Saint Louis de Montfort, His Life and Work – Return to Nantes

cover of the ebook 'Saint Louis de Montfort: His Life and Work', by Georges RigaultHe crossed the Meu and the Vilaine, and came back to the banks of that Loire which eight years earlier had taken him from Orleans to Brittany as the companion of Father Leveque. He recalled his first missions at Grand- champ and Pellerin. Should he go like the Prodigal Son and knock at the door of Saint Clement? What attraction was there for him in Nantes, this great town, so noisy and so gay, which, through its narrow streets and wide estuary, seemed to hasten ceaselessly towards the trade of the sea, towards wealth, imagination, pleasure? He thought the Breton faith was there all the same, and he pictured the prayers of its many convents and churches. Nantes should be the connecting link between the two fields of his apostleship, the rivet of Catholic faith in the West of France. He would willingly pause here in his wanderings.

Three weeks before his death he was to think of going back there. He founded there a society of penance and charity, and he meant to have set up an immense monument, a Cross, worn as it were on the breast of Brittany, as a witness to God’s love, as a perpetual sermon to the universe.

The friends whom he still had in the town were not at Saint Clement. The best of them was Father Barin, canon, precentor and senior vicar at the cathedral, an intelligent man of an interesting appearance. He had been given ecclesiastical preferment while still quite young, but he loved the world and an easy, pleasant life. He had even written frivolous poetry which was long a reproach against him. At last, grace had got the upper hand of him, had filled him and he had corresponded. When nearly sixty he was ordained priest. Bishop de Beauvau of Nantes thought much of him, and he became a person of importance in the diocese. His alert keen mind and his warm heart remained the same. He had known Louis- Marie Grignion as a youth, had appreciated his merit, his cleverness, his sanctity, without his oddities worrying him in any way. Apparently it was he who summoned him from the hermitage of Saint Lazare to Nantes, and he remained faithful to him through stormy days although he could not quell the storm. As a proof of his affection he was to compose one of the epitaphs which adorn the tomb of Saint Louis-Marie.

Father Barin thought that there would be no lack of work for the missioner in the Nantes district. Since the wars of religion many souls had lain fallow and many churches in ruins. The miracle of Father De Montfort was to clear away this undergrowth so thoroughly, and to lay such a solid foundation, that the soil was able to bring forth a series of spiritual harvests and to have churches which the devout generosity of the faithful revived. After preaching at Saint Similien at Nantes, in the company of a Jesuit, Father Joubert, he went to that charming valley of the Sevre, which lies cool and calm, aloof from the turmoil of the town. At Vertou he had a great welcome, but it dismayed him, for he thought that opposition and persecution were indispensable to full success. And he asked himself if he ought not to go elsewhere. Father des Bastieres, who was working with him, brought him to reason, evidently without many words. But Saint Louis-Marie repeated: “All the same, it is a cross not to have crosses.”

However, not far from the Grandlieu lake he had his heart’s desire. The parish priest of La Chevroliere did not wish to have a mission in his parish, but Father Barin sent him Father De Montfort anyway. You can picture the displeasure of the priest who, as it were, was no longer his own master. There could hardly be a greater vexation for a parish priest. As a solemn protest against this infringement upon his rights, this priest appeared at the high altar in surplice and stole at the close of an early morning sermon. He took as his text: “I have compassion on the multitude,” and commented upon it as follows: “This congregation fills me with compassion. As your priest, my dear parishioners, it is my duty to warn you that you are wasting your time in coming to this mission. You will learn nothing of importance. You would do better to stay at home and work for your living and your children’s. And to this I exhort you earnestly.” Montfort listened to this amiable speech without flinching; and then went and knelt before one whom God had allowed to honor him with such a perfect cross. And the mission went off well.