An Unlikely Vocation: Pierre de Keriolet

Br. Columba Maria

“You have not chosen me,” says Our Lord, “but I have chosen you.”

Pierre de Keriolet was born to pious parents in the town of Auray in Brittany, France, the home of the greatest shrine to Saint Anne in Christendom. Despite this favourable beginning, and a Catholic education, Pierre blossomed into a prodigious sinner. Lower and lower he sank, giving free rein to his passions. Having broken his parents’ hearts, with both in the grave, he inherited a sizeable fortune.

Still he would not restrain his yearning to sin.

I continued my sacrilegious communions with a frightening debauchery. An excess of wine, though I did not get drunk, cast me into the vice of adultery and in such a foul mood that I had many quarrels and killed a number of people in duels.

He bribed his way to be the magistrate of the province, provoking quarrels in court to encourage fighting. More astonishing even than his public scandals were his escapes from death: shot at point-blank range; his bed struck by lightning; his horse dying under him from the same celestial fire; thirty men scattered by him in a brawl: he came through all of this unscathed. On one occasion he and two companions were set upon by robbers. His accomplices fell by his side and it seemed he would soon follow. But he fell to his knees, joined his hands and made a vow to Our Lady – and survived, again unscathed! Yet he did not keep his vow.

But the measure of his sins was still not filled.

If I went to Church, it was to leave immediately if I found no one there who felt like me. If I was told there were no more Masses to be heard, I answered ‘that is how it should be.’

But he secretly said a Hail Mary every day. And, he never refused to give alms.

His conversion came about thus: in a celebrated case of diabolical possession in a convent of nuns at Loudon, the local bishop had initiated a long process of exorcism. Then one day during one of the ongoing sessions of exorcism in Loudun’s Church of the Holy Cross, it was Pierre de Keriolet’s happiness to wander into the church out of curiosity. The devil, through his possessed nun, addressed him:

“Ah ha, there you are. Who brought you here?”

“I’m here on business.” Pierre replied.

“Yes, really on business. Nothing you see at Loudun will be of any use to you.” He wanted to tear Pierre apart, but the Priest took the Blessed Sacrament and placed it between the devil and the sinner. Pierre left a little shaken.

On the following day, the Epiphany of 1636, the exorcist asked the devil, pointing to Pierre, “Just what are you doing here? How do you know it’s not for this man’s conversion?” Then, addressing Pierre, the priest said, “How is it that you are pretending to be brave by being unarmed?”

“I have no enemies here to fear,” answered Pierre.

“I’m your enemy!” cried the devil, “and the one you fear least of all. And what of this God whom you have scorned so many years! Oh spiteful man, I thought I would hold you and bring you down to hell before you took that vow to Our Lady that you never respected. You are ungrateful and unworthy of the blessings of this Virgin!”

"Then who saved me from the lightning and the rifle fire?” asked Pierre in a state of confusion.

“I would have carried you off if it hadn’t been for the Virgin Mary and the cherubim, your Guardian Angel,” replied the Devil.

Pierre later declared:

I felt pierced through and through and since the Priest was looking at me, I told him, ‘He hit the mark, Father, I’ve done all he has just said. Now it’s time to weep over my sins and to be converted to God.’

He began a public confession but was overcome with emotion and couldn’t finish it. The Priest picked him up and consoled him by preparing him for confession. Having spent the whole night weeping over his sins, Pierre returned next day to the Church.

In a lengthy discourse, the devil bemoaned his loss:

O people, if you knew how much I am enduring from this change, you would weep over me, yes, you would weep over the devil… The Virgin has plunged her arms down to the elbows to pull him out of his filth. Your measure was full, but you kept a little devotion for her… Oh, I’ll get even with you! I’ll follow you wherever you go.”

Pierre de Keriolet spent his remaining years serving more than 150 of Christ’s poor at his chateau daily. His mortification was relentlessly cruel to the body he had used for sin. He undertook lengthy pilgrimages: to Rome, Compostella, Loreto and Montserrat, covering up to thirty miles a day, with eyes cast down, speaking to no one. He very reluctantly became a priest, saying his daily Mass at the nearby Church of Our Lady of Mercy. His favourite pilgrimage destination was Auray, where he repaired to die on 8 October 1660, aged 58.

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