been the object of her special grace, are educated, All will be happy to see the boarding school of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart fill with privileged children who owe to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart their birth, a cure, or a particular grace, and who have been vowed to the colours of the Virgin.
3. Works of zeal and piety which Providence will present and which will be in keeping with their rule will also be undertaken by the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. In particular, a part of their house will be put at the disposition of women coming on pilgrimage, or who desire to spend a few days in retreat close to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
'Footnote: A circular letter has just been addressed to families in Issoudun anxious to confide their children to the Daughters of O.L.S.H. It announces the opening of the boarding school at Easter, This delay is necessary' in order to complete the material organization of the house. A detailed prospectus giving the programme of studies and the conditions for admission will be sent to anyone on application to Mother Francoise Lefevre, Superior of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 10 Place du Sacre-Coeur, Issoudun (Indre).
IV. ITS RESOURCES
Its resources are the concern of the maternal tenderness of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart who commenced this work and who will finish it. U is for this good Mother herself to inspire in pious souls the practical help which, by their prayers and their generosity, they can give to this young Congregation. Saint Teresa relates:
One day, a very well-endowed gentleman told me thai, if I wished to make a foundation (a convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel), he would gladly give me a house which he possessed and to which was attached a large vineyard and a fine garden ... 7 gratefully accepted. Not very long afterwards the young man died and the Divine Master said to me: "My daughter, the soul of this young man was in very great danger. However, in consideration of the service which he rendered to my Mother in donating this house for the establishment of a monastery of her order, I showed mercy to him. Nevertheless, he will not leave purgatory until the first Mass has been said in the new convent." With as little delay as possible, the first Mass was said. At the moment of Communion, this gentleman appeared to me, his face resplendent and radiant with joy. He thanked me for what I had done to deliver him from Purgatory and I saw him enter heaven.
What a great thing it is to render a service of no matter what kind to the Blessed Virgin. Who can express how pleasing it is to Our Lord. Such being the case, what special graces the Sacred Heart will bestow upon those persons who will help this foundation belonging to His Mother. And with what still greater graces will He not penetrate those who will give themselves entirely and forever to be Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart?
V.J. (Victor Jouet) Miss. du S.C. (Translated from the French Annals of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Issoudun, September. 1874.)
TO THE MEMORY OF FATHER CHEVALIER
Maire LOUISE HARTZER 1907
May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved for ever!
THUIN, October, 1907. My dear children.
The Heart of Jesus has just asked of us a sacrifice which, nevertheless, we have long foreseen and dreaded. On October 21st, He called to Himself our good and beloved Father Founder, and the next day a telegram announced to us the sad news.
For a long time his health had been causing us grave anxiety, and the sorrows he had latterly experienced, in particular his brutal expulsion from the old presbytery, caused him to break up completely. At eighty-three such shocks kill. Even had things been at their best, we realised that we must soon lose him. Everything indicated this to us. Even so, the blow has fallen heavily and has filled our hearts with the deepest grief. He was so good, so saintly, so paternal and so full of concern on our behalf, this venerated Father.
As for him, who has laboured so untiringly for the glory of the Heart of Jesus and of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, who has suffered so deeply and in so many ways, he has certainly merited an eternal recompense and. doubtless, "Jesus and Mary have already crowned their faithful servant, their indefatigable apostle. But as for ourselves, his children, we would have loved to keep him with us, to have had his life prolonged. However, the hour of separation had come.
Nevertheless, this parting will be only for a time. Soon, too. we will find ourselves in Heaven with this good Father and rejoice with him in his triumph. Whilst awaiting the dawn of this happy day, he will surely watch over us with the same solicitude as of old and we will have in him a powerful intercessor with Jesus and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Let us pray for him, as is our duty, but at the same time let us ask him to watch over our dear Congregation, to guard it, to sanctify it and to communicate to it his own spirit which is the spirit of the Heart of Jesus.
Our beloved Father has left us his counsels, his memory, his example. Let us use them all to our sanctification and so that one day in Heaven we may be his crown. As he was, let us be humble, very humble: like him. let us be good, affable towards everyone and all things to all. so as to win all to Jesus Christ. Let us be generous in sacrifice and unceasingly forgetful of self in favour of others. As our good Father, let us have a passion for the Heart of Jesus, a passion for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and a passion for souls, and thus, imitating his example, we shall reach our goal of eternal happiness.
In the next letter you will receive details of the obsequies of our venerated Father at which Mother Stanislaus and Mother Valeric assisted, since I could not make the trip at this season. The ceremonies were in every way worthy of him, and all Issoudun seemed impregnated with regret and respect. How well the Good Master disposes all things. Monsieur de Bonneval, to whom the Basilica now belongs, had a short time before obtained permission to transfer to the crypt the venerated remains of Rev. Father Vandel and likewise to prepare there a place for our good Father. And so he entered in triumph into his dear Basilica by the wide-open main doors. After lying for a day and a night in the chapel of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, he now rests in the crypt under that same chapel, the chapel of her whom he so much loved and to whom he brought such great glory. Before his death he knew that he would repose there and this gave him much happiness.
Never may any one of us forget all that our good and beloved Father has done for us, and with what tender solicitude he watched over our cradle. He it was who brought us forth to religious life; he it was who laboured and suffered for our growth and extension. Let us be everlastingly mindful of this and hand down his memory to those of our Sisters who will not have had the happiness of having seen and known him. Let us teach them to love and venerate him as we ourselves have done.
In return he will most certainly help us to advance in perfection and to become true children of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
In asking him to bless you one and all as he used to do of old. I ask you to recommend to him all my intentions. I embrace you very maternally,
(Signed) Sister Marie Louise.
May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved!
On the 15th March, the 100th birthday of our venerated Father Founder, we had a very intimate family feast. There, in the crypt of the Basilica around his tomb, his family were gathered together and if before us we had only his marble bust, we seemed to feel his soul hovering above our heads and his heart still beating in order to rekindle ours.
Without doubt, a more skilful hand than mine will give you a description of this feast and you will read it. Here I simply want to respond to your desire for some more intimate details about our Father Founder. You did not know him and you are eager to hear more about him in order to penetrate into his spirit and teachings. You are right. To call to mind his name is to relive a whole past of memories around the cradle of our Congregation which, under the inspiration from on High, he formed to be the living crown of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart . . . How beautiful he wanted this crown to be for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart! . . . He seized every opportunity to instruct the first Sisters who, being the foundation stones, needed to be specially solid to support the whole edifice.
We can still see him with his kind smile, arriving among his children and explaining to them the Constitutions of their new-born Society. No one could reproduce his paternal accent when he said: "Do you know what the distinctive stamp of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is? It is humility, simplicity, interior spirit, charity . . .'" These accents were so penetrating that we were impregnated with them. His favourite motto was often on his lips and he strongly recommended us to say it each time that we met one another. If the feast of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart or St. Joseph was near, his heart could not allow such an opportunity to pass without reviving our fervour...
But it was especially at our ceremonies of Clothing and Profession that it was lovely to see him, and more so during the last years of his life. His stature and his fine face, encircled by his head of white hair, gave him a patriarchal look which, at the same time, attracted and was impressive. He was happy to see a new group placing themselves under the protection of Our Lady and his soul was filled with gratitude.
His apostolic spirit set us on fire for the far-away missions; but he always had as well some encouraging words for the Sisters who could not yet set out for Oceania. I seem to hear him saying, with his knowing, mischievous smile, to one or other whose heart was full at the thought that she was not chosen for the next departure: "Do not be distressed; your turn will come; I will take you to New Guinea." He was always all things to all and gained all hearts to lift them gently to the Heart of Jesus.
If he was lavish with his counsels to the Sisters, you can guess that he was not less so to the one who was working with him at our religious formation. With his penetration of spirit, his sure judgment, his spirit of faith, he gave to our venerated Mother Marie Louise clear and practical directions.
The future of our Congregation preoccupied him greatly, especially when the winds of persecution forced us to seek a refuge in another country. It was a slow agony for him to see his Daughters, in small groups, go far away from Issoudun. This suffering was more cruel for him that the physical sufferings he had to support for some years.
Obliged to cede to the violence of the turmoil, he had to consent to the departure of the Novitiate and the Generalate. This cut him to the heart and this sad trial, added to so many others, overtaking him at the age of 82, dealt him his death blow. However, right to the end, he had the consolation of being cared for by one or other of us, guardians of the cradle in spite of the storm. In these last months of his life, so filled with sorrows, a ray of joy lit up his face, saddened by so many sufferings, when on Sundays, the little group of Sisters who remained at Issoudun came to visit and gather round him like a well-loved father whose time is limited. Then we spoke of those exiled, of the beautiful days of the past, of the tempest let loose, and in spite of all, of the hope of the future.
Two of his Daughters were with him during his last moments. Feeling himself going, he made a sign to them to come closer, and always good, forgetful of self, he said to them: "Dear children, I am going to leave you soon; tell your Mother and Sisters who are in exile that I will not forget them when I am close to the good God. I bless you and also the whole Congregation."
Some minutes later, he was united for ever with the Heart of Jesus who had been the passion of his whole life. What a welcome he must have received from this divine Heart and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart whose tireless apostle he had been.
Sr. Marie X., F.D.N.S.C., One of the elderly Sisters of the family.
Study of His Life and Works (1824 - 1869)
REV. FATHER VERMIN, M.S.C.
Translated by REV. FATHER J. TIERNEY, M.S.C,
General house Via Asmara 11 1957
This study of the life and works of Father Jules Chevalier ends at 1869. Father Vermin died in 1965 without having been able to
LETTER OF VERY REV. FATHER CHEVALIER TO HIS EMINENCE CARDINAL DOM. FERRATA (CARDINAL PROTECTOR)
Issoudun, 21st June, 1905
"...Since I founded our small Congregation 50 years ago, with the help and inspiration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the spirit of the approved Constitutions, the Society has grown and progressed, forming a large number of model Religious, Apostles who are spending themselves, and giving even their life-blood for the countries which they are evangelising."
J. Chevalier, M.S.C.
LETTER OF VERY REV. FATHER PATRICK McCABE, M.S.C. SUPERIOR GENERAL
The publication of this work had been intended for 1954, the Centenary of the Foundation of the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, but owing to unforeseen circumstances this was not possible. This year, however, 1957, affords us an opportune and appropriate occasion to present the facts which the book recalls, for it is the 50th anniversary of the death of Father Chevalier - 21st October, 1907. Moreover, it is the 100th anniversary of the publication of the title; "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart" and the origin of that devotion. It is also the 75th anniversary of the foundation by Father Chevalier of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
In appointing Rev. Father Vermin to write the life of our Venerated Father Founder, our foremost intention was to entrust him with the fundamental task of reassembling and collating the documents, and then of presenting us with an authentic, historical study of our Founder's life.
When this preliminary and basic work would be completed, and all the facts clearly established, then other biographies could be written in the various languages.
Father Vermin has applied himself to the work with great zeal, and has done it very well. As a result, the true picture and personality of our Founder will appear more vividly, and we will all be able to appreciate his greatness the better.
I say "his greatness" - for I wonder if the greatness - the grandeur - of our Father Founder has been appreciated as it ought, and that even by us, his children. Truly a man of God, animated by an intense love of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, he founded two religious Congregations: the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, and the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. During the early days of the history of the Society he was responsible for the building of the Basilica and Monastery at Issoudun, lasting monuments to his memory. At the invitation of the Holy Sec, with his Order hardly yet established, he sent his missionaries out to Oceania to found there the now flourishing missions of Papua and New Britain.
While these great works were being achieved he governed his Congregation wisely, guiding it through the dark years of persecution and expulsion; he wrote his monumental works on the Sacred Heart, and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart; he devoted himself, and with notable success, to having the world consecrated to the Sacred Heart; and, above all, he lived always a truly religious and sacerdotal life, which remains for each one of us a model and an inspiration. Surely these are the marks of true greatness.
Father Vermin has succeeded in giving us a true portrait of our Father Founder. We are all grateful to him, and may each of us profit from it.
Patrick McCabe, M.S.C. Superior General.
(ii) THE CHEVALIER FAMILY
(iii) THE FIRST SIXTEEN YEARS.
PART II CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE JESUITS
PART II The Assembly in Paris
PART III The Assembly at Issoudun
PART II L'Abbe de Champgrand Visits Issoudun.
PART VI Extensions to the Monastery
Part VIII Opposition from Marseilles and Orleans
PART III Difficulties with Father Ramiere
PART II Father Chevalier is summoned to Rome.
Part III The Novitiate
Part I: The Object of the Devotion
Part III: The Theory and the Practice of the Devotion.
To date there exists only one written work on the life of the Venerated Father Jules Chevalier, Founder of the Congregation of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart - that composed by one of his first companions, Father Charles Piperon. In the letter of approbation dated 12th April, 1912 this work is called "a short, pious and interesting memoir", and the letter expresses the hope that "the complete and detailed life will soon appear." Father Piperon himself gave his book the title of "a simple biographical memoir" - "Notice biographique".
It is understandable then that the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at their General Chapter in 1947 should express the desire that a more complete and studied biography be published. With this in view Very Rev. Dr. Patrick McCabe, the Superior General, entrusted the author of this book with the task of writing a strictly historical biography of our Venerated Founder. This necessarily required an account of the origin and early stages of the Congregation, since the life of Father Chevalier is naturally inseparable from the history of the first fifty years of the Society he founded.
In order to acquaint himself with the material for this double task, the author undertook the preliminary research-work. It was necessary to collate all the available documents, and by closely examining and studying them to arrive at definite conclusions. These investigations led little by little to the discovery of documents from which emerged new facts and conclusions. The result of these studies has been presented in more or less logical order, in different chapters, some dealing with the subsequent discoveries, some in the nature of summaries of the data; others in the form of notes, which are important. Certain points abound in detail, and perhaps may seem superfluous, while others lack sufficient documentation, and have to be treated with greater precision.
If, in spite of these difficulties, the author has consented to the publishing of this book, it is in response to the often-expressed desire of his confreres that he do so and it is to them that he would now like respectfully to dedicate this first volume of the work. It is also with the intention of rendering service to so many dear friends who wish to know more fully "the marvelous history" of the Congregation and its Venerated Founder.
These first studies deal with the Life and Works of Very Rev. Father Chevalier until 1869. They were without doubt the most important years, even if the most difficult.
The central figure, of course is the Founder. Father Piperon, whom we shall quote frequently in the book, wrote in the Issoudun Annales (1897 - p.34-7) "All the thoughts of the Rev. Father, all his activities had as their end the foundation of the Society. His Congregation, yet so small and weak, occupied the first place in his affections. He was ceaselessly studying the means of strengthening and developing it. Father Chevalier lived, and wished to live only for his Congregation; he worked solely for it. Sure proof this that the Voice heard in his innermost heart was the Voice of Jesus. He awaited with unwavering confidence the realisation of his hope."
At the beginning of this work the author would like to thank all those who helped him in his effort. He is not able to mention them all, but would like to thank especially Rev. Father Jos China and Rev. Father Jos Dontenwill for their unsparing devotion in translating the Dutch text into French.
Henri Vermin, M.S.C.
"What a delightful place this Richelieu is!" So wrote the poet La Fontaine to his wife. Having seen the Loire district he enthused about its beauty and charm, but he added; "I had only one fault to find with it, and that was that having seen it, I imagined there was nothing more of interest and curiosity to see. Richelieu has certainly made me change that idea."(1)
Without sharing the admiration of the poet, we must admit that Richelieu is a remarkable little town from more than one point of view. There is something abnormal in its very location and set-up. One wonders why people ever decided to build a town in such a place, away from any main highway or navigable stream, on a very inhospitable tract of land. Artificiality seems to be its keynote. Its history, its civic life, its traditions would seem to provide a link between La Touraine where it is situated, and the neighbouring countryside, the ancient French provinces of Anjou and Poitou. Both districts have the same climate, the same features, the same type of soil.
This Central Plain of France abounds in picturesque sites and historic mansions. In spite of the different types of architecture, of location, of style, there is a similarity of character throughout the countryside depicting its historical and romantic past. However, Richelieu itself retains its own individuality and distinctiveness, and it is precisely the interesting history of the place which explains this.
At the time when Cardinal Richelieu became Prime Minister, the estate, which has borne his name through the years, was a simple freehold. When in 1631 the domain was raised to the rank of a Duchy, the new Duke, the Cardinal Minister of the King, decided to mark the honour by erecting a monument worthy of the occasion. He would build a "grand chateau" and a town, which would make the efforts of past generations pale into insignificance. In order to efface the memory of a time when his plans of future greatness were no more than dreams, he demolished his old ancestral mansion and the farms surrounding it, dismantled the neighbouring villages to destroy their importance, and then here on this historic plain, where, we might say, the past history of France converges, he built a palace and a town, which were to be the expression of his own personal genius, and a symbol of the new era which his elevation inaugurated.(3)
The result was a building of pre-Baroque style, of enormous dimensions, and "of a magnificence and grandeur worthy of the man who built it".(4) On three sides of the palace there were vast gardens, and to the left the town which was to house the courtiers and servants of the palace. The names of those who lived there are inscribed in the "Design of Richelieu's Town" preserved in the National Library.(5)
(Notes Jacques Lemercier, famous as the architect of the Chapel of the Sorbonne in Paris drew up the plans for the building, and his brother Pierre carried out the work.)
The town itself formed a rectangle - approximately half a mile long by a quarter of a mile wide. Four parallel streets ran along its length, the principal of which was La Grande Rue. This opened up at both ends near the gates of the town to form Community Centres. Precisely in the middle - for in Richelieu everything was drawn up in straight lines and squares - this street was intersected by another called La Rue Transversale. The rectangle was then divided into four blocks of equal dimensions, along whose streets stood the rigid little tenements, each joined to the other in perfect alignment, giving the impression that the blocks were just the one big building.
Nothing distinguished one house from another. If you saw one, you saw the lot. Each consisted of one storey, built over a cellar; each had its gabled roof with three little garret windows; all were built on the same level, to the same height and width; each made from the same number of stones and bricks; each boasting the same number of windows. Since they were all joined together they presented but the one facade, and even the guttering was as long as the street itself.
As the poet expressed it:
"On a fait tous les logis
D'une pareille symetrie."(6)
The best way of finding one's way home was to count the doors, especially at night. It must have been a town which lent itself to some amusing episodes, especially after a banquet at the palace or a night at the hostelry.
Over the years this rigid uniformity has changed somewhat owing to the mood of the times and the necessities of commercial life, but it has not made the place look any more picturesque or attractive. One gets the impression that an attempt has been made to brighten up an old monument by a few modern touches.
All around the town there is the drab spectacle of sameness and monotony. If you look out any door you get the same view as you would by looking out the door opposite. If you look down the street your view is invariably blocked by the walls which surround the town. Restricted to this little world, Richelieu is still stamped by the seal imprinted on it by the Cardinal, its Founder. Even the few buildings which have later been built around the original setting - built for the most part by stones from the palace have followed along the lines of the first plan.
It is true then to say that Richelieu is indeed a remarkable little town, remarkable for its originality and abnormal character in a region where history has expressed itself in such a spiritual and lively manner. One would have thought that it would have captured a little of the vibrant spirit of the bigger neighbouring towns, but there in the midst of progress Richelieu, so depressing in its geometrical framework, has remained like an inanimate statue, a picture without charm or poetry.
The grand dream of the Cardinal vanished with himself. After his death the courtiers sold their houses, some of which had never been quite completed, and made off to seek their livelihood in other places. The heir of the Cardinal, his grand-nephew, went off to Paris and took with him all the works of art that had adorned the palace. From then on the empty chateau lost all its interest, became as a body without a soul, and the ravages of time did the rest, assisted by the neighbours, who helped themselves to its stones.
Today nothing remains of the once beautiful palace. After the Cardinal's death most of the people whose only livelihood was in the employ of the chateau, went in search of a new life elsewhere. In 1663 we once again find La Fontaine visiting the place, but this time he is not so enthusiastic. Seeing the nature of the ghost-town with its lack of activity and its empty houses, he wrote:
"La plupart sont inhabitee,
Je ne vis personne en la rue;
Il men deplut; j'aime aux cites
Un peu de bruit et de cohue."(7)
(Most (houses) are uninhabited
I saw no one in the streets.
It made me sad. In the streets of towns
I like a little noise and rush of crowds.)
Now an entire village was for sale. One by one the local families departed, but gradually other people from the various regions of France and even from foreign countries arrived to take their place. With them they brought new ideas and customs. Several merchants opened shops in the old patrician homes.
In 1830 the town had again a population of about 2,500. It had become the main town of the regional canton and mainly a market place for fruit, wine and farming products. It had its own refineries and distilleries. With the progress of time it could boast of a railway station, several tileries and brick-kilns, a preserving plant whose high chimney only accentuated the old fashioned nature of the town and countryside.
According to a tradition, Louis XIV knighted a soldier who was conspicuous for his courage. This man is known to us only by his name of "Chevalier" i.e. a knight, who distinguished himself amongst his comrades. This military title became the family name and was handed down to his descendants. We find this family in the town of Richelieu, where one, John Charles, had come to establish himself. He was the eldest of four children, and his family origin and background destined him to take up an academic career. However, when his mother died the family circumstances forced him to seek work as a tradesman to gain a living, and he became a baker.
At the age of 28 he married, on the 22nd January, 1811, in the parochial church of Notre Dame, Louise Orly, a dressmaker, who was 10 years younger than himself.(8) Their home stood on the corner of Loudun Road and Cygne Street, a small cross street which ran from the church to the walls opposite the granary. In 1904 this house was still in its primitive state, but has since been entirely renovated.(9)
The early days of married life were very happy. There was great joy at the birth of the first child, Charles and then came a baby daughter, Louise to bring them further happiness. Business was flourishing and continued so for several years. After a time, however, unforeseen difficulties, weariness and sickness threatened to disturb the peace of the home. On the 15th March 1824 a third child was born. He was baptised the next day by the Parish Priest, Father M. J. Picard, and was given the name of Jules Jean. A cousin, Pierre Hilaire Orly was God-father, and his aunt, Adelaide Baudrin, wife of the merchant, Onesimo Chevalier, was God-mother.
When Father Chevalier became a person of note certain interested people made much of the unhappy circumstances of the family during his infancy to spread a pious story that all his later work was attributable to Our Lady of Richelieu, whose miraculous statue is honoured in the local church.(10) The story, written under the title of "Our Lady of the Rosary of Richelieu" by an anonymous writer, paints a rather black picture of the parents and the family background, and would have us believe that Jules even from his earliest days was taken under a special celestial protection by Our Lady of Richelieu.
Father Piperon inserted this story in his manuscript of 1899, but in his Notice Biographique of 1912, he greatly modified the judgment that had been passed on Father Chevalier's mother, stating that the evidence he had received in the meantime was not in accord with the original impression. This Notice Biographique, supplemented by studies we have consulted allows us to give the following reliable picture of the Chevalier-Orly family.
The father, Jean-Charles Chevalier, had been forced, rather against his wishes, to go to work at a trade he did not like, to tide him over a difficult period. Brought up in a rather easy-going milieu, he was not really adapted to the world of commerce, and had no love for his work as a baker.
However, all went well during the early years. After the birth of the children, Charles and Louise, the father reasoned that having sacrificed his own personal ambitions of independence, he should also give up the hope he had cherished of assuring his children a better future. Then came difficult times when many reverses and disappointments made him lose heart. He argued that he had always been an honest man, and now his sense of justice was outraged. He felt the spirit of revolt stirring in his soul. Brought up in the troubled days of the aftermath of the Revolution, he had not the necessary background to seek help and consolation from his religion. Adversity discouraged him, and naturally his wife and children were the first to suffer.
In these unhappy conditions the birth of Jules after 13 years of married life did not exactly enchant him. The shattered hopes, the miserable state of his household, his own hasty temperament may serve to explain the "scene of the market place", which has received a deal of prominence in the story of Jules' early life.
One day, so the story goes, peeved at the fact that his wife was late in returning to prepare the evening meal he left the house and, finding her in the market place, publicly abused her even making threats as to what he would do with the child, Jules. Almost out of her mind with worry she carried the baby to the church, and placed him before the statue of Our Blessed Lady, asking Her to take care of him, for it seemed impossible to do so at home. From that moment Our Lady is supposed to have taken him into her special care. Even if one gives credence to this story, "the scene" loses much of its dramatic effect when we consider the circumstances. After all, it was the climax of a domestic upset, the result of a sudden burst of anger rather than the expression of husband and wife's usual relationship.
Charles Chevalier was not a brutal man by nature. We have plenty of evidence to show that he was not. For instance, when he applied to Monsieur Juste for the position of caretaker to the Vatan Woodlands, his fellow-citizens gave him very good references, stating that he was honest and trust-worthy. The Benedictine Sisters, who owned the Woodlands, received such favourable recommendations that they did not hesitate to take him into their service. When he was leaving the district, the Municipality of Richelieu assured him of a good position should he return.
There has been a tendency to emphasise his lack of religion. He did not receive a strict religious training during his youth, and as a consequence his Christian life was not all it might have been. He was one of those - and there are plenty about today - of whom we could say: "He is a good Catholic, but not practical". We have the testimony of Father Chevalier himself that it was a great consolation to him to see his father receive the last Sacraments when he died at the age of 65 years.(12) We must remember there is a big difference between being a careless Catholic and being an anti-clerical, or, as the saying goes, "a hater of priests."
The relationship between the Chevalier family and the clergy was quite normal and good both at Richelieu and Vatan. We also know that the father did not oppose the vocation of his son and that he allowed him to become an altar boy and a member of the pious Sodalities. When young Jules spoke of the sermons and the ceremonies of the Church he raised no objection, and he always interested himself in his religious and secular education. When he joined the service of Monsieur Juste the agreement which he signed contained the clause that he would not stand in the way of his son entering the seminary. All this is proof of the fact that he was a man certainly not hostile to religion.
As regards the mother - she appears in an entirely different light. Louise Orly, born in 1793, was the youngest of a family of thirteen children, eleven brothers and one sister, who was 20 years older than herself. Louise was brought up by a maternal aunt, Agnes Taffoneau. For supernatural motives this aunt did not marry. She interested herself mainly in charitable works, which made her a suspect to the agents of the Revolution. She was brought before the Tribunal, but was released, and retired to her property called "La Belle Cave", about an hour's journey from Richelieu. She often sheltered people, particularly nobles and priests, who were being hunted by the Revolutionaries. For this she used the near-by caves, where the Catholics often came secretly to assist at Mass.
While living with her aunt, little Louise received a very good grounding in her religion, but owing to the distance from the school, her education was mostly neglected, and it always remained at an elementary stage. It is true that during the unsettled period of French history many people did not even learn to read or write.(13)
In his "Notice Biographique" Father Piperon writes: "After her marriage Louise Orly was known and esteemed by the people of Richelieu, who praised her for her courage, her "savoir-faire" and her good temper. Referring to the incident of the market place and the church, he remarks: "As regards the scene it was no more than an impulsive act, a sudden burst of irritation. As a matter of fact, having soon calmed down and ashamed of this act of despair, she returned straight away to the church"..(14) We permit ourselves to think that the whole incident has been made too much of.
As regards his actual consecration to Our Blessed Lady Father Chevalier himself writes; A short time after my baptism, my mother carried me to the church and consecrated me to the Most Holy Virgin and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Often in her old age she would recall this touching scene which she with heart and imagination used to describe to me in almost poetic language."
These lines of Father Chevalier clearly show us that this Consecration had a special significance, and involuntarily we think of the scene of the market plane. It is difficult to believe, as some would have us do, that this was an abandonment of the child. That would hardly inspire the words "touching and "poetry", and it would be no reason "to recall it often with heart and imagination".
In his poems "Songs to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" we again find Father Chevalier using the expressions sweet memory" and "touching scene" when recalling his early Consecration to the Sacred Heart and Our Blessed Lady:
(translation in prose) :
Heart of Jesus, I was still very young;
When my feeble voice learnt to call Your Name.
Hardly had my reason dawned,
When I knew how to bless and love You.
In these first raptures my good and tender mother
Would say to me; My child may the Heart of Jesus
Be always your support, your treasure and your light
If you wish to take your place amongst the elect."
Then often she would love to take me to the temple
Before Thy wonderful and ravishing image;
"Join your hands, my child, pray, adore and contemplate.
It is the Heart of thy God. Do you see how beautiful He is?"
Then see on this side; behold the Virgin Mary!
Oh, how sweet the memory! From your first breath
I have ever placed you under her blessed protection
Praying her to open to you the Heart of her Son."
In recalling this touching scene I feel
My heart moved with joy and happiness.
For then I discover there in a joyful way
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
It was in this setting then - in the ordinary milieu of social and family life that Jules Chevalier spent the first sixteen years of his life. From the outset he was no different from any other baby. He liked being made a fuss of; he knew how to play up; he knew how to scream just for the sake of it; he loved to get his little hands on anything within reach. When his mother took him to church he readily seized the adorned statue of Our Lady. When the prayers were too long for his liking, or when the statue was out of reach, he knew how to express his displeasure in no uncertain terms. In other eventualities, and for reasons which would baffle a specialist, his tears and crying would often exasperate his parents already weary with cares of their own.
When his mother went out to sell some bread or goods to get a little money for the household, she would carry him with her in a basket. She would deposit him at the corner of La Grande Rue and the Market Square under the statue of Our Lady, who even today affords Her protection to the passers-by. She usually took him with her wherever she went, and this gave her the opportunity of getting to know his young character well and of correcting when necessary, his little whims and fancies.
And so, like Benjamin, he was his mother's favourite. She discovered in him all kinds of qualities - "qualities which I didn't know I had", he once remarked, but she did not spoil him. He tells the story himself of an incident which happened when he was about four or five years old: He had gone with his mother to the markets, and while she was busy doing some shopping, the attention of the small Jules was attracted by some nice-looking apples on a stall. The temptation of Eve in Paradise. While the two women were busy with their bartering, he quickly slipped one of the apples into his pocket. On returning home things went wrong. He had just taken a quick, sly bite of the apple, when his mother caught him in the act. She made him disgorge the mouthful of the object of his larceny, but that was not sufficient. She led the culprit, whimpering and sobbing, along the street back to the fruiterer, made her apologies, asked pardon and then handed back the apple - 'bite out' and all -. The punishment was effective, and, as the priest later avowed: "The lesson was never forgotten".(15)
This wise and sensible mother could not understand parents who would give in to every whim and fancy of their children and thought them intelligent when they tried to be funny. She attached great importance to the early training of the children. Not content with fostering their piety and virtue from their earliest age, she was firm and relentless in correcting their faults, their disobedience, their greed, their untruths. In spite of their excuses and tears, if they deserved punishment they received it.
It is not surprising that Jules more than once came up against this repressive justice of his mother, "My nature was lively and bubbling over", he said himself, "my character ardent and impetuous". In that he resembled his father. But from his mother he inherited the traits of courage, energy and tenacity in the time of trial, proof of which he gave on many occasions later on in life. He resembled her also in another way. His mother had a keen sense of humour, and was quick to see the ridiculous or comic side of a situation, to appreciate a good joke or a 'bon-mot'. Jules was certainly like her in this respect and he retained his sense of humour to his old age. He used to amuse himself now and then by composing, under an assumed name, some harmless epigrams on his fellow-priests, and his eyes would sparkle if he had the occasion to crack a joke or tease a friend.
As a young boy Jules, with his alert spirit, took a keen interest in the ceremonies of the church, and he reenacted at home what he saw and heard there. His mother, a pious woman herself, encouraged this taste in him for holy things. When the Lazarist Fathers had come at the invitation of the Cardinal, to look after the parish, they introduced the custom of evening prayers in common in the church, and practically every evening Mdme. Chevalier took Jules along with her. He often spoke of these visits to the church: "If ever I became restless or distracted in the middle of the religious exercises one stern look or gesture sufficed to bring me to my senses."
At the age of six Jules went to the school, situated at the other end of the town. Each morning he made off with his books and note-paper in a little basket, and his neatly-wrapped lunch. He did not return home till the evening. This greater freedom gave him more scope to exercise his natural tendency for fun and pranks and was an outlet for his boyish energy. Opportunities were certainly not lacking. During the first few months he managed to get tangled up under a moving vehicle and had the horse not got the excellent idea of pulling up short, there would have been no occasion to go ahead with this story. One winter's day he went skating on the frozen waters of the little stream that flows just outside the walls of the town. The ice was too thin, and he plunged headlong into the cold bath. Luckily he was able to drag himself through the broken ice to the bank. To make matters worse, when he returned home, finding that his parents had gone out, he decided to dry his wet boots by throwing them in the fire-place amongst the warm ashes. At this inopportune juncture his parents happened to return, and he received a good whipping, "which", he said, "I remembered for a long time." The severe attack of pleurisy which he suffered in his ninth year was mainly caused as he tells us himself, by not looking after his health, "by imprudence and carelessness".(19)
Anyone acquainted with Richelieu knows that it takes a deal of initiative and skill to find ways and means of getting up to mischief or playing pranks. From a child's point of view, it would seem that the Cardinal must have had this in mind when he approved the plans for its lay-out. Nothing could happen which would escape the vigilant eyes of the city-fathers, the teachers, or the parents. How were the young folk, with their dreams of romance and adventure, to find a suitable playground in a place like this? Richelieu with its stolid old rectangles, with never a portico or a colonnade, without any interesting by-ways, lanes, or adventuresome twisting roads offered little scope for their youthful energy and imagination. Woe to him who would take the risk of ringing a door-bell or would throw stones at the neighbours. Or if one preferred less war-like games, such as "Hide and Seek" there was little opportunity for an escape or a hide-out.
The two town squares were more promising, but even there prospects were not always the brightest. In the Place des Religieuses one had to cope with the dignified scrutiny of monks, nuns and students, and in the Market Square, there were too many people about. The buildings there - really fine specimens of 17th century carpentry - with their massive beams, pillars and niches, offered a ready-made stage for any youthful drama, but the merchants were not over-keen on mixing business with pleasure, particularly since they suspected that the boys might have hands which were too enterprising. The presence of the Watchman, and the all-seeing eyes of the four Evangelists looking down on them from the near-by church had a dampening effect on their youthful activities. In these restricted limits young Jules pranks did not usually go beyond strolling among the shoppers and giving a playful tug to a goose or duck tucked under the arm of a proud owner, and then making himself scarce amidst the protecting clamour of the birds and the irate victim.
One incident of those early days he used often to recall in later days. Many of the basements in Richelieu were used as workshops especially by the weavers. The fan-lights were on street-level, and several had greased paper as a substitute for glass-panes. During working hours they were usually left open, and became tempting targets for a gentle kick from the school-boys returning from school - which naturally the weavers did not greatly appreciate. One disgruntled old fellow who was known to have a nasty temper became the object of special attention from Jules and his class-mates. He used to hurl abuse at them in his deep husky voice, threatening all kinds of dire punishments if he caught them. One afternoon he was waiting for them, and, as they drew near, he bounded out, heavy cudgel in hand, and chased them down the street. He frightened the life out of them, and later on, in a council of war, they decided to avenge their hurt pride by playing a trick on him. From some hollow reeds they made what was known as a "canne piphonere", a kind of long syringe, which they filled with some ox-blood from one of the gutters coming from the abattoirs. Then at twilight they made their way to the house of their victim who was working behind the closed paper-fanlight by the light of an oil lamp. Very quietly they pierced a small hole in the greased paper and pushed the end of the syringe through. As one of the villains in the piece fired his pop-gun, Jules squirted the blood over the poor fellow, who jumped to his feet in a panic. As he saw the blood dripping from his face he naturally thought someone had shot and wounded him. He began to scream for help, and his wife and the neighbours came running in. After a minute search for any wound, they realised a practical joke had been played on him and began to laugh. He naturally did not quite share their amusement. Whether or not Father Chevalier in later life regretted this youthful exploit, he still thought it humorous enough to write up as a comic-sketch for a concert in the Apostolic School under the title of "The Crime of St.-Ouen-les-Chevres". He called 'the hero Claude, - the name of his first curate.(21)
The best playground was just outside the walls, only a few minutes from Jules' home. This offered more chances for childish adventure as it did not conform to the rigid design of the town itself but had grown up around the little stream Amable. Those who could not find accommodation in the village had built homes from stones from the Chateau, out here, where they had filled in the little inlets of the river, allowing just the main water-way to flow through. Besides, the gardens there were a welcome change from the prosaic rigidity of the town.
The dismantlement of the Chateau was one of the big events of Jules' time in Richelieu. During the Revolution it had been declared National Property, and administrators had come to sell up all they could. The townspeople adorned their back yards and houses with its spoils, for instance, the working-man in the Grande Rue who proudly displayed four marble busts in front of his house. Other works of art had a more ignoble fate. The heads of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu himself were used as counterweights on the weigh-bridge till the time they were rescued and given more worthy haven. Louis' head was eventually donated to the Western Museum at Poitiers, and that of the Cardinal was offered to Pope Gregory XVI in 1840. To this day the market place glories in the gift of Joseph Boutron, the gentleman who eventually bought the ruins of the Chateau. This was a marble statue of the river-god Fleuve, holding an urn in his hand. Young Jules would probably have been more interested in the little cock-robin, Fontaine, which was part of the statuary.
Jules would surely have known this Monsieur Joseph Boutron. In 1807, this Parisian had bought what remained of the Chateau for 153,700 francs, and decided to capitalise on it by selling the stones. He entrusted the stone yard to his niece, Mme. Jeanne Chapuis, a sharp and relentless old business woman, who immediately put up the price of everything. To help amateurs in their choice of buying, she displayed the goods in the fields round about, statues, busts, marble slabs, rubble, beams, joists, each tabbed with its weight and price, until she had even the foundations up for sale. A visitor to the place in 1843, Bosseboeuf, wrote of the old lady; "Fleet of foot and watchful of eye - she is like an insect feeding off an old corpse. She would sell you a paving stone at two francs a yard and a piece of rock at four sous a foot. She boasted that her prices were the best around the country."(22) By the time Jules was to leave Richelieu in 1843 practically nothing remained of the once glorious old Chateau, and today on the historic sight there are but the open fields and a few rose gardens. However, the memory of those happy boy-hood days, when he spent many an hour with his friends playing around the dying mansion, remained fresh in his mind to his last days.
During this period of his life, in spite of all the boyish pranks and harmless mischievousness, there was already evidence of the deep spiritual nature of his character. One of his companions who knew him well in those days later referred to him as a deeply interior boy, noted for his piety and modesty. It would seem that Our Lady already had this future priest and champion of Her Blessed Name under her special protection. He was often seen in the church visiting the Blessed Sacrament, and kneeling before the statue of Our Lady, his young heart and mind centred on the Object of his ardent love - the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The following story, simple and perhaps unimportant in itself, would indicate that even at an early age Jules was a serious-minded boy, particularly with matters concerning his religion. We cannot vouch for the authenticity of the incident, but it was narrated to Rev. Fr. Bertin in 1904 by a Religious Sister of the Order of St. Vincent, a contemporary of Jules, and independently confirmed by an old lady in a conversation with Rev. Father Rigault. Father Piperon saw fit to mention it on Father Rigaults testimony in "Notre Dame du Rosaire"(23). However, Octavie Poirier, a trustworthy witness, and daughter of another contemporary of Jules, makes no mention of it in the memoirs she gathered herself from the old-timers around Richelieu, and Father Heriault, close friend and confidant of Father Founder during the last thirty-two years of his life does not record it.
The story goes that during the days when the family was feeling the dire effects of poverty and hardship there was often very little food in the home. Even on Sundays the main meal would consist of potatoes and beans. Meat was seldom seen on the table, and on the rare occasions when the parents could obtain some, or a kind neighbour gave them some, the mother would not hesitate to use it, even on a Friday. This was in no disregard for the law of abstinence, as the mother was a good Catholic, and probably had permission from the Parish Priest at any rate. However, young Jules, then no more than six years of age, was not so sure of the theological propriety of this. Although his school was not conducted by Religious, the lay teachers there were anxious to give the children a good Christian education, and so he had already heard of the Law of Abstinence on Fridays. On this particular day - a Friday - there happened to be a small piece of pork in the home - and little else. The poor mother wondering what to give the child for his school-lunch, cut up a few pork sandwiches. When Jules protested, his mother explained that there was nothing else to give him. He said nothing, but at an opportune moment, while his mother's back was turned, he quietly slid the pork from the bread back into the frying-pan. His mother had noticed the performance, but pretended she had not seen it. As he triumphantly made off to school she remarked to her next door neighbour; "See my little scamp. He will surely be Pope some day.
When at the age of nine he suffered a serious attack of pleurisy, we have another proof of his sincerity. Thinking he was in danger of death, he asked his parents to send for a priest, which they immediately did. With the profound conviction that he was nothing else than a wretched sinner, a sentiment which characterised his later spiritual life, he feared for his salvation. He wrote years later in reference to this sickness: "If God had seen fit to take me with all my faults which I could have avoided, I fear now for my salvation."(24) His parents, particularly his mother, did their best to tide him over these difficult years of his boyhood. His mother consecrated him to the Sacred Heart and to Our Blessed Lady, taught him to pray with attention, curbed any wayward tendencies he showed and fostered in him the spirit of devotion and piety. "My character," he wrote, "was ardent and impetuous, and exposed me to great dangers." She paid particular attention to the type of companions with whom he associated and guarded him from any loose talk or suspect stories by prudently giving a turn to the conversation.
According to the custom of those times he did not make his first Holy Communion till he was comparatively old, on Trinity Sunday, 29th Mary, 1936. Usually reserved about his personal spiritual experiences, he wrote in later life of this great day: "My heart was overflowing with love and joy." He would surely have renewed his baptismal vows and his consecration to the Mother of God on this happy occasion.
Three years later, on the 22nd of May, 1939, he received the Sacrament of Confirmation from the hands of the Archbishop of the diocese, Mgr. Louis Augustin, Archbishop of Tours.(26)
Naturally, the parish church featured very intimately in the spiritual formation of this future Apostle of the Sacred Heart. Only a few moments walk from where he lived in La Rue Cygne, he spent many hours there as an altar-boy and in his frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. The church, designed by Pierre Lemercier, (who was buried there on 8th November, 1638)(27) followed the style of his brother's work at La Sorbonne, even if a poor reproduction.
The exterior is somewhat spoilt by the squat facade which extends over five bays, and the low pointed roof which seems out of perspective with the rest of the building. However, the stern exterior is not in keeping with the devotional nature of the interior. The church is well-lit from high Roman windows, and small roof-lights. Two lines of doric-style pillars separate the three naves, and the ceiling, walls and architraves are well ornamented in stucco by garlands, little coronettes, palms, stars etc. The high altar, fashioned in baroque marble is well-built, as is the choir. Copper altar rails separate the altar from the body of the church. At the head of the two side naves there are two smaller altars, which originally supported two wooden statues; one, the miraculous statue of Our Blessed Lady, and on the other side a statue of St. Joseph. In 1825, at the time of a mission in the church, these statues were given a more prominent place on the sanctuary, surmounted on marble bases. Later on in 1866 the Statue of Our Lady was placed in a more conspicuous place just inside the entrance to the church in front of the baptistry and against the first pillar on the left.
According to the pamphlet Notre Dame du Rosaire, we can be sure that the incident of the abandonment of Jules to Our Lady took place after the statue had been removed from its original position in February 1925 when he would not as yet have been one year old. Also during this mission, two large pictures, about nine feet high were placed on the side altars in place of the statues, one of Our Lady holding in her hands Rosary beads and the Scapular, and the other one of the Sacred Heart. It would have been before this picture "magnificent and ravishing, as he wrote in his poem, that he was consecrated to the Sacred Heart.
The parish priest, Father Picard, who had baptised Jules, took occasion of the mission of 1825 to reawaken in the parish the spirit of devotion to the Sacred Heart, and as he grew up, young Jules learnt to know and love the various practices of this devotion. The Confraternity of the Sacred Heart had already been established, and every First Friday, Mass was celebrated before the picture of the Sacred Heart. Every three months on the first Friday, there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in honour of the Sacred Heart, and every evening during the Month of June, special devotions were held in His Honour.
All this was a testimony to the apostolic zeal and energy of the parochial clergy in Richelieu at the beginning of the last century. During the sad days of the Revolution the church had been sacked and desecrated by the wild maurauders, and was left in ruins. The goddess Reason had taken possession, and the four Evangelists on the facade had been given the names of Rousseau, Voltaire, Marat and Duchesne. For a time after this profanation the church was not used, but after the Concordat the town authorities decided to hasten ahead with the necessary repairs, and it had been completely restored by Jules' time.
During these days of his early childhood, Jules was already showing signs of his future vocation as a priest. Owing to his prodigious memory and flair for imitation - traits he showed all through his life - he used to return from the church and give a fair rendition of the sermon he had heard at Mass. Mounting a chair as pulpit, and imitating the tone and gestures of the preacher, he would re-enact the oratorical effort before his parents and sometimes his neighbours. Sometimes they must have smiled as the young preacher, seeing himself already a priest, did not hesitate to put in a few ideas of his own, particularly if he thought the audience needed it. However, his good mother put a time limit to his efforts and dispersed the congregation when she thought they had had enough. They often went away discussing the points he had given them.(28)
One day during catechism class the curate's tonsure caught his imagination. Seeing that he was going to be a priest one day, he decided that it would not be out of place if he had a tonsure himself. With the willing cooperation of his companions he managed to secure a beautiful, outsize one. Hardly had it been cut, than he began to regret the deed, fearing the consequences when he returned home. For a while he tried to cover his head, so the parents would not notice, but he was soon found out. The father thought it was a good joke and laughed heartily, but the mother did not share his amusement. She said it showed a lack of respect for the clergy and she severely dressed him down.
Next day he returned to the catechism class, very conscious of the bald patch. He sat in his usual place, trying to look inconspicuous and hoping the priest would not notice him. But the other pupils had different ideas, and their sniggering soon gave the game away. The priest gave a loud laugh, which the class took up, and then even Jules saw the funny side of it. Forty years later the Abbe Moriet, Dean of la Chapelle-sur-Loire, still remembered the incident, and related it to the Community at Issoudun, where he had come on a pilgrimage with his parishioners.(29)
Meanwhile Jules had come to the end of his primary schooling. We have no particular records of how he got on in his studies and exams, but the fact that he was allowed to become an altar and choir boy on account of his notable piety would indicate that at least he was of average intelligence and acumen.(30) When later he sought references for his admission to the Seminary at Tours, the local clergy gave him an excellent one.
Although he was now only thirteen years of age, the ardent desire of becoming a priest seemed to pervade his every thought and action, and he asked his parents if he could go to the Seminary at Tours where already one of his cousins and several of his former school-mates were studying.(31) In spite of her own fervent wish of one day seeing him one of God's priests, his mother had to explain to him that in their present poor circumstances the expense involved was beyond them. She advised him to seek a trade for the time being, and to put his vocation in the hands of Almighty God, who would certainly later on provide the means of joining the Seminary, if he wanted Jules as one of his priests. Disappointed and sad that he could not immediately fulfil his ambitions he remarked: "I will take a trade, but as soon as I have earned enough money, I will go and knock on the door of some Monastery and will ask them to take me in." His mother told his father and some of her friends about his comment, and sometimes they jokingly asked him when he was going to knock on "that Monastery's door."
He was indifferent as to what trade he should take up, and his parents did not wish to influence him in his choice. He eventually became an apprentice to a bootmaker, who was a friend of the family.
A noticeable change was developing in his character these days. He seemed to lose interest in the old boyish games and pranks, and spent more time studying and furthering his knowledge where he could. In spite of his companions' efforts to get him to join them, he preferred to keep to himself and became very serious minded. Possibly he realised that his vivacious temperament might prove a danger to his vocation, if he joined wholeheartedly in their amusements. When one of the priests founded a youth club, The Association of Perseverance, he readily joined it as a safeguard to his future hopes and plans of joining the priesthood.
About this period of his life he fell victim to a severe illness, a kind of croup and influenza which was raging in the district. The doctor feared for his life, and he received the Last Sacraments. Hardly able to breathe, he lost consciousness. His parents were inconsolable, but, thank God, the crisis passed, and soon he was on the road to recovery.(34)
The remarkable change in his character did not escape the notice of his neighbours, and even made them appreciate his qualities the more. They had always liked him for his gentleness, and his polite and obliging manners. His love of the poor and his willingness to help them was one of his outstanding characteristics. He had no money, but made his spare time available to them free of charge. He would often give the good lady who looked after the church a hand, and did not spare himself in doing odd jobs around the presbytery. The priests often held him up as a model to the youth of the community in this regard.(35) The wife of his employer was not slow to avail herself of his good dispositions, and soon he found himself spending more time doing domestic chores for her than in learning his trade. She made it too much of a good thing, and he eventually realised that he would hardly have enough money this way to pay his way to the Seminary. So one day he thought he would try to get another position in the bootmaking trade with a Monsieur Poirier, who had a flourishing business in La Grande Rue. He knocked on his door and the following conversation took place:
"Monsieur Poirier, would you like to have me as your apprentice?"
"Look here, young man. I'm not the one to pick fights with my friends. You are working for Monsieur B........ . Why do you want to leave him?"
"Well I was simply not learning the trade there. Madame seemed to think I was working for her and not her husband." He then went on to explain what she expected him to do around the house - even to the extent of preparing her bath and cleaning up afterwards. Monsieur Poirier feigned indifference, and Jules was on the verge of tears.
"So you don't wish to take me on as your-apprentice?" As he was about to leave, M. Poirier enquired:
"Did your boss send you here?"
"No, but he told me to clear out."
"Why would he have said that to you?"
"Because I told him I was not satisfied, and wished to come and work for you. He then roared at me, and told me I was nothing more than a lout, and I could get out. So here I am, and won't you take me on, please? Please, Monsieur Poirier?"
''One moment. Has your boss really dismissed you? I would not like people to say I stole his apprentice. Go home and tell your father to settle the matter finally with Monsieur B., and then you can both come and see me."
"Then you will take me on?"
"That will depend on your father."
Jules ran off home as quickly as he could, and within an hour returned with his father.
"Well, M. Poirier," said the father, "my son here wants a job with you. Do you want him?"
M. Poirier replied that he really did not need another apprentice, but he would take him on, as the lad seemed so anxious to work. Having come to an agreement with Jules' father, Monsieur Poirier gave his instructions to the new apprentice:
"Young man, the main thing for you to do here is to work. You won't have to work outside the shop. I don't want any trouble. Have you got a leather apron? Good, well put it on. There is your place at that bench, and I will teach you the trade myself. I will expect you to be obedient, and to listen to what I have to tell you."
Jules applied himself very diligently to his new work, and was delighted when his employer told him he was satisfied with him. After a couple of months, when he had grown used to his new surroundings, he could not but help noticing that Madame Poirier was often in minor difficulty with some household chore, such as carrying a bucket of water up the stair-way, or gathering some fire-wood. During his lunch-hour his natural gentlemanly instinct often prompted him to give her a hand, which in spite of early protestations, she eventually accepted. This did not escape the notice of the other boys who probably thought he was trying to win her favouritism. The following incident shows that Jules was not exactly a "softy".
One of the fellows seemed keen to pick a fight with him. He frequently annoyed him by brandishing a duster in his face. For a while Jules took it in good part, but one day one of his companions said to him "Why don't you give him a good hiding?" The next time the smart lad tried to make a nuisance of himself, Jules said to him; "Look here, old chap, if I were to raise a finger to you, you would think you were being murdered."
Nothing daunted, the young man replied: "Come on then, put them up and I will show you how." With that he gave Jules a resounding slap in the face. He met more than his match, and immediately got a solid punch on the nose. As he saw the blood streaming down his face, the now not-so-brave aggressor yelled out; "Quick, he has killed me."
All this being against Jules' usually peaceful nature he was rather upset, and fearing M. Poirier's reaction, he made off home. Thinking that he had seriously injured the lad, he was very worried till Madame Poirier came looking for him to assure him that the only damage done was a bruised nose, which the follow richly deserved. Later on the young man tried to patch up the quarrel by inviting Jules to have a glass of beer with him in one of the near-by taverns, but Jules replied that he was not accustomed to going into taverns, and perhaps the young fellow would be better advised in giving the money to his mother.(36)
One more incident, perhaps trivial in itself, throws a light on Jules' character. At his sister's wedding-party, he was asked to have a dance with a young girl. Being shy, and not used to dancing, he tried to get out of it by remarking that he would probably tread on the poor girl's toes. His protests were in vain, and he was forced to comply. To the disappointment of the gathering, but to his own immense relief, no sooner had the music started up, than the strings of the violin snapped and in the consequent confusion, he was able to make his escape.(37)
In 1838 Rev. Father Redon, the Superior of the Lazarist Fathers in Tours came to Richelieu to preach a mission and a retreat.(38) Seeing an opportunity here to strengthen the spirit of his vocation, Jules followed the exercises with attention and devotion. His piety did not escape the notice of a Mlle. Elise Gillet, a prominent parishoner, who was president of several of the pious Sodalities. She judged what was going on in Jules' mind and heart, and one day remarked to his mother:
"I have been watching your boy during the mission, and am convinced that God wishes him to become a priest. What do you think yourself?"
"I am well aware of what he wants to be," replied Madame Chevalier, "but you realise our financial position and understand that we could not see our way clear to pay his expenses."
"Yes, I know that," Mlle. Gillet rejoined, "but I have friends, and we could see to it."
Jules was overjoyed at this good news, and applied himself with greater zest to his studies. Someone had given him a Latin grammar, and a brother of Mlle. Gillet, who had finished his secondary studies helped him with the rudiments of the language.(39) He kept on working for M. Poirier, but by early rising and late retiring, and giving up his Sundays, he made time for study.
Abbe Hauduit, the Superior of the Junior Seminary at Tours finally agreed to accept Jules free of charge. Jules was delighted and with the help of his parents made all the preparations for his departure. Then came bitter disappointment, and the plans fell through. The bishop, on visitation had just found that the Junior Seminary was heavily in debt. Abbe Mauduit was replaced and his successor given strict instructions not to admit any students who could not pay their way. We can imagine his feelings of sorrow and frustration.
So Jules continued at his trade as a boot-maker, but did not miss any chances of furthering his education. Little by little the secret that he intended to join the priesthood became known to the other apprentices, and they began to tease him. His Latin grammar, which he kept in one of the drawers of his bench was stolen, and they would often ask him how the "budding priest is keeping. Jules took it all in good part, and at least succeeded in getting his grammar back.
Even little Octavie Poirier, the daughter of his employer, joined in the bantering, and imitating the boys used to ask him how the would-be priest was getting on. He would reply: "Have patience, my little one, and one day you will see me a priest all right. All things come to those who wait." On one occasion when she tried his patience too much, he sharply rebuked her and told her to "Keep quiet!" She showed her resentment by promptly giving him a smack with a stick. Madame Poirier severely admonished the child, and was about to punish her, when Jules intervened and remarked: "She is only a child and besides, she hasn't done any damage. You won't do it again, will you, Octavie?" And Octavie, who tells this story herself, solemnly promised she would not call him "a would-be priest" again.(40)
The Abbe Bourbon - the new parish priest of Richelieu was a real paternal friend to Jules. It was he who had made the arrangements with the authorities at Tours for the boy's admission to the seminary. Like Jules, he was bitter disappointed when the plans fell through, but continued to give him every encouragement. He had observed his protege's piety over the years, and realised that Jules had a vocation. Practically every morning after Jules had serve his Mass the two of them would make a thanksgiving together in the Sacristy, and then the priest would take him over to the presbytery for breakfast. (Note: The presbytery formed part of the old Lazarist Monastery of former days. It was a large spacious building part of which had been converted into homes for the people. The front portion was well preserved and well-lit by large windows, but the rest was poorly built, consisting of clay-walls, small windows, roughly hewn beams, and rather shabby rooms built over the cloister around the inner court yard.)
After breakfast Jules would run across the Square and down the Rue Grande so as not to be late for work. M. Poirier, although he did not say much was very pleased to observe his piety and devotion to his church, particularly because it went hand in hand with progress in his work.(40) That Jules became quite proficient in his trade is evident from the following incident. One evening a visitor to Richelieu came into the shop and asked M. Poirier if he could make a pair of boots for him by the following evening. The bootmaker, in spite of the customer's pleas of urgency, told him this was hardly possible. Hearing the conversation, Jules offered to do the job himself; and to the great satisfaction of M. Poirier and the client, the boots, made to measure, were ready on time.
Meanwhile his companions did not slacken their efforts to make him less serious-minded, and to get him back into their games and amusements. To then he had become somewhat of a stranger - a crank pursuing an impossible dream to which he had sacrificed his friends, and his "joie de vivre". At sixteen years of age, they argued, he was far too serious and matured, but to all their reasonings, protestations and banter, he quietly offered an adamant will and a determined perseverance.(42)
Truth to tell, he was now quite a different person from the boisterous and impulsive lad we have already depicted. From a frolicsome mischievous child, even ready to take his revenge when his plans went awry, he had now become a sober, reflective young man. At heart he had always been a serious child, but now all his external actions and interests were affected by the firm conviction that God meant him to be a priest.
We must not forget the part that Grace was playing in this transformation. God had destined him for a special vocation - as subsequent history was to show, and these were days of special preparation. This supernatural influence explained the apparent change in his outlook and character, as in spite of all the obstacles and difficulties, he was firmly convinced that God was calling him to the priesthood. This conviction afforded him strength of soul and consolation in time of trial. The earlier imitations of the priest saying Mass and preaching his sermon had given place to an interior thoughtful attitude - prelude to the reality of his own future Masses and sermons. He realised that a vocation to the priesthood is a tremendous, God-given grace, which requires many sacrifices, and is not to be taken lightly.
This clear vision of his future encouraged him over the dark days from his thirteenth to his sixteenth year when it seemed almost impossible to find ways and means of fulfilling his hopes, and when even his good mother, who had consecrated him to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady, thought his dream would never be realised. Even the priests could give him little hope that he would ever get to the Seminary. Father Bourbon continued to advise and console him, but could offer no solution to the difficulties. The people of Richelieu, some sympathetic, some sarcastic, awaited the outcome with a deal of curiosity. Fillet made an attempt to help, but little financial assistance was forthcoming from her friends, and she was powerless to do much herself.
But Jules never lost faith and confidence in the Sacred Heart and Our Blessed Mother, praying daily before the Tabernacle that they one day would lead him to the Altar. In his "Notes Intimes", which he wrote in 1902, (and did not intend for publication) Father Chevalier mentions that his keen desire to be a priest and to give his life to Our Lord, want back to 1838, when he received his first Holy Communion, and made the retreat given by Father Redon(43) The missioner had impressed him by a sermon on Apostolic Vocations, and from then on he determined to be a priest. He writes; "I said to myself, deep down in my heart: "What a glorious calling it is to be a missionary? How happy I would be if God were to give me the grace to be one some day."(44)
This sturdy faith was his support over the difficult period when there seemed little hope of achieving his ambition. His resignation to God's will, his naturally sensible disposition guarded him from any sentiments of bitterness or revolt. Of a natural, affable disposition he could hold no grudge against anyone even those who had been unkind to him. He took a special interest in the sick and the poor, and tried to help them where he could. Octavie Poiriei was able in later years to write this of him: "He was so good that he loved doing charitable acts for people, and if he had any spare time in the evening it was spent with some poor sick person. He seemed to gain this spiritual strength from his frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament.(45)
As mentioned before his whole life centred around the church, his attendance at daily Mass, his participation in all the devotions and ceremonies and his friendship with the priests. He had free access to the presbytery, where he learnt to know the priestly life better, observing the rule of life of the priests, and learning to appreciate their spirit of self-sacrifice. In spite of all the religious indifference and atheism which were rife during this first half of the 19th century, Jules imbibed from these good priests some of their own zeal and devotion for the Cause of Christ. At a time when the world offered a young man so many attractions and pleasures he never wavered in his desire to serve God.
We muast not think that he was entirely free from faults or was already a saint. He had his hasty impulsive temperament to contend with, and would have been subject to the ordinary temptations of youth, but the remarkable thing is that in spite of this temperament, in spite of the poverty-stricken nature of his home, in spite of the efforts of his companions to make him one of themselves, he grew in solid virtue during these delicate years between thirteen and seventeen, and had already put the stamp of a future priest and apostle on his youthful personality.
The long-awaited solution to his difficulties of entering the Seminary came unexpectedly in 1841. A certain Monsieur Juste, who was an administrator in the Forestry Department happened to book in at the Hotel du Faison in Richelieu. He himself lived in Brain-sur-Allones in the Maine-Loire district. It soon became news in the town that he was the brother of the Vicar General of Rouen.
One of the maids at the hotel happened to hear M. Juste remark over the dinner table that he was looking for a reliable caretaker for the forest near Vatan, which was owned by the Benedictines of Paris. This young lady happened to be a friend of the Chevaliers and knew that Jules' father had long since been tired of his work as a baker, and was anxious to find a more remunerative occupation and one more to his taste. After dinner she took it on herself to mention this to M. Juste giving M. Chevalier a high recommendation. She told him there was one difficulty: "He has a wife, and a boy who wants to be a priest."
"That doesn't matter" he replied, "as long as the man is suitable. Can he read and write, as that is necessary." She assured him he could.
The outcome was an interview with Jules' father, who made a good impression on his future employer. After discussing terms and arrangements a contract was drawn up and signed.
"I believe you have a son who wishes to be a priest. If you wish I will help him to enter the Seminary and be responsible for him."(46)
And so, in March, 1841, when Jules was 17 years of age, the Chevalier family left Richelieu. They sold up their household effects and went off to Vatan in the Le Berry district. In December that year Monsieur Chevalier had his name inscribed in the Register of the Forestry Administration as official, mounted Caretaker of the forest of Vatan.(47)
For Jules, Le Berry was an entirely new environment - quite different from La Touraine in its history, its outlook, its culture and its population. The agreement signed between M. Juste and his father now gave him the longed-for opportunity of realising his ambition of becoming a priest. He took Le Berry to his heart, this country which was to become his life-long field of apostolate, in a manner that he little dreamed of at present. Richelieu, with all its memories, was the stage on which had been played the drama of his childhood and youth; Le Berry was to be the theatre of his future life and activities.
It is difficult to say exactly what influence Richelieu had made on his young personality, but this we know that it was there in the very precincts of the parish church that his soul was inundated with his great love of the Blessed Eucharist, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Blessed Lady, and prepared in for his special vocation and the great work he was destined to perform in the Church.
Vatan is a small country town in the Berry district situated in a large fertile plain about 21 miles north of Issoudun. In 1841 it had a population of about 3,000. The church there, built by the Templars, dates back to the year 1005, A.D.. It is crowded in between a row of squat houses and a large building called La Perrine. The structure is of wood standing on a stone basement. Some of the butresses and a fine 11th Century tower recall the importance of the town in those days. Four miles from the town is La Buisson, the caretaker's cottage where the Chevaliers came to live.
The parish of Vatan is in the Deanery of Issoudun. The parish priest at that time was a Father Darnault. Father Chevalier wrote of him: "He was a man of great piety and faith, zealous and courageous, with a noble, generous character. During his long and laborious ministry he was never appreciated as his merits deserved."
On arriving at Vatan the Chevalier family called at the presbytery to pay their respects to the parish priest, who received them with kindness and interest. Monsieur Juste had already told him of Jules intention and his own willingness, to help him. The Dean gave him every encouragement and asked his curate, Father Poldevese, to tutor him in his Latin studies. Every day Jules made the four miles journey from La Buisson to the presbytery to present his homework and carry on his lessons. He made such rapid progress that Father Darnault arranged for his admission to the Junior Seminary at Saint Gaultier. Actually the diocese had two seminaries - the one at Saint Gaultier in the ancient Priory of the Augustinians, and the other at Bourges.(1)
Before leaving for the Seminary, Jules returned to Richelieu for a few days to say 'good-bye to his old friends, especially the Poirier family. His parting words to Monsieur Poirier have been recorded: "I am making my departure and taking the first step. I am not unaware of the difficulties that lie in my path, and even the heart-breaks, but I am putting my confidence in God, and the Blessed Virgin. I trust Providence will see me through. I expect all from the Good God and His Holy Mother."(2)
And so at the beginning of the month of October, 1841, he enteeres the seminary at Saint-Gaultier, in the diocese of Bourges. In this same month of October another young man Charles Piperon - joined the Major Seminary of the diocese in the town of Bourges itself. Neither knew the other or had the faintest idea of the designs Providence had in store for them. In later life their lot was to be thrown together, and Charles Piperon was to be an intimate friend of Jules Chevalier especially in the early days of the history of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
Jules was now seventeen and a half years of age, and he entered the Junior Seminary full of joy and enthusiasm. The reality of Seminary life and the difficulties he encountered were sorely to test this enthusiasm. Father Piperon writes: "These initial stages of his training were extremely trying. He endured some heart-breaking hours."(3) Father Chevalier himself in recalling these early days of hardship has written: "I remember most of the priests but especially one, whom I shall not name, to whom I owe my perseverance. I bless his memory."(4) He was obviously referring to Monsignor Avee, the Rector of the Seminary, who had been a real friend to him.
The classes at the Junior Seminary commenced with 8th grade, but owing to his age and the fact that he had already begun his studies Jules was elevated to 6th grade. Even then he found himself amongst younger boys - of about 14 and 15 years of age - and here he struck his first big difficulty. He himself did not mind being amongst them, but boys of that age, whether Seminarians or not, can be thoughtless and rather cruel, and they seemed to resent the presence of this "old chap" in their class. This attitude came as a shock to Jules as he had expected a more mature outlook in a Seminary, even though the boys were comparatively young. At Richelieu he had kept to himself a lot, but now he thought he should mix more with his class-mates since they were striving for the same ideal - the priesthood. However, the boys, with exceptions of course, seemed to think he was too serious for them, and he really could not enter whole-heartedly into their boyish conversation, or take part in their games. He was too big, too old, too strong for them, they argued, while he, on his part, must often have thought that their main object in life was "catching birds". Coming up against this unexpected thoughtless, these petty jealousies and acts of unkindness, Jules was rather disillusioned and felt his position keenly. They little dreamed of the difficulties he had experienced and the sacrifices he had made in order to enter the Seminary. They did not hesitate to ridicule him when he made mistakes, or to make him a victim of their practical jokes. They did not realise that he was trying desperately to come down to their level and be one of them. "Boys at that age," he later remarked, "are rather heartless."
This was hardly in keeping with the dream he had entertained at Richelieu of what a training school for the priesthood would be. Was his vision of the future sublimity and glory of the life only a mirage? A Seminary, he thought should be a place of happiness and joy with a true religious spirit, but was he finding it here? The ideal was somewhat shattered by the reality, and the coveted horizons of the priesthood seemed ever more distant. He could still see them, but for the next eleven years it would be like struggling through a dark and almost impenetrable forest to reach them.
Apart from this positive difficulty with his class-mates, he naturally found other things hard during these first few months. The monotony and routine of student life did not come easily to him after the type of life he had led at Richelieu with its variety of work at the bootmaker's shop, his visits to the presbytery, his visits to the sick and the company of his father and mother. Here it was, day by day, the same old building, the sane routine of bells and classes, the same faces.
Also, he did not find his studies over easy. His early schooling had been somewhat short and interrupted, and now he had to struggle with the minutiae of syntax and grammar, and to contend with the pitfalls of mathematics. He could only progress step by step, word by word, rule by rule. What seemed good enough at Richelieu was only routine work here. There he had thought that a priests education was mainly concerned with learning Latin but he now realised there was much more to it than that.
We can appreciate, then, the obstacles and difficulties that this young man of seventeen encountered during his early training. Often disheartened, he wondered if he should go ahead, but his firm spirit of faith and piety, and his habit of prayer stood to him. Father Piperon, as mentioned before, had written that Jules had found this period very trying, but he also added "Happily, he was endowed with an energetic and determined character. Assured that God meant him to be a priest, he battled on, and responded to the calling.(5)
Fortunately, he had a good and wise friend in the Superior of the College, Father Claude Francois Avee. Born in 1789 at Issoudun this good priest had done his studies at Bourges, and after his ordination had been appointed to the teaching staff at Saint-Gaultier, where he later succeeded the Abbe Godin as Superior. He had an affable manner and was well liked by the students. Father Chevalier has written of him in his "Religious History of Issoudun": "Having gained the co-operation of the staff and the confidence of the students he endeavoured to introduce an atmosphere of home into the Seminary. He strove to bring a spirit of piety, discipline and study into the College. His goodness, his approachable nature, his 'savoir-faire' made him popular, and the students were anxious not to cause him any trouble. Should a boy show signs of dissipation, or manifest a bad spirit, he would call him aside, reason with him, and ask him to do better. If he found someone depressed, weary, or discouraged he would have a quiet talk with him, putting before him the ideal of his vocation. He frequently came to recreation with them, and often remarked: 'It is in their games and sport that they reveal their characters, and you are able to study them the better'. If a student were sick, he spared nothing to get him the best attention, and did everything himself to make him comfortable and restored his health. On the rare occasions when a death occurred he was inconsolable, and even shed tears for the dead boy.(6)
It was only in later years that Father Chevalier saw these early trials in their right perspective, and realised they were a God-given grace to test the worth of his vocation and the special mission, which unbeknown to himself in those days, Our Lord was to entrust to him. It was this realisation that gave him such an appreciation of Father Avee for tiding him over the difficult period. We must not think that all these early days in the Seminary were days of complete unhappiness and misery, as apart from the encouragement give him by Father Avee and the priests, he knew full well that he had only to correspond with grace to achieve his heartfelt desire, and the means were here before him. We venture to say they were mainly days of happiness. As a matter of fact, it is chiefly from Father Piperon that we learn about these early hardships, and not from himself. Most people experience difficulties in new surroundings and Seminarians are certainly no exception.
The following quotation from his "Notes Intimes" clearly indicates that he regarded the first few weeks at Saint-Gaultier as the crisis in his vocation. "The Devil tried his best to give me a distaste for this kind of life to which I was not accustomed. Hardly had a fortnight passed than I wanted to return home. Every day I asked Father Avee if I could go, but, being the prudent and wise priest that he was, he told me to wait till after the retreat, which was to be given by a Jesuit Father. 'Be patient and pray, he said to me, 'and you will win through. After the retreat, all my fears disappeared, and peace and joy filled my heart. Hell had been conquered." A typical case of homesickness and despondency. He even thought that the Seminary at Tours might be more suitable for him. He had a cousin and several friends there, and he thought their company would be a help. However in the light of subsequent history and his own particular mission in life as Founder of two Religious Congregations it was obvious that Divine Providence intended him to be precisely here at Saint-Gaultier in the diocese of Bourges, where the future field of his Apostolate lay. By becoming a member of the clergy of this diocese he was destined to be stationed at Issoudun which played such an intimate and important part in his life and mission. This is why in his "Notes" written in 1902 after he had founded the Society of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart he remarks that this homesickness was a temptation of the Devil trying to destroy his vocation. It was not that he lost his desire to be a priest, but that the early obstacles at Saint-Gaultier discouraged him and made him want to return home. He could not see himself enduring these difficulties over several years.(7)
But Saint-Gaultier was where God wished him to be, and the Province of Berry, which he learnt to love was to be the field of his activities. We might say that he not only found a new country, but a new soul within himself. After the retreat he became his old bright self again, and his relations with the other students improved considerably. He became more used to his surroundings, and began to take a keen interest in the history and the affairs of the diocese. In every Seminary one finds a certain union, and common interest amongst students who are to be ordained for a particular diocese. They speak about their home-towns, their parishes and the different modes of life each place and so the students learn the general nature of the diocese. Several of the students came from around the Issoudun district and Jules was always glad to hear of the place, even though in those days he little dreamt that he would ever be posted there. He would often hear them speak of the town's past history, particularly of the glorious resistance to the New Republic and its brutalities, which earned the inhabitants of Issoudun the name of "the Macchabees". The Superior, Father Avee, was also a native of Issoudun, and spoke of its religious history lamenting the fact that the parish had now declined and presented a great field for mission work. "It is the poorest parish in the diocese," he used to say.
And so gradually Jules became more mature in his outlook and more at home in this new life. It was as if the words in the Book of Genesis were being applied to him; "Leave your country, your people, the house of your father and go into a strange land that I will show you."(10) Although he was no less serious in his outlook, the tension had gone, and his natural vivacity happiness returned to him. He made more allowances for the boyish nature of many of his companions, and again joined them in their games and sport. Even some of his own boyish impulsiveness began to show itself, as the following incident shows:
One fine Thursday, about the middle of his first Winter in Saint-Gaultier, probably early in 1842, the students went for a walk along the Route d'Argent in the direction of Conives, a small hamlet about five miles from the Seminary. After passing the Chateau de Ligondes there is a smaller branch road which leads to a fairly high and steep cliff, the top of which is covered in snow during winter months. On climbing the path to the summit one is rewarded with a magnificent panorama of the near-by river and the distant Thenay forest. However, no matter how beautiful the scenery may be many young people regard a cliff as a challenge to their climbing ability. Having gone to the top by the path and admired the view, Jules tempted two of the other students to make a direct descent with him over the boulders and through the thickets. All went well for a while, but about 40 feet from the bottom they began to slip and slide in the snow. His two companions were able to cling to some branches but in snatching at them, they bumped into Jules who lost his balance and went tumbling down the hill-side, finishing up in a thicket at the bottom. When the other students reached him he was unconscious. In their panic they thought he was dead. They carried him to the near-by Chateau, and did not realise that on the way his consciousness partly returned, although he could not move or open his eyes. All he could do was faintly hear what they were saying. He could hear them repeatedly saying that he was dead and he recalls thinking at the time: "Well, if I am dead, why hasn't my soul been already judged by God? I began pitying and asking for Divine Mercy."
In the Chateau, he showed no sign of reviving, and candles were lit around the bed, while the Rosary and De Profundis were recited. Meanwhile, some of the students had hurried back to the Seminary to break the sad news to the Superior and the Community. Father Avee immediately despatched the house-doctor to the Chateau, while he assembled the Community in the Chapel waiting to receive the corpse. A few minutes after the doctor arrived at the Chateau, Jules regained consciousness, opened his eyes, and asked where he was. A few of the students almost died of fright themselves. The doctor gave him a thorough examination and announced that except for some rather severe bruises to his head and body he was all right. With his clothes in tatters, Jules was carefully placed in the doctor's carriage and taken back to the Seminary. It was now about 9 o'clock at night.
Hearing the carriage approaching, Father Avee and the Community came out to meet it. We can imagine their great shock when Jules sat up and remarked: "But Father, I am not dead." The old priest, who had actually been crying when he had announced the news in the chapel was upset for several days; Jules was placed in the Infirmary, but recovered quickly enough to take his place in the class-room on the following Monday morning, adorned with a number of bruises and scars.(12)
This close call to death left a longer impression on Jules' soul that it did on his body. Even ten years later Father Piperon tells us, he used to speak of it with emotion.
(Note: Father Piperon has wrongly dated the accident at the end of Father Chevalier's Juniorate, so it would have been about 15 years later in 1855 the year the Founder first mentioned the title "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart to his confreres - that this conversation between the two priests took place. Later on we will see that one of the reasons which inspired Father Chevalier to call Our Lady by that title was gratitude for preserving his during the fall down the cliff).(13)
We have it not only from Father Piperon, but also from his teachers and contemporaries at St.-Gaultier that Jules did become very pensive and solemn after the accident. In his "Memoir of the Origin of the Society" Father Piperon has this to say:
"Until then he had been a good scholar devoted to his work, a pious seminarian, regular in his religious exercises, but showing at times faults of temperament from which even the best of seminarists are not exempt. Henceforth he became more serious, faith guiding his every action. His recollection was more pronounced. His teachers and fellow students have said that the interior man in him seemed to be entirely renewed, 'he became a model to us all'. He had seen death so close."(14) We may state from these definite testimonies of his contemporaries that his life at Saint-Gaultier was spiritually divided into two periods, the one before his accident full of doubts and difficulties: and that afterwards when he concentrated on striving for perfection. He had already made such an impression on his Superiors that even though, in spite of the formal agreement, no fees were paid for his education after two years they never hesitated to keep him at the Seminary.(15)
When he was recalling these days towards the end of his life he was not quite as enthusiastic about his virtue as his class-mates had been. "I should have been confirmed in grace after such a miraculous protection from death been an edification to my fellow students, but that was not the case. I did try to keep the rule and be a good student, but I am afraid my lively heart had lost nothing of its impulsiveness." To prove his contention he quoted an incident which happened shortly after the accident: "One day during this same year I was in the chapel making a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament as we usually did after classes, after dinner and before recreation. I was on my knees when two students came in and knelt behind me. They seemed to like teasing new-comers, and one of them pulled my hair and gave me a gentle push in the back. This was repeated at least three times. Instead of getting up and leaving the chapel, which I probably should have done, I turned around and gave him a resounding slap on the jaw. He evidently did not forget it, as he never tried it again.(16)
At the end of his first year the authorities saw fit to put him in 4th class, thus missing the 5th grade. Some have expressed the opinion that this was at the risk of neglecting certain subjects, although he was already proficient in Latin(17). However, Octavie Poirier, who always seems well informed on the details of these days, has stated that he passed from 4th Grade having completed the regular course of studies.(18) Personally this was a help to him as he found himself amongst students more or less of his own age.
One story of this period is amusing enough to narrate. He had been put in charge of supervising the Junior dormitory. One very cold winter's night he was awakened by a noise at the foot of his bed. He opened his eyes, and saw what he thought was a ghost holding a candle, which was casting weird shadows around the dormitory. Although very scared, he was conscious of his duty, and quietly got out of bed, making a grab at the candle. It happened to be the Rector, Father Avee who had decided, on account of the freezing night, to do the rounds and see if all his charges were well covered.(19)
Jules reached 2nd class in the due course of events. He was then old enough for military service, but his father had put his name into a ballot for exemption, and he was lucky enough to draw a favourable number. As he was going on holidays to his family, the Superior permitted him to wear a soutane.
His family had returned to Richelieu, as Monsieur Juste had retired and the new man in charge had taken care of the Vatan forests himself. Jules father was offered a good position in his old home town as Rural Guard and beadle.(20) When the people of Richelieu saw Jules in his soutane they concluded he had already entered the Major Seminary. This no doubt gave rise to the rumour that he went through the Junior Seminary in four years.
One day during his holidays he was chatting with a group of his old friends, when one of them said; "Now that you are free from military service, you ought to leave the Seminary and get a good position in civil life. You would do well." Jules replied: "Sorry, but I am determined to be a priest, I am not interested in what the world has to offer me." The tone of his reply cut short the conversation.(21)
During these holidays the family were reunited for the first time in many years. His married brother who lived in Paris and his married sister who lived in Tours returned to Richelieu for a few weeks. They naturally had plenty to discuss, and in the course of one conversation they suggested to Jules that now that he seemed assured of becoming a priest, he should interest himself in the welfare of their children. Many priests, they told him had helped their families and secured good positions for their nephews and nieces. But Jules thought this was a rather mercenary outlook on his vocation and hastened to remark. "If you are counting on me to do the same thing I am afraid you will be sadly disappointed. If I become a priest, I will be working in the service of God, and not that of my family. It will be to win souls for Jesus Christ, and not to enrich my family."(22)
After the holidays, Jules returned to Saint-Gaultier for his last year in the Junior Seminary. He went into Rhetoric Class. In his "Notes" Father Chevalier refers to a great grace he received during this final year, namely that of breaking off a particular friendship he had formed with one of the students. He does not tell us when this friendship began, but we can gather from the "Notes" that it dated from his early days at the Seminary, when he was home-sick and finding things difficult. Writing some sixty years later about this inordinate affection he gives us the impression that it was something serious. However, in all his writings Father Chevalier had the habit of introducing moral reflections amongst the facts he was recording, and this often unduly emphasised the gravity of a situation. We cannot be sure that in this case it was not anything that went wrong that was worrying him, but what could have gone wrong. "O God", he writes, "how I thank You, in the light of my numerous faults, for opening my eyes, and stopping me on the brink of disaster."(23) Ho regarded the forfeiting of this friendship as the condition God required of him for greater holiness of life and union with Our Lord. This renunciation, which we often find even in the life of great mystics, was to him the necessary means of his personal sanctification and the fulfillment of the special work God had in store for him.
To place this friendship in its right perspective we may consider the following points:
A strong friendship in students life is not necessarily a harmful one. On the contrary healthy friendships can often be a source of mutual help and encouragement. The testimony of his confreres that Jules was always most particular about the Rule, and that he was regarded as a model amongst them, surely indicates that they did not regard this friendship of several years standing as anything abnormal. Also, if Father Depigny is correct in giving the name of this friend, we are doubly reassured that it was just a strong mutual understanding and affection. The friend followed Jules to the Major Seminary twelve months after his own entry, and continued to call him by his Christian name.(24)
The following extracts from his "Notes" puts the whole matter in its right perspective:
"There was never anything bad in our relations with one another. Our conversation usually was on pious subjects, on our studies, on the best ways of being good students and later on, good priests".(25) "I had, unhappily, formed too great a natural affection for him. He was always in my thoughts, and this became a big distraction for me. Even during my prayers and in the Chapel I would be thinking of him. I sought his company at recreation, and was always delighted when in his presence." Looking back after all the year's he continued; "My Last two years were spent in tepidity and dissipation. I waited with impatience my entry to the Major Seminary."(26)
Father Piperon merely states: "In Rhetoric he received a great grace which was the means of lifting him up to a state of higher perfection. (27)
Some time later Jules left Saint-Gaultier for good. After his holidays at Richelieu, he entered the Major Seminary at Bourges. This was a decisive step in his life. He was to be incardinated into this diocese, to spend his life there as a priest, and as yet unbeknown to himself, to become the Founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, and the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
CHAPTER III. BOURGES THE MAJOR SEMINARY
Bourges was the capital of the ancient Province of Berry, which was divided into Upper and Lower Berry. Vatan and Saint-Gaultier where we have been following Jules' early life were in Lower Berry, while Bourges, a richer and more developed country, was in the Upper part.
In 1790 "The Constitution" gave the name of "L'Indre" to Lower Berry and "Cher" to the Upper division, but the inhabitants of the Berry territory regard themselves as one people, and the Church has respected this sentiment in the light of their common history, and has made the boundaries of the old Province in the main those of the Archdiocese. Bourges is the seat of the Archbishopric with its several Suffragancies.
At Saint-Gaultier Jules had already heard many of the stories concerning the glorious past of Bourges and its environs. Fifty years later he incorporated several of them in his "Religious History of Issoudun".(1) Originally the "Berry-ites" were known as Bituriges - a name which itself proves the antiquity of the district. They tell us that in the Chaldaic and Armenian languages "Bit" meant "Son of" and the rest of the word refers to "Ogyges" - the founder of the city who was a grand-son of Japhet. Without being too sure of it Father Chevalier seems to give credence to the legend.(2) According to an ancient historian, whom he calls the Abbe Monveron, the Bourges area was known to the Cimbres as "Avvoeric", which meant "the kingdom of the Ancients" or "The most ancient of the Kingdoms". This accounts for the Latin names. "Avaricum" for the town, and "Avara" for the river that flows near-by. (Now called L'Yevre). An historian called Chameau in 1562 claimed that the town dates back to the year 134 after the Deluge, which even when he made his calculations would give it the respectable old age of 3,733 years.
Father Chevalier does not mention these figures. He is on surer ground when he quotes Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars. He learnt there that the Celts had settled in this region to apply themselves to agriculture and breeding of live-stock. Their strongholds on the heights were no longer sufficient, so they migrated to the plain, where they built their fortifications. (Actually some of the masonry used around Bourges was similar in type to that used 1000 years before the time of Our Lord). Bourges itself would have been the main political centre of this region of France, even though it may not have reached the solid municipal unity of the Averni who, under the leadership of Vercingetorix, put up such a magnificent fight against Caesar.
In the story of the Gallic Wars, Bourges earns the striking tribute from Caesar that it was the most beautiful town of the region - "pulcherrimam prope totius Galliae urbem". It was the custom of the people in the smaller hamlets to burn their crops and even their houses before the approach of the all-conquering Caesar - "the policy of the burnt earth." When it came to Bourges' turn, the people begged the National Assembly to let them defend their beloved town. Apart from its narrow entrance there were streams and marshes on all sides, and this gave them hope of success. However Caesar had no trouble in taking the town and reducing it to ashes.(3)
Father Chevalier notes that many historians state that Issoudun was one of the 200 villages burnt during Caesar's campaign. The survivors of Bourges and the neighbouring towns left their burnt ruins and went off to found a new place to live, called Biturgale, which is now actually the town of "Bordeaux"(4) The Bourges people of today like to remind the Bordeaux-ians of this fact.
In his historical notes it is obvious that Father Chevalier was more interested in the history of Christianity in his adopted country than in its secular history. "Christianity", he said, "changed the whole nature of the country."(5) In a series of articles in the magazine "Semaine Religieuse du Diocese de Bourges", and later included in the brochure "Apostolicity of the Principal Churches of France?" he has written at length on the glories of the early history of the diocese. He was inclined to agree with the many authors who followed Faillon's manuscript, published in the 8th or 9th century, that Saint Ursin, the first Bishop of Bourges, was not a disciple of the seven bishops sent from Rome to France in the tine of the Emperor Decius, but of a person who had witnessed the life and Passion of Our Lord, possibly the Nathaniel of the Gospels. This would confirm also the tradition that the church in Issoudun itself went back to almost Apostolic times, as Saint Ursin is supposed "to have built two churches there".(6) However, as he stated he was quite prepared to leave these details of the obscure origin to the competent authorities.(8)
In Bourges then during the days of his training he recalled the glorious and venerable history of the centuries as he gazed upon its monuments and ruins. Here in this picturesque setting on the slopes of the rocky Sancerrois, whence flow La Langis and La Moulan, where the waters of the Yevrette and Yevre meet to make their way to the Cher, Jules would have often contemplated the splendour of the past.
The town in those days had a population of some 22,000 people from about 5,500 homes. Today Bourges is modern enough with its Canal du Berry, its good roads and railways connecting it with the other towns of France, but in Jules' time the mark of antiquity was visible everywhere. Spread over a large area the houses, most with gardens and court-yards, were often separated by areas of cultivation and the numerous boulevards followed the contours of the old fortifications, some of which had as many as 80 towers. A few of these still stand today. Around the town the lime soil is fertile enough, and there are plenty of farms and gardens.
Early in the 3rd Century the Senator Leocadius donated a house and some land to Bishop Ursin for the use of the Christians. On this site three successive Cathedrals have stood in their grandeur over the centuries. The last - the Cathedral of St. Etienne - was commenced towards the end of the 12th Century, and was one of the most beautiful Gothic structures of that period in France. On the summit of a hill it dominated the town with its inspiring towers and flying buttresses. Its high arched vault, its numerous stained-glass windows, its sixty columns, its four side-naves, each with its own impressive entrance made it truly a majestic and imposing building. The front steps lei to a wide terrace over which was a facade "eloquent in shadows" - an imitation of Notre Dame do Laon. The five frontal porticos were richly adorned with statues, the central one with the striking figure of Christ and the tympan of the Last Judgment. Today some of the statues have deteriorated somewhat; others have entirely disappeared, but what remains gives us an idea of the original value of the work.
It is a Cathedral in the full sense that the Middle Ages attached to the meaning of the word - namely - the expression of the pride of the people in their Faith, a living Faith shown over the centuries, as also an expression of their efforts and sacrifices in building it. Begun in 1180, it was eventually consecrated in 1324. In the 15th Century the Northern Tower had to be reconstructed, as it developed some flaws, and was causing concern. The last of the stained-glass windows were put in in the 17th century, while the oldest of them, which have been described as "red and blue checker-work which give the appearance of a mosaic" belong to the 13th century. Those which represent the adoration of the Magi came from the school of Chartres where "the gentle creators of dreams installed their furnaces."(8)
Gillet has written of these Cathedrals of France; "One must see them steeped in the history of the towns which they have made and which they are still carrying through the sort of life like great dream-ships. They have been the monuments of the cities. The people of other days did not regard them merely as places of empty ceremonies; their houses grew up around then as though they were the family host. The Cathedral is one of the immortal features of the life of France - of a people of Faith."
Jules' heart must have been filled with emotion and sadness every time he visited the Cathedral and saw this past splendour spent and shattered. It had always been such an intimate part of the life of the town, but now in the spiritual sense it interested only a small portion of the people.
What then had happened to this Faith? The Cathedral with its delapidated desertion, and broken statues clearly gave the answers, as did every other aspect of Religion. The churches, pillaged, damaged, ruined, occupied by the civil powers, were testimony to the decadence of society. Jules beheld it with his own eyes; he heard his teachers and class-mates speaking of it; he noticed it in the decline in priestly vocations; he read about it in the reviews, papers and books widely distributed in his time. He read the complaints about the irreligious state of France in the Catholic magazines. Father Dufriche Desgenettes summed it up thus: "Impiety of the masses, stupid indifference of the majority, a few faithful souls, but sparse and rare. Materialism openly and brazenly professed; the Religion of Jesus Christ rejected; His Divine Sacraments - our one resource on earth - despised and abandoned; the days consecrated to Our Lord without sanctification, profanated by monstrous and criminal debaucheries; the corruption of morals even among youth and children, and to complete this hideous picture - suicide taken as a matter of course. That is the deplorable state of our France at present.(9) Behold then what remained of the great spirit of Faith that built the Cathedrals.
But Jules was also able during these days of his scholasticate to study and admire the evidence and relics of another France - the glorious memory of the old Royal race of Saint Louis with its battles - but also with its loyalty to the Church. The first great royal event which Bourges witnessed was the Coronation of Louis XI in the ancient Cathedral. The town also played an important role in the Hundred Years' War against England, in the Great Western Schism, and in the Civil War between the Armagnacs and Bourguignen. John of France, the tutor of Charles VI and Charles VII lived there, and was often called John of Bourges". When Charles VII was Dauphin he fled to Bourges with the help of Tanneguy du Chatel at the time when John the Fearless took Paris. There, as Regent till the death of his father, he set up the Government of France, and Bourges housed the Royal family for many years. It was there that Louis XI, his son, was born. Later Louis was to set up a University in his native town. In the garden of the ancient Seminary, which was used as a barracks in Jules Chevalier's time, there can still be seen the remains of the Tower where Louis XI, then Duke of Orleans was interned. Two other names well known in French history are associated with Bourges. The first is that of Saint Joan of France, daughter of Louis XI who founded there the Sisters of the Annunciation, and the other, that of Jacques Coeur, the famous pay-master of Charles VII, whose coat of arms can still be seen on many of the neighbouring monuments, and who brought a prosperity to Bourges previously unknown.
During the Wars of Religion, Bourges was captured by Montgomery. It has known its own St. Bartholemews Day. After its capture it paid homage to Henry IV, but became entirely Royalist again under Louis XIV.
In this historic milieu, so rich in memories of Church and Royalty, Jules commenced his studies of Philosophy and Theology.
Since the year 1822, the Seminary was situated in La Rue des Arenes, what used to be the old Ursuline Convent. It was a very large building whose plan Father Chevalier more or less followed when building the Monastery at Issoudun. In 1907, by virtue of the 'Law of Separation it was confiscated by the Government. Ironically enough it then became the 'Palais de Justice'. The small Oratory of the garden, where Jules celebrated his First Mass has been pulled down, and the gardens have become part of the City Park. In this old building Jules Chevalier did his major studies from October 1846 to mid June 1851.
During the fifties of the previous century the Church had decided to reorganise methodically the life of the French Seminaries, a thing she could not do before on account of the Revolution and its aftermath. This reform coincided, as far as the diocese of Bourges was concerned, with the arrival of two prominent men, who were to have a great influence in the formation and work of Jules Chevalier. On 24th April, 1842, Mgr. Jacques, Marie Antoine Celesti Villefranche Du Pont was transferred from Avignon to Bourges as Archbishop and in August of the same year the Superior of the Major Seminary at Avignon, the Sulpician priest, Franqois Theophile Ruel rejoined his Archbishop in order to replace his confrere, Father Renaudet, as Superior of the Seminary. This change had been brought about as a consequence of a rather solid difference of opinion between M. Renaudet and the Archbishop on matters liturgical. The Archbishop, Sardinian by birth, Roman by training and coming from a region where the Roman liturgy had been in use for centuries, was firmly determined, in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Father, to introduce the Roman spirit and liturgy into his new diocese.(10) On the other hand, Father Renaudet, born in Bourges itself, and having taught there in both the Junior and Major Seminaries, was strictly partisan in outlook and favoured the local liturgy. For many years he had worked at the codification of the local Ceremonial and had just brought out a new edition of "Les Offices Notes"(11) Since he still was not prepared to accept the Archbishop's views, he was recalled by the Superior of the Sulpicians, and Father Ruel, who had got on well with the Archbishop at Avignon, was sent to take his place. Father Ruel was then 37 years of age. He was not altogether unknown at Bourges, as he had taught Moral Theology there before becoming Superior of the Major Seminary at Avignon.(12) If it was left to the Archbishop to introduce the Roman spirit and liturgy into the diocese, it was the function of Father Ruel to inspire the Seminarists with new zeal and enthusiasm. We are told in the official history of the Seminary: "He applied himself wholeheartedly to awakening in the house a greater ardour for study and for a more tender piety."(13)
Father Ruel strove to direct this piety and spirituality along the lines of the Sulpician tradition, while taking into account the opinions of the other professors and the nature of the Seminary of which he was in charge. And, as we will see later on some of the professors did not wholly approve of Jules and his "Ultra-Montaine" ideas, and he struck a certain amount of trouble with them. However, Divine providence had brought Father Ruel to Bourges and happily he was to become the Spiritual Director of Jules, and finally to be the guide and protcctor of his vocation - a protection which had the approval of the Bishop.
The first big change introduced by Father Ruel was to lengthen the course of studies from four to five years. That was in 1844, two years before Jules arrived at the College. He also insisted that besides Philosophy and Theology, a course in the Sciences must be included in the curriculum, being aware of the changing nature of the times.
Anyone who examines closely the unfavourable opinion about the intellectual state of the French Seminaries of this period must admit that it has mainly been formed on the remarks of a few contemporaries and not on a scientific investigation. There is plenty of evidence in books and biographies of the time to contradict this opinion, and we have only to consider the great number of gifted and zealous priests that the Seminaries of the time did produce to refute the accusation that they were of low intellectual standard. Certain aspects of Seminary life of that period have often been discussed such as the intrinsic value of the various methods of studies, the influence of a scientific course in the future ministry of a priest, the reason for the apostacy of the masses etc. and these discussions may have confused the question in point. On the other hand, all the propaganda for 'higher clerical studies' and the Utopian ideals set forth only obscure the issue. Chanoine Cristani in reviewing the period has written; "The picture that is painted of the students wasting their time on this study and that is nearer caricature than fact.... As to being able to refute Kant and Hegel it is only a joke to ask it of them.(14) In endeavouring to answer the question whether the Seminarists of the tine did receive a proper training for their future ministry we can only judge by the results, taking into consideration the nature of the period and the average intellectual standard of the people amongst whom they were to work"
Happily we possess enough documents on the studies of Father Chevalier to form a serious opinion on his philosophical and theological courses and his ability to deal with them. The Notes which he made during his Scholasticate are fortunately available to us, and even if they are incomplete, they still cover more than 400 pages (some 14,600 lines) of small, carefully ruled writing. And in the light of future discussions on his ability, it is interesting to find these resumes of the systems not only of Lamennais, Bautain and Hermes, but of Kant himself.(15) These Notes afford us the opportunity of a comparison between the methods of study in those days and our own. Nowadays each subject is treated as fully as possible in class by the various professors, but in Jules time, mainly owing to the shortage of staff, the students themselves had to cover some subjects by making written analyses out of class and then presenting them to the professors. This personal study seems to have applied at Bourges particularly to Sacred Scripture and Church History. This was not only done during the term, but set-work was given the students to be completed during the holidays - "Holiday Home Work". In his Notes Father Chevalier has indicated what work he did during the vacations. In order to gain an independent and unbiased opinion of the Notes we thought it would be interesting to give them to a present day student of theology. This student has done very well in his own exams and is considered by his professors to have good judgment and talent. He was given a double task - that of making a catalogue of the various theological matters mentioned, and that of noting what attracted his attention in them. When that was done he was asked to make a general criticism of the Notes. He was quite unaware of any reason for making this request. Here is what he says regarding the matter and the system of teaching:
"What struck me most of all was that the questions were treated in a more profound and detailed way than I would have imagined. This was very evident in spite of the fact that the matter is mainly contained in resumes and notes. This is a pity! One is struck by the different mentality brought to the study of Philosophy from that of Theology. The French Idealism and Subjectivism seems to pervade the whole atmosphere of the Philosophy. All is seen from within, from the spirit. The names of the philosophers quoted and explained speak for themselves: Plato, Descartes, Leibnitz etc. On the other hand the approach to the study of Theology is much the same as that of our own, today.
Many of the annotations to the philosophical Notes are quite modern, and would certainly interest any student today. Numerous authors of the various periods are dealt with and summarily refuted, including the "thinkers" of the period. However, the order is always quite logical, and there is a laudable economy of words. The tract on Ethics is much more in the traditional style than the rest.
With Theology the method of study is much the same as our own. We have the accepted classical Tracts with their subdivisions and their arguments, which are brief, well set out and "in forma". Perhaps some of the arguments from Scripture and Tradition seem a little superficial and the exegesis not scientific enough, although it is obvious the students knew their Bible. A happy surprise is to find so many side notes on the history of the various outstanding problems. Noticeable also is the emphasis put on the Tracts De Religione and De Ecclesia, especially on the subject of the Internal Structure of the Church."
Father Chevalier writes: "I did my Philosophy in Descartes of whose genius the professor never tired of talking, and my Theology in Bailly, who we were told, "was a practical author, and sure in his opinions." God gave me the grace not to share these sentiments. The Cartesian theory seemed to be false and dangerous. I challenged it in class in spite of the respect due to the professor. As regards the theories of Bailly, the Arch-Gallican, especially on the Constitution of the Church, the General Councils, the Papacy etc., I instinctively held them in horror. The discussions often became ardent and heated. I was regarded as an "Ultra-Montaine, but I was not the only one. Nearly all the students were against the author and the teacher.(16)
The same position held in the other Seminaries. Doubtless the students at Bourges were encouraged in their rebellion against Bailly as a text book by the knowledge that their Archbishop was openly Roman in his sympathies, and that even before he became a Cardinal in 1847, he had introduced the Roman Liturgy into his diocese, and was endeavouring to educate his clergy to think with Rome.(18) The good judgment of Jules and his colleagues was vindicated when in 1852 the Manual of Bailly was put on the Index "donec corrigatur".
Strange enough, although Jules vigorously opposed the anti-Roman doctrine of Bailly in the Dogmatic Theology classes, he did not protest against his rigorous moral teachings, a clear proof of his own rigorous outlook and attitude at this period of his life.(18) Later on, of course, Jules Chevalier reacted against this severe and tense outlook, so foreign to the type of spirituality which was to become his own. But during these early years of his scholasticate it seemed to accord with his own state of soul. Father Piperon has written of this period; "The life of Abbe Chevalier was very severe."(19)
What then were the intellectual capabilities of Jules Chevalier during the course of his superior studies? In an article in the Analecta of the Society, 1929, there are two statements the truth of which is at least debatable. To a question put by Mlle. Marchant, Father Maugenest is reported to have replied; "I know that at the beginning of his studies it was doubted if Jules Chevalier was intelligent enough to be a priest", but he added: "Whether the Directors of the Seminary shared that doubt, or whether they hesitated to receive him I do not know." Whatever may be admitted about any early doubts they certainly could not apply to the later stages of his scholasticate.(20) There was no hesitation in giving him his Sub-Diaconate on 8th April, 1850 and he left the Seminary soon after in June, 1851. The second statement clearly refers to the years of his Philosophy: "He had great difficulty in applying himself to his Philosophy, and his friends more endowed with intelligence than himself used to try during recreation to teach him what was given in class."(21)
The two statements obviously refer to the first two years, but Father Piperon himself makes very light of any difficulties of this period, and immediately goes on to say: "In any case, if there were doubts, they were quickly dispelled. Very soon Jules Chevalier was regarded amongst the good "scholars." The opinion of Father Piperon, who had not enthused about Jules' intellectual capabilities at Saint-Gaultier, perhaps unreasonably so, is a better guide to the true position, and his evidence is reliable and first-hand.(22) In commenting on the discussion he wrote in 1912: "Virtue alone is not sufficient for the priest. Science and learning are also necessary. Without these qualifications his sublime ministry could become an occasion of ruin, not only to himself, but to others. Firmly convinced of this double need Father Chevalier applied himself to his studies with the same zeal and ardour as he did to acquiring the virtues of his holy calling. If for a start the professors did not find in him any outstanding or brilliant intellectual promise, and even if they did doubt for a while if he would get through, the doubts were soon dispelled. He was soon regarded as amongst the good scholars. His relentless application soon enabled him to overcome his inner difficulties and to catch up on the time lost by his late entry to the Seminary. He was now revealing the intelligence which perforce had been too long latent.(23, 24) Here then, we have just an average student, but one who was achieving good results by his zeal and hard work. He was endowed with a clear and practical judgment, a strong will which no difficulty could shake.(25) To quote Father Piperon again: "Others have been gifted with .. more active and fertile brain, but rare are the men who did so much work as Jules Chevalier."(26)
Rev. Father Pasquier, who had been a professor at Bourges since 1875, the Superior since 1894 till the expulsion of the Sulpicians, remembered one of the brief reports on Jules in the Seminary register: "Excellent in piety, average in intelligence."(27)
The young seminarist whose opinion we sought on Father Chevalier's scholastic notes has added to his previous remarks: "They must have worked hard at Bourges especially Jules Chevalier, who was most faithful in taking his notes and making his resumes. He did this always with clarity and precision, even if one does not find any brilliant personal comments there. It is obvious that he clearly understood what had been taught in class and he was able to summarise briefly what he had heard and read. One would say that he had a predilection for the grand fundamental truths, and his special gift was: clarity.
To sum up then: From the above evidence presented by those who have studied the question quite independently and from different angles, we can definitely say that as a seminarist, Jules Chevalier was a sincere and hardworking student, who got very good results without having any exceptional intellectual gifts.
In any seminary, of course, the main training is in things spiritual, and so the Rule and the spiritual exercises form the framework of each day. On this point Father Piperon has written: "The life in a seminary is necessarily regular. Each hour is occupied from the time of rising to time of retiring. All goes according to Rule, and the Rule does not change. The week begins by carrying on the occupations with which the last one finished. The prayers the studies, the joyful recreations fill up each day. "Days of work and weariness," the cynic might say. Rather, "days of fruitful work and virtue" the good seminarist and priest will reply. What true priest does not recall with nostalgic happiness the cherished memories of his Seminary days?(28)
The Sulpician Society has always fostered in its Seminaries a good and friendly relationship between the professors and the students, and it is justly proud of having preserved the spirit and ideal of its Founder in this respect. This amicable spirit certainly held during Father Chevalier's years at Bourges. The Rule of the Bourges Seminary was old, older even than the book which contained it. It was titled: "Regulations of the Major-Seminary of Bourges, 1829". The sub-title read: "General Statutes for the Seminaries of St. Sulpice, drawn up at the Grand-Seminary of Bourges"(25) The Rule was probably formulated by M. Olier, and definitely re-edited by his second successor, M. Ironson (1676-1700).
Levesque has an interesting observation to make on the spirit and the observance of the Rule at Bourges: "The method of obtaining fidelity to the Rule in this Seminary was different from that in the seminaries of St. Charles, where they relied on continual, and often mistrusting, supervision. Here the onus was put mainly on the conscience of the seminarist, his response to friendliness and confidence, his reaction to a paternal discipline, which expected a more spontaneous obedience. Moreover, the community life between the professors and students was closer than in the other seminaries in Paris, There the teaching staff, while living in the same house, made their exercise apart from the students, leaving one of the priests on supervision. At Saint Sulpice priests and students followed the same rule, made their spiritual exercises together, their prayers, their particular examen, their divine Office. Even the recreations were taken together as far as possible. Thus the day was regulated under the common rule, and all were expected to keep it. This common life, this close contact, this mutual example had the observance more by individual conscience than by duress."(30) But, after all, the rule is only the exterior safeguard of the spiritual life - the foundation on which the ascetical life if built.
Ruel, the Superior of the Seminary, was very conscious of this fact, and just as he had lifted the standard of the studies, so he endeavoured to inculcate a strong yet tender piety into the life of his charges. For the rest, he was content to let the work of the Holy Spirit take effect in their lives. This good and wise Superior believed in respecting the difference in personality in each of his students, and this is why he encouraged any sensible initiative, not only in matters of study, but also in their spiritual activities. For instance, when in 1846 a group of students asked permission to form a literary and discussion club - this would have been a short time before Jules arrived - it was readily given, and he even encouraged them to discuss the then delicate topics of the Roman Rite, the supreme authority of the Sovereign Pontiff etc.. (31) Whether these discussions had anything to do with the opposition to the professor in class, we do not know. Jules himself was allowed to form a 'Spiritual Group' called The Small Society of Seminarists of Good Will", which had a larger membership and a longer life than the literary club.
We cannot stress too much the influence of Father Ruel on the life of our Father Founder. His appointment to Bourges as Superior and Rector was really a great blessing for Jules. He encouraged him in his studies and his spirit of piety; he kept assuring him that he had a priestly vocation, and that Our Lord wanted him; he became, we might say, the protector of that vocation, and all this in an atmosphere of confidence and esteem. Their friendship lasted long after Seminary days, and for Father Ruel, Father Chevalier always remained "Jules".(32) Not only did he help him over difficulties during these days of his training, but after ordination he assisted him, even financially at times especially when Jules was about to "launch out into the deep" with his new foundation. Father Ruel followed every step of this venture with interest and benevolence. Though he had no idea during the days of training of the plans of Divine Providence for Jules, we can say it was mainly Father Ruel who had fostered in the future Founder that particular spirit and type of spirituality which was to characterise him and his followers later on. By his broadness of outlook, and by his respect for the action of the Holy Ghost in individual souls, he had allowed Jules to develop completely, freely and harmoniously.
Another outstanding Sulpician who had a profound influence on Jules was Rev. Father Gabriel, Etienne, Joseph Mollevant.(33) This priest seems to have been one of the notable personalities in ecclesiastical circles during this period. For years the Sulpician Novice Master, he was much in demand for missions and retreats; he was the confidant of Bishops, Religious Superiors, and especially Directors of Seminaries. In spite of what appeared to be an unconcerned and detached manner, his extraordinary personality made a deep impression on all who met him. Father de Ravignan, S. J. wrote of him to his mother on 5th May, 1822; "This Father Mollevaut is a man of God - as unconcerned and detached as I would like my own soul to be. When Father Frayssinous told me in Paris to go and see him, he said: "Whatever he tells you about your future vocation, you will be as peaceful as if God Himself had told you".(34) Father de Ravignon all through his life had a deep and tender veneration for this priest who after the retreat simply said to him: "You are going to be a Jesuit."(35) Another testimony from Achille Valroger indicates that Father Mollevaut was not just the severe unbending type of holy person, but kind and understanding - "He insisted on my taking plenty of rest whenever I was sick."(36) The Abbe Bernard tells us that when he was appointed Vicar General of Cambrai he sought advice from Father Mollevaut, who had always been his confidant and director(37) and this is what he told him; "Always speak simply, warmly and practically - like St. Ligouri, whom you ought to learn off by heart. Never forget Mary. Keep the customary and popular devotions. I am convinced of the truth of the words of St. Vincent de Paul that all the calamities in the world happen because of bad priests. The only way to reform the world is to give it good priests."(38)
As Superior of the Novitiate House "La Solitude", and as Superior at Saint Sulpice, he was entirely dedicated to the formation of future priests. His great desire was to restore the ancient rule and the customs of Saint Sulpice of which he himself was a good example. He became a specialist in Seminary life, and his advice was sought not only by the Directors of other Seminaries, but by the bishops themselves. During holiday time they used to gather around him and listen to his lectures. His devotion to Our Blessed Lady was outstanding. During his many missions in the various parishes he inspired many a boy to become a missionary.
A brief biographical note on this remarkable priest would not be out of place. He certainly crowded plenty of experience into his years. Born on 10th March 1774 at Nancy, he grew up desiring to be a priest and to follow in the foot-steps of his uncle and god-father, the parish priest of St.Vincent. However, his father, afraid of the disturbed state of the Church in those revolutionary days, would not give his consent, and they went to Paris, where he was appointed to the Court of Appeal. He became Secretary to Serbonelli a high dignatary of the Republic at Milan and was enrolled in the army in 1795. During these years he became careless about the practice of his Faith. After the year 1800 he began studying seriously, and became a professor of Classical languages at Nancy, and later at Metz. Gradually he returned to the practice of his religion and in the epidemic of 1813 he heroically spent his time looking after the sick. The desire to be a priest returned and he gained admission to Saint Sulpice the following year. He was ordained a priest on 31st May 1817 and immediately became professor of Moral Theology. In 1838 he became Novice Master and began his great work in the formation of the clergy. At the age of 72 his years were beginning to tell, and he resigned his professorship of Sacred Scripture. It was owing to this resignation that the Seminary of Bourges was able to obtain him for the annual retreat in mid-October 1846. This would have been his last retreat, for he retired to Issy immediately after it, and died there on 4th February, 1854.
It was during this retreat that Jules met him and listened to his inspiring conferences. He made a lasting impression on this young seminarian commencing his first year scholasticate, and, as we will see, Jules regarded it as one of the great graces of his spiritual formation.
One of the directors of the Seminary wrote of this retreat: "The Venerable Father was enthusiastically received by the students, who had heard of his reputation as a saintly and practical preacher. They used to gather around him during their recreations, reluctant to let him out of sight or hearing. Although he used to talk in an unaffected and almost casual manner, he brought about a real change in the house, and inspired a more ardent devotion to Our Blessed Lady. As a souvenir of the retreat he donated a beautiful statue of Her to the Seminary."(39)
Jules himself wrote of the retreat: "His words, simple, yet full of fire and faith, made a profound impression on my soul. The preacher recommended to me three principal virtues - fidelity to the Rule, mortification and humility. I made every effort to practise them during my five years in the Seminary, but alas, how many shortcomings, how many imperfections!(40) Was not this the very doctrine of Father Olier himself being preached now, years later by Father Mollevaut? Humility, modesty, charity, mortification, fidelity to the rule. The retreat-master had said: ease and peace with yourself is not to strive after beings; to prefer not to be sought after, humoured or even consoled."(41)
But this retreat was for Jules not just a revision of the fundamental principles. It brought about a decisive change in his life. I came away from that retreat" he said "converted, and most desirous of being an exemplary seminarist."(42) As a matter of fact it was an experience which was very significant in his spiritual life and which had a definite bearing on his future vocation. It was the beginning of that "new life of which he was dreaming at the end of his days at Saint Gaultier, the fountain from which sprang the Divine Grace that was to prepare him for his special situation of Founder of a new Congregation in the Church.
CHAPTER IV CONVERSION AND SPIRITUAL INITIATION
God invites every man to cooperate effectively with Him in the plan of salvation and to achieve this end by "reuniting all things in Christ", in whom resides the plenitude of Divinity. He is the Embodiment of all Power and Dominion. Likewise Christ is the Head of the Church, which is His Body, that which "embraces all in all", and no man can belong to this Body unless he be united to Christ, the Head. It is from Christ that this Body receives its life - a life of faith and charity - each member, like cells of the human body, depending on and helping the others in their various functions.
This union with Christ is a life of Faith and Love, energised by the action of the Holy Spirit, whom He promised to send us and through whom we are "grafted" on Him. Christ dwells by Faith in our hearts, which become "rooted and grounded in charity" in proportion to the extent that we put on "the new man", a creature of justice and true sanctity.(1) The fundamental law governing this union of the soul with Christ has been formulated by Our Lord Himself: "He who would save his life must lose it; he who will lose his life for My Sake and the sake of the Gospel, shall save it."(2) Christ Himself has given us the example by His own obedience. Being the perfect Son that He was He has shown us by His sufferings what it is to obey, and now He will save all those who will obey Him.(3) Only those who are willing to obey Him really love Him, and consequently are loved by the Father; "If anyone loves Me He will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him.(4) The proof of our love, then, is precisely in this obedience, in the fulfilling of our particular vocation in life in the faithful accomplishment of all those duties incumbent on us as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. The work of the Holy Ghost in our souls is to lead us to this orderly life of love, to take our part in the orderly functioning of the Mystical Body. Since the very Person of the Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and the Son, He will direct our every action and shape "our heart in the love of God and the patience of Christ."(5)
This love, being of its nature diffusive, will seek its expression in winning other souls to Christ. The obligation of taking a keen and active part in the apostolate is a logical consequence of our union with Christ, and of our membership of His Mystical Body, the Church. The Holy Ghost uses every soul, according to its gifts and the degree of sanctity it has reached, in furthering the cause of this apostolate. The injunction of St. John applies to every Christian: "Love one another as Christ has loved you."(6)
The Holy Ghost calls everyone of us without exception to take part in the apostolate - in the spreading of the Faith - by praying for one another, and by giving good example in living a good Christian life in the spirit of charity. But he calls some souls to a more particular and special apostolate. When the will is more closely united with the Will of God and when a person's human activities are ordered to the harmonious functioning of the Mystical Body, Christ will come to that soul in a special way. He will visit it in the place and circumstances of its own particular vocation. To the contemplative He will come in the silence and recollection of prayer; to the missionary He will come in the trials of many difficult hours - hours of weariness, hours of worry about organisation, hours of wondering how to win the people to God. Each soul, no matter where it is placed, no matter what its task, must aim in the spirit of pure charity towards that union with Christ for which Our Lord Himself prayed and which for us is perfection - "God in us, and we in God".
Our Lord accepted the Divine Plan of Redemption in its entirety. He did not seek to change or restrict it. He did not pray to His Father to take us out of the world, but to guard us from evil. He did not tell His Apostles to avoid the people, but rather to go out seeking them, to go out to all the nations. To those who would share in His redemptive Priesthood, He would give His graces and His own strength making them partakers of the Divine Nature, sharers in His own Dignity as Son of God. He knew that their mission would involve risks and dangers. The Gospels are full of warnings to this effect, and the Apostles themselves often repeated them. No one is immune from these dangers, as they are inherent in our weak fallen nature, and are a necessary consequence of free-will. As long as we live on the face of the earth, we will live by Faith, and not by the certitude of the clear vision of God which will be our joyful lot in Heaven.(6) Even when our actions are prompted by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, we still have to contend with the infirmity of our human nature, our earthly attachments, our battle against the world, the flesh and the devil. The Saints themselves were certainly no exception in experiencing trials and dangers. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila have written at length on the temptations and tribulations that assail the Contemplative. They all experienced their own particular "dark night of the soul." And naturally the missionary out in the world will have to "fight the good fight" in a hundred and one ways. However God's help will never be failing to the one who remains faithfully at his post; he will receive his own particular grace of state, and he will be rewarded by the grace of a more intense love of God and his neighbour.
The history of every vocation is different. God Himself determines the locale, the circumstances and the type of work we shall do for Him and for the Cause of the Gospel. The time and the manner of the call depend on the limitless bounty of God. It is He who enlightens the intellect; He who founds us in charity; He Who bestows and strengthens the two necessary virtues of faith and love. He may call one person to the apostolate by leading him through contemplation to such an intense love that it illumines his faith as the theologian says "connaturaliter," and clearly indicates the path God wishes him to follow. Another He may lead step by step, or by a sudden inspiration, to an understanding and realisation of his particular mission, granting at all times the grace of complete confidence in God's help and encouragement.
as faith works through charity and as the ultimate object of all Christian preaching and endeavour is to promote the love of God in souls through a good conscience and a lively faith, Christ Our Lord will not fail to grant greater graces of charity along with the development and expansion of the missionary's work. As the trials, the difficulties the doubts arise, God's grace will be there to meet them. The price Our Lord demands of course is fidelity and devotion to the work in hand.
There is no doubt that Divine Providence had chosen Jules Chevalier to fulfil a very special apostolic mission - a complement and completion of his own priestly vocation. Looking back over his life we can clearly see the wonderful design of Providence in his life and the various spiritual milestones of his career. Early in his childhood, there was the firm conviction that one day he would be a priest - the preparatory grace, we might say. This conviction already was inspiring his dreams of the future and influencing his every boyhood action - his prayers, his sacrifices, even his games. He had a keen sense of faith, and responded to the graces God gave him which raised his youth to a supernatural level. The Holy Ghost was already planting the seeds of his vocation in his soul, but as yet there is nothing to distinguish him from any other good Catholic boy, especially from one who thinks he has a vocation. He was loading a pious life of faith and charity - much the same as any boy is taught to do by a pious mother.
During this period there are no extraordinary sign of the future apostolate or the special vocation. We could perhaps interpret his impersonation: the priest saying Mass and his repetition of the sermon at home, when he was only ten years old, as an apostolic tendency in his make-up. The impression that the missioner, Father Redon made on his young mind also indicates that his thoughts and desires were towards the Church. What is extraordinary is the strong will and tenacity he showed once he had made up his mind to be a priest. In spite of opposition, and even mockery, he was resolute in his determination to surmount all obstacles in his path to the priesthood even though he had no idea how he would be able to achieve his ambition. During that long period of difficulty at Richelieu he shunned anything that might make him waver in his resolution, and faithfully lived each day as it came, even though each day seemed to take him further away from his goal. His ideal impregnated his every thought and action, and he never lost confidence.
His devotion to the needy and the sick also reveals the future apostle. This sense of practical charity would flow from his quiet confidence that one day he was to be a priest. It was a result of his firm faith his spirit of sacrifice, and above all, of his ardent love of Jesus and Mary. He was grateful to God for this spirit of faith and confidence which he knew was sustaining him. The ever recurring difficulties only strengthened his will, and purified his motives, making him rely on the assistance of Divine Providence and not on human help.
On admission to a Seminary the vocation of a young man takes definite shape and form. He considers the priesthood as a logical consequence of this admission. He is now occupied by the duties and routine of each day, and is content to let the difficulties of his future life look after themselves. In his early days at Saint-Gaultier Jules difficulties were not directly concerned with his vocation, but rather with the trials of adjustment to the new life amongst the younger boys, with his temperament, studies etc. . Apart from the brief temporary bout of homesickness, his whole conduct bore the mark of certitude about the ultimate outcome of his vocation. It would have been strange if this young man who had relied so completely on Divine Providence to get him to the Seminary looked no further than that.
The incident of his fall down the cliff on the banks of the Grouse was definitely a milestone in his spiritual development. He had come very close to death and the serious thoughts that had passed through his mind in his semi-conscious state left a lasting impression on him. In those dread moments when he was powerless to move and when his companions thought, he was dead, there flashed before his mind a clear vision of the brevity of life, of our complete dependence on God who holds our lives in His hands, and of the futility of serving anyone but Him. His emotions were so violent and deep during the subsequent days that ten years later Father Piperon remarked; "That accident brought this young man face to face with the great problem of life and death and clearly showed him the vanity of earthly things and the necessity of serving God alone."(9)
It was because it gave him such a clear and lasting realisation of these fundamental truths that the accident is important in the story of his life. He was granted the grace of a clear concept of his total dependence on God, and the necessity of giving himself entirely to His service. In those brief moments, when he could hear his companions saying he was already dead, his soul cried out to God to forgive him his sins and to have mercy on him. He promised that if he was restored to life he would serve God with all his strength and will, more wholeheartedly than he had ever done before.(l0) In granting his prayer Almighty God bound him to his promise during the rest of his life. Even if this were not the real conversion in his spiritual life - it was a turning point to a more earnest and serious service of God in which he directed his energetic character and strong will to a deeper application to prayer. (11)
When he was a boy at Richelieu Jules considered the priesthood mainly as life of devotion spent for the service of souls. This idea attracted him, and he admired it greatly when he saw it in operation by such priests as Father Redon, the missioner. What reasons would explain this attraction and admiration, it is difficult to say. Doubtless a combination of natural and supernatural motives. However after his accident he was given the grace to see the priesthood in a new light. It was not only the serving of souls, but principally it was the serving of God. He could see that it was only by serving God, the Lord and Master, the sole Dispenser of Life and Death, and making this the main object of the priesthood, that the service of souls could be effective.
Until this time we might say that for Jules God had been considered in his meditations and prayers as the Supreme Reality, the Great Creator of Heaven and earth, the Eternal Judge. Now, with the coming to the end of his training at Saint-Gaultier, we notice that he is beginning to realise more clearly and vividly the Personal Nature of the Godhead, and to be very conscious of the fact that there are three Persons in God. With this consciousness came the re-orientation of his devotion and spiritual life, making Christ, the God Man the centre and main object of his love and attention. He was beginning to understand, as it were, the "Mystery of Christ", the Redeemer, and the necessity of our incorporation with Him. He could see that the basis of all true spirituality for the Christian is a personal union with Christ, and that any hindrance to that union must be conquered and put aside.
His answer to his relatives during the holiday at Richelieu when they suggested he should help them financially after he became a priest, is significant. If I become a priest," he had said, "it will be to serve God, and not my family. It will be to gain souls for Jesus Christ and not to enrich my family."(12) He still regarded the priesthood as the service of God but God is seen now in the Person of Jesus Christ and the apostolate consists not so much in bringing Christ to souls, but in bringing souls to Christ. It was this new realisation of the necessity of complete union with Christ as the basis of all true holiness that made him uneasy about his friendship with his fellow-student at Saint-Gaultier. He began to look upon this too natural attraction as a hindrance to his union with Christ. His friend was coming between him and Christ. Even he went to the chapel to pray he would find himself thinking of his companion instead of Our Lord, and it was becoming a source of tepidity and dissipation to him. He knew he had to make a choice, an important decision. "At the end of my year of Rhetoric", he said, "I was impatiently awaiting my entry to the Major Seminary in order to begin a new life."(13)
It was, then, at the beginning of his Scholasticate at Bourges during the retreat given by Father Mollevant that he made his act of complete abandonment to Christ and the offering of himself entirely to Him and His service. Having made the offering, he began to receive an insight, even if as yet a faint one, of his special vocation in the Mystical Body of Christ. It is this act of abandonment, and the deep imprint Christ had now made on his soul that Jules Chevalier calls his conversion.(14)
A conversion, according to Penido(15) is a personal pyschological reaction resulting from coming face to face with Eternity. The soul consider the Eternal realities and one's conduct is affected accordingly. Conversion for the religious soul, according to Father Lallement, is the passing beyond the stage of merely serving God, to the higher stage of devoting oneself entirely to His service in a state of perfection. This seems to have been Jules desire and ambition from now on. Father Piperon has written: "The episode of the natural friendship at the end of Rhetoric was the means chosen by the Divine Mercy to lift him to a higher state of perfection. Father Lallement continues: "To take this step we must renounce once and for all our own will, depend from now on only on the good pleasure of God and put ourselves entirely in His hands.(l6)
Saudreau remarks that seminarists often make this decision, but it is a question of perseverance. The soul must be truly faithful, recollected and resigned. It must apply itself courageously to humility and mortification and accept of the trials that Providence will send it."(l7) This evolution of the soul postulates a new attitude. It is not just a question of developing this or that virtue but of an abandonment of the whole person to God. The soul is raised to a new supernatural level. It consists principally in the choice between God and man; in the decision to lose one's life in order to find that of Christ, and to accept all the hardships that the sacrifice will entail.
After God had asked him for the sacrifice of this natural friendship, which was a source of tepidity and distraction to him (18) - innocent though the friendship was in itself - Jules conceived a now idea of the spiritual life and his priesthood. He saw there the opportunity of offering himself entirely to God, and accepted the invitation of Our Lord to raise himself to a higher state of perfection.(19) He made his choice. His resolution at the end of Rhetoric to begin a new life when he came to Bourges was now put into effect, and had become a reality. "I put my whole energy" he said, "during the five years of my Scholasticate, into trying to put into practice the resolutions of the retreat.(20)
Father Piperon sums up his life at this stage as a life of deep faith, of abnegation, of penance and of prayer.(21) It was indeed a real conversion, a turning of the heart to God."(22) God granted him a clear vision of the path he was to tread in order to accomplish his resolution. Father Mollevant during the retreat had indicated the way: "Fidelity to the rule, mortification and humility." We will see that Jules made these three virtues the means of making his act of abandonment to Our Lord, and made them the weapons with which he attacked his faults and passions - preparing his soul for the free action of the Holy Spirit within him.(23) He was "losing his life in order to gain Christ."
The object of the Sulpician formation is "to unite oneself with Our Lord and to enter into the dispositions of His Heart."(24) According to this concept the divine life of the souls consists in the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity brought about by our participation in the life of Jesus Christ, Who dwells in our soul through faith. (Ephes. 3:17)(25) It is a participation in the glorified Life of the Risen Christ, and by it we are made "partakers of the divine Nature" and "temples of the Holy Ghost." In the measure that Christ lives in us, and in the measure that our thoughts, our desires and our will are conformed to His, we achieve this interior union with Him. We can say with St. Paul; "For me to live is Christ" and "It is not I that live, but Christ lives in me."(26) It was in order to give us this new supernatural life and to show us the way to Eternal Life, that the Word was made Flesh. The life of the God-Man on earth was the supreme example of the way "to live our human lives. His life was a life of abasement, humiliation and abnegation - even unto His death of propitiation on the Cross. Only certain privileged souls are asked to bear severe external sufferings in imitation of our Crucified Master, but every ardent follower of Christ must at least bear them interiorly. These external pains and sufferings are like sacraments of the internal virtues which ought to operate in our souls. Father Olier has said: "What Our Lord suffered exteriorly, we should do interiorly."(27)
The understanding and practice of this union with Christ will come only from meditation on His life and death, but since our nature is vitiated by sin and we are proud, selfish and even rebellious, we must subdue and discipline our wills. If we are to understand, this "sensus Christi" we must mortify our wills and senses. Father Oiler used to repeat again and again: "We must rid ourselves of the old man." (He used to say it so vehemently at times that the old gardener at St. Sulpice thought he was referring to him!) He used to stress the fact that mortification and humility were the two powerful weapons with which to attack the enemies of true holiness - self love and pride. Mortification is "the virtue by which a Christian subdues the flesh and its inclinations by privations and sufferings", but this by itself is not enough.(20) Humility is its necessary complement, as it purifies the intentions and gives mortification a meaning. True humility makes a man mortify himself interiorly.(29) Each one of us has to renounce that "old man" within us inherited from Adam himself.(30) Mortification and humility will make us indifferent to our own personal satisfaction and comfort, and will pave the way for a more perfect union with Christ.
During the first three years of his scholasticate, from October 1846 to April 1850, Jules Chevalier applied himself diligently to the practice of the interior virtues - faith, recollection and prayer. He realised that to persevere in fervour and piety he must constantly practise mortification, penance and humility.
Father Piperon has given us an intimate study of him during this period: "Who will ever know of the personal penances and holy acts of self-denial that he quietly practised? Some of us at times tried to take him unawares in his acts of penance, but no one ever succeeded. However, it was common knowledge amongst us that he wore a hair-cloth shirt, and that he frequently took the discipline." The senior students used to point him out to the newcomers as the model seminarist. And a model he was. He was always the first to arrive at the Community exercises, always most particular about keeping the silence, an assiduous worker, recollected and grave in his deportment, reserved yet simple and friendly in his conversation, gentle and charitable to all, severe on himself."
"It was difficult to find even the slightest fault in him. His fellow students admired his exemplary fidelity to the rule, his spirit of silence, his zeal for study and his habit of prayer. They saw in him the model seminarist, the virtuous cleric striving to reproduce in himself the virtues of Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Priest. The Superiors and teachers liked him, thought a lot of him for the good example he showed and the high standard he set amongst the other students. The less fervent amongst them were encouraged to better efforts."
"During his five years at the Seminary he was never known to have lit a fire in his room, even though the climate in winter was bitterly cold. One particular year he shared a common study room with one of his cousins, who was also a seminarist at Bourges. In spite of the inviting fire-place, Jules chose to study in his cell even on the coldest nights. He doubtless regarded this as an opportunity for penance."
"His spirit of poverty was extraordinary, and even became a matter of comment. His soutane was always neat and clean, but carried many stitches and patches obviously the work of his own hands. It would seem that he took Our Lord's injunction to the Apostles literally: "Do not have two tunics." His boots became legendary for their shape and old age, and were often the object of friendly raillery from the students. His spirit of charity was no less conspicuous, not only to his fellow students, but even to outsiders. The following incident is a typical example: A poor man, a bootmaker by trade, sick and worried with the cares of a big family used to come to the Seminary each day to clean the toilets. Apart from the meagre wage he earned, he was given what food might have been left over from the meal of the previous evening and he mended any shoes or boots that the students gave him. Jules felt sorry for him, and went out of his way to get him what trade he could and even to collect a few alms amongst the students for him. He did more. For a long time he did part of his work in order to spare him fatigue. When the rising bell sounded in the morning he discreetly made his way to the post which he had assigned himself where he accomplished his disagreeable but charitable task. We would never have known of this practical act of humility had not one of his confreres happened one morning to surprise him in the very act."
"Another trait in his character worthy of comment was the ease with which he could turn a conversation along pious and spiritual lines in a natural and unobjectionable manner, and the facility he had for getting the students to discuss serious subjects."
Father Piperon concludes his character sketch thus: "Right to the end of his Seminary days he was a model for his regularity, his zeal for the glory of God and the good of souls, for his poverty, his simplicity and his affability. His keen faith sustained him in the faithful observance of all the rules and exercises of Seminary life." (31)
Father Piperon was perfectly aware of the extraordinary nature of Jules Chevalier, and in order to forestall any doubts that his future biographers might have, he wrote these telling lines; "I knew Jules Chevalier very well in the years we spent together in the Seminary: I honestly believe that I have not painted his character in over-glowing colours. Our fellow-students, if they ever read these lines, will be able to bear me out."(32)
In spite of the general esteem in which Jules was held in the Seminary he did meet with some quite formidable opposition from a certain group in the College, who did not approve of his consistently serious outlook and his unbending demeanour. We are not referring to the good-hearted banter he received about his clothes, boots etc., or the prankish efforts of some of the students to catch him practising his penances, but rather to a positive opposition - almost amounting to hostility - which a group comprising, as Father Piperon says, "a good number of the students" showed him. Father Piperon admits that at this stage of his training "his life did take on a severe form." The students maintained he was far too aloof, and many of them objected to his founding of the Little Society of Knights of the Sacred Heart, which, they said, only interrupted the smooth running of College life. Father Piperon remarks that his critics were comprised, mainly of the "less generous, less fervent type whose characters were as yet undeveloped." He was criticised for his taciturnity during recreation unless the subject of conversation on pious lines, and for not taking part in any light-hearted or amusing talk. Even those who did not criticise him openly, seemed anxious for a time to avoid his company, as they thought he was over-doing his determined effort to be always recollected. Any influence for good which he might have had on them seemed nullified by his excessive seriousness.(33) Even those who belonged to his "Society of the Sacred Heart" were not always in accord with him.
And so the word "rigourism" began to be associated with his name. After his ordination to sub-diaconate this state of antipathy seems to have vanished as Father Piperon remarks that "a marked change was apparent in him; he became the life of his Association, and had a great influence on all his fellow-students. (34) Father Piperon in retrospect asks the pertinent question: Can we honestly say that this period of his life at Bourges was one of rigourism? Rigorism? No. A forcible restraint, a tense and even violent effort to conquer and subdue his impetuous nature, yes.
Actually Jules Chevalier never subscribed to the theory that strain and tenseness is a necessary concomitant of holiness. On the contrary his real nature - as the subsequent years proved - was just the opposite. He did not at any time consider that his own serious demeanour was the ideal, nor did he expect it of other people, but he was striving quite earnestly to mortify himself in order to draw closer to Our Lord. Father Piperon himself admits that in Jules' inexperienced state as a zealous seminarist his manner was perhaps exaggerated at times, and his seriousness was excessive. But he went on to say that, even if this were so, it was an innocent exaggeration and a harmless excess, occasioned by his anxiety to please Our Lord. His purity of intention was never in doubt. Being the experienced Novice Master that he was, Father Piperon adds: "Every sincere beginner in the way of perfection commits these excusable exaggerations in the quest of Christian virtue."(35)
The spiritual writer, Saudreau, has a pertinent passage on this very point; "Most spiritual books," he writes, "tell us that we must never give in to the inclinations of nature; that we must in all things follow the impulses of grace. It is precisely on this point that young ardent souls need firm and sure direction. All their acts of piety are stamped with the mark of earnestness. In their anxiety to practise recollection they often do violence to themselves; in their desire to live in the presence of God they become deadly serious, and spend many hours in anguish of heart and tenseness of soul, instead of enjoying a relaxed and pleasant recollection. In the initial stage of a devout life, when the soul has made the firm resolution of spending itself in the service of God, we expect to find sudden and even violent outbursts of first fervour. These generous emotions should not be repressed, but firmly directed. While stressing the beauty and sublimity of the virtue the novice is trying to acquire he must be advised to seek it in peace and patience.
Anything that is violent does not last. He must be warned, against precipitation, anxiety and over-eagerness.(36) We can admit this was the case with Jules Chevalier. In his singleness of purpose in trying to reach a stage of perfection he was perhaps "a sign of contradiction." His one aim was to live a deep interior life, and to prepare himself for a fruitful apostolate but his efforts often appeared to some of the other students as sanctimonious. However it was by these trials that his spiritual progress was going on apace.
Knowing his sensitive nature, we can be sure that he felt the situation keenly, and it must have caused him many heart-burning hours. In an unfinished sermon which he wrote in his third year Scholasticate, in 1849, we gain an intimate insight into his reaction to the opposition of the students to which even if he does not say so, he was obviously referring. We can admire his Christian spirit of forgiveness: "Everyone regards a person who would wilt under an injury as a weak and timid soul. Although it is painful to our corrupt nature, it is heroic to forgive sincerely affronts and offences. No matter how difficult it is, God has a right to expect it of us; indeed He has commanded us to do so, and He has certainly given the example Himself. You may tell the person who offended you that you have forgiven him, even that you love him, but perhaps this is only to avoid further trouble, and fearing that his company may re-awaken angry thoughts, you decide to keep out of his way. What kind of forgiveness and love is this that the mere presence of the one you pretend to love only inflames you with hateful and angry thoughts? You say you love your brother, and yet you try to avoid his presence. 'That is blindness'. This is not in the spirit of Our Lord's command. The trouble is you are seeing only the man and not God in him. Even if it is hard to love your enemies you must see God in them. "Suscipe ilium sicut Me. Our Lord does not say I wish you to forgive him," but rather "I wish you to forgive Me. I am the Father of all men; you are my children; you are all in my heart. If a person offends you, he is offending Me; if you forgive him, you are forgiving Me. Quod fecisti uno de minoribus his, mihi fecisti'. I was the man I commanded you to love, and you have hated Me. I commanded you to forgive, but you have not forgiven Me. Would you persecute your brother who is covered with the blood of your God? Would you strike the one who is held in the arms of Jesus? Jesus loves him, and holds him in His heart. Pierce him and you pierce the Heart of Jesus where he is held." (37)
In the Catholic view, the "other world" has a precise and positive meaning. However, it also includes such a rich series of values, each related to the other, that contact with the "other world" presents many aspects and hence is shown in various ways. In the main they consist of a more direct and personal relationship with the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, with Christ or His Blessed Mother. In Father Chevalier, this, relationship became manifest, by a more intimate, personal friendship with the Person of Christ. The development of his vocation makes it clear that he had the desire to be an apostle even before he realized the preponderant part that Christ has in the work of the apostolate. This desire was the work of the Holy Spirit and in responding to it he drew nearer to Christ. His yearning for the apostolic life and his friendship with Christ were so linked that as he grew in the knowledge of Christ so also he developed his love of the missionary ideal, which became the inspiration and motive force of his spiritual growth. Well does Guibert exclaim: With what wisdom does divine Providence guide men!"
The important stage begins with his "conversion when he entered into a close union with Christ - a union which in the Divine economy of salvation has its origin in faith. To know Christ is to accept a mystery. The mystery takes first place. Jesus Christ is His own proof, because of His mystery, which is at the same time light. This is what St. Augustine makes clear in commenting on the text of the Gospel. "The light came into the world and the darkness did not comprehend it. One does not illuminate the light, but it gives witness by dissipating the darkness. We must believe Him on His word. We must follow Him without hesitation or evasions. What He asks and dearly loves is that state of surrender of the soul which obscurely recognises in Him his God. Jesus Christ is absolute truth who becomes accessible to our eyes only by purifying them, and united to our intelligence only by transforming it. "We enter into the Truth, and the Bible says, that is to say it does not come to us unless we surrender to it."(58)
Father Piperon shows us the form which this contact with Christ took, while pointing out at the same time its importance in the conversion of Jules. "Under the influence of grace, with which his soul was filled, he saw the priesthood in an entirely new light. He understood more clearly the sublime virtues which it demanded and he resolved to acquire them, even at the cost of great sacrifices. We can easily understand what must have been the progress of such a generous soul who never wavered in carrying out his perfect resolutions."(39)
"From the beginning of his clerical life Father Chevalier had the highest idea of the priestly dignity. He repeated often to himself and to us, his young fellow students that the priest should be another Christ. It is necessary then that he shows forth in his life the great virtues of which Christ has left us such sublime examples. Like Christ, he should be meek and humble of heart; like Him, the priest should love poverty, practice penance, be sympathetic to the weak, be helpful to sinners and bring back the lost sheep on his shoulders to the divine fold. Like his Divine Model, the priest should be ready to suffer all things for the salvation of souls. Neither trials nor sufferings nor persecutions nor the fear of death itself should deter the priest in his service of God. This was the ideal of our young seminarist; this was the ideal that he wished to put into practice by God's grace during the years of his priestly formation. He recalled unceasingly St, Paul's exhortation to the first Christians: "let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the origin and crown of all faith, who to win his prize of blessedness endured the cross and made light of its shame, Jesus, who now sits on the right of God's throne." (Heb: XII:2) He also wished to fix his eyes on the Author and Perfection of our faith, whose Sacred Heart has loved us beyond all measure and delivered Himself without counting the cost for the salvation of souls."(40)
The thing that strikes one in this interior development is the general design of this plan of the Holy Spirit, which is the unifying principle in this life. The new insight which decisively attracted him corresponds to the ideal which drew him from the time of his childhood and which urged him on still in the same direction: the priesthood seen under the aspect of the apostolate. There is continuity here. The conversion brought about by the greater comprehension of the truth resulted in a deepening of the old ideal, and the new attitude by which the conversion is manifested is a more internal putting into practice of this long cherished ideal. Thus we must pause a moment to consider this new element, in order the better to understand Father Piperon's description.
The aspect under which the Holy Spirit manifested the Person of Christ to Father Chevalier is that Sulpician Spirituality. The purpose for which Christ came on earth was to "establish the Kingdom and the religion of His Father" and in addition to "bring reverence and love.... the two things which make up religion."(41)
Man, who became a sinner in Adam and by his own personal falls, has lost this divine religion. "Our Lord desired to repair this disorder and to reestablish on earth the worship and the religion of His Father. That is what appeared on earth like a new "religious" who is not content to be devoted to God, His Father, in His own behalf, but who wishes to spread abroad his religion and to multiply it in the hearts of all men." (42); Thus the greatest and most ardent desire of the Heart of the Son of God was to glorify continually His Father and to be in perpetual communion with Him, loving Him, thanking Him, beseeching Him and adoring Him unceasingly.(43) Our Lord has asked this grace for us and has merited and obtained it by His life and death, becoming thus the way we must follow in order to return to the reverence and the love of the religion of His Father. After His death Christ has continued by every device of His love to obtain for men this religion towards God, and has given them his very spirit, which is that of God living in Him, to implant in them the sentiments of His Soul, so that spreading abroad in this way His holy religion, He, with all Christians may become one - as it were - one "religious" dedicated to God. While reigning in Heaven, He lives in the heart and in the pen of the evangelists, in the heart and on the lips of the apostles to proclaim everywhere the Kingdom of God, to procure the adoration which His Holy Name deserves and to win for Him perfectly obedient followers and adorers who will reverence Him in spirit and truth."(44)
Our vocation as Christians then, consists of receiving the Spirit of Christ, the spirit of the living God in order to produce in us the sentiments of the Soul of Christ and to form in union with Him and with all Christians, as it were, "one religious", dedicated to God. It means living interiorly as Jesus Christ the perfect Religious lived. "He pours Himself out on us; He penetrates our being; He takes possession of our soul and fills it with interior dispositions of His own religious Spirit so that His Soul and ours are one." (45) "It is precisely the state of the "risen" life to which we are called in "imitation of Christ, who wishes that we also should be interiorly risen and conformed in Him. This is why He says that He has communicated to men the glory that the Father had given Him. This glory is the risen state - which He possesses in the Host: That they may be one as We are one: I in them and They in Me. I am in them, having the same effect as You, Our Father, who art in Me, have in Me. I vivify them as You vivify Me. I perfect them as Thou hast perfected Me."(46)
"There is no salvation except in Jesus Christ", said Father Chevalier. "In Him we live and move and have our being. He is a blazing fire; He divinizes us; He is All. Our real life is only in union with Him. The practical consequence of this is imitation is to be Christ-like. In the practice of the virtues, Father Chevalier looked beyond the virtue itself. His inspiration was the thought that each act of virtue and each virtue was something of Our Lord Himself which is made part of me...we do separate the acts and the virtues from the Person of Christ, and this implicitly in the final analysis that the practice of the virtues of Jesus means union
Father Piperon and Father Chevalier are able to consider perfection only as union with Jesus. That is the sum total of their doctrine on perfection. The degrees of perfection for them are measured by our growth in this union. All the rest is but the preparation, the putting off the "old man", the freeing of the soul to permit the action of the Holy Spirit so that we may become one with Christ through the influence of His graces: "I live now not I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal.II.20) This work of Christ in souls is achieved in the Church. "After the generation of the Word and the mission of the Holy Spirit, nothing is dearer to the Father than His Church which He forms each day by means of the Word, in the Blessed Sacrament and by the offering of the Holy Spirit, through whose gifts Jesus Christ is formed in the hearts of the faithful."(48)
"In order to spread His holy religion towards God and to multiply it in our souls, our Divine Lord comes to us and delivers Himself into the hands of His priests as a victim of praise to communicate to us His spirit of Victim; to associate us with His praises and communicate to us interiorly the sentiment of His religion." Over and above the interior exercises of this religion which are common to all, there are others regarding the special worship and the external public functions. Above all, the supreme tribute we must render to God - that is, the offering of sacrifice. This Sacrifice is the sum total all religion. It is at the same time its epitome and its final perfection; the priest who alone is chosen to offer this public Sacrifice in the church is the one who is the perfect religious man, whose life is a compendium of all religious perfection. This Sacrifice infinitely surpasses all the states of penance and mortification, of love and praise that can be found in the Religious Orders."(50) And Christ is the High Priest of this Sacrifice.
In itself, the title of High Priest expresses only the offering of the Sacrifice. But when one considers the full meaning of the phrase, the expression Jesus Christ, High Priest, presents a more complex idea. In fact "Jesus was the Priest of His Sacrifice and the Victim of His Priesthood; in Him Priest and Victim are one." Nor is this title to be limited to one happening, for example the Sacrifice of the Cross or that of the Mass. "The State of Victim sums up the whole life of Christ on earth and in heaven," and the priesthood flows from this state of Victim. Consequently the author continues "His life was but one unique sacrifice whose different parts are made up of the different mysteries, and it is really by the Incarnation that the Word became Man and at the same time, Priest. The work of Christ the Priest is to glorify the Father by sacrificing Himself for the salvation of souls."(51) The title of High Priest is the sacerdotal expression of the sane reality as the title of Religious common to all the faithful, that is to say, the Word incarnate in the concrete reality of His life and history. And that in the highest and most exalted quality and grandeur that the Son of God has acquired in our nature by the Incarnation."
The task of the Priest is to reproduce Christ, to give the Holy Spirit to the Church and to sanctify the faithful; to give the Eternal Father while giving Christ Jesus in Communion to the Church.(52) For, remarks M. Olier, "the function of the priest is twofold. The one relates to God, whose glory he must procure; the other relates to the neighbour, for whose salvation he must labour."(53) They must continue the embassy of Christ, whose preoccupation was to teach the unlettered people and the little children the first principles of religion. Hence, the priests preach and make known His secrets, they have the honour to be bearers of the words of Jesus, whom God has sent to His Church, as the unique Society with which He desires to have official relations. The priests then become the protecting walls which beat back the waves of the sea; the ramparts of the world and the Church against the malignity of the demons and the rage of hell. They are the "torchbearers of the Church bearing the light of faith to illumine the world."(54)
What grandeur there is in this priestly office: "It is the greatest of all, surpassing all others. This office of Sanctifier of souls, of offering, of blessing, of Sacrificing God to God. It means having the salvation of the whole universe in one's hands; the sanctification of every creature, the praise of the whole world, the good works of all the Saints, all the prayer of Paradise at one's disposal." (55) In a word, it is the continuation of the work of Christ, the High Priest as described in the epistle to the Hebrews.
The priest thus becomes, as it were, a 'Sacrament' of Jesus Christ; a 'Religious' of God the Father, and as such renders his homage to God. By means of this office he is able to accomplish what would be otherwise wanting in his religion. He becomes a mediator between God and men, who pays to God the tribute of His Church and distributes to this same Church the gifts of God. In a word, this office of the priest is a summary and epitome of all his religion."(56)
"The priest is in the church like another Christ."(57) "The priest should bear Christ within himself, sanctifying souls and he should be so filled with grace that in the Church he is as Jesus Christ Himself of whom it is said: (l Cor. 15.45) "He was made into a quickening spirit."(58) "They are chosen by Our Lord to be the living expression in the Church of His Spirit and His Heart, and to do this they must reproduce Him exteriorly in their lives."(59)
The dominant idea of these texts and the great significance of this concept is that the priest of himself is nothing and represents nothing, but he becomes all by his union with Him, Who is in the full sense of the words, God, Mediator, Spouse of the Church, Servant of all in order to save them, Jesus Christ, the High Priest.
Father Chevalier has thus expressed this idea of the priesthood; "O Priest, who are you: You are not of yourself, because you are from nothing. You are not for yourself, because you are a mediator between God and man. You do not belong to yourself, since you are the Spouse of the Church. You do not live for yourself, since you are the servant of all; you are not even yourself, since you are God. What are you, O priest? You are nothing - and All."(60)
It follows that the priest must be transformed into Christ, living in Him, vivifying the Church through Him. By his attitude and by his interior sentiments he should be "Jesus Christ Himself.... mingling with us, filling us; with His perfections and His substance, penetrating us with Himself entirely, by expressing in us His divine qualities, so that by this union and intimate penetration by His Substance, He and we become one."(61) "The very depth of their soul should be transformed, into Jesus Christ, living in the, and vivifying the Church through them."(62) Because "God wishes to be in us as in the risen Christ...transforming us entirely into Him by the power of His Grace."(63) This vision of the incorporation of the priest in Christ, and consequently of his absolute dependence on Christ, for his power, his apostolate and his sanctification gives to the thought of Father Chevalier a direction in which the sovereignty of the Priesthood of Christ sheds its light on everything. He thus discovers a new dependance. Without doubt, the priesthood remains what he believed it to be; a grace from God, given to lead souls to Christ. But the apostolate appears now to be a continuation and extension of the activity of Christ Himself, and the Priesthood a grace of intimate and continuous union with Him, from whom follows all priesthood and all apostolate. A union so intimate that the Holy Spirit wishes to transform the priest into the risen Christ, Who lives in him and makes him a vivifying force in the Church. But for that it is necessary for him to lose his own life in "fidelity to the rule, mortification and humility," (64) in order to live the life of Christ by a unifying imitation of His virtues, above all as a priest. The divine response to these efforts was the elevation of Jules to a greater perfection. Strongly fortified interiorly by the Holy Spirit, Christ came to dwell in his heart by a deeper faith and his charity was more intense. Parallel with this growth, God gave him conformably to the richness of the glory received by his soul, an understanding of the mystery of Christ which was expressed, with some initial hesitation, first of all in the desire of the missions, then in the idea of founding a Community of apostles. Then when he will have seen in the Sacred Heart the love of Christ, which surpasses all understanding (65) His mission will become very clear to him in the "beautiful dream" of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
To complete the summary of Sulpician spirituality which influenced the concept of Father Chevalier it is necessary to say a few words of devotion to the Eucharist and to Our Blessed Lady. Father Olier considers it the special task of the priest to honour the God-Man "as He is in the august Sacrament of the Eucharist, and to renew by this means the sentiments of His Divine Life in the hearts of men." The centre of sacerdotal formation, according to him is the Holy Eucharist. The risen Christ has become really near to us in this Sacrament, where He takes up a state that is so suited to the priest that every seminarist beginning his seminary life should say to God: "I enter into a state where I make profession of imitating Your Son, the Victim dedicated and consecrated to Your adorable Majesty and destined to die." (67)
We will speak later of Father Chevalier's devotion to Our Lady during his seminary days. As an example and to sum up his ideas we will quote the conclusion of a sermon for Pentecost, which must date from his earlier years when his attention was attracted towards the Cross rather than to the Sacred Heart. Implicitly he returns to Father Olier as the source of his Marian doctrine; "Spirit of strength and light, of wisdom and counsel, You have perhaps in your immutable designs destined me to continue the work of these generous apostles. Of myself I am but ignorance, darkness and corruption. Come, I implore you, and enkindle in my heart the sacred fire of your love. Consume what there is that is worldly or too human in my soul. Make all my thoughts, my desires and my actions to be only for my divine Saviour, all my glory and my knowledge only for Jesus Crucified. Ah, my God, what use would it be for me to have all the knowledge in the world if I did not know You the Truth and the Life? But where shall I gain this knowledge? In persevering prayer like the Apostles, at the feet of my Redeemer, nailed to the cross. As you have taught us: qui appropinquant pedibus eius, accipient do doctrina eius; "Those who kneel at His feet, will share in His teaching." It is there that all the saints have gained this knowledge. I see one of Your faithful servants; about to render his soul into the hands of God, asking that his book be brought to him. Those who are caring for him, men whose hearts are occupied with earthly cares, look for the book in vain. Meanwhile, eternity approaches and again ho asks for his book. But what book is it you want?" they ask him. "My Crucifix" he replies, and he dies with his lips pressed to the Figure of his beloved Master.
O Virgin Mother of my God, can I forget you on this solemn festival when you received all the gifts of the Holy Spirit to distribute them to the priests of the New Law as has been so sublimely stated by one of your faithful servants. Adorn my heart with your ineffable favours. Engrave there in characters that will not fade, the love of the Cross. I ask of You favours which I am confident You will obtain for me to love Your Son without reserve and to make Him loved and to love You, Mother, as le deserve to be loved and to spread the glory of Your name. Amen"
CHAPTER V THE CALL.
The Devotion of Jules Chevalier to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Jules Chevalier received the Tonsure on 29th May, 1847. The same year his father fell seriously ill and during the August holidays of the following year he died fortified by the Sacraments. ''This was a great consolation to me," wrote Jules. Only a few days after his father's death, his mother, worn out by the long nursing of her husband, collapsed and was in danger of death. However, thanks to the numerous prayers offered for her, she recovered.
Jules returned to Bourges at the beginning of October, 1843 to continue his theological studies. Even at this early stage he suspected that God had great designs in his regard. But what? At the beginning of 1849 he formed a desire to go to the Foreign Missions after his ordination. ''After reading the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith," he writes, "I felt a strong urge to give my life to the Missions. I was prepared to make any sacrifice to bring the light of the Gospel to the infidels. I went to my spiritual director, Father Ruel, and told him of my wish, but he was not enthusiastic about it. He told me the diocese was short of priests, and to put the idea out of my mind at least for the time being. I submitted to his decision, and decided to await the designs of Providence."(2)
It was in this year, 1849 that the three future priests who were to form the nucleus of the Society of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart found themselves together at the Bourges Seminary - Jules Chevalier, Charles Piperon, and Sebastien Maugenest.
Sebastien Maugenest, who had studied the Humanities at Chezal-Benoit, was just beginning his philosophy and Charles Piperon, who had completed his studies at the Junior Seminary at Bourges, arrived four months later to join him. Charles had stayed at home for these four months, as he was worried by scruples about his vocation. He arrived at Bourges on 1st January, 1849.
Jules received his Minor Orders on 4th February, 1849.(3)
Encouraged by Father Ruel, he began to show a great interest in the welfare of the diocese where his apostolate lay, and he was appalled by the religious indifference of the age. A sermon, which he wrote at this time on Religious Indifference deplores the lack of faith and religion amongst the majority of people, the collapse of morality and the licentiousness of society. Faith and prayer are the only antidotes. another sermon Mundum gaudebit which he wrote about this time shows his distress at the spirit of rationalism and materialism which was eating out the Spiritual heart of France.
It was the realisation of the sad state of religion in France at the time no doubt the aftermath of the Revolution - that turned Jules' thoughts away from the Foreign Missions to concentrate on a plan, which was taking shape in his mind, of founding a Congregation of Missionaries for the Home Missions. In a manuscript written in 1859 - five years after he had founded his Congregation is important; "Our little Society", he wrote, "is not the work of man, but of God. It was born in the Sacred Heart of Jesus under the powerful protection of Mary. May I say that it is only with a sense of repugnance that I trace its history here. I am doing so only under obedience, and for the glory of God."'
"Ten years ago, while I was still in the Seminary, reflecting on the sad state of Society in this century, I conceived the idea or rather God inspired the thought in me, to found a Community of Missionary-Priests to help cure the disease. I told Father Ruel, my Spiritual Director about the project. He replied that it was only a "Utopian dream" - an hallucination and the child of a too-lively imagination. Feeling rather foolish, I resolved to think no more about it. However, in spite of myself, the plan kept recurring to my mind, and as each month passed the concept grew clearer and stronger. It was as if a voice kept saying to me: "You will succeed one day. God is in favour of this work." I intended confiding my plan to a fellow-seminarist, who I thought would be the one to encourage and help me. However I became timid about it and did not mention it to him." Although Father Chevalier does not mention his name, this seminarist was none other than Pere Maugenest.
"Already I was thinking of a suitable place where I might found this new Society, and suddenly Issoudun with its 14,000 souls and its three priests can to my mind." (5)
When we consider this Manuscript of 1859 we cannot help but notice that Father Chevalier wrote of these early inspirations, and how they came about, with a deal of reluctance. He used the strong term - "with repugnance" - as though the subject were too intimate to discuss openly, and told us that he did so only "under obedience." This reluctance stayed with him till his death. When telling us of his desire to go to the foreign missions he discusses the subject quite openly and naturally, but on the subject of these early promptings and inspirations he speaks only of the last phase, the time when, as we shall see, his plan was completed by the devotion to the Sacred Heart. And because in this latter regard the biography of Saint Margaret Mary had a decisive influence on him, he connects it with the reading of this book. Although he wrote voluminously on the Sacred Heart throughout his life, he regarded this period as something very intimate and sacred, and not to be discussed.
When he had told Father Ruel of his desire to go to the missions, his Spiritual Director had discouraged him, but he had said he would think about it, and advised Jules to postpone his decision. On the contrary when Jules mentioned his idea of founding a Congregation of Missionaries, Father Ruel had emphatically told him it was the idea of a visionary, and to put it out of his head immediately. He stressed the fact that it was an impracticable idea.
These days would have been days of trial and indecision for Jules Chevalier. With his deep sense of obedience he did not wish to go against the opinion of Father Ruel, yet he was convinced that God had a special work for him to do. This conflict in his soul would account for his timidity about the whole project. Father Piperon has already given us a description of his usually decisive and practical character, which would preclude any tendency to self delusion or visionary flights of fancy. "He was a relentless worker; a solid character. He was endowed with a sound and practical judgment and a strong will which no difficulty could deter. Having made a decision, he resolutely carried it out, and if the obstacles seemed insurmountable for the time being he patiently awaited more favourable circumstances to achieve his object."(6)
It would seem then that this timidity and indecision was out of character with this usually certain and practical young man. After his interview with Father Ruel, why should he feel ashamed of himself, and resolve not even to think of the project again? And why should this same timidity deter him from mentioning his plans to the other young seminarist who he thought, would encourage him? Why should this realistic and practical young student believe that a voice was telling him to proceed with his plan? And yet, try as he might, he could not banish his "dream" from his mind, and in spite of his resolution not to think of it, it was forever in his thoughts.
The only possible explanation of this uncertainty, and his consequent unwillingness to discuss or write about it - even in later life - was the manner in which the whole plan evolved. Like all good works in the Church it was the work of the Holy Ghost, and Jules was to be the instrument of that same Holy Spirit in founding a new Congregation. He had no desire to oppose the advice of his spiritual director, but in his prayers and meditations he was daily becoming more convinced that he had a special work to do. "Suddenly, he tells us, "the good God inspired the thought in my soul to found a Community of Missionary priests to fight the religious indifference of the times." "But where?" I asked, and the answer came promptly: "At Issoudun."
This inspiration was, as it were, a complete up-surging of his whole soul. It subjected his practical intelligence to its impulse; took complete possession of his will; and became almost an obsession which forcibly dominated his mind. It puzzled the prudent and observant Father Ruel, who was used to Jules' practicality, and he could only remark - rather bluntly - "It's an illusion."
Even when Father Chevalier and Father Maugenest found themselves together as curates at Issoudun, it was with difficulty and diffidence that he confided his plan to his fellow priest. Even when the "illusion" had become a reality, he was still loathe to go into intimate detail - even with the co-founder - about what went on in his soul during these Seminary days when his "dream" was taking shape.
We can understand the attitude of Father Ruel, the Rector of the College, and Jules' spiritual director. We have stated previously that when Jules eventually did found the Congregation Father Ruel followed its progress with sympathy and interest, but at this stage it was his duty to treat the proposal with caution and even distrust. After all, Jules was only a student beginning his theology, and his plan of founding a Congregation seemed rather grandiose and ambitious. That his discouragement was not absolute is evident from the fact that he did not forbid Jules to discuss it, even publicly with the other students.
Father Piperon writes: Often he spoke to us of Issoudun, the most un-Catholic and irreligious parish of the diocese. He had in mind the establishment of a Society of Missionaries to work for the spiritual rejuvenation of town and its environs. With his closer friends he used to discuss the proper details of this foundation.(7) He used to speak with conviction as if the Congregation were already established. He did not take him very seriously and regarded the subject as merely an imaginative topic of conversation during recreation. To our smiles of incredulity he would reply: 'Very well, you will see one day. What I am telling you is the truth.'"(8)
Father Ruel had encouraged Jules' devotion to the Sacred Heart, and willingly gave his permission for the founding of the little association in College, "The Knights of the Sacred Heart", but he definitely opposed at this stage Jules larger scheme for a future foundation of Missionary-priests. He told him to reserve his energy for his work in the diocese later on.(9) His opposition to the plan can be put under three headings: Firstly, he disliked and discouraged the idea that Jules was acting under any special divine inspiration: secondly, he doubted the possibility and practicality of a foundation of this nature; and thirdly he disapproved of the universality - the wide field of operation - of the proposed foundation. After long talks with Father Ruel Jules decided to try and forget his plans, and he no longer discussed it with his fellow students. Father Piperon tells us that at the time he himself had no idea of the intimate thoughts that were going through Jules' mind.
While this drama was being enacted in the mind of Jules, the tract "de Incarnatione came up for study. The professor supplemented the tract with a treatise on Devotion to the Sacred Heart. Jules was so impressed by it that he copied it out entirely. (10) The manuscript has been preserved. It consists of a clear exposition of the devotion in the rather archaic language of the time, with the answers to the objections proposed. It concludes with a Note and explanation of the Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.(11) "This doctrine went straight to my heart," he wrote, "and seemed to penetrate my very being. I tasted new delights."
His confessor gave him about this time the "Life of Blessed Margaret by Mgr. Languet, and it made a profound impression on him.(12) "This book, he wrote, gave me the ardent desire to become an apostle of Devotion to the Sacred Heart - a devotion which Our Lord Himself had given to the world, and which He desired to be spread everywhere."(13) As subsequent history was to prove, this spreading of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was to be his life's work - and a special work indeed. Devotion to the Sacred Heart, of course, was not something new to him. We have seen that he practised it as a boy at Richelieu, where special devotions were held in the church before the large painting of the Sacred Heart. His good mother had taught him the devotion at an early age and she had consecrated him to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At Saint Gaultier the Feast of the Sacred Heart - introduced to the diocese with its proper Mass and Office by Cardinal de Villele - was solemnly celebrated each year with a procession during which the students sang the hymn "Ave Admirabile".(14) At Bourges also the Feast was celebrated with solemnity, and the Superior frequently made the subject of his conferences the Devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Jules Chevalier then, had understood and practised this devotion in its general outlines since childhood, but it was now after studying its theology in class and reading Mgr. Languet's book on Blessed Margaret Mary, that the devotion took on a special significance for him. Besides gaining a deeper intellectual appreciation of the Devotion, it now captured his heart. "It seemed to penetrate my very being. I tasted new delights." His predominant wish from now on was to be an Apostle of this Sacred Heart, and to spend himself in spreading the devotion. He regarded this all through his life as special grace and a particular spiritual experience which was to determine the nature of his apostolate. The richness of the Devotion and its efficacy as a powerful means of sanctification were now to be the main subjects of his preaching and priestly activity. He was indeed now a Missionary of the Sacred Heart. The students themselves from this juncture could not help but notice the "exuberance of his soul'' in the fervent and familiar way he would speak of the Sacred Heart, and his zeal imparted itself to their own souls.
It was not that his ideas of the apostolate wore radically changed, or his previous spiritual convictions altered, but a new grace and light were given him as to the method he would employ in this Apostolate. He would reach the hearts of men by preaching the Love and Mercy of the Heart of Jesus. His basic idea of the apostolate remained the same. It was more than just a human enterprise. It was a life in itself - effective only by union with Christ, for it is Christ who saves. A human effort, certainly, but a supernatural and redemptive effort. The apostle must be a man totally dedicated to his cause under God's guidance,(15) and this cause is to make known and loved Jesus, our Saviour. That is why Father Piperon describes Jules Chevalier as a young Seminarist who had ever before him Jesus - the Author and Finisher of Faith, Whose Sacred Heart loves us beyond measure. His ideal was to become a true disciple of Christ, to become a worthy priest and apostle, with Jesus living in his soul, so that he could impart that life to others. This conception of his apostolate now linked with his ardent Devotion to the Sacred Heart determined the form of his special vocation.
The spirit of Love of the Sacred Heart which he was to impart to his new Congregation after 1854, and which was to become the dominant characteristic of the Society, was already fore-shadowed in the little association he formed in the Seminary called "Knights of the Sacred Heart and of Mary." (Fittingly enough the French title was "Chevaliers du Sacre Coeur et de Marie) To quote Father Piperon again; "Under the vigilant supervision of the Superiors, and with their permission Jules established and directed - even though he took the lowest place in it - the "Society of Knights of the Sacred Heart and of Mary."
This group had Father Ruel's wholehearted approval and blessing. He ever obtained an indulgence from the Cardinal for the members - to be gained by visiting the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel of the Garden - a subsidiary chapel in the grounds of the College, where, incidentally, Jules was to offer his first Mass.
The forming of this group amongst the students contradicts the charge that Jules was too much of a hermit, who did not welcome the company of his fellow-students. On the contrary, as Father Piperon testifies, they looked up to him and admired the ease with which he could talk on spiritual topics.(18)
One who referred to Jules' activity in his little Society as an apprenticeship for the future religious life in his new Congregation writes: "The end of the Association was the exercise of the clerical virtues and priestly zeal by mutual help and by theological and spiritual discussions." The members, of this fraternal union used to meet once or twice a month - either out in the grounds or in one of the recreation rooms according to the season. A cordial and frank friendship sprang up amongst them. They took it in turns to speak in an informal way on various subjects of interest, and methods of improving their spiritual lives. Without having any superiority complex any student was invited to point out any external faults in his companions, and suggest ways of improvement. Although the theological and spiritual topics were discussed seriously, a general gaiety pervaded the meetings. If a student who did not belong to the Association, should happen to come along, he was given a warm welcome, and the business in hand was postponed while the object and constitutions were explained to him.(19)
One of the chief practices of the Association was to make special visits to the Blessed Sacrament during recreation and on walk-days. With permission they used to take it in turns to make five-minute visits to the Chapel of the Garden during recreation periods, and on walk-afternoons they would visit the country house which belonged to the Seminary. Here the Blessed Sacrament was reserved and the visits would be for a quarter of an hour. Special acts of reparation were made to the Sacred Heart, and special intentions prayed for. It was to these visits that the Cardinal granted the special Indulgence on the usual conditions.(20)
"It was in the establishment of this small Society," continues Father Piperon "That Jules began his active apostolate for the Sacred Heart. With St. Paul he could say: 'Caritas Christi me urget' - 'The love of Christ is my motive.' More than once, when the opportunity arose during recreation or during our walks, we listened intently to him exposing his intimate ideas on Devotion and speaking of the ineffable treasures of love and mercy of the Sacred Heart. His own ardent sentiments communicated themselves to us, and we could feel our hearts beating with his. Happy and tender moments, which passed all too quickly. After sixty years their memory comes back vividly to me with it the regret that I did not profit more therefrom."(22)
Jules' practice of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart had a marked influence on his external manner and conduct. In October of 1849, he was commencing his fourth year at Bourges and his second in Theology. In April 8th of the followng year, 1850, he was ordained a Sub-deacon. Until then, as we have seen before, he had been criticised for being too aloof and serious. "From the day of his ordination to sub-diaconate" states Father Piperon, a marked change came over him." Until then, stiff in his bearing, inclined to be taciturn and too serious, he now began to reveal his real nature. With the grace of Orders he seemed to be sure of himself; he became affable, approachable and jovial. This pleasant manner was manifest till the end of his seminary days, and as a consequence he had a greater influence on the students. It was noticeable also that the numbers of Knights of the Sacred Heart increased. As Father Piperon remarks; "They were now quite numerous."(24)
The tension of manner which had followed his "conversion" had been a worry both to himself and his spiritual director, and it had been the cause of misunderstanding with the students. Now all this was a thing of the past. "When a soul is master of itself in firm resolution," writes Father Saudreau, "it avoids all precipitation, anxiety and restless activity."(25) This grace came to Jules with his sub-diaconate. He was just as strict as ever with himself, but his external demeanour was more relaxed and flexible.
"Today after fifty years" writes Father Piperon, "we find him always affable, complaisant and friendly to all who approach him. He has made himself "all things to all men" in order to gain them for Christ. This is the secret of his influence on so many people no matter to which country they belong. No one goes away from him without a word of consolation and good wishes."(26)
Having resolved that his future work would be mainly concerned with the spreading of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, Jules made it the object of his meditations. He endeavoured to acquaint himself with every aspect of the doctrine and imbued his soul with its spirit. We must remember that this evolution in his spiritual life was taking place during the period when he was struggling with the idea of founding a Society of Missionary-priests, and it was only natural that the two great desires - that of spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart and that of founding a Society should become fused as the one ideal. He realised that Devotion to the Sacred Heart was a powerful means of sanctification, and offered great scope as an efficacious means of apostolate. He would spread this devotion through his future Congregation.
What part can a particular devotion play in the sanctification of our souls - in our spiritual progress? All through his training, his spiritual masters had impressed on him the necessity of having an intimate knowledge and love of the Interior Life of Jesus, and now in his devotion to the Heart of Jesus he had before him a real personal Object of love and adoration. He wrote in his "School of the Sacred Heart": "The end of this devotion is to offer love and adoration to the human Heart of flesh of Our Lord - the symbol of His infinite love for men. By uniting our own hearts with His, we will burn with the fire of divine love, and be one in spirit with Him in all things."
The devotion to the Sacred Heart then was not just an aid to Jules' spiritual life; it informed that life, became, as it were, its very essence. It epitomised all his previous ideals and convictions - His desire for union with Christ; his desire for personal sanctification; his desire to heal the spiritual wounds of the people. The treasures of Love and Mercy that were to be found in the Heart of Jesus were the answers to the spiritual needs of the masses. Union with that Sacred Heart brings us life, salvation and grace - the joy and peace of mutual friendship. Father Olier had written: "Union with Christ is our vocation, our perfection. In and by the love of His Heart we are able to imitate His virtues and make ourselves like unto Him. By this means it is possible for us to put into practise his divine injunction: "Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Never abandon this divine love, it will attract you as it did Mary Magdalen. On thing is necessary, He told her. That was to love Him. Unite yourselves to the sentiments and dispositions of Jesus, which repose in His loving Heart. Your meeting-place with your Lover will be in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar where He will favour you with the abundance of His love - as a Spouse to his beloved."(27) In union with Jesus, Love is the bond.(28) Live in this love, for it is the nourishment of the soul, which Jesus Himself has prepared."(29) Find Him also in your daily exorcises which are the rendezvous of lovers.(30) The love of Sacred Heart is your life."
The devotion of Jules Chevalier to the Sacred Heart was not based on merely pious sentiment, but was strictly in accord with the approved theology of the Devotion and the official proclamations of the Church. The professor had dealt with the subject historically and canonically in class. In Jules Notes we find the following: "The French bishops, meeting in Council in 1769, pointed out the three-fold end of this Devotion, as revealed by Our Lord Himself to Blessed Margaret Mary Alocoque. They are the same ends or objects of the Devotion approved by "Pope Clement XIII in the decree which extended the Feast of the Sacred Heart to Poland. This three-fold end was:
(1) To remind the faithful of the Infinite Love of Christ for them, and to stir up love for Him in their own hearts;
(2) To procure for them an abundant share in the fruits of Redemption;
(3) To make reparation to the Divine Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament - especially during the Octave of Corpus Christi - for the injuries inflicted on Him by mankind.
The professor had told them; "It is useful and salutary to honour this Divine Heart in a special manner, especially in those days of religious indifference, when men need to be drawn to Christ by an external and sensible devotion, which will touch their hearts. The direct and ordinary effect of this Devotion is an increase of grace, of piety and of perfection in the soul and at the same time it is an excellent means of worshipping the adorable person of the Lord made Flesh and His human Heart so full of love and mercy. All the Feasts in honour of Our Lord have as their material object the Person of the God-Man. The formal object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is the eminent Divine and Human Love of Christ symbolised by His Human Material Heart. Its true and real foundation is in the Hypostatic Union of the Lord with the human Heart of Christ - united in the immense love of Our Lord for men.
In teaching this doctrine the professor was only reiterating the truths taught in the diocese of Bourges - at least over the previous twenty-five years. On 1st March, 1825 a special Votive Mass and Office in honour of the Sacred Heart had been authorised for use in the diocese of Bourges by the Council of the Vicars Capitular - the See being vacant at the time. The official document bears the signature - "Cassot-Vicar Capitular." In the Introit of the Mass we capture immediately the spirit of the Feast: "Venite exultemus Domino diem festum celebrantes in honorem Amantissimi Cordis Jesu Christi, in quo sunt omnes thesauri caritatis et misericordiae Dei, Cujus amore et passione salvati sumus. Ipsi laus, Ipsi gloria, Ipsi imperium cordium in aeternum." In the Gradual we are invited to seek refuge in the Heart of Jesus, "as the doves find shelter in the recesses of the rocks." "Ad hoc enim vulneratum est Cor Jesu ut in Illo habitare possimus." The Sequence exalts the splendours of the Heart of Christ - the Victim of love, the joy and consolation of men, the glory of the Blessed Trinity. For the Son of God has united Himself to this Heart, the Holy Spirit finds His repose there; the Father His happiness.
The mandate of 18th Mary, 1834 by Archbishop Guillaume-Aubin de Villele making the feast obligatory for the diocese contains doctrine very similar to Father Chevaliers writings, proof no doubt that he had studied it carefully. Several passages are worthy of quoting:
After tracing the history of the devotion in certain parts of the diocese where it had reawakened the faith of the people, the Archbishop gives the reasons why he was extending the Feast to the whole diocese: "In the midst of the tragic atmosphere of irreligion in which we live, when we are witnessing the decline of Faith and the growth of sacrilegious impiety and licentiousness which is affecting all classes of society, even our youth; in this Godless age when we see the Lord and His Christ attacked on all sides, we look for a powerful and salutary remedy, an antidote to the poison of false doctrines and immoral customs of the age. This "human wisdom", which does not look beyond the things of this earth, and which is distorted by pride and the unbridled reign of the passions, has seduced the people by offering them hopes that can never be fulfilled and happiness that can never be found. This moral scourge which is afflicting France today is much more formidable than the recent plague which ravaged the city of Marseilles. It is with supreme confidence then in the Adorable Heart of Jesus, Who has entrusted to us the care of His flock that we consecrate our diocese and our own person to this same loving Heart - asking Him for protection from this general contagion. Let us make our home in this Heart, there to find refuge from the Vengeance of God. It is from the Heart of Jesus, burning with the flames of love and mercy, that the world receives its light, and our souls their warmth and ardour. It was in this Sanctuary of Love and Mercy that all the divine plans of our Redemption were conceived. It is in this haven of peace and happiness that we can find a sure refuge from the wiles of the enemy, and enjoy the precious consolation and joy of our union with God."
"The Devotion to the Sacred Heart is as old as Christianity itself, since it is the devotion to the Person of the Incarnate Lord - to which this Divine Heart is hypostatically united. The object of the Feast is to bring before our minds the Infinite Love of God for men. It behoves us therefore to celebrate it with dignity, and to unite ourselves intimately with the Heart of Christ, according to the exhortation of the Apostle "Let that mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
The new Office expresses the same sentiments: The richness of the Heart of Jesus, which is the Salvation of the World, and the necessity of our union with Our Blessed Lord. The beautiful prayer, the "Ave Admirabile Cor Jesu", was incorporated in the Office and Father Chevalier adopted it in the official prayers of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.(31) The invitatory begins: "Jesum Christum qui dilexit nos, venite adoremus." The lessons are taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, the theme of which is the Love of God for us through the gift of His Son, and our incorporation with Him. "That Christ may dwell by Faith in your hearts, that being rooted and grounded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the Saints what is the breadth and the length the height and the depth; to know also the love of Christ which surpasseth all knowledge that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God." (Ephes. III, 17-19)
To revert to the book of Bishop Languet on the Life of Blessed Margaret Mary which had such a profound influence on Jules. This was really the only work to that time on the life of the Saint and the Devotion to the Sacred Heart as revealed to her. (The better known "Life and Works" published by the Sisters of Paray-le-Monial was not printed till 1867.)
Jules tells us that after reading the book he determined to become an apostle of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. The main part of the work is a history of the Revelations and extracts from the writings of the Saint. The Preface is a treatise by Bishop Languet himself called "The object and end of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart." After dealing scientifically with the miracles and their authenticity the author treats of the history of the devotion and gives his own personal reflections.
"Devotion to the Sacred Heart is devotion to the whole person of Christ and Love is the principle. When we honour His Heart we are honouring His whole Personality, just as when we offer our hearts to Him we are offering our whole being.
After mentioning various Saints who had particular devotion to this or that aspect of Our Lord's Personality, he continues: Is it astonishing that a soul dedicated to a life of contemplation, as was the religious of whom I write, should have penetrated to the very Heart of Jesus - seeing there the source of all His merits, all His virtues, His entire Will and His sentiments. She was not the first of the Saints who were noted for their devotion to the lovable qualities of the Human Christ; others well before her had been caught up in the fire of this divine love - which after all, is the consolation of the Saints. But Margaret Mary has called our attention in a special way to this Sacred Heart of Jesus, as the fount of all His desires, His affections. His feelings, that Heart which beats in Heaven for the glory of God, and which beat on earth for the souls of men whom He made His brothers, for whom He was born at Bethlehem and for whom He died on Calvary. The infinite love of Jesus Christ for His Eternal Father and his tender love for us his creatures is the object of this devotion of which I write. From our point of view the end of the devotion is to return this love and to dedicate our lives to it. He has loved us beyond measure. Let us in return love Him with our whole heart, our whole mind and with all our strength."
"Happy is the soul who has found the way to the Heart of Christ, and so opens that way to others. 'He who loves fulfills the Law', says the Gospel, and in the love of the Sacred Heart we have the admirable means of complying with the precept, and achieving our salvation. Plenitudo legis, dilectio.(32)
For Jules Chevalier then this love of and devotion to the Sacred Heart permeated all his religious thought and activity. The Sacred Heart to him is the Incarnate Word of God, the High Priest of the New Law, the Redeemer, the Friend of mankind. In this Heart were all the treasures of Love and Mercy. As Father Piperon saw it, the synthesis of all devotions to Our Lord was the Devotion to His Sacred Heart; "He was constantly thinking of the Author and Finisher of Faith, Jesus the High Priest, whose Heart has loved us beyond measure and has consumed Itself for our salvation."(33)
We might ask ourselves why Almighty God chose this particular period of Jules' life - when he was still an inexperienced student - to introduce him so intimately to the devotion to the Sacred Heart and to convince him that he was to be its apostle in a special way. Would it not have been better to wait till he was a fully-developed man, an ordained and experienced priest?
The Holy Spirit does nothing by chance, and these years in the Seminary were years of preparation for his special mission. The Hand of Providence is clearly evident in the course of subsequent events, the action of the Holy Spirit obvious in every step from now on. Gold is tried by fire; Jules' vocation was tried by his own special trials and difficulties during these Seminary days at Bourges. God directed and prepared him gradually. He gently arranged the circumstances one by one, which enabled Jules eventually to fulfil his heart's desire, his "beau reve". These days of preparation in the Seminary were days of grace and encouragement. He told us, says Father Piperon, of his future plans. When I am a priest, I intend to ask some of my zealous confreres to join me in forming a Society to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart."(34) "I already had in my mind two of my fellow-students who seemed to me admirably suited for my plan, but fearing they might ridicule the idea at this stage, I kept my 'beau reve' to myself. I confided it to no one except the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His Immaculate Mother."(35)
The original idea of founding a Society of Missionary-priests was conceived as a counter to the appalling religious and spiritual state of the nation. The priests would work to cure this social disease. As the idea developed in his mind we notice there is a greater tendency to emphasise the positive nature of the apostolic work: the personal sanctification of the future members, who would preach not so much on the evils of the time, as on the infinite Love and Mercy of the Heart of Christ. The remedy would be stressed more than the disease. The loving Heart of Christ would be presented to the people as the solution to their religious indifference and hostility. Devotion to the Sacred Heart would be the badge, the pledge, the insignia of the Society, the members of which would be devoted exclusively to the task of spreading this devotion.(36)
In his memories, when writing of this period of formation, Father Chevalier merely mentions the main idea of his future plan, i.e. to found a Society of Missionary priests who would work for the spiritual reformation of the people. At the time of writing, the Society was already well known and he did not go into detail about motives. However, we can be sure that his first concern would have been not only to found a Society of priests, but a Society of "pious and zealous" priests - as he mentioned to his confreres, priests, moreover, who would be willing to make Devotion to the Sacred Heart the main work of the Society. It was to be a Society with a special aim and purpose. Intensely preoccupied, at the time with the work of his own personal sanctification, he was convinced that the priest before he could be a true apostle of Christ, must himself be a holy and sincere disciple of Our Lord. He would form such a group of priests into a new Congregation, and love of the Sacred Heart would be the spirit and strength of that Society.
Anticipating our story a little, Father Piperon tells us that this spirit informed and permeated the little Congregation from the very beginning at Issoudun. The Founder and his first Confrere had only one desire - one ambition - to live as perfectly as possible the life of Christ Himself, the life of the Supreme Priest and to reproduce in themselves the sentiments of His Divine Heart. How could one love the Heart of the Crucified Christ, unless one was completely in love with and dedicated to the God-Man Himself. How could one impart this love to others unless he were deeply steeped in it himself?
Some have been inclined to think that the really effective intention of founding' a Society with the particular object of honouring and working for the Sacred Heart came to Jules after Seminary days, but we can find no evidence either in events or his writings to support this view. From the time of his ordination to his appointment to Issoudun the project seems to have been slumbering. It was only when he was appointed to Issoudun and found himself with his fellow-curate, Father Maugenest, that he felt convinced that the hand of Providence was directing him to the fulfilment of his "beau reve". Here he was at the very town that had played such a prominent part in his dream, and with the very companion of former days to whom before all others he wished to confide his plans.(37) Father Piperon asks the question: did Jules have a clear idea when he came to Issoudun of God's designs regarding his Foundation and of the spirit which would pervade it? We are sure he did. The motives, born of the convictions of student days, leave no doubt in our mind,
Reviewing the history of the project to this juncture - for as yet still just a project - we can state that Jules was firmly convinced of the desirability of a Society of Missionaries dedicated to the cause of the Heart, and that God wished him to be the Founder of this Society. But we must realise that to undertake such a stupendous project and put it into effect, he still had to make the important and final decision himself. Would he go ahead with the idea? Knowing the difficulties and the inevitable heart-breaks that would be involved, it would have been easy to forget the whole plan, and leave it just as a beautiful dream. It was only natural that he would have misgivings on the success of the plan, and doubts as to his own qualifications to implement it. We cannot say that to date he had received much encouragement. Father Ruel, his Director, had told him it was a "utopian ideal and an illusion. His reaction to this was to feel discomfiture and to try to forget the whole thing. The students had been inclined to laugh at the idea. Although he had decided to be an apostle of the Sacred Heart, was it to be as the Founder of a Religious Congregation? Nothing he had read in the Life of Blessed Margaret Mary, in the revelations of Our Lord to her, or in his own ardent desire to spread the devotion contained a clear or definite invitation to him to found a Congregation. He was troubled by the conflict between the promptings of his heart and the advice of his spiritual director. He submitted to this advice, and ceased speaking of the plan to his confreres, and entrusted his secret to the Heart of Jesus and His Immaculate Mother. He became timid about mentioning it even to Sebastien Maugenest who, he thought, would be an admirable recruit.
However, little by little, he became certain of God's design in his regard, and the more he meditated on the Sacred Heart, on the richness of the Devotion, the more he became convinced that God wished him - Jules Chevalier, with his limitations and weaknesses - to be the Founder of a new Congregation in Church. He made his decision, and awaited with trust and confidence the moment when God would show him how to realise his plan.
Providence had already brought him into contact with the two persons who were to eventually help him to achieve his "dream, although none of them knew it at the time. In the Seminary, Sebastien Maugenest had attracted his attention as an ideal helper, although, as we have seen, he became faint-hearted about confiding in him. He later wrote of him: "Sebastien Maugenest was zealous, good, pious, sure of himself, and devoted. He had an extraordinary memory, and was no mean orator. His speech was simple, and often eloquent. You would never hear him say anything bombastic or common-place. He seemed to speak more to the heart than the mind. He had a flair for detail, and never failed to impress an audience."(39)
Charles Piperon, who was regarded by Jules as a likely candidate for his new Congregation was a different character. He did not have the eloquence or the exterior appearance of Father Maugenest, and at the beginning of his Major Seminary days, he was even doubtful about his vocation - a doubt which delayed his entry by a few months. However, Jules regarded this sincere and holy young man as his "second candidate". The following conversation reported by Father Piperon himself, was a prophecy of things to come.
"One day at one of the meetings of the Association of the Sacred Heart one of the students (it was himself, Charles Piperon) remarked rather naively that he did not feel greatly attracted by the ordinary ministry and that he would prefer to live and die as a religious. Jules Chevalier regarded him with a serious and searching look, and said; 'My dear friend, guard your vocation carefully. It is a precious gift of God to you.' " Father Piperon continues; "Were those words and that significant look a prediction of the future?" Jules never mentioned the incident again, and Charles Piperon soon forgot about it.
"However", says Father Piperon, "after five years when, in the ways of Divine Mercy, that student was to become one of the first companions of the Founder in the new Society, he recalled the words and the look and he never forgot them.(40)
After Jules Chevalier's ordination as a sub-deacon, both Sebastien Maugenest and Charles Piperon left the Seminary. In August Sebastien left for the novitiate of St. Sulpice as he wished to join that Order, and Charles in the following January was granted leave of absence on account of sickness. Thus Jules found himself alone with his dream of the future, till his ordination to the Priesthood on 14th June, 1851.
I celebrated my First Mass", he wrote in his Memoirs, "in the little Chapel of the Garden dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. At the sacred moment of the Consecration the grandeur of the Mystery and the thought of my own unworthiness penetrated me so deeply that I broke into tears. I needed the encouragement of the priest who was assisting me to complete the Holy Sacrifice. O unforgetable day! Why did I not die at the foot of the Altar after my Mass? How many faults would I not have avoided. At that happy hour Heaven was mine, while today on account of my sins I tremble for my salvation. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, have pity on me. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, protect me."(41)
All through his life Father Chevalier was to build his interior, spiritual life on the firm foundations laid during these important days of the Seminary. Till his death he persevered along the lines of the resolutions he took as a Seminarist at Bourges. The particular form of his spirituality and the nature of his devotion in these important days of training characterised his priestly and religious life to the end. Father Piperon has given formal testimony of that, and the Founder's writings bear it out.
At the end of his life, looking back over the distant past, he would tell how God's grace directed him, and how he regarded his first retreat at Bourges as the date of his conversion. He allowed his soul, according to the counsel given by Father Lallement, to be directed by the Holy Spirit. It was a life of self-renunciation, a daily struggle against sin, imperfections and distractions. It was a life of obedience, recollection and prayer, always striving for greater union with Our Lord. Jules had no other interests, no other desires, than those which were to lead him to God and the Altar. He developed a calm and patient nature awaiting the fulfilment of God's will. Ever before him was the Person of Jesus, the High Priest. He sought to make himself "another Christ, to be the Shepherd of souls as He was, and to be prepared to endure hardships even death itself for His sake. His great desire was to lose himself in the very Heart of Christ, that Heart which has loved us beyond measure. Charity was his conspicuous virtue even in the days when his manner seemed aloof and the students found him difficult. He was kind on all occasions not only to his confreres, but to the poor and sick, and his desire to go to the missions was prompted by his sympathy and pity for the poor people who knew not Christ.
After his sub-deaconate this charity blossomed forth into an affable, smiling manner which won all hearts to him, and distinguished him right through his life. His love of the Church and his affection for the Holy See made him the true Catholic in thought and deed. In all his sentiments and devotions he made sure he was acting in accordance with the teaching of the Church, especially in his love and devotion to the Sacred Heart.
As stated originally the Sulpician training is evident in all his spirituality: the principles of Father Olier, the lectures of Father Mollevaut, the advice of Father Ruel. The fundamental principle of this spirituality is the union of one's will with the Will of God through the love of his Divine Son. "Enter into union with Him through love" was Father Olier's dictum. Live by love since it is the nourishment of the soul. Where can the soul gain its strength in the practice of virtue; where can it gain strength to carry the Cross except in the love of Jesus." For Jules this love became his life, his ardent passion. He strove so ardently for this union of love with his Divine Master that, as Father Piperon testifies, the students found it hard to find even the slightest fault in his conduct. It was only natural that this love should find its expression in his ardent devotion to the Sacred Heart. He had established in the Seminary his little Sodality "Knights of the Sacred Heart and of Mary" not only for mutual help in the quest of virtue, but mainly to honour those two Sacred Hearts. He had asked Our Lady for just two graces - to love Her, and to love unreservedly Her Divine Son. And God rewarded him with many graces in return - his conversion, his singleness of purpose in seeking holiness, his repugnance to sin, his spirit of trust and confidence, and finally his effective desire to found the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
This analysis of the various stages of his Vocation at least helps us to understand better his strong character and to appreciate the difficult road that he had to traverse. It likewise reveals the courageous nature of the man who had still to face many a trial in the realisation of his dream, the founding of the Society, the fulfilment of his special mission in the Church.
Jules Chevalier left the Seminary three days after his ordination, and was immediately appointed as Curate to the parish of Yvey-le-Pre, at the other end of the diocese. He had hoped it would be Issoudun, but in God's design - not yet. In the not so far distant future Issoudun was to be his home, the field of his labours, the cradle of his beloved Congregation. No wonder he never wanted to leave Issoudun.
CHAPTER VI EARLY MINISTRY,
The parish of Ivey-le-Fre is in the northern part of the diocese of Bourges, hidden away in the Sancerrois Mountains, with the river "La Petite Sauldre" flowing peacefully by. It is a very old town, boasting in the mid-fifties of the last century, of a population of about 2500. It belonged to the shire of La Chapelle d'Angillon, and ecclesiastically, to the deanery of Sancorre. The steel industry mainly supported its inhabitants.
"The parish priest of this good Christian parish," wrote Father Chevalier, "was a holy, prudent and zealous man. He was a great help to me in these early days of my priestly ministry." Father Piperon has noted that these early days at his first parish were difficult, as Father Chevalier contracted a severe cyst on the knee, and had to spend the first two weeks in bed.
In his Memoirs Father Chevalier recalls two interesting old characters that he met during his short stay of seven months at Ivey-le-Pre. The first was an old retired Oratorian, almost a hundred years old, Father Delpoux by name. He had lived through the terrible days of the Revolution arid was now staying at the home of a Monsieur de Montreuil, whose teacher he had been.
"I used to visit the old man often," recalls Father Chevalier, "and found him an entertaining old character. He used to boast of the fact that he had seen Voltaire.
"Were you in Paris when he died?" I used to ask.
"Oh yes, of course."
"Do you know how he died?"
That was the invitation to tell once again the story of the last moment of the dying philosopher - a story, he said, that he had from the very lips of the woman who attended him.
The other old gentleman, Monsieur Chedeau, was a former doctor almost as old as Father Delpoux. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Jansenist. 'Every time I tried to get him to go to Confession he would reply: 'Not now, later on. God expects you to go to Confession only when you are dying. I was pleased to hear after I left the parish that he did receive the last Sacraments before his death."(l)
According to the diocesan Register, Father Chevalier left Ivoy-le-Pre on 21st January, 1852 for Chatillon-sur-Indre at the other end of the diocese in the Touraine district, his native territory. The little town of about 3500 people was situated on a hill to the left side of the River Indre. On the summit of the hill stand the picturesque ruins of an old XIth Century chateau with its two imposing towers. The church which must be at least a century older, with its remarkable sculpturing is not without its beauty. A fine public square which commands a panoramic view of the neighbourhood, and an attractive promenade around the village add to the charm of the place. The main industry of the town was the fabrication of textile material. The Parish Priest was the Abbe Legay, a priest trained in the post-Revolution period after the seminaries had been reopened. Owing to the scarcity of priests he had, right from the outset, been overburdened with work, and now, even though only 57 years of age, he was worn out and asked the bishop for a curate. When he left the parish in 1855, he was appointed as one of the Canons of the Bourges Cathedral.
Father Chevalier applied himself with great zeal and devotion to his parochial duties. Father Piperon has written; "Even today after 46 years, the young curate is still remembered in Chatillon."(2) On account of the sickness of the parish priest, most of the work fell on his shoulders. "I was enthusiastic about my work," he later wrote, "concentrating mainly on the sick, the poor and the children. Some of the well-to-do parishioners came to his aid in his endeavour to help the poor. He mentions by name Madame la Contesse de Bryas and Madame de Chauderoy. Later on these good people also helped him generously when he was founding the young Congregation at Issoudun.
"When I arrived at Chatillon," he writes, "I noticed that the church was deserted during the day, although the population was Christian and quite good. The good God inspired in me the thought of forming a Guard of Honour to the Blessed Sacrament. I submitted the plan to the parish priest, and got his ready approbation. I arranged with the parishioners to have half-hour watches throughout the day from 9 o'clock in the morning till six at night, so that there would always be someone there to adore Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. At the time of writing," he adds, "I am told that this custom is still in vogue. May God be praised.(3)
It is here probably that we find the origin of the idea which he cherished right from the beginning of founding a Congregation of religious women parallel to the Society of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of which he dreamed.(4)
In order to persevere in his piety, and to increase his priestly zeal he decided while he was here in Chatillon, to become a Member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. Father Meunier, the parish priest of Orsennes received him in the name of Pere Lacordaire, the Provincial of the Dominicans. The Provincial granted him the power to give the habit of the Third Order to other people whom he judged worthy. In transmitting to him this faculty, Pere Lacordaire traced for him in his own handwriting the rules which should guide him in his choice of postulants. In his own letter of admission (13th October, 1853) he was given the Third-Order name of Dominic.
The salary of curates in those impoverished times was a mere pittance. We have found a few references on the back of a notebook regarding his finances: "My salary, the note says, "is 400 francs. I give 300 francs from this to the Parish Priest for board and keep and let him have my Masses on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. In January (1853) the Parish Priest told me the salary would be raised to 800 francs, so I gave him all my Mass intentions," Half of this was paid in silver, and the rest would come from Mass stipends. The final arrangement was that he would be paid 800 francs in silver, and Mass intentions would go to the Parish priest.
During Father Chevalier's second year at Chatillon he was surprised to receive a letter from the Archbishop transferring him to Aubigny-sur-Nere. The leave-taking was not without its regrets as the people had become fond him, and he of them. ''At Chatillon," he wrote in later life, "I was very happy, I was trying to do God's Will and the will of my Superiors. I had no desire to go elsewhere."(6) His successor was a Father Tamisier, who later on was to go to Issoudun as curate.
Aubigny was not quite as big as Chatillon and not as picturesque. It had a beautiful promenade lined with large fir-trees. There were few traces of its past history left, except a very old church, and a curious old Gothic home with some notable sculpturing. The fire which raised the town in 1512 left very little else. We might say it was even an ugly looking town with badly built dwellings. The river Nero and the main highway from Paris to Bourges ran through it, and the two inns "Lion d'Or" and "Le Boeuf were sufficient to accommodate any visitors.
However, from the religious point of view the town had an excellent name, and was regarded as one of the best of the small parishes of the Cher district, if not of the diocese. The new curate found plenty of scope there for his priestly zeal. Practically all the parish duties were his responsibility and he showed himself equal to the position. "He very quickly won the esteem and affection of the people."(7) The parish priest was a very old man, Abbe Louis Quentin. Father Chevalier wrote of him: "He was a Saintly old man - and spent his life and himself in the service of souls." He was born on 10th February, 1790, and had been looking after the parish of Aubigny since 1820. He directed it with as much success as zeal. He was a talented priest with a deeply apostolic faith. He had founded several pious associations in the parish and they were all flourishing. However, he contracted an incurable disease which confined him to his room, and having as curate another sick priest, he asked His Eminence Cardinal du Pont, Archbishop of Bourges, to send him a young and energetic priest who could care for the parish.
"I do not know,'' wrote Father Chevalier, "why or how the choice fell on me, but I was transferred to Aubigny on 14th October, 1855"
This date was the date of his nomination, as he mentions elsewhere that he arrived at Aubigny on 20th October, 1853(10) and the parish register gives the date of his installation as Saturday, the 22nd October. The sick curate was probably Father Louis Gogin, who stayed on in the parish, but could do little external work. In his Notes Father Chevalier writes: I did my best to carry on the good work that had already been done, for girls and boys, of Christian Mothers and of the men were all well attended. Every Sunday and major Feast day about 150 young men with their the patronage of Saint Liguori, used to meet after Vespers. We used to go together to make a visit to the various Calvaries which line the roadways of the neighbourhood. We would then return to the church where I would deliver a short sermon and give Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He held on the Feasts of Corpus Christi, the Assumption, Rogation days, and during the Month of May. The Feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated with special ceremonies. It was edifying and encouraging to see the very large crowds.(9) The first sermon he preached to the select band of men who called themselves the Liguorians was on the first Sunday of Advent, 27th November, 1853. The sermon has been preserved. After expanding the text of St. Paul's Epistle in the Mass of the days "Let us abandon the works of darkness," he congratulates the men on their piety and initiative. When I came to this parish" he says "the news that there was a group of men who had placed themselves under the special protection of a Saint in order to increase their faith and piety, filled me with inexpressible joy."(l0)
He particularly cherished the memory of one very saintly old man in Aubigny, Monsieur Leclerc. His charity was outstanding and his home seemed to be a haven for the poor. His only son - saintly like himself - had distinguished himself in the intellectual milieu in Paris by his lecturing and writings. He numbered amongst his close friends such men as Louis Veuillot, and Montalembert. Just before Father Chevalier had come to Aubigny this remarkable young man had taken ill and had returned to his father's home to recouperate. He was a model in virtue to the townsfolk, and each day he would spend several hours in the church. He took a special interest in the poor, and was referred to by them as "the saint." "Unfortunately," says Father Chevalier, he died just before I arrived at Aubigny, but his name was on every tongue. The whole town came out for his funeral, and the townsfolk eagerly sought fragments of anything that had belonged to him to keep as relics. His father had a special funeral chapel built over his tomb, and every day the old man would go to the cemetery to recite the prayers for the dead, followed by the Magnificat and the Te Deum to thank God for having given him such a noble son. I used often go with him and join with him in the prayers."
In another extract from his Memoirs Father Chevalier has given us a touching account of the last hours of his parish priest, Father Queritin: The health of my dear and revered Parish Priest was declining day by day. Fearing he was close to death, he asked me to give him the Last Sacraments. Many of the parishioners were present at the anointing, and even then, weak though he was, he could not resist the opportunity of commenting on the five senses of the body, publicly confessing that he had offended God by these gifts and asking pardon for his sins. He expressed sorrow for any neglect of his parochial duties. Tears were in his eyes and the parishioners could not hide their grief. Towards evening he called me close to him and gave me this advice. 'My dear Abbe, I am about to go to God, and I would like you, a priest, to profit by the mistakes I made during my priesthood. Looking back I can see that I spent too much time looking after the people who didn't need my attention as much as other poor souls who did. I have been inclined to give my time to looking after the devout and the pious - especially the women, instead of getting out amongst the men and youth, seeking the lost sheep. It is easy for priests to spend their time the more comfortable way, by busying themselves with the devout, especially the devout women. This way they delude themselves that they are really busy - haven't a moment to spare while the main work of their apostolate of their apostolate is being neglected. My son, avoid that pitfall. Prefer to get out among the children, the poor, the ignorant and the lowly. Don't go hankering after the rich and the worldly smart-set'. I knelt down beside his bed; he stretched out his feeble hand and gave me his blessing, a few hours later he breathed his last."(12)
Several of Father Chevalier's sermons which he wrote whilst at Aubigny are still in existence. There is the one already referred to which he preached to the Liguorians; there are two on Our Blessed Lady, and the other four are practical instructions on "False Devotion"; "The dangers of the Carnival, "The necessity of penance," and "Dangers of false opinions."
The Abbe Quentin died on the 15th August, 1854, and Father Chevalier looked after the parish till the 1st October when the new parish priest Pere Larbaletrier was installed. The main reason of his presence in Aubigny no longer applied, and Father Chevalier expected a new appointment in the near future.
Although, as we have said, the cherished plan of founding his Society may have been slumbering during these first few years after Ordination, it was certainly not dead. "My project of founding the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart was forever before my mind, he wrote, "and for some reason, Issoudun always seemed associated with it. Perhaps the fact that it had 15,000 souls with only the one parish and three priests influenced my thoughts. Here was ready-made field of apostolate, as the place was regarded as the most backward in the diocese on account of its spirit of irreligion and indifference. I really thought I would be appointed priest in charge of some small independent parish, as the diocese was short of priests." It was not rare to see young priests even after two or three years put in charge of some small parish or chaplaincy. Father Piperon for example, on account of his shy nature and diffidence about parish work, went straight into a chaplaincy at Bourges after Ordination.
The expected letter from the Archbishop was not long in coming. Before opening it he fell on his knees and made an act of resignation to God's Will. "Dear Lord", he prayed, "I happily accept in advance Your Divine Will, whatever place to which I am posted." "I slowly opened the letter and before I could read the first few lines I could see the word - Issoudun - underlined. Yes, I had been appointed to the town I had dreamed of so much - Issoudun. I hastily looked up the Ordo to see what priests were there. Imagine my surprise when found that my fellow-curate there was to be none other than Sebastian Maugenest the former student of college days to whom I thought of confiding my plan."
"And so I set out for Issoudun. I arrived there on Saturday, 14th October 1854 - just twelve months after my arrival in Aubigny. I was received with great charity and cordiality." (13)
(Note: It seems that 14th October was the date of his appointment, not the date of his arrival, as the parish register states he arrived at Issoudun on Friday, 20th October and took up duties the following day.)
This was the fourth time that he found himself in the Province of Lower Berry. Previously he had been at Vatan, Saint Gaultier and Chatillon. He was to remain in this country till his death in 1907. Issoudun was now to be the cradle of his great achievement - the founding of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart - the Society whose members were destined to spread the Gospel not only in the Province of Berry, but throughout the entire world.
Issoudun is situated at the junction of two of the three regions which comprise the Province of Lower Berry - "La Boischant" and "La Campagne". "Two countries, says the Tourist-Guide of 1838, with a deal of exaggeration, "where things are different. A different climate, different customs, different occupations."(15) Boischant occupies seven tenths of the Province including a third of the Shire of Issoudun. This area is mainly made up of small farms, separated by hedges, ditches and occasional woodlands. The other two-thirds of the Shire belongs to La Campagne, and consists of large farms and holdings. The smallest division, one-tenth of the Province, is La Brenne, an inhospitable tract of land, mainly made up of swamps, which have no natural drainage and over which there seems to hang a perpetual fog. It is a territory unhealthy both for man and beast. Jules Chevalier knew it well, as it was just across the border from Saint-Gaultier.
The whole area is in the Loire basin in the southern part of the great Western Plain of Europe. In Summer, the maximum temperature is usually between 80° and 96°, and in Winter it goes as low and lower than freezing point. The prevailing winds are those from the South West and North East - with the occasional dreaded "galerae" from the North West, which plays havoc with the crops. The land is mainly flat except for some hilly country in the western division where Chatillon is situated. The soil is Jurassic over a sub-stratum of limestone and the lower reaches are rich in iron and minerals. The iron is of excellent quality, and good mica, flint and lithographic stone are found there. There are also good quantities of black granite, quartz, pottery clay,
and marble with red and white veins which polishes very well. In the secondary industries there are large textile factories, tanneries and tile-works". In 1850 there were 559 primary and secondary establishments throughout the district, employing some 3000 men, 1000 women and 450 children. The annual income for the district was estimated at 18,470,000 francs.
Agriculture was the principal industry. The workable land was planted with wheat, oats, rye, barley, vegetables and potatoes. 40,496 acres were planted with vines, and the State had a forest of 215,050 acres planted with oaks, elms, ash and chestnut, trees. The livestock, estimated at nearly 1,100,000 head, often had to be turned out for pasture on the waste-land, which accounted for their generally poor condition. There was a great number of sheep, and horses and donkeys were bred for export. The grape-growing industry was not without its particular difficulties owing mainly to the inexperience of the growers and the many diseases to which the vine is susceptible. The vines were brought from Bordelais, and the wine matured more quickly than at Bordeaux owing to the high content of tanin. However, it was considered as of mediocre quality and had a poor market in Paris. In their anxiety to get a quick return for their labours, the growers were inclined to harvest the grapes too early, and the method of storing was primitive and unhygenic. They were following methods which were at least 200 years old and were not beyond adding a little water to the wine. The nature of the work is of itself laborious and painstaking, and many of the growers looked elsewhere for a living.(16) Every year on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption the growers used to place a ripe grape in the hand of the statue of Our Blessed Lady asking for her protection for their crops. Stanislaus Martin tells us: "The vine-growers of Issoudun will recall for a long time the fact that they were not permitted in 1860 to place the grape in the hands of the statue. That year the crop failed.
Another popular custom in Issoudun was the celebration of the Harvest Festival at the end of October each year. This was an ancient tradition handed-down from the times when the trade was flourishing, and the probity the vine-growers beyond suspicion. (17) The same author, Stanislaus Martin has written; "How we looked forward each year when we were children to this wonderful Festival. A thousand happy voices would make the slopes of the vineyards resound with their laughter and joy."
Another event eagerly awaited each year was the opening of the hunting season. The near-by forests sheltered quite a variety of game - wild boar; roe-deer and many species of fur and feathered game. The opening day in August was celebrated by merry-making. The populace with the gun and pistol made off to the forests, but unfortunately the occasion was often marred by accidents.
The agricultural pursuits of the district were worked mainly on the share farming system. The owner of the land accepted as rent part of the proceeds. He provided the initial capital, and stock, whereas the farmer contributed his labour, what implements he could, and the help of his family. The contracts were usually drawn up for a period of three years and the proportionate share arranged according to the nature, size and locality of the farms. This system of share farming was not something new, but dated back well before the Revolution. It had its advantages both to the owner and the farmer, but it was not without its draw-backs. Bailly de Merlieux - an authority on the subject at that time after speaking of the advantages of mutual cooperation in the system mentions two main obstacles; "The estates generally are too large, and the activities of the farmer too general. It results in the neglect of some sections of the property. The ideal area for a successful farm seems to be about 150 acres, which a farmer and his family can work effectively. The second difficulty is that the system seems to kill any laudable ambition in small farmers to better his condition. He is content to earn his modest livelihood, supply his few needs for his family, visit the fairs and markets to do little buying and selling (he had ample scope as there were some 337 fairs markets in 155 communes) and generally to lead a dull, unpretentious life year in and year out. Unlike the farmers of the North, they do not seem to have ambition of living comfortably, to own their own properties, or to provide higher education for their children."(18)
The population of the whole Province at this time was 271,938. Apart from public buildings, administrative offices, church property etc., there were 54,900 separate properties, and 56,792 buildings. There was a definite house shortage, and it was not uncommon to have two or more families living on the block of land. The number of men in the district seemed to outnumber the women rather considerably.
The Municipality of Issoudun was divided into 1,011,469 lots, belonging to 96,744 owners who paid 1,868,089 francs per annum in land tax. The gross amount of taxation, personal, property registration and postal duties etc. yielded the Municipality 6,215,817 francs per annum. Generally, the houses were not of a very high standard, but outside the towns the countryside was not unattractive with the variety of fruit trees and particularly the chestnut trees which seemed to grow everywhere. Most of the farm-houses were shaded by large elms, whose leaves were useful for feeding the cattle. After pruning the sap of these elms would harden into knotty elbows, which could be used in cabinet making. Most of the houses also had their own little cluster of vine the sap of which was supposed to be endowed with special medicinal qualities, particularly for the curing of skin and eye complaints. The dry branches made ideal fire-wood for the roasting of the chestnuts."(20)
In Issoudun itself the majority of houses were poverty-stricken dwelling by modern standards, slums of the worst type. Exteriorly they were most unattractive, many of them joined together as though helping one another to stand up. The roofs were so low you had no difficulty in putting your hand up to touch the guttering. Some had large slabs of tile to replace the thatch, but mainly they were in a state of delapidation. The interior consisted of a couple of rooms, and in most, the living room, bed room and kitchen were all one and the same. It was not unusual to see three or four beds, perhaps a baby's cot, a chest-of-drawers, a wardrobe, a dining table, a wash tub, all in the same room. The floor was of earth, and the friendly pigs seemed welcome any time they wished to stroll in. The writer, L. Bignon wrote in 1865: "When one thinks of this crowded existence, of this communal bed-room for all members of the family, one wonders if it were possible to outrage decency and morality more. Usually the master had his bed in the place of honour next to the fire place.
As houses in France were taxed according to the number of doors and windows they possessed, it was usual to have only one entrance, and a small fan-light instead of windows. Consequently the wretched dwellings were badly lit and poorly ventilated. Even in the neighbouring countryside, where fresh air was plentiful, the same conditions attained, and the interior of the houses were dark, dank dungeons rather than suitable living abodes.
It is a shameful fact that in France even as late as 1880 over a quarter of a million dwellings had only one door; over four million houses, occupied by 14 million people - i.e. one-fifth of the whole population of France - had no more than two windows - all this in an endeavour to avoid paying extra tax. It is recorded that in the year 1857 the Municipality of Issoudun collected 182,998 francs from the taxes on windows and doors in the area.
We must keep this in mind when we consider that in the first small monastery that he built, Father Chevalier himself lived in a room without windows, the only light coming through a pane of glass in the door which opened out into the passage-way. It is understandable that in these shockingly unhygenic conditions sickness and disease were rife amongst the people. Epidemics and plagues were not uncommon, resulting in a high death rate throughout the Province - higher than anywhere else in France. Lack of proper sanitation, insufficient medical care, careless preparation and conservation of food all contributed to this lamentable state of affairs. One severe epidemic was traced back to a germ in the flour, caused by an insect known as the wheat moth, or grain butterfly. The moth hid itself amongst the grain in the storage barns causing an infection which spread quickly; then in June it attacked the growing plant in the field leaving its larvae to affect the crop. The resulting epidemic took the form of a painful throat infection almost like cancer. Winnowing did not sufficiently separate the good from the bad grain, and careless preparation with suspect water, plus the humidity of the climate did the rest. From the years 1833 to 1852 the population of the Berry province declined by 25%. Actually 28% in Issoudun and 34.5% in Bourges.(21)
The inhabitants of the Province of Berry were regarded by the rest of France as not being too bright intellectually, but they had a native shrewdness, especially in business matters, which often confounded their critics. The average 'Berry-ite' was usually a taciturn type, serious and shy of the company of strangers. He was a child of the country and preferred to remain in his restricted rural domain. He was regarded as being slow of mind and speech and his interests were confined to a very small circle. His gaity was not on the surface. He laughed silently."(22)
On account of the long years of revolutionary upheaval, education had naturally suffered, and in Father Chevalier's time the Municipality was rated in the Educational Statistics by the unflattering mark of 79th in the whole of France. Perhaps it gained some consolation from the fact that the neighbouring Province of Cher was 84th. There were only 200 primary schools throughout the whole Province with an attendance of 15,000 pupils, and the over-all estimate of those who could read or write among the populace was only 17%. Monsieur de la Tramblain was hardly complimentary when he wrote in 1862; "Berry has the unenviable reputation of being one of the most ignorant provinces of the whole Republic, one which hardly deserves our attention. It enjoys the lowly social position it deserves. It lost its self-government centuries ago. Now that it has been divided into Municipalities there may be some hope for it. That is an event of great importance for it."(23)
The religious glory of this part of France was a thing of the past. We have already spoken of the ancient splendour and glory of the Faith which was planted there as far back as the early days of Christianity, but the cruel hand of the Revolution had fallen heavily on this people and their religion, when Father Chevalier arrived in 1854 there was a general spirit of apathy and religious indifference amongst the populace. There had been a brief religious revival after the Revolution, but in 1830 the followers of Voltaire gained the upper hand and the people relapsed into their former indifference. Father Chevalier wrote in his "Religious History of Issoudun": "Piety had grown cold, and a distressing indifference pervaded the whole neighbourhood of Issoudun."(24) From the ecclesiastical point of view, the Municipality formed the Archdeanery of Indre, comprising 26 parishes in which there were 152 churches and chapels of ease, and six curacies.
The author, Louis Raynal in his History of Berry, edited in 1845, has perhaps given us the best picture of the Province and its people: "We must remember that the people of the Berry district are sedentary. The desire to travel, to better themselves, to seek their fortune elsewhere is quite a foreign thought to them. They are slaves to the soil where they were born. And this applies not only to the humble peasants, but to all classes of society. There are admittedly different characteristics amongst them according to the different localities, but it is not difficult to recognise in them similar qualities and manners - even similar faults - which reveal their common origin. Gay and casual in the land of the vineyards; indefatigable workers, as hard as the iron they were handling, in the mineral country; sickly and without mental or physical energy in the Sologne and Brenne regions; with a shrewdness and a native common sense which was difficult to fault. If the people of the towns and villages of Berry did not approve of innovations, or ever dare to attempt them, at least their lack of initiative kept them out of mischief. Anyone who attempted anything new was regarded with thorough distrust, and their fear of making mistakes made them follow the less dangerous practice of walking up and down the broken footpath gossiping and criticising - a habit hardly conducive to progress. They preferred to play safe and just be prudent, reserved, orderly and economic."
However, such a judgment is hardly fair, for underneath this exterior indolence and dullness of intellect there were latent qualities of worth which came to the fore, when put to the test. Open up a new horizon to them, school them in the ways of the world, and they could develop quickly into useful and resourceful citizens. Marshal de Belle-Isle is reported to have said that he was always glad to have soldiers who came from Berry. Their only fault, he said, was that they were inclined to get home-sick. The Jesuits recorded that they had many sterling vocations from the Berry district, but that they always worked better when not in their native-country.
Perhaps the greatest character of which Berry can boast is the famous preacher - Bourdaloue. The people of the Province are rightly proud of him, as his genius was the expression of all that is good and excellent in the local spirit. By study and research he became an eminent scholar, logical in his argumentation, brilliant in his exposition and eloquent in his preaching without having recourse to dramatic outbursts, or poetic flights of fancy. His style both in preaching and writing was marked by its simplicity, its sureness and its common sense. He made an impact not only on the people of his own time, but has done so on scholars and laymen ever since.(25)
This then was the country where Father Jules Chevalier was to work and with the help of its people, achieve his life's work, the founding of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. He himself, as the people often noticed, was not "Berrichen in character. On the contrary, he had a quick and enterprising nature, which seized opportunities as they came along. For him the idea passed quickly to its realisation if it was a good one. He did not waste much time in weighing up the pros and cons of a venture once he was convinced it was feasible. The easy-going parishioners at first looked with surprise and misgiving on this energetic young curate who seemed to walk over obstacles as though they did not exist, but he quickly won them by his sincerity, and in spite of his different ways and disregard for minor conventions, they soon regarded him as one of themselves. And indeed he was to become one of them and Issoudun was forever to be his adopted home. Wherever he travelled in future years, he tells us he was homesick till again he saw the White Tower of Issoudun.
Although Issoudun fitted in, generally, to the pattern of the Berry district, it still had its own characteristics - due to its history and location. We have already spoken of its ancient origin. In Roman times the population built their town on the verdant banks of the Cher tributary La Theols", a pretty stream which takes its source in the Bommier Hills some twenty miles away. In these early wartime days the inhabitants grouped themselves at the foot of the Castle on the hill. It is from this fact that the town gets its name; In the Celtic language "Is" means "below", and "dunum" is the word for hill. Issoudun then was known as "the town beneath the hill." Even today remnants may be seen of the ancient wall that surrounded the town and of the two large fortifications, one built for the protection of the aristocracy the other for the plebians. The lower part of the town with its narrow untidy streets has kept in the main its medieval character, but the upper part, rebuilt in the 18th-century, is comparatively more up to date. In the middle of the last century it was described as "a nice-looking, well-built and spacious town. Today with the development of its suburbs it is a typical country French town. Glimpses of its vanished glory are seen in the White Tower which stands sentinel over the town, and the old belfry over the ancient Bastille. In 1883 some excavations at the foot of the Tower revealed vestiges of an early Christian Church, which the historian, Peremee, placed in the 4th or 5th century. Father Chevalier was inclined to think that it went back to the first century when Christianity was brought to the region.(26)
In his Histoire Religieuse d'Issoudun, Father Chevalier quotes the rather uncomplimentary opinion of Peremee regarding the townsfolk of Issoudun, qualifying it here and there with his own impressions. Peremee wrote some time before Father Chevalier arrived there. "Issoudun", he wrote "is an agricultural centre, and the trade and professional activity deal with things of the country. The town comes to life only on market days or days of the fair. On the other days of the week, it seems to fall into a profound sleep, and hardly shows any sign of life. The stranger crossing the street becomes scared of the sound of his own footsteps in this dead city. If you wish to find any activity at all you have to go out into the suburbs. There you meet the different types - the average cross-section of the Community - half urban, half rustic. There you meet the farmers, the gardeners and above all, the vine-growers who are easily distinguishable by their arrogant bearing; there you see the peasant with his countryfied look, proud and cunning individuals always bitter and discontented, constantly irritated by the "up-starts" the name coined for the bourgeoisie, the town traders and anyone who wore a dress coat. The peasants blamed them for the high price of bread and the low prices they got for their wine." Father Chevalier here remarks: "They were irritated and bitter only with those who looked down on them and regarded them as their inferiors. They were more noisy than malicious. They objected to the many taxes, direct and indirect, put upon their grape-growing industry, a financial arrangement they could not understand or tolerate."
That they could be stirred to action can be seen from the following extract from Peremee: "The Revolution of July 1830 which overthrew Charles X and put Louis Phillippe on the throne had its reaction in Issoudun. The wine growers, who formed two-thirds of the population, took the opportunity to stage their own revolution. As a protest against the heavy taxes they stormed the offices of the agents, tore up the registers and threw them into the street to the cheers of the populace. Rioting broke out all over the town and the streets were lined with frenzied zealots threatening to put to death anyone who would not join their revolt.(27) Armed troops were sent to quell the disturbance, but the rioters erected barricades, and a pitched battle ensued.(28)
Referring to this incident, Peremee continues: In spite of this show of rebellion these people are at heart a peaceful race - with a natural sense of probity (and Father Chevalier adds "of justice") inherited from their fathers. Crime and delinquency are rare compared with other parts of France. Statistics show that there are fewer criminal cases brought before the Courts in this province than anywhere else in France."
One of the main defects, and hindrances to progress was the very conscious class-distinction amongst the people of Issoudun. There was the upper class which asserted its imaginary superiority and the lower class which suffered from an inferiority complex - a phenomenon not unusual in country towns and suburbia all over the world. Father Chevalier notes that it was very rare to see any marriages between members of the two classes, as they shared neither the same ideas nor the same customs. The so-called upper-class possessed the same fundamental characteristics as the lower class - even had the same faults, though perhaps modified somewhat by better education. They preserved the old bourgeois tradition of their ancestors, were critical and intolerant, sometimes even malicious, cold and caustic. Even their jokes were at times loaded with bitterness. On the credit side, they wore usually honest and sincere, well-mannered and reserved. They had the reputation of being hospitable, but as Poreree, himself a native of Issoudun, remarks "They were more friendly to strangers than to their fellow citizens." Father Chevalier confirms this by saying: Even with strangers they were very reserved, especially at first, not offering much help and leaving the newcomer to himself till he tired himself out." Being a stranger himself, Father Chevalier could talk from experience.
"The native of Issoudun," continues Peremee, seems to have been brought up on the milk of discouragement inherited from his forebears, and accepted the decline and decay of his town as a matter of course. Nevertheless it was always his first love. No matter how far he journeyed away from it, no matter for what reason he left it, his chief desire was to return and to die there.
This bitter rivalry between the two classes, this exaggerated class distinction, was a real drawback to the progress of the town, and the cause much unhappiness in a district which offered great possibilities of development and prosperity. Even when members of either class happened to meet in other localities, when most people are glad to see their townsfolk, there was this awkward barrier between them. They seemed further apart than serfs from the masters. The bourgeoisie seemed ever conscious of their ancient stock and regarded all others as strangers, newcomers or interlopers. Just where the line of demarcation began and ended it was difficult to say. No one of either class was willing to recognise anyone superior to himself, and the salient trait of each class was a lofty personal independence. The man in the suburb or from the country held his head just as high as the man in the town, and the lowliest citizen was equally as proud as the highest.
"One class, explains Peremee, "was inclined to think too much of the past, whilst the other did not think of it enough." Father Chevalier has added: "In recent times the ultra-radicalism and uncompromising opposition of the masses have forced the nobles and the old-stock bourgeoisie to leave the place, so much so that this ancient town, once so vibrant and active, resembles a dead city without commerce or spirit. What is left, moreover, is tainted by easy-living and vanity."
Peremee concludes his summary by expressing the hope that the new national revival of enlightened thinking, and the improvements in modern amenities, such as the coming of the railway to the town would usher in a happier era of wealth and progress.
Father Chevalier likewise concludes: "Let us hope that better days are in store for Issoudun. Above all, let us hope that the people will return to the Faith of their ancestors."(29)
The town left much the same impression in 1873 on Madame Hello who has painted this unflattering picture: "Sheltering in the shadows of its old high towers, the town has the appearance of a parasitic growth. The people potter around on their little momentary tasks and errands, without any desire to look back over the past, or forward to the future. Here no one wants to remember, or even to hope. In this cold, dead town the many ruins are the monuments to the neglect and indifference of an unambitious people - it is a veritable tomb - dark and frightening."(30)
Although Father Chevalier had estimated the population of Issoudun as some 15,000 inhabitants, the official figure was closer to 12,000. The whole town comprised but the one parish with only the one church - the Church of St. Cyr. The several ancient churches which adorned the town from the time of the Middle Ages were all destroyed during the Revolution. Taken over and sold by the Republic according to the Decree of Appropriation of 17th August, 1792, they were desecrated and demolished. St. Cyr was badly damaged, but its structure was allowed to stand, and it was used as a hall for National celebrations. The two towers, one a beautiful Romanesque structure supporting a steeple, and the smaller one over the facade were both demolished in 1793. A band of revolutionary soldiers passing through Issoudun threatened to sack and burn the town, if these symbols of superstition were not pulled down. The Council agreed, and a carpenter and stone-mason made the handsome sum of 1200 francs in effecting the destruction and selling the material. The bells were thrown from the tower onto the pavement below and smashed to pieces, the heaviest, dating back to 1603 was kept and used as the town tocsin till the church was restored. An altar to the Goddess, Reason, was erected in place of the Mass altar, and the church was used for profane purposes celebrations, a second-hand clothes market and even as a wheat-barn. The Church furniture, sacred images and even relics were sold at paltry prices. Only a few were saved.(31) After the Concordat of 1802, the church was restored to the ecclesiastical authorities except for the choir which the Commune kept as token possession. This eventually was handed over after a court judgment.
The first Parish Priest after the restoration was Abbe Yvernault, appointed by His Grace Isidore de Mercy, archbishop of Bourges. Assisted by a curate, he had to look after not only Issoudun but several of the neighbouring parishes. His successor was the Abbe Mauderon who was given a second curate. On 6th December, 1829, Abbe Guillaume Crozat took charge as Parish Priest, and was able to concentrate on the parish of Issoudun itself, as other priests were available to look after the adjacent parishes. Father Crozat was still the parish priest when Jules Chevalier was appointed there twenty-five years later.
Father Crozat came from a small hamlet called Charmensac in the Margeride Mountains at the extreme of the Cantal Shire, in the diocese of Saint-Flour. Only seven families lived in the small village which was attached to the parish of Chaliers, until the closer town of Loubaresse was erected a parish about the year 1800. The Crozat family was reported to have had the best farm in the district, but rather too original methods of agriculture, such as growing oats for bread making, led to disaster and they eventually left the village. Guillaume Crozat studied for the priesthood in the diocese of Saint -Fleur, but a few years after ordination transferred to the diocese of Bourges, which, we are told, was short of at least 150 priests, whereas his own diocese was fairly well staffed. Several of his class-mates were already stationed in Bourges, and no doubt, they enticed him to come and join them. On the 27th of September, 1822 he was put in charge of the district of Saint-Gaultier, and on 1st July, 1825 he became archpriest of Chatre. In 1829 he took over the parish of Issoudun, where he laboured till he died on 9th January, 1864.
In spite of our searching enquiries into the early life of Father Crozat, there seems to be quite a deal of conflicting evidence as to dates and identity arising from the confusing fact that in the Crozat family there were two brothers by the name of Guillaume one 'Guillaume Bertrand' and the other just plain 'Guillaume.' According to the story handed down to the later generation, Father Crozat had been married before becoming a priest in 1817. His father, so the story goes, was anxious to avoid having him conscripted for military service, and insisted on his getting married. He is supposed to have had a daughter, who died young, and two sons, one of whom was called Pierre. The name of Pierre Crozat is entered in the register of births at Chaliers, and several people knew a Pierre Crozat at Issoudun and earlier at Chaliers. The wife died several years after the marriage, and Guillaume Crozat entered the Seminary and was eventually ordained a priest. The inscription on his tomb and also the register at Bourges give the date of his birth as 4th March, 1787. In our early enquiries we discovered in the registers of the Bishopric
of Saint-Flour, with the help of Father le Chan, the name of a Jean Crozat, who was ordained a priest on 20th May 1814. We thought at first this was possibly the future parish priest of Issoudun, but Monseignor Jacques Magne, the Superior of the Major Seminary later found in the old archives of the College the following record; ''Guillaume Bertrand Crozat, of the parish of Chaliers was ordained priest on 20th December, 1817. Talents quite good; conduct very good." At the same time Monsieur Doumergue, mayor of Chaliers, discovered in the local register that a Guillaume Crozat, son of Pierre Crosat and Marguerite Cathelat, was born on 4th March, 1787, and that at the age of nineteen and a half he married Jeanne Brun on 16th September, 1805. On 8th July 1809 a son, Peter was born to them. As this date of Guillaume's birth corresponded with that on the tomb, we thought we had the data we were seeking, and that the story of the marriage was well authenticated. However the Abbe Pelegry, parish priest of Chaulhac (Lozere) and priest in charge of Chaliers discovered, as late as 1950, other evidence which calls the fact of the marriage into doubt. He discovered that the Guillaume Crozat born on 4th March, 1787, who married Jeanne Brun on 16th September, 1806, had a younger brother Guillaume Bertrand, who was undoubtedly the one ordained in 1817. The date of the birth of this younger brother is in terms of the new calendar drawn up by the 1st Republic "the 26th Pluviose of the 6th year of the Republic." As this date corresponds with our 14th February, 1798, Guillaume Bertrand would have been eleven years younger than his brother. It would seem safe then to conclude that the Abbe Crozat had never been married. One could object that if we take 1798 as the year of his birth, he would been only twenty when he was ordained, but we must remember that in those times, when there was such an acute scarcity of priests, it was not unusual to find seminarists being ordained at an early age. The report that his talents were "quite good" would confirm this possibility.
It remains to explain why Guillaume Bertrand took the name of his elder brother, and used the dates of his birth-certificate even till the time of his death. The fear of conscription could not have been the reason, as the Concordat exempted seminarians from military service, and when Napoleon abdicated at Fontainebleau on 4th April, 1814, the young man would have been only sixteen years of age, and fourteen at the beginning of the Russian campaign. Even if this was the reason there was no point in continuing the deception after 1814. Let us hope that Father Mourgues, M.S.C., a fellow-countryman of Guillaume Crozat will be able to unravel the mystery in his further researches, and be able to find some new evidence which may alter the dates.(32)
Happily, his contemporaries have left us more definite evidence on the character and personality of Father Crosat. Father Chevalier has given us the following pen-picture of him; "He was a venerable and kind old man, a worthy priest held in high esteem in his parish and throughout the diocese, and possessed qualities which were greatly appreciated by his superiors, who availed themselves of his experience and good counsel. He was pious, friendly, charitable and discerning, and was always dignified in his bearing. He had the reputation of being a good theologian and a distinguished casuist. His favourite authors were Gousset, Bourdaloue and Berthier.
In his later years his health failed, and he was able to take little part in the work of the parish, leaving it to his curate. He spent most of his praying, especially reciting the rosary, to which he had great devotion. Any time you met him he would have his rosary beads in his hand and often he would hide himself in some remote corner of the church, or even the Confessional and pray by the hour. With St. Paul he desired only one thing - to make Our Lord known and loved. He was always interested in the work of his curates, and rejoiced at any success that came their way. He was truly a humble man, had simple tastes, and always seemed to be in a good humour. His presbytery, his heart and his purse were open to everyone - even if some abused his generosity. One winter's night he heard a noise down in the cellar under the house. In spite of his age and his natural timidity, he lit a candle and quietly made his way down the stairs. There he found two of his well-known parishioners helping themselves to the wine-cask. "My friends," he said in his gentle voices what are you doing there? You know if you had asked me for some wine, I would have given it to you. Take what you have already drawn, and be good and go home."(33)
Madame Hello has written of his disappointments in his apostolic work, and has suggested that he was really too gentle and timid for an ungodly parish like Issoudun. His apostolic zeal" she wrote, "was foiled in this most pagan of all the towns of France. In vain did he distribute his goods to the poor; in vain did he preach the Word of God, in vain did he give then good example through the years by an austere life, and his unstinting charity. The good seed he tried to sow fell upon the rocks and was carried away by the birds of the air. . He prudently kept on good terms with the local authorities and the bourgeosie, and this policy brought results in troublesome times when his curates had to work amongst a hostile and unbelieving populace. This flock, so deaf to the voice of the shepherd, entirely immersed in the things of this world and the baser things of life, needed a strong, energetic, enterprising and fearless pastor, and Father Grozat, in spite of his virtues, was really too gentle, too timid, too shy to deal with it."(34)
Madame Hello, in this last remark has probably hit on the reason why the ecclesiastical authorities appointed Jules Chevalier, who had already earning the reputation in the diocese of being an active and enterprising young priest, to the parish of Issoudun.
We must remember that when Father Crozat came to Issoudun in 1830 his task was not an easy one. Monsieur Kremp has written in his ''History of the Town of Issoudun, "The moral upheaval after the Revolution was profound. Perhaps here more than any other part of France there was a complete break from the ideas and beliefs of former days."(35) Father Piperon has candidly admitted that one of the main causes of the loss of faith was the defection of many of the clergy themselves. "Grave scandals" he wrote, ''caused the loss of faith in this once religious town. Several priests, and alas even Religious, contracted sacriligious marriages, and their numerous offspring, as though accursed for the sins of their fathers, gave up all practice of faith and religion." Father Crozat was able to reconcile some of those unfortunate priests to the Faith before they died repentant deaths, but the memory of those depressing defections hung over the parish like an evil spell, paralysing all efforts of faith and piety.(36) Father Delailler, the Parish Priest of Lazenay, about 16 Mlles north of Issoudun, also wrote in 1848 of the lamentable lack of zeal of many of the clergy: "The three priests of Issoudun, he wrote "didn't seem to be very busy in those days."(37)
After 1830 when Father Crozat arrived, the followers of Voltaire had taken charge throughout the Province and had relentlessly thrust their rationalistic philosophy on the minds of the people. His was a delicate and arduous task endeavouring to counter these false doctrines with the truth of the Church, and to impart any sentiments of Christian humility to the minds so proud. It is a tribute to his character that in spite of the wholesale spirit of irreligion around him on all sides, he did lead many souls back to their Faith by his sincerity, kindness and good example. He put the interests of his people before his own, and became the first amongst the poor of the parish.(38)
One of the first casualties of the Revolution were the Christian schools and Father Crozat made it his first duty to try to bring home Christian doctrine to the children and the youth of the parish. The Ursuline Nuns, who had conducted a school at the lower end of the town had been evicted by the Revolutionaries and their property confiscated. The Sisters of the Visitation who had a boarding-school at the top end of the town met with the same fate. The Brothers of Christian Doctrine who had a school since 1741 in the old hermitage of Pont Saint-Denis for the education of boys were likewise driven from the town.
Father Crozat with the help of his curate, Father Malleron, succeeded in establishing a new school on the 11th May, 1830 conducted by the Sisters of Charity from Bourges. These good nuns quickly won the confidence of the people, especially the mothers of the children, who told their husbands: "Look after these good Sisters, and do not disturb them. They are here in the interests of our children, and you must defend them if necessary." Hardly had the Sisters settled in their new convent than the angry revolt of the vine growers broke out in July. Father Crozat feared for their safety and advised them to pack up and return to Bourges. He even ordered a carriage to take them back. However the curate, Father Malleron, was more optimistic, and dressed as a layman, he went out amongst the crowd to learn what plans they had in mind regarding the Sisters. We can imagine the fright the Sisters got when at midnight, while the revolt was at its height, the door bell rang loudly. They expected the worst, but it was only Father Malleron with the good news: "All is well. The mob is on your side."
In time the school progressed, and thanks to the help of various benefactors the nuns were able to build an establishment for 300 pupils. Encouraged by this success Father Malleron enticed the Brothers of St. Joseph of the Cross from Mans "to open a school for boys in September, 1834, but they remained only two years. Cardinal DuPont, the Archbishop of the diocese then, persuaded the Brothers of Christian Doctrine to return to their old post, and they took possession of the old and battered buildings again on 5th October, 1836, aided financially by Madame du Quesne and other benefactors. They became so popular that the Municipality in 1851 granted then an annual subsidy after the death of several of their benefactors.(39)
The children were now receiving regular religious instruction. Formerly, wrote Father Piperon, "the instruction of the little ones was sadly neglected. Several of them received about a fortnight's instruction before their First Holy Communion, but after that were left to themselves. The church was deserted; the Sacraments neglected." (40) However the picture was not completely black; in spite of the general indifference and lack of faith there were a few hundred faithful souls from all classes of Society, who had never lost their love of God and His Church. Through the Mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His Immaculate Mother this small band had stood firm in the midst of the moral desolation and spiritual wreckage all around them. Faithful to their Mass, their Sacraments, prayers and religious practices, they were as a beacon of light to the poor ship-wrecked souls about them, illuminating the way back to God and happiness. One of the newly-arrived nuns, Sister Scholastica, writing to her Mother Superior General remarked; "The people are kindly disposed towards us, but alas, most of them are far from God and their Faith. However, what is surprising and encouraging is to see several of them at Mass each morning of the week, and receiving Holy Communion three or four times a week.
Father Crozant himself tells the story of the good example given by one of the parishioners. Some time before Father Chevalier had introduced the Mass for Men in 1857, and at a time when men were conspicuous by their absence is the Church, a new commander came to Issoudun in charge of the local garrison. He was a devout Christian and fearless in the public practice of his Faith. The first time he came to confession - about Easter time - Father Crozat, knowing his public position and the general hostility to the Faith of most of the people, asked him what time he would like to receive Holy Communion. "I will go with the others at the Mass tomorrow," he replied.
"But that may not be wise for a person in your position," the priest suggested. "It may cause you grave inconvenience."
"Grave inconvenience. What do you mean, Father?" came the response. "I am a soldier, and hope I am not a coward. I am a Christian and have nothing to hide. I will be at Communion in the Church in the morning."
He kept his word, and his presence at the Altar Rails did not go unnoticed. Soon the news spread throughout the town, and it is an indication of the bitter hostility to religion of a section of the community that later on that day there was a demonstration outside his home, and the windows were pelted and smashed, as a gesture against this 'pious foolhardiness'.(41) However that did not deter the brave commander, and he continued to openly profess and practise his faith. Referring to him Father Piperon has written: "For a long time he was the only man who had publicly fulfilled all his Easter duties. He attended Mass every Sunday and the major feast-days. He often told me of this early opposition, and Father Crozat confirmed it.(42)
Madame Hello tells of another incident, simple yet pathetic. "One day Father Crozat on going into the church, saw a woman on her knees before the Blessed Sacrament. Approaching her he asked: "Madame, do you live in Issoudun? "No," she replied, "I am a visitor just passing through, and I always visit the church in any town I pass through to pray to Almighty God."
"Pray, my dear lady, pray," the old priest muttered, and went away almost in tears.
Madame Hello continues: "The priest had to take every precaution to protect his reputation against a malicious and gossiping community. Whenever he visited the Sisters of Charity he did so in biretta and rochet to safeguard his name against their evil tongues - a gesture which in itself was an expression of his own opinion of their low standard of intelligence and morality."(43)
Abbe Delailler tells us that Father Crosat's original presbytery was a small house on the southern side of the church of St. Cyr. The two curates lived separately in the town, and later when they did come to live with the parish-priest, they continued the practice of having most of their meals with friends or in the cafes of the town - a custom which did not greatly please the old priest. Another custom, frowned upon by Father Crozat, was that of allowing visitors - especially women - into the rooms of the curates. When Father Chevalier arrived he put an end to this practice, and some of the pious old ladies thought he was a little narrow-minded.(44)
Eventually a new place of abode was acquired for the clergy - an old house in Berthier Street, built at the end of the XVth or beginning of the XVIth century according to the style of that period. According to Peremee it was about the only old house left in Issoudun worthy of mention."
The advent of the two new curates, Maugenest and Chevalier in 1854 ushered in a new era for the church in Issoudun. Sebastien Emile Maugenest arrived on the 10th January and Jules Chevalier was to follow him the sane year on 20th October. Sebastien Maugenest was born on 5th December, 1829 at Culan. He did his primary and secondary studies at Chezal-Benoit, where his family lived.
In October, 1848 he entered the Major Seminary at Bourges, but left in August 1850 to join the Novitiate of the Sulpicians. He had been keen to become a member of that Order, but before his ordination, his confessor advised him to re-enter the diocese of Bourges, as he considered that was his real vocation. He was ordained at Saint-Sulpice on the 17th December, 1853 - the Saturday of the Christmas Quarter-Tense, and his first appointment was to Issoudun.(46) Father Chevalier wrote of him: "In the Seminary he was known and appreciated for his zeal, his piety and his gift of eloquence. As regards his character he was always energetic and ardent; had a good judgment even if a lively imagination. He kept himself versed in current topics and opinions, and was not beyond changing his mind and convictions on various subjects.(47) He was a gifted priest, and was consumed by the desire to use his talents for the good of souls and the Church."(48)
When Father Chevalier arrived on 20th October (or the 21st, may be) he was given a cordial reception by both Father Crozat and Father Maugenest, and soon made himself at home. Soon after his arrival he happened to be passing the cottage of a good parishioner called Monsieur Voisin. The good man was leaning against the door post leading onto the street when he noticed the strange priest go by. He called out to his wife: "Come here, this is worth seeing. I hope it is not the new curate we have been promised, as his clothes are very shabby and we will have to deck him out from head to foot." The next day Father Chevalier called on them, as they had a son a priest, a classmate of his in the Seminary. They became good friends.
The three priests wasted no time in having a conference re the allocation of work and boundaries. Father Crozat was now very feeble and the two curates agreed to share the work. Father Chevalier would care among other things for the Hospice for the Dying and his confrere would look after the public hospital. They also decided on a few innovations and the correction of a few abuses - notably to receive all visitors in the parlour and not in their rooms. As mentioned before some of the old-timers did not approve of this new priest introducing his new-fangled ideas into the parish. Besides, they said, he looked untidy with his big crop of hair and his shabby clothes. Father Chevalier tells a humorous story about one old lady who decided to teach him a lesson. One day" he said, "I went to my Confessional and found a parcel on the seat addressed in my name. I opened it, wondering what it could contain. Inside was a brush, a comb and a tin of boot-polish. I enjoyed the joke."
On one occasion, several years later, when the name of Jules Chevalier was becoming well known throughout the diocese on account of the new Society he had founded and the Basilica he had built there was a large gathering at Issoudun for a religious demonstration of faith, attended by the Cardinal and several bishops. A visiting priest amongst the congregation, looking up at the official platform asked one of the parishioners; "Could you tell me which one is Father Chevalier? The parishioner pointed in the opposite direction to a lone figure in cassock standing on the steps of the Basilica watching the proceedings from afar.
"There he is over there," he said.
"But surely," remarked the priest, "that cannot be the host to all the important prelates. He looks like a country curate, and from a not very civilised part of the country at that."
The time was to come when even members of the Royal Family were to visit him and to be impressed by his personality, as indeed were all who came to visit him. Even the ladies of the town were soon won over to him in spite of the present of the brush and comb.
Father Sadouet, M.S.C. in his "Personal Recollections" has written of Father Chevalier in these early days at Issoudun: "He inspired confidence in those who met him. In appearance he was a man of average height, well proportioned, of a straight carriage and possessed of a large crop of hair. He had a pleasant countenance, and used to speak in a friendly, if rather slow manner. His modesty, his zeal, his devotion to duty, his affable piety and his prudence were soon noted by the people, and his Confessional was besieged by numerous penitents. He won the affection and esteem of his venerable parish priest, whose faith and humility he admired, as also of his confrere Father Maugenest, whose talents and piety still appealed to him as an admirable prospective help in the design he cherished in the secret of his heart.(50).
CHAPTER VII THE FOUNDATION OF THE MISSIONARIES OF THE SACRED HEART
One of the priests associated with the foundation of the Society of Missionaries
of the Sacred Heart, even if indirectly, was the Abbe Gasnier. This outstanding
Sulpician priest had been Professor of Moral Theology when Jules Chevalier was
at the Major Seminary. He was a Diocesan Consultor, and later on, it was on his
advice that the Cardinal Archbishop appointed both
Sebastien Maugenest and Jules Chevalier to Issoudun.
Pierre Gasnier was born at Angers on 26th November, 1793. After his theological studies were completed he entered the Sulpician Novitiate, "La Solitude, on the 11th October, 1817 and later became a member of the Order. From October 1818 to July 1822 he was Professor of Sacred Scripture and Latin at Autun. During these years he contracted a severe throat infection which left him in poor health throughout his life. In April, 1823, he was transferred to the Major Seminary at Bourges, where he became in turn Director of Studies, and Superior. On his death, 7th March, 1875, the Archbishop paid him a striking tribute in a circular letter to the clergy. "Father Gasnier spent first years of his teaching between life and death, but his sufferings, at times very intense, did not prevent him from fulfilling his duties with regularity and courage. Faithful to the traditions of Saint-Sulpice, exact and methodical in all he did, tolerant and charitable to others, endowed with a remarkable spirit of discernment, humble and modest, he inspired confidence in all who net him. He was loved and esteemed by all. His clear judgment, his disinterestedness in worldly affairs, his unpretentious simplicity, his affable manner, and above all his great knowledge of the clergy, made him an invaluable asset on my Episcopal Council."(2)
Father Gasnier became Superior of the Seminary in September 1851 after the departure of Father Redon.(3) As mentioned above, he was Professor of Moral Theology when Father Chevalier was a student. We do not know for sure, but it was most probable, particularly since he was Charles Piperon's spiritual director, that he would have heard of Jules desire to found a Society of Missionary priests. Considering that the general terms of the plan had been discussed openly by the students, Father Gasnier most likely had heard of it, but he would not have known of Jules' more specific intention of founding a Society of Religious priests with the name of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Other dioceses had mission-houses of secular priests, and this is probably what Father Gasnier had in mind. Whether it was in consequence of Father Chevaliers plan or independent of it, it is certain that about 1853-54 Father Gasnier cherished the idea of having a mission-house established in the irreligious town of Issoudun - not only for its own spiritual welfare, but for that of the whole province of Berry.
This is undoubtedly why, as a Diocesan Consultor, he suggested in 1864 the appointment of both Father Maugenest and Father Chevalier, as he knew they were two young active priests, and would win the confidence of the prudent Father Crozat, the parish priest. After his ordination Father Maugenest had been appointed to the Cathedral staff at Bourges, but was suddenly transferred to Issoudun. A new parish priest had just been appointed to Aubigny after the death of the previous pastor, and this made Father Chevalier available for Issoudun. As we have seen before, the appointment came as a surprise to him, not knowing that Father Gasnier had anything to do with it.
With his coming to Issoudun all the memories and desires of his Seminary plan reawakened with a fresh ardour in the heart of Jules Chevalier. Was not this act of Providence the first step in the realisation of his cherished dream? As yet uncertain and anxious, he would await the further designs of God. Was it not also providential that his colleague here should be none other than Sebastien Maugenest - his former confrere of Seminary days with whom he wanted to share his plans? Was this not a further confirmation that the Sacred Heart wished him to go ahead?
But what would be Father Maugenest's reaction now if he put the project before him? Their relations with one another were good, but in spite of the close daily contact, Father Maugenest had never once referred to their discussions of Seminary days. Had he forgotten all about it, and would he regard it all as but the fanciful dream of a pious, inexperienced student? When they had discussed the plan in College it was merely with the view of establishing in the diocese a house of missionaries who would use the Devotion to the Sacred Heart as a means towards the conversion of the lapsed laity. Now it would be necessary to tell his fellow priest that his desire was to found a religious Congregation of Missionary priests whose spirit and life would be the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the latter devotion being its means of apostolate. What would be the reaction of Sebastian Maugenest to that?
Being able to stand this state of indecision and uncertainty no longer, he decided to approach Father Maugenest and open his heart to him, telling him candidly of his plans and desires. "After studying Father Maugenest closely, he writes, "I decided the time had come to confide in him. That was towards the end of November, 1854.(5) Elsewhere he wrote: "A month after my arrival in Issoudun I approached him, and commenced: "Two plagues are the scourge of this unhappy century - indifference and selfishness. We need an efficacious remedy. That remedy is to give the Sacred Heart - the Heart of love and charity - to the people. His adorable Heart is entirely devoted to men, but they do not return His love. They ignore the treasures to be found there. I think the only answer is to have a Congregation of priests who will work to make the Sacred Heart known and loved. They will be called Missionaries of the Sacred Heart."(6)
Father Maugenest's reaction was a surprise. Not only was he enthusiastic and ready to co-operate, but he assured Father Chevalier that ever since their discussions in the Seminary, even before he had thought of becoming a Sulpician, he had shared the same idea and cherished the sane desire.
"I also," he said, "have been dreaming of such a plan for a long time. I am with you. Let us begin immediately.(7) I have been trying to make up my mind for a long time, and now you have made it up for me. I wish to devote myself to the cause with you.(8)"
Filled with emotion the two priests embraced each other, knelt down thanked God for directing them, begging His help and grace in their future project. "O my God" later wrote Father Chevalier, "How wonderful are Your ways. How you dispose all things strongly yet sweetly."(9)
Indeed Father Maugenest was so anxious to put the plan into effect without delay that Father Chevalier had to curb his enthusiasm somewhat, pointing out the many difficulties to be surmounted and the graces to be obtained. After all they were only two humble curates, quite inexperienced and without any money or worldly goods. If God wished this work in honour of the Sacred Heart to succeed, they agreed, then He would show them the way to overcome the difficulties. At present the main thing was to know if it was according to His will,(10) The first thing they decided to do was to acquaint their parish priest of their intention and ask his advice. If he were favourably inclined to the project, he would be very useful in presenting it to the ecclesiastical authorities as he was held in high esteem in the diocese.
Another important decision and one which was to have very far-reaching and significant results in the founding of the Congregation was to make a Novena to Our Blessed Lady to finish on the 8th December, 1854 - the day the Church was to define the Immaculate Conception as an Article of Faith.
"Since we were very poor," wrote Father Chevalier, "and had no means wherewith to launch our project, and realising that the important date of the definition of the Immaculate Conception was approaching, we decided to make Novena to Our Immaculate Mother to obtain from Her Divine Son some definite, visible sign that our plan was according to His Divine Will, and to grant us means of accomplishing our project."
"We went to Father Crozat and informed him of our intentions. Whilst he was reflecting on what he had heard, we looked to the statue of the Immaculate Conception on his desk, whispering a prayer to our good Mother to inspire him. After a few moments he turned to us and said with conviction: 'My children! not only do I approve of your plan, but I will help you any way I can to establish a house of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at Issoudun. If you found it, I will happily say my 'Nunc Dimittis'".(11)
Little time was left to make preparations for the Novena. The small altar in Father Chevalier's room was specially decorated (12) and Father Maugenest, who according to Father Piperon was "hardly an artist", displayed his keen, and lively imagination by painting a scene which portrayed the motif of the Novena.(13) Father Piperon, who had seen the original, describes the painting thus: Two priests were kneeling before an image of the Sacred Heart from which rays of light were shining on them." The painting was placed on a pedestal which supported a statue of the Immaculate Conception. Two candles were placed on a small table one on each side of the statue, and every day the two priests knelt there to recite earnestly the prayers of the Novena.
Father Maugenest in 1908 recalling the historic Novena wrote; "All the details of this homely little altar given by Father Piperon are exact." The Museum of the Issoudun Basilica has a replica of the tableau, which, however, does not reproduce all the details of the original. Father Piperon records elsewhere: "Ten years later, after he had become parish priest of Issoudun, Father Maugenest retouched the painting, inserting the Basilica, partly built, in the back-ground.(14)
The description given by Father Chevalier corresponds with the painting as we know it: "The painting," he writes, "represents the future Community, born of the Heart of Jesus, as from its natural source, at the prayer of Mary. Thick clouds seem to screen the Heart of Jesus, but the powerful hand of the Immaculate Virgin is dispersing them. The saintly old parish priest, Father Crozat, is pictured in the background with arms extended towards Heaven, saying his "Nunc Dimittis." Above all are two angels holding between them a scroll on which was written; "O Immaculate Heart of Mary, save us and establish the Priests of the Sacred Heart.(15)
Anyone who has seen the painting will recall what Madams Ernest Hello humorously wrote of it: "The colours, the drawing, the subjects and the laws of perspective atrociously outraged, show that if Our Blessed Lady granted their requests, it was certainly not from Her love of art."(16)
The object of the Novena is expressed in these words by Father Chevalier: "If we are granted our request, we will take the title of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart." Our specific mission will be to render to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Seat of all Wisdom, Love and Mercy, the special devotion of adoration homage and reparation, to spread everywhere this devotion and to make known to man the treasures of sanctification which It contains. Also as a special end of the Society, we will endeavour to make Mary, our Mother, loved and honoured by every means possible and in a special manner."(16) Without being unmindful then, of the many difficulties that lay in their path the two priests began their Novena on the 30th November, 1854. They poured out, their hearts in sincere prayer to the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate for the success of their project. They pleaded that the Congregation they had in mind would be realised, and they asked for a special sign that it was in accordance with God's Will.(l8) "Every day we recited the prayers of the Novena in common and made our other exercises of piety together."(19) They did not know what was before them, but they devoutly besought the Sacred Heart and the maternal Heart of Mary in a spirit of faith and confidence to point out the way.(20)
The great day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception arrived - a great day in the history of the Church when the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was infallibly defined by the Holy Father in Rome - 8th December, 1854. In Issoudun the occasion was marked by the Celebration of High Mass, sung by Father Chevalier himself. The intention in the Mass was that of the Novena - the foundation of the Society and the granting of a definite sign.(21) The three priests considered this Mass as the final prayer of the Novena, and for this reason the little altar with its painting was solemnly carried by two acolytes and placed on the Sanctuary just before the Offertory, (Madamoiselle Marchard, in her story of the foundation does not mention this event, but that is not surprising, as being ignorant of the Novena at the time, she would have thought, as did the other parishioners, that it was some special ceremony connected with the Proclamation of the Dogma. The writing on the scroll was so small that only the servers and the sacristan would have been able to read it, and it would mean little to them.)
The placing of the Statue on the Sanctuary was a sign of their unshakable confidence that Mary Immaculate would hear their prayers. "We were all visibly moved," Father Chevalier recalled. "The ceremony made a profound impression on us. Father Crozat actually wept with emotion."(23)
After the Mass the sacristan came to Father Chevalier and told him that Monsieur Petit, one of the few fervent parishioners, wished to see him urgently.(24) Father Chevalier took the good man across to the presbytery after he had made his thanksgiving. From Father Chevalier's own notes and other documents written on this prompt and important sequel to the Novena, are able to reconstruct the scene thus:
No sooner had Father Chevalier closed the door than Monsieur Petit handed him a letter saying: "I have good news for you Father. Read this." The letter was from a Monsieur Philippe de Bengy addressed to Monsieur Petit, asking him to do him the favour, since he was unable to come himself, of informing Father Chevalier about an important matter of which he had just been apprised. It was to the effect that a certain person, who wished to remain anonymous for the time being, but in whom he had complete confidence, wished to donate 20,000 francs towards the establishment of some good work to benefit the souls of the people of the Berry district. Monsieur de Bengy went on to say that the kind benefactor did not have precise and exclusive ideas as to the nature of the proposed work, but he had gained the impression that he favoured the idea of the money being spent on a House of Missionaries.
"A House of Missionaries," repeated Father Chevalier, deeply moved and astonished. "But that is precisely what we have been dreaming about. We have just made a Novena for that very intention. The little altar we put on the Sanctuary was for that purpose - to remind the Immaculate Virgin on this great day that we needed Her help. My friend, you are a messenger from Heaven. Our Lady has answered us through you."
"What a beautiful response from Heaven," replied Monsieur Petit. "It is indeed miraculous that the benefactor should have the same intention in mind as yourself. I must go and tell Monsieur de Bengy immediately."
"But are you sure we can count on this money?" asked Father Chevalier.
"Without any doubt. Monsieur de Bengy is certain of it. The money is yours, if you can find use for it in establishing some good work for the good souls. The only condition the donor requires is that it has the approval of the Cardinal."
"We are deeply grateful," replied the stunned priest. "Please convey our thanks to our generous benefactor and Monsieur de Bengy. Tell them the wish will be carried out. Assure them that our prayers will never cease for them and that God will reward this very kind benefactor."(26)
Many years later in 1908, Father Maugenest recorded his impressions of this historic day: "After High Mass," he wrote, "I went into the side-chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary to make my thanksgiving, and add some prayers to our Novena. I felt supremely confident that the Immaculate Mother of God was going to hear our prayers. Acting on a sudden impulse of this confidence, I almost ran to the presbytery and burst into Father Chevalier's room, crying! "I have just come from Our Lady's Chapel and am sure She is going to work a miracle for us.
"You are right. She has already worked the miracle, he replied, throwing his arms around my neck. I have just had a visit from Monsieur Petit who assured me that a stranger, who doesn't want to be known for the time being, wishes to give us 20,000 francs to establish a missionary work here in Issoudun. In the excess of my joy and gratitude to the Blessed Virgin, in my complete confidence in Father Chevalier's work, I didn't even stay to ask if the money was already donated or merely promised, but went off to thank the Mother of God, convinced that She had indeed worked a miracle for us - that she had directly inspired this unknown benefactor to place this money in our hands for the achievement of our desires."(27)
"We spent the rest of the day in prayers of thanksgiving", wrote Father Chevalier. Together we poured out our sentiments of gratitude to our powerful Protectress. O Mary, O good Mother, May you be ever blessed! What a happy day for us! The day when Holy Mother the Church has proclaimed your Immaculate Conception will be the day of the Conception of the new Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, for today there has begun for it the mystery of life."(28)
This is the reason why the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, by an unbroken tradition regard the 8th December, 1854 as the date of their Foundation.(29)
When the two curates informed Father Crozat of the gift and the purpose for which it was given, he shared their happiness and hopes, but not their assurance. Being a man of experience in diocesan affairs, he wondered what the Cardinal would think of the scheme, and whether he would readily give his consent. Father Chevalier and Father Maugenest were anxious to make overtures to His Eminence immediately. After such a definite sign from Our Lady, they argued, he could hardly refuse his approval. Was not the Will of God already clearly expressed? The Cardinal could hardly go against the Will of God. But the wise and saintly old priest advised them not to be in such a hurry. After all not even the general outlines of the project had yet been defined, and he urged them to wait and give the whole matter further consideration before presenting it to the authorities. He himself wanted time to reflect on the whole project before he would dare put it to His Eminence and ask his approval.(30)
After careful deliberation the good parish priest consented during the month of January, to write a letter to His Eminence the Cardinal, putting the project before him and asking him to grant permission to the two young priests to begin their work. He told him of the remarkable answer to the Novena they had made, and stating that he himself wholeheartedly approved of the plan, he begged His Eminence's authorisation.
Father Chevalier made an appointment with the Cardinal, and took the letter to him personally. Whether the Cardinal was already conversant with Father Gasnier's idea of the desirability of a mission-house in the Province of Berry we do not know, but after carefully reading the letter he said to the hopeful young priest:
"I am deeply touched with all you have put before me and am disposed to give my permission, but what are you going to live on? It is all very well to have a mission house, but where are you going to get the finance to sustain you?
"Your Eminence, replied Father Chevalier, "We will at least have the stipends for our Masses and sermons, and will have to rely on Divine Providence for the rest."
"Divine Providence - that is all right," rejoined the Cardinal, "but you must not tempt Divine Providence. I am afraid I will be able to authorise your plans, only when you are assured of an adequate and definite revenue. However, if God wills your work, He will see to it that you will not want the necessary help. Pray to the Blessed Virgin that She will complete the work She has so admirably begun."
Father Chevalier in relating the interview remarked: The Cardinal's language was that of prudence and of faith."(32)
Certainly the problem that the Cardinal had stressed was not a simple one. The two curates possessed neither money nor worldly goods. The mere pittance they received as salary was hardly enough to cover their personal needs, but such was their enthusiasm that money seemed a secondary consideration at this stage, while he can appreciate their optimistic enthusiasm, lack of finance was in reality the main obstacle to their venture in this early period and soon began to realise it. Where could they look in this un-Christian parish for support? And where could they look outside the parish, as, after all, they were still two comparatively unknown curates with little influence and few acquaintances?(33)
They decided then that they would make a second Novena. The parish church was a regional centre of the Archconfraternity of the Immaculate Heart of whose headquarters was in the church of Our Lady of Victories in Paris.(34) The feast of the Archconfraternity was kept on the Sunday before Septuagesima (35) In this year - 1855 - the Sunday fell on the 28th January. They decided to finish the Novena on this day, and in Father Chevalier's words: "In order to solicit Our Lady's interest in our work, we decided to make a pact with Her.(36)
We have two versions of this contract both from the hand of Father Chevalier - the first in his MANUSCRIPT written in 1859, and the second in his COMMENCEMENTS. This second version seems to be but a recasting of the first. We doubt that the first was the original text, and believe that the original was lost before 1859.(37)
On 21st April, 1908 Father Maugenest wrote: We wrote a contract with Our Lady only for the second novena. I do not recall the literal text of the terms of the pact, but I am certain that the main clause was a promise made to Mary Immaculate that, if She would help us, we would consider Her the Foundress of the Society and that we would work in a very special way to spread Devotion to Her amongst men. The theme was that we would honour the Sacred Heart of Jesus revealing Itself to the world, in order to save it through the intercession of Mary Immaculate."
Father Chevalier would have been relying on his memory in handing down the terms of the pact to us. He was anxious to keep these promises before the minds of the future members of his Congregation. What is important for us is not the particular form in which the contract was expressed, or the literal wording but the profound significance of the promises. The wording of both texts is substantially the same but as a matter of interest we will place them side by side and compare the variations and additions. Perhaps it will help us to remember better the central idea of the pact and the nature of the promises:
Contract made between the most Holy
Virgin and two priests of the S.C.
Sacred pledges taken by us at the feet of our good Mother, and placed in Her Immaculate Heart, with limitless confidence If the Holy Virgin, our great Queen our one Refuge and our sole Protection, triumphs over all the difficulties which Hell raises against us, and establishes our proposed work this year,
For the salvation of souls and the glory of Her most dear Son, we undertake on our own behalf these following engagements - not only for ourselves but for those who will work in the same Company.
The priests entrusted with the task of continuing the work of Saint Ursin, first Apostle of Berry, will take the Name of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
They will have quite a special love and a singular piety for the Adorable Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; they will work with all their strength to make these two Hearts everywhere loved.
(Not in 1859 Text)
They will never preach without saying a few words about Jesus and Mary.
They will not hear even one confession without proposing these two Names -
those two Hearts
to the invocation and love of the penitent.
The principal picture in their Chapel will represent the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Adorable Heart of Jesus saving poor sinners.
ARTICLE V There will be in the Chapel
(l) A statue of the Sacred Heart ( of Jesus 9
(2) A statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
(3) A banner on which the picture will perpetuate the memory of the great favour received.
The patronal Feast of the Congregation
will be that of the Sacred Heart.
The special feasts of the Order will
be those of the Immaculate Conception,
the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint
Ursin, Saint Solange and Saint
The feasts of the Most Holy Virgin
will be celebrated with very
The priests of the Sacred Heart in their solitude will imitate by preference the hidden and interior life of Mary in the Temple and in the House of Nazareth.
In their apostolic life they will imitate Her groat Mercy, and following Her example, they will seek no more beautiful title than that of "Refuge of Sinners."
of the Sacred Heart.
A sacred engagement
Most Holy Virgin
our one hope.
(These words do not appear in this Text)
who will form part of the same Society.
The priests who will form part of our little Congregation will take the title of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and will engage themselves to fulfill all that the title signifies.
"They will have quite a special devotion to the work of making the Adorable Heart of Jesus loved and glorified by the priests and the faithful and making reparation for the outrages which It receives.
In thanksgiving to Mary they will regard Her as their Foundress and Sovereign; they will associate Her in all their works, and make Her loved in a special way. Her Immaculate Heart will be the object ex their piety.
In so far possible they will preach,
...as also they will try not to hear any confession without proposing these two Hearts to the invocation etc..
...the Adorable Heart of Jesus revealing Itself to the World for its salvation through the intercession of Mary
(2) Another one of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. [
(3) An "ex-voto" which will perpetl
..will be the Feast of the Sacred
The secondary feasts will be those of
St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist St. Ursin the first apostle of Berry
...the hidden life of Mary.
...Her zeal for the salvation of soulsr and Her great Mercy towards sinners.
When we compare the two documents we find they are substantially the same. Here and there greater emphasis may be put on a particular point, or the arrangement slightly altered, but there is no change of any importance. That confirms our opinion that the Manuscript of 1859 was a copy from memory and not the original, otherwise in his COMMENCEMENTS Father Chevalier would have been content to give us the original contract as it was written.
When we recall that right from the beginning the principal end of the Society was Devotion to the Sacred Heart, we can see that Father Maugenest's recollection of the general details of the contract were correct. He clearly states the special place that Devotion to Our Blessed Mother was to take in new Society. The founders both used the same expression - "in a very special manner" when speaking of this devotion. This intention, then, of giving special honour to the Mother of God as an end of the Society existed right from the beginning and was not just an afterthought by Father Chevalier in order to link the devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart with the very foundation of the Congregation.
One last observation: The correction to Article I shows that Father Chevalier did not regard the Apostolate of the district of Berry as an exclusive obligation on the founders or their successors. In the text this is inferred as only one of the works of the new Congregation. They did not engage themselves precisely to the apostolate of Berry, but expressed their proposal to continue the work of St. Ursin as one of their works. The contract does not express this exclusive obligation, although it was the main thought in the mind of the Abbe de Champgrand when he donated the house at Issoudun - as we shall see later in this chapter. This undoubtedly was one of the reasons besides many others, why Father Chevalier never wished to leave the parish of Issoudun. He would have felt obliged to stay there on account of the gift made to the two curates.
Side by side then with Devotion to the Sacred Heart which was the primary end of the Society would be this Devotion to Mary "in a very special manner". They would regard Her as the Foundress of the Society, and would work to spread Devotion to Her. This was the pact made with Her not only for themselves but for all the future members of the Congregation. Speaking of Father Chevalier's devotion to Mary, Father Piperon writes: "He did not regard this mission as merely his own, but it was his dearest wish to see all his confreres full of zeal in propogating devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. He used often to impress on us that it was one of the principal ends of the Society, and a powerful means of glorifying the Heart of Jesus and making It loved. He said to me one day: 'When Father Maugenest and I promised to take the name of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, and to honour the Holy Virgin in a special way, if our requests were granted, our thoughts were not of ourselves only, but we undertook to pledge our Congregation formally to the achievement of its twofold end. If we are Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, as our name and motto indicate, we must also be apostles devoted to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. That is our vocation."(38)
In accordance with this aim they promised to place in their chapel the statues and the "ex voto" lamps. The corrections to Article III - "in so far as possible" and ''they will try" explain their intentions on these points.
"Each day of the Novena the written pact was placed on the Altar while they offered up the Adorable Victim. On the day of the feast when the novena ended, their prayers were more ardent and the promises renewed."(39) as on the 8th December a special ceremony was enacted during the High Mass. The pact was solemnly brought to the Sanctuary by two acolytes and offered to Our Lady "through the hands of the priest."(40)
During these weeks the parish priest, Father Crozat had been busy looking for help and resources for his curates' plan. On the day of the feast - 28th January - at the end of the Novena he informed them that a generous benefactoress, an anonymous lady - inspired by grace had promised to grant an annual revenue of 1000 francs to the two curates for their livelihood (41) as long as they had need of it.(42) The secret of the identity of the benefactoress was well guarded. Father Piperon wrote: "Never to my knowledge was the name mentioned. He wondered if Father Chevalier even knew who it was(43) but he certainly did later on since after the death of the lady he published the name in the Analecta of the Society in 1900. It was the Viscountess du Quesne. We do not know how long she paid the subsidy.
"On hearing the news" wrote Father Chevalier, "our joy knew no bounds. Mary, it is to you, after Your Divine Son, that we owe our Society and its glory. It is yours. In that is our strength and our security."(44)
This gift has always been regarded as Our Lady's answer to the Novena. "The response of Mary was not long in forthcoming," wrote Father Piperon, and Father Chevalier agreed.(45) The intention of the novena was to resolve the difficulty of finance, which had been raised by the Cardinal. How were they going to live? His Eminence had considered the uncertain revenue of their ministry quite insufficient, but now this obstacle had been obviated. The approbation of the authorities was still to be obtained, and we can be sure that apart from the financial aid they sought, the main intention of the novena was ultimately to have their plan approved by the Church. Father Maugenest recalls: "The intention was to obtain from our Sovereign Queen the necessary means of livelihood, but this only that we could obtain the authorisation of our plan. After mentioning the opposition, he continues; "This approbation ultimately obtained by the result of our second novena was, to my mind, a greater miracle than the gift of 20,000 francs after the first."
Father Chevalier also thought the same way: "From then on he wrote in his Manuscript of 1859, "Hell was conquered, the obstacles were surmounted; and besides the generous gift of 20,000 francs to purchase the house in which we now live, a kind benefactoress offered us 1000 francs a year."(47) The Abbe Rigault informs us that he learnt from Father Chevalier that the promised 20,000 francs was received only after the second novena, after a lot of difficulties had been straightened cut.(48)
Two of the three people concerned in this Novena had quite a different intention which Father Maugenest never suspected. It is question here of the project of a certain Abbe de Champgrand who was to play an important part in the development of the affair. It concerned certain new difficulties arising from conditions which the donor stipulated.
Edward, Ferdinand Marie de Champgrand was born at Jussy-Champagne, near Bourges, on the 18th August, 1813. He was educated by the Jesuits first at their college in Billom (Puy-de-Dome) and then at Fribourg in Switzerland. 12th October, 1831 he commenced his Seminary studies at Issy and later went to Saint Sulpice. He joined the Sulpicians and after his ordination on 20th May 1837 he was appointed to the Major Seminary of Bordeaux where in turn he was Professor of Dogmatic Theology (1837-40), Bursar (1841-44); Professor of Moral Theology (1344-49) and of Sacred Scripture (1849-60). (49)
Knowing that he came from a wealthy family, Father Gasnier had appealed to him to ask his relatives to help finance a plan he had in mind for the spiritual welfare of the people of Berry - the native country of Abbe de Champgrand and the region where his family had their properties. This plan concerned the formation of a Community of Missionaries to evangelise the people of Berry. The idea appealed to the Abbe and in a letter to Father Gasnier he wrote: "It is an eminently practical idea, and you have done well to interest me in it personally. I had at heart much the same idea - the necessity of a Community of Missionaries to evangelise above all the poor people of the fields who in most of our district of Berry are very backward in religious knowledge.
Whether Abbe de Champgrand at this stage wished to urge the immediate accomplishment of the project, or was merely seeking further details or again whether he thought it preferable to leave the initiative to the clergy of Issoudun we do not know, but after Father Chevalier's arrival in the parish had spoken of the plan to his brother-in-law Monsieur Philippe de Bengy who resided in Issoudun.(51) He had instructed him to approach the two curates without mentioning his name, and inform them that if they wished to undertake a work for the good of the souls of the Berry district, for example to establish a mission-house, he would donate the sum of 20,000 francs towards the cause. He would have known of the character of the two priests and of their good intentions, and the condition that he stipulated namely - the permission of Cardinal - would assure that the work would be under the authority of Bourge; and that Father Gasnier would take the matter in hand himself, and give them good advice personally.
We must state that right from the beginning Abbe de Champgrand found himself in a false position. He did not realise that the scope of the plan in the mind of the two curates was wider than that of his own. When he received their reply through Monsieur de Bengy he envisaged the foundation of a mission house staffed by diocesan priests for the good of the Berry province, and did not know of their further intentions which they meant to submit to the Cardinal.
In the conference with Monsieur Petit the main topic had been the foundation of a mission-house for Berry with the permission of the Cardinal. Without any intention of deception or suppression of facts Father Chevalier in his elation and enthusiasm did not mention anything about the intention of founding a religious Congregation in honour of the Sacred Heart. In reference to the difficulties that later arose, Father Piperon has written: In the effusion of his gratitude the good Father forgot to make known just in what way this generous gift of 20,000 francs was the fulfillment of his prayers and the assurance that his plan was in accordance with the will of God. Had he not now the means of purchasing some little corner of the earth for his longed-for mission house which would shelter his future missionaries? Was not this the answer of the Immaculate Virgin bidding him to proceed with the foundation of his Religious Society?(52)
During the conversation concerning the gift there was nothing in the mind of Monsieur Petit except the foundation of a mission-house for Berry, whereas in the mind of Father Chevalier the main thought was that now the sign prayed for in the Novena had been granted, the sign asked of God regarding the foundation of the Congregation. Its realisation now depended only on the approval of the Cardinal, in accordance with the condition laid down by the donor.
The first interview with the Cardinal, as we have seen, left the two priests full of hope, and in conformity with his wish, they had obtained the financial security of at least 1000 francs per annum. Now His Eminence could hardly refuse their request.
Soon the rumour was noised abroad that the two curates of Issoudun had in mind not only a mission-house, but the foundation of a religious Congregation, letters of both Father Maugenest and Father Rigault show that this intention was known even before the end of the second novena. The Abbes de Champgrand heard of it, no doubt from Monsieur de Bengy. He was profoundly upset by the news. This was not the purpose for which he had promised the money. His intention had been to finance the purchase of a mission house for diocesan priests, not to establish a new Religious Institute. He did not wish that any price. It was an eventuality he had not dreamed of when offering his help.
Monsieur de Bengy who could see complications ahead, prudently withdrew, but the Abbe de Champgrand, in spite of his desire to remain anonymous, decided to make his mind clear on the subject. It was thus that Father Crozat and Father Chevalier learnt his name. The Abbe summarily threatened to withdraw his offer of 20,000 francs, unless the idea of a Religious Congregation be dropped and the money used exclusively for a mission-house for Berry. Even then the imperturbable Jules Chevalier did not seem to take the threat very seriously. Such was his confidence that he thought that if the Cardinal would now give his permission, all could be arranged happily. After all, Madame du Quesne had promised the annual sustinence; the important thing was to see the Cardinal immediately and obtain his authorisation.
So the determined curate from Issoudun set off once again for Bourges to interview Cardinal du Pont. The Cardinal received him cordially and listened attentively to what Father Jules told him. "His Eminence was profoundly impressed by my story, he later wrote. "He said to me: 'The hand of God is there, I can see that. I will submit the whole matter to my Council, and will let you know their decision.'"
Alas, all the members of the Council without exception were opposed to project.
"What are the reasons for your refusal?" His Eminence asked them.
"They are only a couple of inexperienced curates without money or standing! replied one. "We must save them from becoming the joke of the Diocese."
Another proposed; "This foundation of Missionaries is not only adventuresome, but compromising to the diocese. If it does not succeed, as seems probable, all the responsibility will fall back on the Diocesan authorities. We will be blamed for taking the matter so lightly, and will have to bear the odium ourselves.
And so on. Three times during the Council the project was brought up and three times it was unanimously rejected.
"Gentlemen, His Eminence finally said; "This matter seems to me a grave one. We will decide nothing further today. I ask you to think seriously about it and we will discuss it again at a future date." And so the meeting broke up.(53)
The main objection of the Council was to the fact that the project of the two curates was to found a new Religious Congregation. They did not object to a new mission-house in Issoudun, for the apostolate in Berry, but to the plan of a new Religious Society. Even Father Gasnier was one of the objectors. This did not seem to him the solution he was looking for to revive the Faith in the Berry Province, and the scheme of the two young priests could easily impede his own plan of inaugurating a mission house in the area. He admitted later that in the early stages of the foundation he took no active part in assuring its success."(54) We can appreciate his position for as Superior St. Sulpice he held an important place on the Diocesan Council, and wanted to be sure of his ground.
After the Council was over he sought out Father Chevalier and tried to convince him that the project was not feasible. Father Chevalier wrote; "He said to me: My dear friend, drop the idea of your religious Congregation. You will never have it passed by the Council. They attacked it vehemently for over half an hour. I think it is dead and buried'. '"
Did the Cardinal give his final decision?" asked Father Chevalier.
"No, came the reply, "he postponed his decision to a later date, but you can be sure the Council will not give in, and His Eminence never goes against their advice. You had better consider the matter finished.
"But not so fast, Father Superior, Our Lady has not yet given Her final word. We will pray to Her.''
"Good, you may do that by all means, but if you win through She will have worked a first-class miracle."
"We are counting on Her. She is already too much in this work to abandon us now. I have confidence in your prayers, Father, and I know you will join them to ours."
"Very willingly, replied Father Gasnier. "From my own personal point of view I would be very happy to see your Congregation happily established."(55)
Was this last reply merely politeness on the part of the good priest or was he beginning to be affected by such faith and such perseverance? Was he beginning to understand that in conjunction with these convinced men his own plan would be realised only by the foundation of which they dreamed? Was he becoming aware that behind their zeal and enthusiasm was a Force with which he had not reckoned? These young priests were convinced they had received a Sign from Heaven, and believed they were not free to ignore it. This, thought Father Gasnier, was the only explanation of this firm resolution of Jules Chevalier in the face of such opposition. And in fact this was the truth. His determination was a result of the events of December 8th, the culmination of a long quest for heavenly assurance. All this he surely would have told Father Gasnier in their conversation and quoted to him the Cardinal's words "The hand of God is in this.
Father Chevalier returned to Issoudun with the discouraging news of the Council's decision. Later, in summing up the unfavourable attitude he encounter at Bourges he wrote: "They received me much like a dog in a game of skittles,"(55) He postponed the letter which he promised to write to the Abbe de Champgrand. If the Cardinal was not to give his approval, the letter would be superfluous.
"Only one thing now was left to them - recourse to the Immaculate Mother of' God. They prayed to her with renewed fervour. In his COMMENCEMENTS Father Chevalier recalls the spirit of hope and trust with which they approached the Mother of God during this difficult period. Already the spirit of the Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is evident in their prayers. "We turned again to Her Who is the Hope of the hopeless, and against all human foresight we obtained the approval of authority. O Mary, may you ever be blessed! You are indeed the Foundress of our Society. How can we ever thank you enough. What title can we give you to exalt your power and goodness in the work of the Sacred Heart?"(56)
Some have maintained that the prayers offered by the two priests after the refusal of the Council took the form of a third novena, but there is no evidence of that. There is no record in the writings of Fathers Chevalier, Maugenest and Piperon that such was the case, and Father Maugenest has noted that the necessary approbation came after the second novena.
Meanwhile the opposition of Abbe de Champgrand had grown stronger, and he refused to donate the 20,000 francs under the existing circumstances. He remarked that he had no intention of financing an adventure. He went further and made another condition: that the proposed mission-house be confided to care of an already established Religious Order. This would assure the stability of the work, and not leave it to the hazy and nebulous concept of two young inexperienced priests. In a letter to Father Gasnier he candidly stated his views:
"When I heard that the two curates intended to form a new religious Congregation and were going to call themselves Missionaries of the Sacred Heart I was dismayed. I did not wish to see at Issoudun the head-house of a new religious Congregation. Such a thought was a thousand miles from my mind when I offered the money. On the contrary I groan to see Institutes springing up on all sides. They were not known to our predecessors and many of them have failed to prove their utility. The name of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart which these young men wish to assume dismays me. They should attach themselves to one of the approved Orders which would imply their name. If these men are animated by the Spirit of God, which I believe they are, they will be doing themselves a good turn if they join some established Institute which will be able to nourish them. If this does not appeal to them I believe they are not instruments which Providence can use. (non de semine virorum illorum per quos salus facta est Israel!) I am glad to think, Father Superior, that you are in accord with my views, and hope you will be able to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion."
Father Crozat wrote the Abbe several letters explaining the intentionsof the two curates, but they were to no avail. The reminder that the only condition he had required - the approval of the Cardinal - had been met, brought no result.
From the Abbe's point of view, these two young curates were prepared to use deceitfully for their own purposes the money he had promised for the establishment of a mission-house in Issoudun with a view to the apostolate of the abandoned people of the Berry country-side. Who could have foreseen that they would take it into their heads to initiate still another of these new Congregations which were nothing but a scandal to him. Under these circumstances he did not feel bound to his promise. The project of the curates was entirely different from the one he had in mind when he offered the money. It was idle to state that the only question was the establishing of a mission-house. The nature of the mission house should have been made clear. Besides, his condition, the approval of the Cardinal - had not yet been definitely fulfilled.
But while the Abbe de Champgrand was relying on the support of Father Gasnier, we can see that this good priest was already beginning to qualify his opposition and modify his unfavourable views. After his interview with Father Chevalier he was convinced that the two young priests believed in the Divine inspiration of their project, the possibility of which he was not free to dismiss himself. He had confidence in the judgment of Father Crozat, who had written to him explaining the whole plan and expressing the opinion that it was feasible. Father Gasnier had forwarded the letter to Abbe de Champgrand explaining that he himself was inclined to take a more favourable view of the enterprise and reserve his judgment for the time being.
Abbe de Champgrand replied on 24th March, 1855; "I am returning to you the project of Abbe Crozat. I have studied it carefully, as I did your own letter. I have written to Monsieur de Bengy concerning the matter asking for certain details, and am awaiting his reply." The tone of the letter would suggest that the Abbe felt his position was weakening somewhat. He was not as uncompromising as before.
It is a pity that we do not know the exact contents of Father Crozat's project. The reaction of the Abbe de Champgrand to it indicates that it merited serious consideration. Did the venerable parish priest propose the compromise which Abbe Champgrand eventually accepted? It is certain that he carried the attack into the enemy's camp. He stated plainly that a promise had been made, and that it ought to be honoured. He also pointed out that 20,000 francs would not be enough to buy a house such as the Abbe de Champgrand had in mind. At least 25,000 would be required. As regards the stability of the project, which the Abbe was doubting, he simply pointed out that this was guaranteed by the fact that the members would engage themselves by vows. But Abbe de Champgrand would not admit the three points mentioned by Father Crozat. He continued in his letter to Father Gasnier: It may be just as well to make two observations before a final decision can be given, which I cannot do at present. Firstly, my promise was not made just for any project at all, and it is a mere supposition to think I would increase it to 25,000 francs. Secondly, I still have doubts on the stability of the work, if it remains in the hands of these missionaries, even though they might be bound by vows."
Meanwhile the Issoudun clergy anxiously awaited further news from Bourges. What would the final decision of the Cardinal be? His Eminence eventually called his Council together, and the subject was brought up again. The proposal met with the same opposition - this time stronger if anything. After the discussion the Cardinal rose to speak: "Gentlemen," he said, "I have reflected on this matter; I have prayed about it. As you know, it is not my custom to go against your decisions. This time, however, I am going to do so, as I believe I would be going against the Designs of Providence if I agreed with you. I promised these two priests that if they could show me another sign of the Will of God regarding their resources, I would approve their plan. This sign they have shown me, and I am going to keep my promise. From today I am authorising the two curates at Issoudun to unite and commence their work. From today I ask you to nominate two priests to replace them."
This historic approval was granted on Monday 4th June, 1855, and Father Chevalier and his companions heard of it the following day.
"The next day," wrote Father Chevalier, "we received a letter from His Eminence announcing his decision." The first curate named was a young priest ordained only the preceding Saturday - Father Joseph Lelot. His nomination is dated 4th June. The other curate was Father Antoine Tamisier, who had succeeded Jules at Chatillon. His nomination was dated 5th June.
Father V. Chastre, the archivist at Bourges, informs us that there is a record in the diocesan register under the date of 10th June. "The Revorend Jules Chevalier has been authorised to take the title of Missionary of the Sacred Heart", and has been relieved of his duties as curate at Issoudun." Regarding Father Maugenest the record merely states he was permitted to bear the title in 1855.(60)
The time had come - with the definite approval of the Cardinal assured - for Abbe de Champgrand to make a decision. The condition stipulated on 8th December of the previous year had been fulfilled - the Cardinal had granted approbation. The Abbe realised that the Cardinal knew of his promise and naturally it put him in a delicate position before the prelate. He had before him, at least during the life-time of the Cardinal, the alternative of abandoning the idea of a mission-house at Issoudun as he had conceived it, or accepting the new Religious Congregation, which he considered a dead-weight and a risk to the diocese. Reluctantly he finally decided to support the new Society. "I must yield at least exteriorly, he lamented on the 3rd April, 1856. But he attached a condition. The condition, which may have been that suggested by Father Crosat in his letter, was that he would buy a house for no more than 20,000 francs in his own name, and then after a time, if the Congregation prospered, and was a help to the Berry district, he would donate the property to it. This actually happened seven years later in 1863.
Reviewing then the history of the foundation we can see that the 8th of December, 1854 was the important date. In spite of the consequent conflict of opinion re ways and means, the sign had been given from Heaven on that day. The "dream" of student days had become a reality; the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart had been founded.
The project had been achieved by a combination of the spiritual and the material. Father Chevalier had been convinced that the Sacred Heart and His Immaculate Mother had a special work for him to do. With the help of Father Maugenest he had prayed for this, worked for it and fought for it. The two priests had faith and confidence, but how to accomplish their plan had been another matter. From the material point of view we might say that humanly speaking the project was in the hands of Abbe de Champgrand. Without knowing it, and even without wishing it, he was the instrument of Divine Grace. He had been difficult, but nevertheless, his offer had been taken by the Founder as the required sign from Heaven, and had initiated the practical steps towards the establishment of the Society. We can see how Almighty God uses human elements even unwilling ones at times, for the accomplishment of his works.(61)
Looking back over the succession of events, we can clearly see that the two similar yet independent projects - that of Father Gasnier and the Abbe Champgrand on the one hand, and that of Father Chevalier on the other, were brought together by Divine Providence on the historic date of 8th December, 1854. This surely was a result of the novena made by the two curates. In spite of the conflict of opinions and the cross-purposes, the final agreement and collaboration of the two parties confirmed the grace received on the 8th December. Was it not a miraculous event?
"A miracle," says Professor Dondeyne, "as a religious phenonomen is the coming together of extraordinary and astonishing facts, which in the religious context in which they happen, are a sensible and certain sign that God is with his Saints...........Miracles appear in the religious history of mankind as the sensible response of God to the faith of man - a visible manifestation of Divine Providence."(62)
The great event of the morning of the 8th December, 1854 was for Jules Chevalier this visible manifestation of Divine Providence in response to his ardent prayers. And this Divine response was for him, as Founder, the confirmation of his mission and the Divine approval of the Society he had established.
CHAPTER VIII THE FIRST COMMUNITY
Convinced that the foundation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart was in accord with the plans of Divine Providence, and in spite of the difficulties raised by the Abbe de Champgrand, the clergy of Issoudun went in search of a suitable dwelling to house the first members of the Congregation. Their search began in the early months of 1855. We have already seen that the Abbe had written a letter on 24th March, 1855 stating he would definitely not go beyond 20,000 francs.(l)
Wishing to avoid public comment, the priests enlisted the services of their next door neighbour, Monsieur Voisin, who was a good Catholic with a brother and a son in the priesthood. Being an expert carpenter he knew the building trade well, which was a big help. Without putting him in complete charge of negotiations, the priests instructed him to look for a suitable dwelling, which he would purchase in his own name, not revealing the identity of the real buyers till the last moment.(2)
Although willing to co-operate Monsieur Voisin was rather embarrassed, as he had just purchased a nice cottage, where he hoped to retire, and he knew the village tongues would start to wag at this new purchase. Several places were examined, but most were unsuitable to their purpose. One was too dear; another in the wrong locality; another too small, and so on. Eventually an abandoned villa at one end of the Place de Vouet caught their interest as it offered possibilities.(3) After an inspection at nightfall, the priests decided to buy it. The agent, Monsieur Petit was rather astonished when Monsieur Voisin approached him and said he wanted to buy the place. He had just sold him a house, and naturally wondered what was behind this latest move. However, he was only too willing to do business, as the villa had not been occupied for about five years, and was in a bad state of disrepair.(4) Just when the sale was about to be finalised, an unexpected rival-purchaser appeared on the scene, and was prepared to pay a higher price than the priests could afford. It was just what he wanted, he said, and the price was right, but he would have to consult his wife before finalising the deal. The good lady arrived and was pleased with what she saw. Just as she was about to leave she noticed a grave-yard about 300 yards away, and asked "What is that, over there? "Oh, that is a cemetery" the agent replied. "Oh dear, this house would be too mournful. I could never live near a cemetery" she replied, much to the relief of the missionaries.
Time was passing and still there was no decision from Abbe de Champgrand. If the Congregation was to be established in suitable quarters before the end of the year, it would have to be before Trinity Sunday. The diocese was short of priests and the only hope of getting replacements was after the Ordination which took place on the Saturday before the Feast of the Blessed Trinity.
However, the Cardinal resolved that difficulty by appointing two priests immediately after his decision to authorise the Congregation. The parishioners began to suspect that something was going on at the Presbytery, but they did not know what. When the nomination of the two new priests was announced, the local paper, "Le Droit Commun" commented that whilst awaiting the execution of projects yet to be disclosed, four curates were attached to the parish. Everyone was convinced that the district was far too big for two curates to administer and that hence in future four priests would help the parish priest in his responsibilities. The two new priests were Father Tamisier, recent curate at Chatillon, and Father Lelot, recently ordained. The supposition was far from being true for until Abbe Champgrand gave his consent, from June 10th on Fathers Chevalier and Maugenest found themselves on the street.
They decided they would return to their home-towns and live with their people until they could take possession of a house in Issoudun. And so Father Chevalier went off to Richelieu, and Father Maugenest to Chezal-Benoit. Jules' homecoming was not a very happy event, as his aged mother had expected him to be taking charge of a parish and had intended to spend her last days with him. He had written to her telling her that his days as a curate in Issoudun were over, and she had inferred from this that he was now to be a parish priest. She had been looking forward to this for some time, so she could go and live with him.
I arrived at Richelieu," he writes, "my heart full of emotion, apprehensive of my mother's reaction to my future plans. After our warm greetings, she asked me what was the name of my new parish. I evaded the question by speaking of other subjects, but the next day she plied me with questions again: Was the parish far from Issoudun? Was it a nice place? Were the people there good Christians? Did I like the change?" etc.. I decided to tell her of my plans.
"Mother, I am staying on at Issoudun, not as parish priest but as a missionary. "A Missionary!' she repeated. The word seemed to stun her. Seeing all her dreams shattered, she began to cry and actually fell into a faint. For a moment I thought she was dead. My heart ached for her, and I felt very miserable because of the pain I was causing her. When she came to, she continued to cry, and begged me to change my mind. I asked God for help and tried to calm her. For the next eight days I had to withstand a veritable onslaught from the members of my family, but, knowing I was acting according to the Will of God, I remained steadfast in my resolution, not without a lot of mental anguish. I was torn between my love for my dear mother with the desire to help her, and the call of God to fulfill my mission. The words of Our Divine Master kept recurring to me: 'He who loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me.' They were eight days of martyrdom. Gradually the spirit of faith and good sense reconciled my mother to my decision, and she began to see my motives. She knew when she was to say goodbye to me it would probably be forever in this life, and I must say when the actual parting came, she was heroic."
"Before returning to Issoudun, I went to Poitiers to make a retreat, conducted by the Jesuit Fathers, in order to renew my religious and priestly ideals, I wrote out my resolutions, and placed them on the tomb of Saint Radegonde.(9)
The sojourn in Richelieu and the retreat at Poitiers would have occupied the second half of the month of June, and it would have been early in July when the two priests met again in Issoudun to prepare to enter their new home. The actual deed of sale was signed in Paris before a Monsieur Dufoir on the 1st September in the presence of Mme. Prudence Josephine Mayet-Bernard who owned the property. In the meantime the assurance of the Abbe de Champgrand had been obtained, and a provisional deed of sale drawn up, which enabled the priests to take possession in July. Father Chevalier tells us: "On our return to Issoudun, we immediately set about making the necessary adjustments and repairs. They were anxious to have the place in good shape for the official opening on 9th September.
The property was situated in the suburb of Croix-Rouge, adjacent to the Place de Vouet now known as the Place du Sacre-Coeur - in the northern part of the town. The property, which is on the northern part of the Square, was divided into three parts; a small vineyard to the east running parallel to the Rue des Champs d'Amour; a garden to the west, surrounded by a wall about six feet high, and in the centre the buildings which consisted of the dwelling itself and a large long lumber room, with a courtyard between the two. The buildings were about 25 yards in length, and connected on the street side by a wall similar to that surrounding the garden. A door and gate in this wall led into the courtyard. At the far ends were the wells and the wood-pile.
The two missionaries put themselves to the work of improvement and repair with zest, without being too fastidious. The dwelling was of one storey, and was divided into four main apartments. Nearest the street was the parlour a large room about 20 feet square with a glass door opening towards the Place de Vouet, another onto the courtyard and a window overlooking the garden, then in order along the length of the building, came the bed-room, the dining room, small stair way leading to the attic, and the kitchen with built-in cupboards etc.. A passage way ran half-way along the left wall of the building turning right towards the garden. The main alterations which the Fathers decided to make were to divide the old large bedroom into two small living rooms or cells, to extend the passage way along to the front parlour, and to put two beds in the attic for future use.
The wall, built to extend the passage way, unfortunately shut off the light and sun from the two cells. One had a window facing the garden, but the one in which Father Chevalier unselfishly chose to live had no natural light at all. It was decided to put a pane of glass in the upper portion of the door, but even then the only light entering the room was from the passage-way. He occupied this pokey little room for several years until his health began to fail, when his confreres got his permission, not without difficulty, to put a door in the wall leading out onto a bay facing the garden.(12)
Mlle. Marchand records that during these days of preparation and renovation Father Mangenest's Mother used to come over from Chezal-Benoit to give a hand and keep the house in order. The good lady used to catch the coach back home at four o'clock in the morning.(14)
It was decided to turn the old lumber rooms on the opposite side of the courtyard into a chapel. This was an elongated building similar to the main house, much in the shape of a barn, but in three separate sections, whose roofs fortunately were of the same height - about nine feet.(15)
The conversion of this building into a chapel was made as Father Piperon tells us, "under the direction of the ingenious Founder,"(l6) and the supervision of Monsieur Voisin. Actually it is hard to find anything "ingenious" about the construction, but Father Piperon was probably thinking of the fact that the transformation was made with the very meagre resources at Father Chevalier' s command.
Finance actually was the big problem. The 20,000 francs of the Abbe de Champgrand barely covered the cost of the property, and he had refused the extra 5000 francs. Monsieur Voisin had put aside a small sum of money for his daughter's marriage, and offered to lend this, but that would have been only for a short time.(l7) This lack of money explains why the original house lacked many ordinary amenities, and could hardly boast of the bare necessities.
The interior walls were knocked out of the building and a vaulted ceiling replaced the flat one. Two sacristies were built, one on each side of the main altar, which itself consisted of a simple table painted white and supported by wooden pedestals. In front of the sacristies were two side altars - that of Our Lady on the Epistle side and St. Joseph on the Gospel side, and a wooden Communion rail ran from wall to wall in front of the Sanctuary. Two confessionals were built, one on either side of the main entrance over which was a round rose-glass window, and chairs were used for the seating.(18) The tabernacle was just a plain wooden structure (19) and above was a small throne, where the Blessed Sacrament might be exposed. Mlle. Marchand had tried to make the altar and throne a little more attractive by decorating them with artificial flowers (roses and jasmine), and later Madame Du Quesne donated a more elaborate throne of carved wood.(20) The Chapel was lighted by eight windows, the glass of which was frosted in various colours which gave a devotional tone to the sanctuary.(21) After Father Piperon arrived in 1856, he made his own "stained glass" windows by pasting various types of coloured paper in various designs on the glass. "As this was a rather long process," wrote Mlle. Marchant, "he enlisted the help of my father, and the two of them worked at their 'stained glass' in the little workshop in the attic.(22)
The Chapel, which according to Father Piperon was able to hold comfortably from five to six hundred people, was finished by September.(23) The Abbe Dalailler recalls: I have seen this old barn transformed into the Chapel of the Sacred Heart by means of white and red paint, by camouflage of the old walls and their supports, and the adornment of poor altars. Father Chevalier himself remembers with humble simplicity: This improvised chapel had the privilege of extreme poverty and lowly appearance." However, Father Piperon affectionately recalls: "In spite of its poverty and complete lack of style (elsewhere he referred to it as "barn" architecture) the chapel was not without its charm with its quaint murals and dainty paintings and its consoling atmosphere of piety. It invited prayer, and the good, if few, worshippers were proud of their little church.(25)
While the work of renovation was going on the priests said their daily Masses in the Chapel, and heard the Confessions of the faithful. On the 9th September the official blessing and opening took place. In the absence of the Cardinal, who was sick, the Vicar-General, the Abbe Caillaud performed the ceremony and preached.(26) A large crowd, gathered, and all the neighbouring clergy was in attendance. A prominent figure amongst them was Abbe Crozat, beaming with joy.
During his discourse the Vicar General said he was officially delegated by the Cardinal to confer the name of "Missionaries of the Sacred Heart on the now Congregation. He said that it was no mere coincidence that this joyful day happened to be the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, the loving Mother who had so carefully guarded and guided her infant Congregation. It was just nine months since the Conception of the Society on the 8th December, and this could well be called the day of its birth.
"Father Founder, says Father Piperon, used often remind us of this fact, and he wished that each year the 9th September be celebrated with extra solemnity in order to thank the Mother of God for Her protection. On this day he would tell us, the Church gave us the name of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. On the first anniversary of this Feast a great flock of birds of all species invaded the courtyard and precincts of the chapel at dawn, flying around and vying with one another in their warbling and twitter. Father Chevalier remarked on seeing them. "They have come to sing the praises of the sweet name of Mary. Let us bless Her with them. Several years in succession the birds came on this happy feast, and Father Piperon has fittingly written: "We loved to join with these gracious musicians in their songs of praise of the Queen of Heaven and earth."
Father Chevalier had another important and very significant reason for remembering and celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, and one which Father Piperon did not suspect. It was on this day - the day of the official recognition of the Society that he first thought of the title - "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart."
Here is the text in which Father Chevalier gives to this day its complete significance. On Sunday, 9th September, 1855, on the Feast of the HOLY NAME OF MARY, the Missionaries were installed with the authority of His Eminence, Cardinal Du Pont, Archbishop of Bourges, and given the name of MISSIONARIES OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS. That same day, wishing to show their love and gratitude to Mary, they gave her in their thought the NAME OUR LADY OF THE SACRED HEART. A wonderful coincidence that only Heaven could arrange. (29) By "they" Father Founder meant "I", as he did not reveal the thought to his confreres till later on. Father Piperon adds the note: "In underlining the titles and writing them in capital letters Father Chevalier draws attention to the fact that there had been not one but two changes of names on that feast of the Holy Name of Mary; The missionaries became Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and Mary became Our Lady of the Sacred Heart: the former officially, the latter in thought. Almighty God inspired this new title in the heart of Jules Chevalier while he was praying in the chapel, which had just been blessed. Did not he himself say, "The devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart had for its cradle the chapel of the Missionaries the Sacred Heart."(30)
In their pact with Our Lady on 19th January, 1955, the two founders had promised to put three images in their chapel. Father Maugenest had painted two pictures for the side-altars, one representing as promised, the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the other a painting of St. Joseph. When Father Piperon arrived, those pictures had been replaced by statues.(31) The third and principal picture, according to Article IV of the promise was to be a representation of "the adorable Heart of Jesus revealing Itself to the world in order to save it by the intercession of Mary Immaculate.(32) Accordingly over the main altar was hung an oil painting measuring 2.5ft. x 2 ft. which symbolised all those concepts.
Father Chevalier always regarded this picture as a precious souvenir of the early days of the Congregation, and when the new church was built, he kept it in his own room. At the time of the expulsion shortly before his death his main concern was for the preservation of this painting. It can now be seen in the Museum at Issoudun. In his book on Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Father Founder describes it thus: "I have here before my eyes another picture - not without its artistic merit. It dates back to the 18th century, and perhaps further. In the upper part of the picture the Sacred Heart shines in glory, Its brilliant light illuminating the whole sky. Near by is the Blessed Virgin Mary, shrouded in splendour, pointing out the Heart of Her Divine Son to the Angels, the Saints and the Patriarchs, who are contemplating It in admiration while adoring and blessing It. From the Wound in the Sacred Heart a stream of light flows directly to Mary, and from Her it is diffused on a group of five people representing the various Continents of the world. This group occupies the lower portion of the painting. The garb of each of the five persons indicates the country he comes from - Europe, Asia, America., Africa and Oceania. All are in an attitude of prayer and supplication, beseeching the Mother of God to bestow on them the light of grace and strength that they need."(33)
During the ceremony of the official installation and bestowal of their new title the two missionaries were kneeling together before the altar in their humble chapel. Their thoughts went back over the years and the marvel of their vocation - back to their seminary days when all this had been but "a dream, back to the days of trial and disappointment, of hope and waiting, back particularly to the almost unbelievable events of the past six months. Preeminently amongst the days stood out the historic 8th December with the miraculous answer to their Novena. At each period of reverse and disappointment when it would seem the plan must fail, Mary seemed to intervene to overcome the particular obstacle and to give them new hope. She was their powerful Mediatrix with the Divine Heart of Her Son. They had made their pact with Her, and full of confidence they knew that in spite of all difficulties they would one day be Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and they would honour their Heavenly Queen in a special way. Graces had poured abundantly from Her Immaculate Heart, and now here they were on this happy day being officially recognised by the Church and bearing the longed-for name of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Gratitude and love filled the hearts of these first two members of the new Congregation.
Their eyes turned to the picture above the altar. There before them was the symbolism of their mission - to bring to souls the glory of the Heart of Jesus through the all-powerful Heart of Mary, His Mother. While looking with love and tenderness on this picture of Mary pointing to the Heart of Her Son there came to Father Chevalier as if by illumination, the title "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. This name, unheard-of till now, filled the soul of the valiant missionary with a holy joy. A vivid light seemed to reveal the power and charm of this new name and title, the profound and glorious significance for his Heavenly Mother. He immediately knew that the august Mother of God wished to be honoured under this blessed name, and that by dedicating himself and his new Congregation to spreading devotion to Her under this title he would be fulfilling his promise to make Her known and loved "in a special manner."(34) Enriched by this grace, and now officially recognised by the Cardinal the two Missionaries commenced their new life, or, as Father Piperon has put it, "they began the Novitiate of this new kind of life, which would not conclude till the 25th December in the following year.
They both tried to model their lives on that of Jesus during His days at Nazareth and during His public ministry. Their one ambition was to reproduce in their life that of Jesus Christ, King of the poor, their one ambition to devote themselves as did He to the salvation of their brethren. Their first concern, accordingly, was to draw up a rule of life for themselves in accord with their new kind of life. They wished to become missionaries and apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They had promised this to Mary Who in accepting them had accepted their promise. Now the apostolate requires two essentials: holiness and knowledge. If either of those qualities was missing then the apostle was not fully-equipped, and the fruits of his sacred ministry would be impaired, if not wholly lost. Father Chevalier and his confrere sincerely wished to become apostles after the Heart of Christ, and to live only for His glory and the salvation of souls. From the very first day their motto was: "May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be Everywhere loved."
How could they make the Heart of the Crucified Christ loved by men if they did not burn with that love themselves? How could they teach the Infinite Perfection of His love and mercy, if they did not study it and become imbued with It? It was necessary then, that they carefully draw up a Rule of Life, which would foster this love and school them in the sacred sciences.
The two words - in large characters - which best describe their life in these days are Poverty and Privation. Their chapel was poor, their dwelling was primitive, their furniture was shabby. In each cell was a wooden cross, a little table, two chairs, a book-shelf and a bed (and as Father Piperon, who had slept therein, wryly remarked "And what a bed!")(35) "Nazareth itself", writes Father Piperon, "could not have been poorer, but the poverty did not frighten them. They loved and desired it, convinced that the foundations of true religious life must be built on poverty such as Jesus, the Divine Model, taught and practised. It was the firm rock on which the edifice was built strong enough to withstand the furious blasts of the tempest. The missionaries accepted it with joy and even gratitude. The poverty of Bethlehem, the destitution of the Stable was theirs at Issoudun, and afforded them the opportunity of modelling themselves more closely on Jesus, the King of the poor.(36) Despite the joy with which the missionaries embraced poverty and the lack of necessities, despite their desire to imitate Christ, and despite the arguments which Father Piperon himself put forth on the value of poverty in the apostolic and religious life, it was circumstances rather than the spirit of their foundation which forced them to practise it to such a degree during these first years. The self-same Father Piperon recognises that their intent was to practise an asceticism influenced by the Sulpician tradition and the rule that they had known at the Seminary. "Both of them," he says, "were trained for the priesthood by the disciples of Father Olier, and had a true esteem and affection for the traditions of the Seminary. They thought they could not do better than to base their own Statutes on those of the Seminary adapting and altering them where necessary, according to the nature of their work.
An example of the prudence of the young Founder in drawing up the Rule for his Congregation is shown in the rules referring to penance and mortification. Although he himself had long been accustomed to the practice of even rigorous penances, and although his own temperament shunned anything soft or indulgent, he clearly stated in the rule that any acts of corporal penance were left to the free will of the individual member.(37) In these privations of the first days of monastic life, Father Chevalier again revealed the qualities that Father Piperon had attributed to him in the Seminary: "a robust sanctity and a firm will which even the greatest of difficulties could not shake.(38)
The Founder himself wrote: "The beginnings were certainly hard. Housed as it were, in a stable like Our Lord Himself, we had practically nothing. Our school was that of privation. We had to do without oven the most essential household items."(39) They had no money to pay a housekeeper, and had to look after the place and do the cooking themselves. "For a long time" wrote Father Chevalier, "we did our own cooking, and God knows how poor it was." Mlle. Marchant tells a story. "One Sunday morning after the 9 o'clock Mass, the gate into the court-yard happened to be open and I could not resist having a peep inside. There was Father Chevalier at the far end of the yard, in a white apron beside a small wall which separates the courtyard from the garden. He was busy cleaning cabbages. I have often seen them sweeping the snow from the court-yard," she continues, "as they could not afford to employ servants. On one occasion I saw Father Chevalier holding the frying-pan while Father Maugenest was stirring up an omelette. They both seemed to be enjoying the fun."(40) Father Chevalier tells the following story against himself: "One day it was my turn to prepare the meal. I decided to make an omelette. Endeavouring to imitate the experts, I tried turning it over by throwing it in the air, but it ended up in the ashes. I washed and cleaned it as best as possible, and we ate it - but what a flavour!
"During these early days which we often refer to as the 'Golden Age' we not only did the cooking but gathered and chopped our own wood, swept out the house, kept the chapel in order, and worked in the garden during recreation time. Every morning we swept and dusted the chapel before opening it to the faithful, who were beginning to come in increasing numbers." (41)
Mlle. Marchant introduces us to Etienne, the first servant employed by the priests. This was a young lad from the country who had more good will than skill, and the culinary art was not one of his outstanding acquirements. One day during Lent the priests had to go to the chapel to preach and hear confessions. Before they went, they instructed Etienne to prepare some spinach for the evening meal. They told him it was growing in the garden. When they returned and sat down for the meal Etienne proudly brought in a plate full of thorns off the gooseberry bush cooked in butter. "We began to laugh", says Father Chevalier, "even though we did not wish to embarrass poor Etienne. Needless to say the meal didn't last very long." The story went the rounds of the town, and Etienne was somewhat abashed. The priests took it in good part, but didn't like losing their butter, as they were very poor.(42)
As we have said, in drawing up the Rule, Father Chevalier followed the general horarium of the Seminary where possible. The main points were: Rise 4.30.a.m. followed by an hour of prayer and meditation. Then Mass and Thanksgiving. After the breakfast the priests were free for study or sundry duties till 11.45 a.m. when they met for Particular Examen. Dinner at Noon. Then recreation till 1.30 p.m. In the afternoon they said their Rosary and Office, made their Spiritual Reading and Visit to the Blessed Sacrament. On Feast Days there were certain modifications on account of extra work in preaching.(43) "Recreation," records Father Piperon, "was taken in common and no one could be absent without permission or serious reason. This hour of relaxation was considered important not only from the point of view of physical health, but for the interchange of intellectual and spiritual ideas, The joyous and care-free atmosphere helped to renew their forces and prepared them for the tasks ahead. Piety, too, was nourished by the exercise of the virtues one practised there."(44)
Following this Rule and relying on the grace of God the Missionaries counted on completing their Novitiate in the spirit of silence, study and prayer. There were no special services in their chapel and they were too little known to be called on to preach Missions. But scarcely a month after their installation an event happened which disturbed their peace and solitude and drew upon them the attention of the town. One Wednesday morning there was great consternation when the priests opened up the chapel about 5 a.m. They found that during the night the wall on the far side of the chapel had collapsed near the statue of St. Joseph. The weight of the roof had proved too much for the slender props put in during the renovations. In the darkness they could not immediately estimate the extent of the damage, but they could see a big hole facing the street outside and the roof leaning dangerously over it. The poor Founder immediately feared for the rest of his chapel and wondered where he would find the money for this new expense.(45) When the dawn broke they inspected the damage more closely, and happily, inside the church, except for a thick layer of dust and some broken plaster from the ceiling, little harm had been done. The haste with which the barn had been transformed into the chapel, and the lack of finance were the reasons for this set-back. Where the partitions had been knocked out, the roof was held by pillars, some of which were badly placed, and the walls took a good deal of the weight. Monsieur Voisin had expressed his concern at the time, but lack of money gave him little alternative.(46)
Three years later when announcing to his flock that a new church was to be built, Father Chevalier said: "Do not be astonished, as you know the walls here were not made to support the weight they are carrying at present. Also the right-hand-side wall is badly out of alignment and leans over rather dangerously, under the great weight of the roof. The ominous chinks in the wall are not reassuring." Father Piperon has written that from the beginning there were some iron stantions put outside in support of the walls, but these were probably put there after the accident, as they are not shown in the original sketches.(47)
As soon as possible after daylight Monsieur Voisin was on the scene with several of his workman, and they got to work on repairing the damage. Fatherr Chevalier put the task of collecting the necessary money in the hands of St. Joseph, their powerful Protector: "Saint Joseph," he said, "the damage is on your side of the chapel and so it is up to you to find the money for the repairs." And St. Joseph did not fail them. No sooner had the word gone around the town than curious groups gathered to see what had happened. Feeling sorry for the struggling missionaries many of the sight-seers made donations and Father Chevalier was happy to state the "expenses have been more than covered.
With the money left over it was decided to erect a bell-tower. But a belfry without a bell is only an empty shell, so a rich citizen, called Monsieur Daussigny, decided to donate a suitable bell. According to the local paper the bell (not "bells" as the journal stated) was blessed with due ceremony on the 11th November, the Feast of the Dedication, by the Abbe Crozat. The chapel was packed for the occasion, and the congregation was very interest in the blessing read from the Roman Ritual, an imposing ceremony, which the faithful rarely see. Father Maugenest preached the occasional sermon, and impressed everyone by his eloquence and sincerity. A further ceremony was held in the evening for the ringing of the bell. The blessing is referred to as the "Baptism of the Bell," and the donor and his daughter-in-law who was the wife of the Mayor of Issoudun were named the two sponsors. In the spirit of the Feast, when gifts are made, they donated two very acceptable presents; Monsieur Daussigny giving a silver monstrance and his daughtcr-in-law a beautiful white-silk cope. After describing the two ceremonies, the local paper, "Le Droit Conmun," next day added a happy touch: If we may be permitted to introduce a light note to the serious ceremonies, we noticed that as soon as the altar boys appeared outside the church they were showered with lollies and sweets. We can conclude that the little fellows did their part well."(48)
Father Piperon was always enthusiastic about this little blue-slate bell tower which gave a certain tone and quaint charm to the chapel. "The little tower" he wrote "seemed quite proud of itself standing above the roofs of the neighbouring houses. It was the envy of many a poor parish church in the district. It stood out as a little monument in the Place de Vouet overlooking the poor and small houses around about it. These typical little French houses still abound in the lower quarters of the town, and the tourist still finds a few of them - interesting relics of a past age - in the precincts of the Basilica. The townsfolk became quite fond of this quaint little chapel and, as if to excuse them, Father Piperon remarked that "they had no great knowledge of the architecture of religious monuments." Perhaps the charm it held for them was on account of its homely warmth and devotion compared with the parish church of St. Cyr, which had never recovered from the havoc of the Revolution. Peremee has written this rather devastating description of it: "It is but the mutilated corpse of what was once a healthy and noble body - a perfect example of decayed elegance. What they call the parish church is merely a patched up shell of a hall, ungainly, without any symmetry, not pretending to be anything but what it is. It has no bell-tower, no approaches, has no exterior appearance, is surrounded by shops and houses which hide and bury it to such an extent that from any distance at all it is hard to distinguish it as a church."(49)
The people began attending Mass and the various devotions in the chapel in increasing numbers. The ceremonies were enhanced by the gift of an organ donated by one of Father Maugenests brothers, who had come to Issoudun to practise as a doctor. "The priests were delighted with this happy progress, They realised there was so much good they could do in their beloved parish, which for so long had been languishing in religious indifference."(50)
During this first year 1855 there were many calls on the two missionary priests for sermons and missions in the neighbouring parishes. In spite of their desire to live a secluded life of prayer and recollection during this year of what they termed their Novitiate they could hardly avoid the public ministry owing to the great shortage of priests. The Cardinal had freed them for missions and could hardly do without their aid for a whole long year. The Abbe de Champgrand, who, of course, owned all the property was anxious to see the two priests out amongst the people. He still regarded the work as his own foundation, and would never have agreed with the idea of a year's Novitiate. He was impatient to see them aggregated to an already existing Institute, and have his money put to use for the good of souls around the Berry district. Even Father Crozat looked on the new Congregation as being founded chiefly for the spiritual good of the town of Issoudun. The main idea of the diocesan-priests was to use these two active missionaries for the local apostolate and that as soon as possible. If the two priests had any illusions on this matter they were to be dispelled at the end of 1855.
Issoudun had two hospitals: the main General Hospitals and the Hospice for the Incurables. The founders of these two hospitals had stipulated that certain number of Masses be offered each year and in perpetuity for themselves and their relatives after their deaths. The Revolution had taken over all church institutions, and naturally the Masses were not said. Even after the Restoration when the hospitals were handed back to ecclesiastical administration, no one assumed the obligation of offering the Masses. In 1855 the administrators appealed to Rome through the Cardinal to know what their obligations were. On account of the now meagre financial resources of the Administration of the two Institutes, the Holy See replied that a daily Mass throughout the year would suffice, and for that purpose the authorities put aside a sum of 1200 francs to cover each year. The condition was that the priest who would say the Masses would become the chaplain, and look after both hospitals. The proposition made on the 12th August, 1855 met with the approval of both the civic and ecclesiastical authorities.
In December of that year, 1855 another young priest wished to join the newly formed Congregation of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Father Antoine Morel. He had been a class-mate of the founders at Bourges and a member of the Association of the Sacred Heart there. Father Piperon tells us, "He was a talented and virtuous priest and high hopes were held of him."(52) Born on 2nd June, 1828 at Charenton in the Cher district, he had been ordained on 8th October, 1852, one year after Father Chevalier, and had been appointed the parish of Levroux as curate. On the 1st of June of the following year he was appointed to the church of Saint Bonit in Bourges itself. When he applied to the Cardinal for permission to join the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Issoudun, His Eminence saw here the solution of providing a chaplain for the hospitals. He granted him permission to join the Congregation on the condition that he would do the chaplaincy work. The founders were not enthusiastic about the arrangement but had no option other than comply with the Cardinal's wishes. Accordingly Father Morel' s name was submitted to the hospital administration in December, 1855, and he took up duties on 2nd January, 1856.(52) A little time later he was to impress all who heard him when he preached on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, on 20th January.
Early in 1856 the Abbe Crozat came forward with a proposition, which was received with mixed feelings by the Founders. He suggested that since the town of Issoudun was big enough for at least two parishes, the area around the Sacred Heart chapel should be erected into a new parish under the care of the Missionaries. He realised there would be difficulties, not the least of which was the fact that the chapel and the property still belonged to the Abbe Champgrand. In a letter to Father Gasnier dated 3rd April, 1856, the Abbe Champgrand had written: "I note with pleasure that Abbe Crozat and his Council have realised the necessity of creating a second parish in Issoudun, and I sincerely hope the municipal authorities will share this conviction. If the Mayor obtains a favourable vote and His Eminence authorises the plan, I am sure that after a short time a church can be built and an adequate staff provided. Now that the Government is no longer embarrassed with heavy war debts, it is more willing to grant permission for new parishes. I am perfectly in accord with the Abbe Crozat, but I do not agree with the idea of handing the parish over to these new Missionaries. I will oppose that with all my power, as I would consider it the ruination of our work. We have always had the intention of establishing at Issoudun a group of auxiliary priests who would work for the Province of Indre and even for the whole diocese. We realised that to fulfill this purpose there were needed men vowed to the religious life, interior, learned men who after periods of the apostolic life always more or less dissipating, would restrengthen their virtue in solitude and the exercises of a common life. Now it is proposed to implicate these men in the active life of parochial ministry; to spend their time, so necessary for study, in the administration of baptisms, marriages, burials, etc.: to expose them to contact with the world at the risk of losing the spirit of their vocation. These are the reasons why I oppose the idea. The venerable Cure of Issoudun is a worthy priest, but I suspect he is allowing himself to be influenced in this matter by his natural affection for his parish. He is looking on it from the local aspect only. For myself I can take a more disinterested outlook, and consider the wider end of the foundation we have in mind. I believe we would be killing the work in its infancy if we accepted Abbe Crozat' s project of handing the parish over to the care of the Missionaries. That is why I am vigorously opposing it. I received a letter some time ago from the young missionaries. I was pleased with the spirit it showed, and I think they have begun well, but one must look to the future when a new institution is established. I have maintained right from the beginning that this religious house should be entrusted to the care of some established Order. I have been forced to give in exteriorly in order not to crush their project entirely, but I still adhere to my convictions, and what has already taken place does not change them. The more they wish to give the Missionaries secular work, the more I wish to see them 'regularised. "
On 20th April he further wrote: "We have fundamentally the same ideas
(1) The necessity of a group of priests to evangelise the people of the Berry countryside who are so backward in their religious knowledge and practice.
(2) The necessity of the division of Issoudun into two parishes, which to me has been a matter of urgency for a long time. The only point where we seem to disagree is on the nature of the union of these two projects. I believe they should be kept separate, and that the new parish should be staffed independently of the Missionaries. I do not agree with the idea of transforming their chapel into a parish church, or giving them parochial duties to perform. As regards the necessity of keeping the two works separate, I do not think it is even debatable. It is quite possible to have a second parish in Issoudun staffed with secular clergy, while leaving the Missionaries their independence, both as regards their chapel and as regards themselves. If the Cardinal wishes it, I believe this is the best solution. We have only to consider what has taken place here. Monseigneur Donnet has built new churches and several chapels of ease, and during the last year he created a new parish at Bordeaux staffed by a parish priest and two curates. This church - St. Ferdinands - will be the fourteenth church in the parish. The needs of Issoudun seem even more obvious. The Government itself must see that. Besides, the numbers who are daily going to the chapel of the Missionaries, and the good they are doing among the people make it clear that a new parish is needed. Sooner or later, and I hope it will be very soon, the municipal Council will surely agree with the Mayor and cast a favourable vote on the generous and unselfish plans of Father Crozat. By this means, the two works will operate side by side without friction or confusion, each functioning freely in its own sphere
"These, then, my honoured Father Superior are my humble ideas on the matter. I have given you my views on the "regularisation" of the Missionaries. I still hope to see the Congregation succeed, but I think it will do so only in association with an established Order. Our work for the people of Berry should be kept separate to the work for Issoudun." Yours etc.
According to the Concordat of 1801 the erection of parishes and the nomination of parish priests had to be approved by the Government, who agreed to share the expenses. As we have seen the Abbe' Champgrand was keen to get approval and financial help from the Government for the new parish, but the local Municipal Council was not inclined to agree with the Mayor and the parish priest on the matter. They considered that the Missionaries with their chapel could meet the requirements. However, Abbe Champgrand who owned both chapel and property strenuously opposed this.
In the meantime the small community suffered another set back. It became more and more evident that the health and strength of the first recruit Father Morel - was not able to stand up to the life of the Congregation. "His health," according to Father Piperon, "did not match his other qualities, and he was not able to accommodate himself to the difficulties of the beginning. After several months of generous efforts, he decided that he could not stand up to the rigours of poverty and the hardships of the Rule."(54) This meant now that the hospitals would be without a chaplain.
Happily, another recruit was to take his place - the Abbe Charles Piperon, who was to play such an important and invaluable part in the early foundations. Father Piperon had been chaplain to the Hospice for Incurables and also to the Prison at Bourges, and as we saw in his Seminary days, he always had leanings towards the religious life. He had confided to Father Chevalier when they we both students that he wished "to live and die as a religious." Although the work he had been doing up till now was favourable to his spiritual progress he felt he was "being drawn by the eddy circling above the gulf." What would happen to him with his "deplorable nature" when he was given other types of ministry with greater freedom? "I am heading for shipwreck; I am lost," he argued. In religious life doing always with Jesus the Will of the Heavenly Father and not his own, nothing could hinder him sanctifying himself as the silent monks at Sept-Fons were doing.(55) He made a retreat with the Trappists at Sept-Fons and decided on 12th August 1855 that he would join his two former confreres and seek admission to the Congregation.
On 4th May, 1856, Cardinal du Pont visited Issoudun to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. After dinner His Eminence paid a visit to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. He was taken first to the Chapel where a large congregation had assembled to hear him speak. He delivered a short but touching sermon. He spoke with emotion about the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and the work they were doing, and would do in the future for Issoudun and the diocese. He then blessed the priests and the people. A visit was then made to the house which, he remarked, "was poor but suitable."(56) The "Droit Common" reported: "His Eminence was very satisfied with the healthy out-lay of the buildings, and impressed by the simple yet elegant decoration of the chapel which was in good taste.(57) Before departing the Cardinal spoke words of encouragement to the priests, and showed them signs of deep affection."
The exchange of Father Morel for Father Piperon was approved by the authorities, Father Morel going as parish priest to Saint Denis-de-Paulin, and Father Piperon taking up duties as chaplain to the hospitals. The local paper records his appointment in its issue of 7th June, 1856.(58) Here is Father Piperon' s humble appraisement of himself at the time he joined the Society:
"On Trinity Sunday 1856, after Father Morel had departed, another young priest came to take his place. The newcomer did not possess the same qualities as his predecessor, but he at least enjoyed good health and had plenty of good will which did not baulk at difficulties. In His Infinite Mercy the Heart of Jesus had deigned to choose this postulant in spite of his obvious and miserable shortcomings, to use him as it were, as a rough un-hewn stone in the foundations of the new building which He wished to consecrate to His Glory. May He be forever blessed for it!"(59)
It would seem now that on account of the opposition of the Abbe to the Missionaries doing parochial work, and the lack of enthusiasm of the Municipal Council, the parish was destined not to be divided. It has remained the one parish even to the present day. The Abbe Crozat was naturally disappointed and he feared that the new foundation in which he had collaborate would drift further and further away from any parochial interests. He wished the people of Issoudun to realise that, although not officially committed to the local apostolate, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were very much a part of the parish. To emphasise this idea he decided to have a joint procession, on a large scale, in honour of the Feast of the Assumption. The
parishioners of St. Cyr and those who attended the Sacred Heart Chapel would join in a huge demonstration of Faith in honour of Our Blessed Lady. The ceremony was described by the "Droit Cotnmun" thus: "This year the Feast of the Assumption marked for Issoudun the occasion of a remarkable demonstration of religious faith. Scenes of extraordinary enthusiasm were witnessed and those who participated will long have happy memories of the splendid solemnities. It cemented, if one can use the word, the alliance between the old church of St. Cyr and the new Chapel of the Sacred Heart. This imposing ceremony in honour of the double Feast (it was also the feast of Saint Napoleon, the patron saint of Napoleon III) has surpassed in splendour and majesty anything seen to date in this district. The church and civil authorities cooperated in the procession's smooth and dignified progress through the streets of the city. Leaving the Church of St. Cyr at five o'clock in the evening, the procession of the Blessed Sacrament was led by a band of soldiers from the Garrison. It proceeded down the La Grand Rue to the Stone Cross, where on a near-by rockery, an altar had been erected, beautifully but simply decorated. After the first Benediction the Blessed Sacrament was then carried along the Champ Elysees and La rue des Trois Places to the Place de Vouet where a large crowd had gathered. Outside the residence of the Missionaries a striking Altar of Repose had been erected in a spacious amphitheatre, on either side of the Altar standing two Adoring Angels. Father Piperon, the chaplain to the hospital, gave the Benediction to the vast crowd kneeling in the Square. The procession then moved on down the Rue de Vouet, to the Croix Rouge, where again Benediction was given: then along La Rue de Rome to the Place du Marche where from a large Altar built in a conical shell the final Benediction was given. The procession re-entered the church of St. Cyr at 8 o'clock."(60)
Father Depigny pays tribute to Father Piperon by remarking: "He gave on this memorable occasion the first proof of his ability as an organiser of processions, and his cleverness and taste in erecting altars. On other occasions the Droit Commun has made references to the participation of the Missionaries in parochial ceremonies, and mentions particularly that they had a large share in preparing the children for their first Holy Communion in 1857(61) However, in spite of Father Crozat's wishes, the Missionaries confined themselves to giving missions, and participated in parochial activities only when necessary. No mention is found in the Rules of either 1855 or 1857 of parochial ministry. It was at a later date as we shall see, that this type of work was introduced into the works of the Society.
The book of Rules at this early stage mentions only the following works "which the Society may undertake."
(1) Retreats. Any priest or lay person may be admitted to make a retreat eight or fifteen days - or more or less if requested. One of the Missionaries will conduct the retreat, if so required. If they wish they may take their meals in private. The fee for the retreat is left to their own generosity.
(2) Conferences of the Sacred Heart, (a) The Missionaries will conduct Conferences of the Sacred Heart for the youth and for men similar to those of Saint Francis Xavier, etc. (b) Conferences for soldiers (c) Conferences for Apprentices. The Rule of 1855 also adds (d) Conferences for Women (e) for Workmen (f) for Domestics, but these last three are not mentioned in the Rule of 1857 and are included under the general term, "etc.
The Rules state: A special procedure will be drawn up for each of these Conferences.
(3) Education of Youth.
(4) Affiliation or the Third Order for priests. This was worded in 1857: "Affiliation for priests only." (We will return to this subject later on.)
But it would be a mistake to think that because as mention is made here of giving missions they were undertaken only under pressure from M. de Champgrand. They were covered by the privilege of a special clause added to the Rule, and in fact the conducting of home missions was considered as an essential activity of the Society. The second part of the Manuscript of 1855 has as its title; "Relations of the Missionaries with the people during Missions." Then under separate headings the following aspects are dealt with:
(l) Means of succeeding in the Missions;
(2) Relationship with the Parish priests;
(3) Exercises of the Mission;
(4) The Morning Instruction;
(5) The sermons;
(6) The Confessions;
(8) Requests for Missions -all of which occupies some nine pages of the Manuscript.
There are another 68 pages on the "Rule of the Priests of the Sacred Heart during Missions." Of the 123 pages of the Manuscript 77 are on the home Missions, 27 of which are extracts from Father Augry, S.J. - "Notes on the Missions, especially those in the country." In a letter of introduction to his work, dated at Laval, 15th December, 1839, Father Augry stated that he wrote the 'Notes' at the request of his confreres mainly from his own wide experience.(62)
After a time the Missionaries gained a reputation for their preaching and were highly thought of by the parish-priests for their zeal and virtue. Father Piperon has summarised their individual styles thus:
"Father Maugenest was outstanding as a Christian orator. His tall slim bearing, his modest yet assured manner, his obvious humility and sincerity won him the confidence of his listeners; his powerful voice, his facile and elegant diction, his lively, imaginative style, his clear and solid exposition made him a preacher well above the ordinary. Added to those qualities were an ardent zeal for the glory of God and the good of souls, a keen faith which relied wholly on grace for the success of his work, and a trusting spirit of prayer. In short he possessed the masterly qualities of an apostle, and he dearly loved his vocation.
If Father Chevalier lacked the oratorical brilliance of his younger confrere, he was, none the less, a forceful and effective Missioner. What was lacking in literary flourish was amply compensated for by his evangelical simplicity and power to grip his audience, which became one with himself. He was gifted with a strong clear voice which was pleasant to listen to, and had a commanding appearance. In the ardour of his zeal he could paint in vivid colours the terrible effects of divine justice, the hideousness and black ingratitude of sin, the beauty of grace and virtue, and above all the infinite Mercy of the Heart of Christ and the sublime excellence of the Mother of God. Several tines I heard him preach, and he was indeed eloquent. Fifty years have passed since then, and the memory is still vivid in mind. He had a profound respect for the word of the Gospel. He exhorted all his subjects to treat it worthily and prepare it with care. He certainly gave us the example himself. So as never to be unprepared he had formed the habit even from Seminary days of preparing sermons on various subjects which could be used in the ministry. Any spare moments he had you would find him at his desk continuing his sermon writing, working out new plans, expressing old and new ideas in new form and language. Even the sermons which happily have been left to us fill five big volumes, where thousands of ideas are expressed. We do not say they are all perfect works, ready for printing - many of them are in the form of notes and plans - but they are a testimony to the enormous amount of work that he put into sermon-writing. I have consulted them often, and have found them precious documents from which I have borrowed many an idea.(63)
The most important activity in the ministry of the Missionaries was naturally that which took place in their chapel. The people grew used to the regular exercises of piety - the Holy Mass, the Confessions - the Devotions, and they continued to come along in ever-growing numbers. "The Divine Heart of Jesus blessed our efforts," they wrote, and it was a real reawakening of the Faith in Issoudun."(64)
The great sorrow of Father
Chevalier was not to see men in his chapel.(65) His main concern was how to
attack this religious indifferentism of the men. His fervent and apostolic soul
longed to bring these men back to God and their faith. Was not this the advice
that the dying parish-priest at Aubigny had given him - to go out amongst the
people and win them for Christ? He often spoke of his desire with his confreres
and discussed plans with them. To regain the men for the Church it was
necessary to organise them, to group them, to give them special instruction
according to their needs. With this in mind he decided to put on a special Mass
on Sundays for the men of the parish, to be followed by special talks. Several
parishes already had special lectures
for men, for example, the Conferences to Men at Notre Dame in Paris, the various branches of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the "7o'clock Mass at Marseilles when the sermon was always addressed to the men.(66) He would reserve a Mass on Sundays for the men of the parish and try to make personal, individual contact with them. And so, in the Autumn of 1856, the three priests went out amongst those who lived in the vicinity of the Chapel asking the men individually if they would come to this special Mass. About thirty attended on the first Sunday, which the priests considered quite good, considering the irreligious state of the town. "They were mainly workmen and orchardists, says Father Piperon, "who followed the ceremonies with devotion and recollection. After Mass, Father Chevalier spoke a few words of gratitude and encouragement, and the priests met the men before they left for home."(67)
The thirty good men had to run the gauntlet of scorn and derision as they left the church-grounds. Such an unusual sight as thirty strong men coming away from church excited the curiosity of the near-by populace. On practically every doorstep, little groups of men and women gathered and poked fun at the "Mass-goers. Their sneering looks and remarks were aimed at discouraging the men but they had the opposite effect. They only strengthened their resolution and devotion. "That day," remarks Father Piperon, "human respect was conquered and the work amongst the men solidly begun. If today (he wrote this in 1912) there is a healthy nucleus of practical men in our parish, in spite of the sad times and the many obstacles, it is due to the zeal and perseverance of Father Chevalier and his fellow-priests."(68)
Gradually the numbers increased. By the following Easter over two hundred men were attending the evening lectures, and on Easter morn over fifty men of this new group knelt at the Altar Rails to receive the Bread of life. It was the first public Holy Communion of men witnessed in Issoudun since the beginning of the century.(69)
Mlle. Merchant has made reference to this apostolate to the Men. "Every Sunday," she writes, "there was a Mass at 9 o'clock and in the evening a special Benediction at 8 o'clock specially for the men. When my father would return home after the Devotions my mother and I would immediately ask: 'Were there many men there?' 'Yes, there must have been about 300' 'would come the answer." Everyone was delighted with the success of the venture. Soon the 9 o'clock Mass was packed to the doors, and the priests led the men in the singing of hymns. Father Maugenest's brother played the organ, and Father Maugenest himself sang the antiphons, and the choir took up the verses. One I remember very well, which expressed the following sentiments:
"Deliver us from bondage -
Give us back the Faith of our Fathers
Preserve it in us forever
So we all will see Thy Face in Heaven."
The year's Novitiate was drawing to a close, and Fathers Chevalier and Maugenest decided to reconsecrate their lives to the service of the Sacred Heart. "Towards the end of Advent," wrote Father Piperon, "Fathers Chevalier and Maugenest decided to finish their year's Novitiate on Christmas Day by taking the three private vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience - and a fourth of Stability in their Vocation. Since they were not yet canonically authorised to take public vows, they resolved to make the ceremony a private yet solemn occasion.
(The reference of the Abbe de Champgrand as far back as March of that year to "these men who are bound by vows" obviously meant "who hope to be bound by vows.)
Describing the important event, Father Founder has written: "In order to gain greater merit, and to give more stability to our work, we decided to bind ourselves by the Vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Stability. We chose, in order to give ourselves without reserve to the Heart of Jesus, the day when He gave Himself to us. We made a retreat in preparation for this important occasion." At midnight on the Feast, after they had celebrated the Sacred Mysteries, the community of three priests, with the doors of the Chapel closed, knelt before Our Divine Redeemer in the Crib. In the deep recollection of night, Fathers Chevalier and Maugenest prostrated before the Infant Jesus to make their consecration. (Father Piperon who had not completed his twelve months Novitiate, was to make his vows later). In the presence of Mary, His Mother, and St. Joseph, His foster-father, they took the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience and the vow of Stability in their holy vocation.
Father Piperon completes the story: "The only witness on earth of that generous oblation on that solemn night was their young confrere who had been sharing their labours for the past six months. But the Angels of God, the Angels of the Nativity were there presenting to God these two victims who were offering to Him their entire lives to make Him loved." Father Chevalier always recalled that sacred night with deep emotion: "Oh night a million times blessed! Oh Night of unutterable delight! Your memory will never be effaced from my heart. Oh Heart of Jesus, so good and so merciful. We felt that our sacrifice was pleasing to You and that You were pouring into the hearts of Your two young apostles unspeakable graces."(72)
Until now Father Chevalier by reason of his seniority and his position as Founder of the Congregation had been regarded as the Superior of the small community, but it had been more or less in an informal way. The occasion was probably taken of this Christmas day when they made their vows to regularise the position and Father Chevalier was officially declared the Superior with Father Maugenest as Assistant. He himself had suggested that they ask Father Crozat, whom they regarded as their "father and protector" to be their Superior, but he refused making his old age an excuse.(73)
For a long time now the Chapel had been too small to accommodate the ever increasing numbers who were attending Mass. Mlle. Marchant, recalling the situation tells us "This did not apply only to special occasions. If the Mass for men was overcrowded, you can imagine the position for the other Masses on Sundays." Father Piperon says: "I can remember on more than one occasion the old chapel being filled with tightly packed rows of men."(74) Two years later when Father Chevalier was making his appeal for a new church he took as his text: "Adhuc dicent filii sterilitatis tuae; Angustus est mihi locus, fac spatium mihi ut habitem." (Sons born to thee in the days of thy barreness shall cry out: 'Here all is confined. Give me room to live. (Is. 49:20) He compared the former Issoudun with Jerusalem, which "had seen its temple deserted" and its religious ceremonies ignored, but those days of sadness were over. "It is now imperative, he pointed out, "to build a bigger and more fitting church to cope with this happy religious revival. Some people think we are rich, but, I am afraid, poverty and want are our lot and we need your help. Sunday after Sunday," the preacher continued, "we see many of the faithful not able to gain entrance to the church - exposed to the wind, the cold, the rain, the snow, and in Summer the severe heat. Those inside the church could hardly be called comfortable on account of the distracting overcrowding, and the low roof is hardly conducive to good ventilation. The chapel is in a sad state of old age and disrepair, and is on the point of falling down."
We suspect this last remark was a pardonable piece of rhetorical exaggeration, as when a few weeks later the Cardinal, acting on an unfavourable report, ordered the Chapel to be closed, Father Chevalier put up a spirited defence of its safety. He informed his Eminence that "we have secured the walls as best we can, and the architect at Issoudun has assured us that the building is good for at least another ten years."(75) A certificate to this effect was officially submitted to the Cardinal in November, 1858. In fact the main reason for the necessity of a new church was not the dangerous state of the old one but the fact that it was far too small. Some of the chronicles have unnecessarily exaggerated the delapidated state of the old chapel.
From the first months of 1857 serious thought had been given to plans a future church - one which would not only serve the needs of the present till but those of the future also. It is not surprising to read in Father Piperon notes that it was the main topic of conversation at recreations - even before the Cardinal precipitously closed the old chapel. "First amongst our cherished ambitions, he wrote, "was that of a new church. The present chapel was too poor and too small. It would have been useless trying to renovate it, as the unsteady walls would not support any weight. Often during the good season when we had recreation out-of-doors Father Chevalier would sit in the shade of the linden-trees near the wall and trace plans and schemes in the sand. His idea was to build not just an ordinary church but a Basilica and he gave his imagination free rein, as he sketched, rubbed-out and resketched in the obliging sand. He would say to us half seriously, half jokingly: In a few years that will be our beautiful new church. The people will come from far and wide to visit it."(79) Teasingly I would say to him: "When I see it, I will call it a miracle and you a prophet."
"All right, you will see," he would reply. And the dream was to come true. The Basilica - the monument to our beloved Father Founder is there for all to see.(76)
Father Maugenest also recalls those recreations under the linden-trees when the conversation was on another plan very dear to the heart of the Founder - the Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. "In those days," he writes, when I belonged to the small community, Father Chevalier would sit in his favourite place under the linden-trees and tell us of his desire of presenting Our Blessed Lady to the Catholic World under the title of "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart." I still remember the prophetic confidence with which he would speak about the spreading of this devotion in the near future, and of the numerous pilgrims, seeking the protection of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the Hope of the Hopeless, who would come to Issoudun, as to Lourdes and Paray-le-Monial. He revealed these thoughts to us in the first years of the Foundation at the same time that he was still drawing up the Constitutions.
Although as we have seen, Father Chevalier had the inspiration of giving to Our Lady the title "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart" on the day of installation 9th September, 1855, he did not speak of it publicly or even to his confreres for some time till he was sure it was theologically acceptable and not in conflict with Catholic teaching. Just when he began to speak of the title publicly is difficult to say, but this last statement of Father Maugenest indicates that it was definitely before December, 1857 as Father Maugenest left for Bourges in that month. Father Piperon wrote in 1865: "It was in 1857 that the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, was named Our Lady of the Sacred Heart." Elsewhere he stated it was "either at the end of May or beginning of June" that the Founder began talking openly of his plans in respect to the Devotion.(78 and 79)
The unexpected closing of the chapel by the Cardinal had at least the good effect of hastening the plans for the new church and making everybody realise its necessity. "It produced good results" wrote Father Piperon. "Until now the plans had been mainly those in the sand, but the time had arrived for action." Now that definite steps were being taken for the construction of the church, Father Chevalier felt obliged to confide in his confreres concerning his plans for spreading devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. He had in mind particularly the Consecration of a special altar in the new church in Her honour. A year and a half had passed since the day of the installation when the name had first occurred to him, and. although he had not spoken of it, it was always in his mind. Before manifesting "his secret", he wished to study all the theological aspects, "'as the title in harmony with the teachings of the Church? Could he find any justification for it in the writings of the Doctors of the Church? That was his main concern.(80) Convinced of the validity of the title - so illuminating and profound did these simple words "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart" appear to him - he kept meditating on it with love and gratitude always seeking the principles on which rested the Power of the Mother of God: over the Heart of Her Divine Son. If we are able, he argued, to call Mary "Our Lady", because she is our sovereign Queen, would not Jesus Himself admit her sovereignty over His Heart Her incomparable and "sublime dignity as Mother gave Her rights and power over the Heart of Her Son. Assuredly these rights and this power, in the absolute sense belonged to God, the Creator alone, and the humble Virgin, even though His Mother was subject to Him. She could never be His equal, as She was servant and creature, and as such had no rights over Him. But, as His Mother did She not have power over Him by privilege and condescension. A son, and particularly a Son who is all-powerful, can confer powers and rights on a Mother He loves so well. If the teachings of the Saints and the Fathers is true that no grace comes to man except through the maternal hands of Mary, then the treasures of His Sacred Heart are no exception. What power She has when She pleads with the Heart of Her Son for mercy on us Her children also. Surely we can go to Her knowing our prayers will be heard.
These reflections and many others convinced Father Chevalier that it was by spreading devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart that he would fulfil his promise of honouring the Mother of God "in a special way". He was convinced moreover, that this was in accordance with the Will of Divine Providence. It remained then to formulate this doctrine in appropriate terms to teach the faithful the part that Mary plays in the manifestations of the Sacred Heart of Her Son and the ineffable power which She has over It. To Father Chevalier, the devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was the puting into practice of the motto "Ad Jesum per Mariam"(81)
All the Feasts of Our Lady were celebrated with special ceremony and devotion. Mass was said on these days at Her altar, and the people were encouraged to attend and receive Holy Communion. They were being taught that the best and most profitable way of celebrating a Feast Day was to receive Our Divine Lord. Devotions were held in the evening, when a sermon would be preached followed by Benediction.
These practices however, were not considered by Father Chevalier as the fulfillment of his promise to the Mother of God. The new title under which the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart would henceforth render homage to the Virgin, blessed over all, would be Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.(82)
The time had come when he was to confide his innermost thoughts and desires to his confreres concerning "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart" and the part She was to play in the future history of the Congregation.(83) Father Piperon has told the story in his "Le Pouvoir du N.D. du Sacre Coeur." One warm afternoon "about the end of May or the beginning of June" the community went out into the garden as usual to take their recreation. They sat down in the shade of the four big linden-trees whose green leaves formed a natural vault over their heads. Close by standing on the wall at the end of the courtyard was a small statue of Our Blessed Lady. Besides the three members of the Community, i.e. the two Founders and the novice, Father Piperon, there were some visiting priests there from St. Cyr's or the neighbouring parishes, which would suggest it was a Feast Day. It could have been the Ascension, 21st May, Pentecost Sunday, 31st May, or the Feast of Corpus Christi, the 11th June as they fell in that year. The conversation was bright and lively, the main topic being the new church. Suddenly Father Chevalier, who had seemed to be lost in his own thoughts for a few moments, asked: "Under what title will we place the altar of the Blessed Virgin in our new church?" Several proposals were made according to the particular devotion of the various priests. One suggested "The Immaculate Heart of Mary;" another "Our Lady of Victories;" another "Our Lady of the Rosary" and so on.
"No," replied Father Chevalier seriously, "we are going to have "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart."
This blessed title was then pronounced for the first time and naturally it caused a deal of surprise.
"Excellent" remarked Father Piperon. "That will signify Our Lady invoked in the church of the Sacred Heart."
"Not that, my dear friend," replied Father Founder. "This title, 'Our Lady of the Sacred Heart' encloses a profound significance. It reveals to us the maternal power that Mary has over the Heart of Her Divine Son, and tells us that we must go to Him through Her."
"But that is a novelty," cane the objection.
"Not as much as you think. Let me explain my ideas to you, and you can judge if they are reasonable or not.."
He then spoke of his plans and desires with obvious feeling. He recalled how Mary had been responsible for all the graces received by the young Congregation, how She had guided it step by step, and surmounted every obstacle. We owe all to Her," he said. "We have promised to honour Her in a special way and this title "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart" is our answer. It will be a perpetual thanksgiving to the Mother of God for all Her favours, and will be the fulfillment of our vow to Her.
"But is it theological?" asked Father Piperon.
"Assuredly""replied Father Chevalier. "First of all, in using this title we are thanking and glorifying Almighty God Himself for having chosen Mary, before all creatures, to conceive in Her virginal womb and from Her own very substance, the Adorable Heart of Jesus. Then, we are honouring in a special way the sentiments of love, of humble submission, of filial respect which Jesus nurtured in His Heart for His Holy Mother. We are recognising by this special title the ineffable power which Our Loving Saviour gave to His Mother over His own Heart. We are beseeching this compassionate Mother to lead us Herself to the Heart of Her Son, to reveal to us the mysteries of Love and Mercy which It contains, to open to us the treasures of Grace of which It is the Source, and to distribute them personally to all those who call upon Her and invoke Her powerful intercession. All that is contained in this loving and gracious invocation: "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, pray for us."
Father Piperon, with a fresh insistence sought to weaken the argument, "That's all very well, but it is still something new. Don't you think you may be going too far? It seems to me to smack a little of heresy."
A strong word, certainly, let fall in the heat of the discussion, but in view of the circumstances not to be taken too seriously.
"It will not be difficult," replied Father Chevalier confidently, "to justify what I have just said by the teachings of the Fathers and the theologians their writings on the greatness and power of Mary. What is more, I am sure the Mother of God Herself, wishes to be invoked and honoured under this title in our future sanctuary. We will dedicate this Altar to Her under the title 'Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.' By Her and with Her we will glorify the Heart of Jesus, Whose love and mercy we have vowed to preach. It will be a means of fulfilling our motto 'May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved', will go to Jesus through Mary 'Ad Jesum per Mariam'."
And so the first members of the Congregation and their priest-friends heard from the lips of the Founder the first exposition of the Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. As the recreation came to an end the priests discussed what they had heard with a lively interest. By way of a parting joke Father Chevalier turned to Father Piperon and said; "And you, who put up all the objections and were so hard to convince, you can write, by way a penance, in big and beautiful letters around the base of Our Lady's statue: 'Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, pray for us'." The young priest did so with joy. It was the first external act of homage rendered to the Mother of God under Her new title.(85)
The rest of the year 1857 passed without further incident. The members of the small Congregation went about their tranquil community life and apostolic duties until the month of December, when Father Maugenest, whose renown as an orator had spread abroad, was invited by the parish priest of "Saint Pierre" in Bourges to preach the Advent sermons in his church.
'It was an honour for the preacher and the young Community, but, unfortunately, it was the beginning of a profound crisis for Father Chevalier.
CHAPTER IX DOUBTS AND DIFFICULTIES
While Father Maugenest was preaching the Advent sermons in Saint Pierre, Bourges, the Cardinal happened to be looking for a new administrator for the Cathedral. He had nominated Father Caby, and had obtained the necessary ratification from the Government, but Father Gaby, a shy and reserved priest, had adamantly refused to accept the position. Father Maugenest, whose excellence as a preacher was the topic of the moment, came to his mind as an admirable choice. He sent for him and informed him of his intention of appointing him as Archpriest of the Cathedral. Father Maugenest was dumbfounded. He begged His Eminence to reconsider his decision in view of the newly-established work at Issoudun. In spite of his protestations, his pleading and even his tears, the Cardinal, already embarrassed by Father Gaby's refusal, demanded his obedience. "I am your Archbishop," he said, "and, as such, your religious Superior. I want you to go to Paris, make a retreat at the Seminary, and come back ready to do my will." To make matters worse, the Cardinal forbade him to mention the appointment to anyone - not even to Father Chevalier, until he returned from the retreat. His letter, written from Saint Sulpice to Father Chevalier was in the circumstances "rather obscure", but the latter, who had already heard of the "Gaby incident rightly judged what had taken place.(l)
The news shocked and saddened Father Chevalier. After supper he took Father Piperon into his room and broke down completely.
"Whatever is the matter?" asked his confrere.
"Our little community is about to be broken up. We are about to be separated
"His Eminence has just nominated Father Maugenest Administrator of the Cathedral. It looks certain that he does not wish us to continue with our missionary work. We ourselves will probably be appointed to parish work again."
"Nothing of the sort. If the Cardinal wishes to disband our small Congregation, we will go elsewhere. I can assure you that even if you do not wish to try elsewhere, I myself have no intention of going back to a parish. I will seek admission to some other Order or Congregation. I will go to the ends of the earth before accepting work in a parish. However, we will find out first exactly what the Cardinal has in mind before making any decisions.
For the rest of the evening the two priests discussed ways and means by which they could carry on their work and save their young Society. Writing of this sad night in his Life of Father Chevalier, Father Piperon humbly remarks: We can easily understand the grief and mental anguish of the dear Founder. Of his two confreres he was losing the one who was so highly endowed intellectually, and from whom he was hoping so much. He was left now with only one companion who had so very little to offer. The future looked black indeed."(2)
In his humble contempt of himself, Father Piperon has not brought out the magnitude of the problem which faced Father Chevalier. He has regarded the matter only from the subjective view point of his own person. Father Chevalier saw something very different in the appointment of Father Mauginest, as we shall see.
It was decided that the best thing to do was for Father Chebvalier to take the coach next day for Bourges and seek an interview with the Cardinal, begging him to change his mind and leave Father Maugenest with tho young Society. The visit brought no result in spite of Father Founder's heartfelt pleadings. His Eminence" he wrote, "let me talk and I pointed out that without Father Maugenest the very existence of the Society was threatened. To this the Cardinal replied with the reasoning of Gamaliel: 'Either your work is from God, and I believe after all the graces you have received that it is, or it is the work of man. If it is from God then the transfer of Father Maugenest will ultimately not affect it. If it is just the work of man then his presence won't save it. I made my act of submission he continues, "retraced my steps to Issoudun, broken-hearted. Dear Father Piperon was anxiously awaiting me. He also was deeply grieved when I told him the outcome of the interview. After discussing our plans, we decided that the best thing we could do in order to gain our right perspective and some spiritual consolation was to make a retreat with the Trappist Fathers at Fongembault.(3)
Father Maugenest took up his duties as Canon and Archpriest of the Cathedral on the 11th January, 1858. The Issoudun newspaper Le Droit Commun paid him a warm tribute:
"While the town of Issoudun keenly regrets the loss of this worthy and virtuous Missionary of the Sacred Heart, who has just had the honour of being appointed as Administrator to the Cathedral, the diocese as a whole will rejoice at the Cardinals wise choice. Father Maugenest possesses all the qualities necessary for such a high and important office. In renouncing the kind of life to which he had vowed himself when founding, in collaboration with a virtuous colleague the modest Community of the Sacred Heart at Issoudun he is acting only in a spirit of self-sacrifice and obedience. In the voice of his Superiors he has heard the Voice of God, The people of Issoudun are deeply grateful to the good priest for the many acts of charity and devotion he has shown over a difficult and trying period. If his voice is no longer to be heard in our pulpit here at Issoudun, his virtues and his good deeds will remain in our memories and hearts for a long time. Every class of society in our town will mention his name with gratitude and affection.(4)
However, if the loss of Father Maugenest was to be felt in Issoudun it was grievously more so in the small community of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. There were left now only two members, and Father Chevalier and Father Piperon had been relying so much on the talents of their gifted companion to help them in these difficult early days of the Society.
The two priests returned from their retreat determined to carry on, as they were convinced their work was in accordance with the Will of God. Kneeling together before the Tabernacle they renewed their resolutions of continuing their work for the Sacred Heart and enduring any trials and sorrows in the course of establishing the Society. Father Piperon wrote very humbly: What a change had come about in our community. The tree, as yet so young and tender, had only three branches. Two were vigorous and healthy, promising abundant fruit, the third was weak and frail, not giving much promise. And then a cruel, unforeseen storm raged and tore away the limb which promised most fruit."(5)
The newspaper "L'Echo des Marches" announced in its number dated 27th January, 1858 that the Rev. Father Pierre-Maria Mallet was joining the Congregation of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. (Father Piperon dates his entry as about the time of Trinity Sunday). Unfortunately Father Mallet showed little sign of entering into the spirit of religious life, and his entry proved more of an embarassment than an acquisition.
The Abbe Mallet was born on the 17th January, 1831 at Montigny in the Cher district, and after his ordination on the 16th May, 1856 had been appointed as curate at Issoudun. Small of stature, he was energetic, eloquent and well-meaning enough, but his conduct at times, to say the least was singular and original. Even his habit of smoking, which in these days was something unusual, became a matter of comment. It is not surprising that he did not stay very long in the Congregation. On the 15th October he was appointed to the parish of Luant, and some time later joined the Trappists, but again he did not persevere and rejoined the diocese - this time in the parish of Transault - on 22nd February, 1873. He died there in 1892.(6)
When it became obvious that Father Mallet was not fitted for the life and that he showed little inclination to keep the Rule, Father Chevalier had to ask him to withdraw. Smarting under this rebuff he sought an interview with the Cardinal and did not hesitate to speak disparagingly of his former confrere. He made a special point of attacking the unsafe condition of the chapel, where, he said, one's life was in constant peril, where it was impossible to Celebrate Mass or say one's Office without expecting the place to fall down at any moment, and where a serious accident to the faithful could easily take place. He spoke so vehemently and convincingly on the subject that the Cardinal became worried and decided to take prompt action. In spite of his usual prudence and the affection he had always shown for Father Chevalier and the new Congregation, and without consulting the priests or sending a delegate to investigate, he ordered "that within twenty four hours the chapel be closed as a place of worship. This was on the 9th October, 1850.
"Satan," wrote Father Chevalier, "was evidently not happy at the good for souls being done in our chapel, and wished to destroy it. The Heart of Jesus however, wanted a more worthy sanctuary and the designs of human wisdom were thwarted.(7) The Cardinal's order came as a great shock not only to the priests but to the parishioners as well. Deeply upset, and not knowing as yet why the Cardinal had acted so peremptorily, Father Chevalier hastened to Bourges to find out what it was all about. He was able to answer, to the satisfaction of His Eminence, the charges made by Father Mallet, but the Cardinal insisted that any necessary repairs to the Chapel must be carried out immediately, and a Certificate of Safety obtained from a qualified architect .
Four days later this certificate was forwarded to His Eminence, who then authorised the re-opening of the Chapel. In the meantime, the priests had been saying their daily Mass at St. Cyr's, while a few alterations were made to Chapel. The cost of the repairs was not very high, although heavy enough for the small community with its limited resources.
Actually the temporary closing of the Chapel turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it called attention in emphatic terms to the urgent need for a new church. It was decided there and then to initiate plans for a new edifice, which would be a more worthy abode for the Divine Majesty.(8) The first big difficulty that presented itself was the selection of a suitable site in the limited space available. Father Chevalier wished to build a large rectangular church facing the Place de Vouet on the land where the old chapel stood. As the dimensions would be much larger than those of the chapel, the question was where to look for the extra space. By using the courtyard in order to avoid the angle on which the chapel was built, there would arise difficulty of shutting out the light from the presbytery and making the place too cramped. The most reasonable solution - and the one which was ultimately adopted - was to buy some land on the western side of the chapel. The small Ruelle de Vouet - a cul de sac about twelve yards long which ran along the top side of the Chapel was public property and not for sale, but the lower portion was the private property of Madame Julienne Dansard, wife of Pierre Champiolat. If this land could be bought the new church could be built farther to the west and sufficient space left between it and the presbytery.
Two-major problems would have to be solved before any progress could be made. The first was where the money was to cone from and the second was the necessary co-operation of the Abbe de Champgrand, who still owned all the property the Missionaries were using. Just what negotiations took place with the Abbe or whether he showed any enthusiasm or not we do not know. However an agreement with the Champiolat family must have been reached before March 1859, as the foundations of the church were laid at that time. It was not till the 14th March, 1860 that the official deeds were signed between Madame Julienne Dansard and the Abbe de Champgrand before Monsieur Binet, the resident notary at Issoudun. The Abbe met the expenses of the transaction.(9)
While negotiations were progressing favourably regarding the land deal, the Missionaries were endeavouring with the help of influential friends to obtain a subsidy from the Government. Their efforts, however, were not successful. Father Chevalier wrote to Madame des Mesloizes, one of the helpers, on 3rd May, 1859: "I am very grateful for the efforts you have made on our behalf. The Minister of Religion has replied that there are no funds available for our chapel, as we are not recognised officially by the State. The Empress, to whom Monsieur Touragin referred our petitions, has replied through her secretary that the matter has been placed in the hands of the Minister of Religion. This is tantamount to a refusal, as we already know the intentions of the Minister. However, concludes Father Chevalier, "if men fail us, Almighty God for Whom we are working will surely be on our side. We will go ahead with our work and refuse to be discouraged."
It was certainly not a matter of encouragement to be trying to build a church without money, and this in a town like Issoudun where three-quarters of the population were indifferent to religion and quite unused to making any sacrifices in the cause of the Church. The only confidence Father Chevalier had was in the Providence of God on which he had always relied. What were his plans to be? First of all, he resolved to place the work in the hands of the Immaculate Mother of God, the Protectress of his Congregation. Then he would wait patiently, letting the plan mature in his mind, examining the means of achieving his object, and not pushing the work further than the resources he would have in hand allowed. Prudence demanded this.(11)
In a sermon of which we have previously spoken Father Chevalier outlined the position to his congregation. The present chapel was too small and shabby. It should have been replaced long ago, but lack of funds had prevented this. "Many people," he said, "think we are wealthy, but how wrong they are. Our position is really difficult and even precarious. We receive neither subsidy nor salary from the State, the Diocese, or the town. We are left entirely to our own resources, and have no income except what we receive from our Mass stipends or a few gifts from charity. We appeal then to your generosity. We promise, with the approval of the Cardinal to offer a Mass every First Friday of the month for our benefactors and their parents both living and dead, and to inscribe their names on an Honour-Roll.
The next day a poor working woman, whose only means of livelihood was her needle, approached Father Chevalier and handed him a small, neatly-wrapped packet. He opened it and there gleaming before his eyes were five gold pieces of twenty francs each. By self-sacrifice and frugal living she had saved 100 francs, and although it was all the money she had, she was prepared to give it to the priests. "Yesterday," she said, "when I heard your sermon I promised the Sacred Heart of Jesus that I would bring these gold pieces to you. Take them. It delights my heart to be able to give them to you."
Father Chevalier was deeply moved by this act of generosity, but knowing the impecunious state of the donor, he took one piece from the packet and handed back the other four. "My child," he said, "you will need these yourself for the future.
"No, Father," she replied, "I promised them all to the Sacred Heart. I cant keep any back now.
"But say if you lose your work. Say if you become sick."
"Father," she answered spiritedly, "this money doesn't belong to me any longer. It belongs to God. I have given it to him, and I won't take one iota of it back. What the future holds for me is in God's hands, and I place my trust in Him.
Considering himself rich indeed with this 100 francs so nobly given in the cause of the Sacred Heart, Father Chevalier decided to take the first step, and he had the holy audacity to ask Monsieur Farlier, the diocesan architect to draw up a plan.(12)
He had dreaned of a plan in the form of a heart, but this was deemed impracticable at the time. Monsieur Farlier duly presented his plan with the one nave leading to the chancel set in a semi-circular apse. On either side was a semi-circular chapel, the one on the right the Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and on the left that of St. Joseph. The facade was as it is today, except that it has been somewhat embellished."(l3)
In the meantime Father Chevalier had launched his appeal in Issoudun, but it was not well received in many quarters. Mlle. Marchand has recorded: "Father Chevalier approached several persons and asked them to accompany him on his canvas for funds, but they all refused for various reasons of their own. He asked me to try to get my father interested. At first he refused saying that although he would like to help, it would cause embarrassment to his friends if they visited their homes to ask for money. When I told the good priest this, he replied: We will cause no inconvenience; we will simply stay in the hall. After my mother and I had further pleaded with him, he consented to go on the rounds with Father Chevalier. Next morning they set out together and continued the appeal each day till all the likely homes been visited; Father Chevalier seemed pleased enough with the response."
However, Father Chevalier's comments in his private Notes show that at best he got a mixed reception. "How many doors were shut in my face! What humiliating refusals I received! What insults were hurled at me! Soon it was evident that the money raised in Issoudun and the few donations received from friends outside the town were quite inadequate for the proposed church. Apart from his desire to use the old chapel as long as he could before it would be dismantled, the lack of finance was responsible for his decision to build only the top portion of the church for the time being. The architect was not keen on this, but submitted to his will, at the same time seeing to it that the general plan was not interferred with.(15)
On 26th March, 1859 the work was begun and the foundations of the chancel, side chapels and the first three bays of the nave were sunk to a depth of 20 feet.(l6) On 3rd May, Father Chevalier wrote; "We hope to have the solemn blessing of the foundation stone towards the end of the month or the beginning of June. If the Cardinal is able to come for the ceremony about that date will create a good impression and be a big help. If not, I hope to get Fatehr Caillaud, who has always shown a great interest in our work, to perform the ceremony."(l7)
The Cardinal died on 27th May, and Father Caillaud, who was one of the Vicars Capitular of the diocese, came to Issoudun for the laying of the foundation stone. The stone itself was a large one occupying the base of the pillar - at floor level - on the right hand side of the sanctuary. Inside it was placed a glass tube which contained the details of the ceremony written on parchment together with some small coins and medals dated for that year. The following poem composed by Father Chevalier was embedded under the stone:
"Malheur, malheur a qui detruira cette Eglise,
Et s'il veut echapper au bras vengeur de Dieu,
Il faut que par ses soins elle se reconstruise,
Grande, majestueuse, et sur le meme lieu."(19)
"Woe to him who destroys this church,
If he wishes to escape the Vengeful Arm of God,
Let him see to it that it is rebuilt,
Grand, majestic and on this very site."
The ceremony took place on 6th June, the Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi. It was held in conjunction with the annual Procession of the Blessed Eucharist from the church of St. Cyr. After Vespers the procession left the church led by the worthy and venerable Father Crozat. A great crowd of people lined the route of the procession which led to the Place de Vouet where already a vast assembly had gathered. The crowd was estimated in the vicinity of 6000 and the marching of the fire-brigade and town-band added a spectacular touch to the proceedings. All the notable personages of the district were in attendance, the Sub-Prefect, the Mayor, the Chief Justice, the Imperial Prosecutor and most of the aldermen. Father Caillaud preached the occasional discourse taking as his text: "Super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam," and the ceremony concluded about half past six.(20)
Judging by the glowing newspaper reports, and the presence of such a large crowd, we might think that the people of Issoudun were sympathetic and helpful to the Missionaries, but, unfortunately, such was not the case. On the contrary they had to contend with quite an amount of opposition. In a letter written on 27th June - the day after the ceremony - Father Chevalier wrote: "The crowd was immense, and our triumph was complete. The word "triumph would indicate that there were certainly obstacles to be overcome. After enumerating a number of the notable people present, he continues "What do you think of this change of face? What kind of men are they? When it was a question of helping in the noble work they became angry or, at least, were not at all interested. Now that it looks like succeeding, they begin to praise it and want to have a hand in directing it. Poor human nature!"
After the function Father Chevalier invited some of the gentlemen who had helped voluntarily to a small social gathering, but the general opposition to his plans was to last for some time yet. Any hope he had of signing the peace was disillusioned. When the opposition reached its peak in 1861, Father Maugenest was to write to Father Crozat in a letter dated 5th July, of "that state of affairs that has now lasted four years." He refers in the letter to a group "of young people who spend about a year in the parish" stirring up this opposition. We naturally think of Father Mallet and his followers. The young curate had entered the Congregation in January, 1858, and before the end of the year had been responsible for closing down the chapel. Father Chevalier himself has written: "An over-excited young priest who spent a short time in Issoudun went to Bourges with some false stories."
In fact there were many spiteful stories - not only about the Chapel - being circulated at the time by idle gossipers who wished the young Congregation no good. This is obviously what Father Maugenest was referring to in his letter to Father Crozat. In the light of this opposition we can readily understand why Father Chevalier found it difficult to get anyone to go around with him to make the appeal for funds and why even such a good man as Monsieur Marchand hesitated for fear of hurting the susceptibilities of his friends. It explains the reason for the humiliating refusals, the insulting remarks etc. It also throws light on his remark that the Cardinal's presence at the laying of the foundation stone "would make a good impression", on his use of the word "triumph" when the people turned out in force for the ceremony, and his reference to "change of face" when so many notables attended.
Madame Hello has recalled this opposition in what we might call a piece of fanciful writing were it not based on fact. She assumes the role of a young man called Jean Lander who calls on an imaginary aunt living in Issoudun.
My poor aunt seemed very upset about the advent of the Sacred Heart priests to the parish. She would stay awake at night thinking of that small campanile and that the bell that Madame Dausigny had donated would disturb her dreams. She protested in the name of Saint Cyr, and she for one would never abandon St. Cyr, dear old St. Cyr! She said she would make such a fuss about it that the Sacre Coeur would never take the parishioners away from St. Cyr's.
"But aren't you taking sides?" I asked her.
"Of course," she answered quickly. "There's no middle course -"it's either St. Cyr or the Sacre Coeur, and through thick and thin I'm for St. Cyr. Never will I abandon dear old St. Cyr, our old church, for this new chapel.
"But, aunt, I interposed, "it appears that many graces are being obtained at the Sacred Heart and I have heard it said that not many people prayed in your town till the Sacred Heart church appeared."
My aunt's eyes blazed. "Now, my nephew, whatever do you mean by that? Whom do you think you're talking to? So nobody prays in St. Cyr's, eh? Haven't I been in the parish myself for the past 40 years?"
"But aunt," I said with a smile, "are you sure you have always been so devoted?"
"Of course I have," she replied. "The trouble is that since the people started going to the Sacre Coeur, my old love for St. Cyr's has been awakened as has that of many other people. When I saw Sacre Coeur being built I thought that poor old St. Cyr's would be abandoned, and become a home for the birds only, so off I went to St. Cyr's and many of the faithful are going also. The bells are ringing out with new vigour."
"But aren't you being hard on the people who go to Sacre Coeur?" I ventured.
"You are a shrewd little devil, my nephew. Yes, perhaps I am. But I am an 'old-timer, in love with the past, and I am head-strong and easily aroused. If you stay here long enough I will make you that way too. I am rounding up all the good back-sliders, those who haven't put a foot inside the church since they were babies, and there are plenty of them. I declare I'll have them singing hymns in no time. I am determined to avenge St. Cyr's. You mark words. Only wise people go to St. Cyr's; the fools go to the Sacre Coeur. Just fancy sensible people going and cramming themselves into that old barn in preference to St. Cyr's, dear old St. Cyr's. St. Cyr's is the pride of our town. I made my first Holy Communion there. The old-timers will always be faithful to St. Cyr's and the Missionaries can do what they like, but they won't stop us from going to the old church. It will be packed on Sundays, Feast Days and even at Vespers and Benediction."
Then to make her story good, Madame Hello makes her imaginary character Jean Landur, remark: "This much was quite clear. The keen rivalry between St. Cyr's and the Sacre Coeur would ultimately result in the Glory of God and the salvation of souls. People started going to St. Cyr out of stubborness and rebellion, but thereby regained their love of religion, and once love was there, they didn't mind going to the Sacre Coeur. This was proven to me that very evening as my aunt came along with me to - the Sacre Coeur."(21)
However, the reconciliation was not as virtuous and complete as Madame Hello would imply. There was still an active opposition to the Missionaries particularly after the implicit rebuke to Father Mallet when the chapel was reopened. He actually had done them a good turn - even if unwillingly - in hastening the construction of the new church. The opposition was to become even violent later on at the time of the transfer of the parish, and when Father Crozat himself saw fit to take part in it, it became an open scandal as we shall see. In retrospect we can see that one of the main reasons for the confusion and opposition would have been what Father Maugenest termed "the irregular state of affairs" in Issoudun. To understand what he meant by this "irregularity" it is necessary to recall briefly the history of the foundation in its relationship to the parish.
Although, as we have seen, Father Crozat gave the two young curates every help and encouragement in their desire to found the Society, his interest was mainly in the welfare of the parish of Issoudun itself, and only vaguely in the home missions. His heart and soul were in Issoudun in spite of its religious tepidity, and he could see the advantage of having a Community of priests in the parish to continue the work to which he had devoted so many years. We recall his strenuous efforts to have the Sacre Coeur made into a parish, and when the Abbe de Champgrand had frustrated this plan, he had endeavoured to incorporate the Mission chapel as a subsidiary to St. Cyr. Had not the Droit Commun emphasised this fact in its report of the procession on the Feast of the Assumption which, the paper said, was organised "to cement by a solemn consecration the union between the church of St. Cyr and that of the Sacred Heart. We remember also the Abbe de Champgrand's remark. "The parish priest of Issoudun is a worthy priest, but I suspect that in these circumstances he has, doubtless, let himself be influenced by too natural an affection for his parish."
When the ceremony of laying the foundation stone had taken place, Father Crozat led the procession of the parishioners of St. Cyr as a gesture of goodwill and encouragement to the young Missionaries. He had in mind the good of the parish of Issoudun and hoped that after his death these missionaries would take it over. In 1872 Father Chevalier wrote: "Father Crozat wished to have us permanently stationed here to assist him and to carry on the ministry in his beloved Issoudun. He helped us by his knowledge, his advice, his experience and influence. I can say this in all truthfulness - without him the work of the Sacre Coeur would not have come into existence. The many and seemingly insurmountable difficulties that eventuated would never have been overcome. When this man of God learned that Issoudun was to become our permanent abode, his joy was complete, and he looked on our presence as an opportunity of reviving the Christian life of the town. He sincerely hoped that the diocesan authorities would entrust the care of this large and important parish to us after his death. He used to say that he wanted the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart to succeed him. We were the comfort of his old age and his dear friends. He regarded himself as one of us, and used to say: 'We are three Missionaries.(22)
We will deal in a later chapter with the misunderstanding about Father Crozat's retirement, and the