St. Louis-Marie de Montfort: “Unworthy priest and slave of Jesus living in Mary”

Br. Columba Maria

Born on 31 July 1673 in Montfort-sur-Meu, Brittany, he was baptised Louis and subsequently confirmed Marie. Even from his earliest years, he said that he would be the most indefatigable preacher of devotion to Her. His devotion grew with each new day: She was his good mother, his dear mother, to whom he confided all his needs, and who never failed him in anything.

At 12, his father noting his uncommon virtue. He was sent to the Jesuits in Rennes, where he took first-prize each year in his class, growing, doubtless, in wisdom, age and grace before God and men. He was in the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin, and was also associated with a select band attached to a holy priest there, who encouraged his charges to visit the sick and other pious works. His one relaxation was painting, to which he had a special talent, although it was never formally developed. His confessor saw him already as a saint and encouraged him as best he could. In later life, any time he had to recharge was spent in retreat at a Jesuit house.

His humanities completed, he began to study philosophy.

Scarcely had he heard of perfection than he conceived the most ardent desire for it. However painful, however narrow the way, you saw him take such giant steps, and with so much courage, that it seemed he neither saw the thorns, nor felt their prick. To a most profound recollection and continual prayer, the most austere penitence and universal mortification, he joined a peace, a sweetness and tranquillity of soul that I have never seen altered by any contradiction or humiliation. His eyes always lowered, and an air of piety on his face, he was always distinguished from his fellow students.

So says a contemporary. On his way to school, he always stopped at the Carmelite church, remaining for a considerable time in prayer before an old and miraculous image of Our Lady. It was here he got his vocation, which he never doubted. When a Parisian woman visited his parents, having heard her speak so highly of Saint Sulpice, he expressed the desire to study theology there. It was the same woman who paid his tuition at this new and holy school.

He walked to Paris, the first of his many epic walks. His sponsor enrolled him in a pious community for poor ecclesiastics, and later he was assigned to night-watch the dead of the parish to help make ends meet. He never asked a dispensation. At some point, he discontinued the extra studies at the Sorbonne, yet amazed all by continuing to grow in knowledge. Always in a room in the attic, in soleless shoes; anything his body wanted, he denied it. The saints pass their lives in light, whereas for us it is the last flicker of the candle at death that opens our eyes: Louis’ everyday speech was like ours on our deathbed. The seminary rector, asked to publicly humiliate our saint at every turn, reported back to Louis’ director, after six months, that he had exhausted his armoury and no longer knew how to do so! One year, Louis was one of the two seminarians chosen each year to fulfil the Chartres pilgrimage.

On the vigil of Pentecost, 1700, Louis was ordained Priest. His ardour drew him to the heathen lands, but his director forbade him, for he feared Louis would lose himself in the forest chasing some savage. An old priest, Fr. Lévêque, who had formed the pious community of St. Clement, invited Louis to join them. The two instantly hit it off, and they returned together to Nantes to begin evangelising the diocese. But the community were Jansenist and Louis had to leave. These Jansenists never forgot this and in later years—on several occasions, they stirred up various bishops to suspend Louis’ always successful missions.

From Nantes, Louis stopped on an errand at Poitiers and, saying Mass on his arrival at the public hospital, the poor patients were so edified that they begged him to become their chaplain, which he did. Louis ate the same food, only less, and took the hospital’s donkey on the daily quest through the streets for food. He swept floors, made beds, washed dishes, on top of his own spiritual duties. The noticeable rise in morality earned him only contradiction and complaint. It was this that decided him to found an order of sisters, the Daughters of Wisdom, centred around the daily recital of the full rosary.

Released from his chaplaincy, with the Ordinary’s approval, Louis evangelised some of the local dioceses by preaching. Being so successful, they drew a complaint from the Jansenists, and his suspension from preaching lead to his walking to Rome. Meeting Clement XI on 6 June 6 1706, Louis returned armed with full papal approval and many indulgences to give out at his missions.

Thus began this great round of diocesan missions in Western France, leaving behind a trail of enormous crosses erected as a reminder of graces received and promises made. Miracles of grace and nature were commonplace. He died, aged 43, on 16 April 1716 during a mission at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, where his body lies, leaving behind him the Sisters, and the Company of Mary (or de Montfort Fathers), and the Brothers of Saint Gabriel (founded posthumously by the brothers associated with him in life) to continue his work, not forgetting his many treatises on the Rosary, Our Lady, and the Cross, etc.

View all articles from Ite Missa Est