Most Reverend Father Cormier, Master-General of the Dominican Order

Blessed Hyacinth-Marie CormierHenry Cormier was born in Orleans, France, December 8, 1832. His mother, while quite young, was left a widow with two sons, Eugene and Henry. Eugene, the elder, died in 1847, and from that time she lived but for her son Henry.

Henry was one of the first pupils of the Seminary of the Chapel at its commencement in 1846, three years before the arrival of Bishop Dupanloup. The Academy was founded in 1848. At its first session, Henry, although not a member, distinguished himself by his lecture, “Moses on the Nile” – a composition of great merit. Excelling in literature in his early years Henry was even more brilliant in the art of music. There was scarcely any instrument upon which he did not play – from the flageolet, upon which he first commenced, to the organ – the ophicleide was also included among them.

But, surpassing all instruments, in sweetness of tone, was the remarkable quality of his singing voice! Rarely, indeed, is the gift of voice such as Henry possessed as a boy, bestowed upon mortals. His delight was greatest when singing the Divine praises, on special occasions, such as the month of May, in assisting at the musical services in her honor. Modest as to his attainments, he particularly shunned all praise that savored of compliment and flattery. Of an amiable and docile disposition he was constantly joyous and gave signs of his future sanctity.

When not engaged in the culture of his voice, or in instrumental practice, he was found either drawing or painting. His mind was fixed upon a still higher art which he began to practice, saying, as a saint might say, “I paint for eternity!” To rhetoric he turned his attention for which he soon evinced a remarkable aptitude; his ready genius enabled him to accomplish prodigies in the competitive work of his classes; but the time required for conscientious study left no vacant moment for the artist.

At the Grand Seminary of New Orleans, Henry acquired a knowledge of ecclesiastical matters and developed a love of regular discipline which colored his after life. He entered eagerly and gleaned industriously in the spacious fields of philosophy and theology. But the active work of teaching Christian doctrine, so dear to Bishop Dupanloup, absorbed a great deal of his precious time; in this work he may be said to have expended his energies.

When the Concursus for theological grades opened he kept himself steadily in the front rank. The brilliant delivery, elegant diction and pure Latinity of the Abbe Cormier charmed Bishop Dupanloup, who awarded to him the first place. He was long remembered at the Seminary by those who had the pleasure of hearing his arguments in a theological disputation which he maintained against Pere de Ravignan. It is mentioned in the life of the Bishop of Orleans in these words: “In the argumentation between the Abbe Cormier and Pere Ravignan, the composure of the candidate, his penetration of mind, his promptness in grasping the objection and in answering it, and the mutual courtesy of the adversaries, charmed the entire audience.”

In June, 1856, Henry Cormier, having been already ordained, took the Dominican habit in the Novitiate of Flavigny, receiving the name of Hyacinthe-Marie. His piety, his profound religious recollection, reflected in his serene countenance, and a happy blending of sweetness and dignity attracted all; thus he won confidence and gained friendship. Among the simple novices it was regarded as a privilege to be allowed to serve his Mass.

Under the enlightened direction of his novice-masters, Reverend P. Escalier, and, later, Reverend P. Sicard, he acquired solid virtue and the most pure Dominican spirit. In his spare moments he could be seen with a copy of the Constitutions in his hand. The mastery of the Constitutions in those days was no easy task.

Meanwhile, the precarious health of the novice pointed to the improbability of his profession. Fortunately, Reverend Father Jandel passed through Flavigny at that time. He was strongly impressed by the religious fervor of Father Cormier and by the unreserved approval of the novice-masters. The General of the Order assumed the difficulties of the case. He took Father Cormier to Rome, hoping to obtain for him a dispensation from the Sovereign Pontiff.

A trial of two years seemed necessary. During this period he filled the office of Secretary to the General. Pope Pius the Ninth had imposed as a condition that the novice should be free from hemorrhage for one month. After twenty-nine days symptoms of the miserable malady reappeared.

At the request of Father Jandel, however, the Pope consented to the admission of the novice, saying: “Since it is not for him to live under the religious habit, it will be at least for him to die under it.” Reverend Father Hyacinthe-Marie Cormier made his profession on the twenty-third of May, 1859, at Santa Sabina. Immediately after his profession, Father Cormier was made sub-master of novices in that Convent. From that moment the life of this great Dominican has been spent in uninterrupted responsibilities.

In 1863, Father Jandel, wishing to make the newly-founded Convent of Corbara a nursery of model religious, sent thither Father Cormier as Prior. Twenty-five years later we find the impress of the spiritual benefits accrued to the religious, and members of confraternities, through the ministrations of their holy director.

In 1865, upon the re-establishment of the Province of Toulouse, Father Cormier was instituted Provincial; in 1869 he was unanimously re-elected; his powers were prolonged until 1874.

In 1874 he was elected Prior of the Convent of Marseilles, where he completed the building of the church and convent. He was reelected Prior in 1877. In 1878 he was elected, for a second time, Provincial of Toulouse.

In 1879 Pope Leo the Thirteenth deemed it advisable that the Order, which had been temporarily administered by a Vicar, should elect a General, the electors, unable to assemble in General Chapter, sent their votes in writing. Of the three names proposed to the electors, Father Cormier’s received flattering recognition. Father Larocca was elected.

From 1882 till 1888 Father Cormier filled the office of Prior of Toulouse. He had declined, in 1887, tne Priorship of Marseilles. In 1888 he laid the foundation of a new Convent at Biarritz and created for it, by his efforts, a sympathetic interest that it still retains. In 1890 he occupied a new priorate at S. Maximin. Elected Definitor of the General Chapter of Lyons in 1891, he received in it a large number of votes for the office of General. Father Fniwurth was elected; he recognized the evident testimony to the worthy qualities of the Definitor from Toulouse, and, accordingly, called him to Rome, as his socius.

When Father Ciconagi vacated the office of Procurator of the Order by his acceptance of the Secretaryship of the Index, Father Cormier was appointed Procurator, in rank of dignity, the second in the Order.

As a member of many Roman congregations, Father Cormier received at Rome marked consideration. Leo the Thirteenth and Pius the Tenth entrusted to him many delicate missions. It was with utmost satisfaction that the Holy Father received the news of Father Cormier’s election to the Generalship. The apostolic activity of the new General of the Dominican Order, which had been exercised in all grades of power, may be said to be a long preparation for the responsibilities of his present office.

He gave innumerable retreats to religious men and women; his retreats for ecclesiastics were marked with fruitfulness. In spite of the weakness of his constitution he preached with success and won by his eloquence. To his energy and zeal was brought about the beatification of Reginald of Orleans, Bertrand Garrigua, Diana, Raymond of Capua and Andrew Abellon.

His exquisite taste for sacred music prompted him to direct the restoration of the Dominican chant in the Province of Toulouse. Seated at the organ he would sustain the chant, correct mistakes and improvise most charmingly. The Abbe Liszt, once having heard him play, pronounced him a master in his art.

Father Cormier has written numerous ascetical works, among which may be mentioned “Instruction of Novices,” “Fundamental Retreat,” “Three Progressive Retreats,” “Ecclesiastical Retreats,” “The Tertiaries Friend,” “Thoughts Upon the Attributes of God,” and the “Life of Father Jandel.” This last-named work was written in the loving spirit of filial piety. Happy son of so worthy a spiritual Father. Ad multos annos!

– text taken from the magazine Dominicana, 1905; author unknown, translated from the French by Father B. McGovern, O.P.