Saint Louis de Montfort, His Life and Work – Montfort-Sur-Meu

cover of the ebook 'Saint Louis de Montfort: His Life and Work', by Georges RigaultLouis-Marie Grignion De Montfort carried on his work as a missioner in Brittany and in the future Vendee during the last years of the reign of Louis XIV and the first months of the reign of Louis XV. He was born at Mont- fort-sur-Meu, then known as Montfort-la-Cane, on January 31, 1673. His birthplace was a quaint Breton town like that of many of the country gentry of the day; they were well-born and had the right to bear swords, but when they came to Rennes for the Estates of Brittany, it was astride one of their farm horses. Montfort once had fortifications of which there still remains the massive solitary tower overlooking the valley of the Meu. Its rows of houses have heavy rough-cast fronts of a mauve color. It is hardly a town despite its modern privileges, and its undeniable charm is its simple and rustic character – the charm of the calm waters of the Meu and the Garun, where the fish leap and the dragon-flies spin, and the lime trees gently drop their leaves; of orchards on the hill-side, of those little white caps with their broad strings, which fill the streets on Sunday when the bells call to Mass.

The town owed its name of “la Cane” (duck) to a curious legend carved upon a Renaissance reredos. Each year, according to Breton legend, a mysterious mother duck, followed by her ducklings, entered the church and placed herself with her little ones on the altar of Saint Nicholas. Leaving one of them as an offering to the saint, she would then disappear with the others until the following year, and no one was ever able to find whence she came or whither she went. She thus fulfilled the vow of a maiden whom the saint had protected from the pursuit of a brutal seigneur. The farmyard too has its poetry and its supernatural quality; all God’s creatures praise their Creator and at Montfort the duck enjoys a certain veneration.

We like to think that Louis had his cradle in that clear air, under the sky golden as in a miniature. But in the seventeenth century the little town looked probably less countrified than now, for during the last two hundred years it has declined, It is just another of those little French towns left to bear witness to a great past, and for the sake of their historical tradition, from a kind of reverence, allowed a position superior to their importance. Thus they are saved from oblivion.

They still have their gentry, but they are the victims of administrative centralisation and industrial civilisation and, save in Brittany, their individuality is lost. If they do not die, they go back to the soil. No longer upon the mall the professor and the magistrate will take the air; no local scholar will cherish in academic circles- the cult of his native town. And those who go thither do so for the sake of some hero of the past who had his beginnings there.

For us, Montfort-sur-Meu is Father De Montfort. This humble priest, as a mark of his detachment from all earthly ties, did not wish to bear any name but that of his native town. Only so could he be the stranger, the foundling, the Breton tramp, who came indeed, not in quest of bread, but of souls. It was his dream, so to sink his own individuality that only Jesus Christ should be seen in him, Jesus who had made him His own through priestly unction, whom he would fain serve as a poor man and a preacher.

But from beneath the borrowed name, the personality of the man stands out clearly, and Montfort, the poor priest, has made a town illustrious. From a distance his great statue is visible on the upper story of the tower built in the nineteenth century, overlooking all the plain.