He studied at the diocesan seminary of Larressore, at Saint Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris, France, and at Saint Sulpice. After his ordination on 2 June 1849, he attended the Ecole des Carmes, taking at the Sorbonne the doctorates of letters in 1850 and theology in 1853, to which he added later the Roman doctorates of civil and canon law. Appointed chaplain of Sainte-Genevieve in 1853, he became associate professor of Church history at the Sorbonne in 1854, was promoted to the Roman Rota in 1861, and to the see of Nancy, France on 5 March 1863. He founded colleges at Vic, Blamont, and Luneville, and established a higher institute for clerics and a house for law students at Nancy.
On 12 January 1867 he was transferred to Algiers, where as archbishop he inaugurated a strong movement of conciliation towards the Muslems. With the help of the Missionaries of Africa, whom he founded for the purpose, he established and maintained orphanages, industrial schools, settlements, and hospitals. As Apostolic Delegate of Western Sahara and the Sudan, he began in 1874 the work which brought his missionaries into the heart of Africa; to this was added the administration of the Diocese of Constantine, the foundation of a clerical seminary for the Oriental missions at Saint Anne of Jerusalem in 1878, and the government of the Vicariate of Tunis. Created cardinal–priest of San Agnese fuori le mura on 27 March 1882, he became first primate of the newly restored Archdiocese of Carthage on 10 November 1884, retaining the See of Algiers. The monuments of his prodigious activity in Africa are Notre-Dame d’ Afrique at Algiers, the Basilica of Saint Louis at Carthage, and the Cathedral of Saint Vincent de Paul at Tunis. He will be best remembered in connection with his furthering the policy of Pope Leo XIII, directing French Catholics to adhere to the republic, and with his promotion of the anti-slavery movement.