Saint Louis de Montfort, His Life and Work – Saint Laurent-sur-Sevre

cover of the ebook 'Saint Louis de Montfort: His Life and Work', by Georges RigaultWe realise the spirit of the prayer of the Primate of Belgium as we stand by Grignion’s tomb. Nowhere can we so well grasp his spirit and power as there.

The town lies in a smiling valley full of fruit and flowers: poplars and beeches everywhere and two tall steeples. Around, above as below, a great peace reigns. The Sevre flows round the foot of the hills, and we have before us the Holy City of La Vendee. The impression is an entirely monastic one. The grey walls of its houses adjoin the convent, the hospital, the Calvary, the school, the cemetery, the memorial to the fallen. In the meadow the Sisters of Wisdom can be seen going two by two to their cloister, in their white caps and aprons.

Montfort’s two spiritual families are housed here. The tall tower of a Gothic chapel, vast as a church, is the rallying-point of the thousands of Sisters scattered over the Old and New World and devoted to the care of the sick and the education of children. The Fathers of the Company of Mary are lodged near the Calvary. And this fine school with its towers and Roman tiles is the seat of a third community, the Brothers of Saint Gabriel, the sons of a holy priest of the nineteenth century, Gabriel Deshayes, who adopted the ideas of Saint Louis-Marie and would certainly have had his approval.

Everywhere we see serge habits, cassocks, crosses and hear bells, small and great. The people are devout; sometimes the Cross is carried through the streets on a cart drawn by ten yoke of oxen amid music and the singing of hymns.

Not far from the river, in a setting of orchards, the parish church is seen. The apse and transept are worthy of an ancient abbey; the buttresses are massive; there are lofty clerestory windows, an imposing bell-tower, flanked and crowned with turrets. The transparent water reflects all this.

Within, it is like early twilight, for light comes from the altars, from the roof, and falls upon the precious tomb. Quid cernis, viator? “What dost thou see, 0 passer-by?” asks the Latin epitaph, “a light which was hidden, one whom supernatural Love consumed . . . Louis-Marie Grignion De Montfort. A life so chaste, mortification so austere, zeal so ardent, that its like is not to be found. His devotion to Mary was that of Saint Bernard. A priest of Jesus Christ, the Christ was seen in his conduct and in his speech. He was untiring and never rested till he died. He was a father to the poor, a protector to orphans; he brought sinners to repentance, and his glorious death was the consummation of his life. He passed to Heaven on the 28th day of April in the year of Our Lord 1716, aged forty-four years.” On the outside of the tombstone the epitaph composed by Father Barin repeats the same praise. And on the wall behind, framed by the pillars of the modern canopy, is read in capital letters the inscription: “Here rests the body of Messire Louis-Marie Grignion De Montfort, missioner apostolic and most reverend priest, who died in the odor of sanctity April 28, 1716, aged 44 years;” the beads of a rosary are entwined with various symbols rudely carved: the stars and anchor of hope, the cross of faith, the monogram of Christ, an open book bearing the initials of God Alone, and a chalice from which a white wafer seems about to fall.

There is another cross on the wall; it was one of those which belonged to the mission of 1716. Beneath our feet are two flat tombstones; Marie-Louise Trichet, first Superior of the Daughters of Wisdom, and the Marquis de Megnane, who installed the Fathers of the Company of Mary at Saint Laurent, rest near their master and friend.

In the apse of the north transept is the altar of Saint Louis-Marie, in the centre of the crypt; above another altar, a great statue represents Montfort half-raising himself from his death-bed to show his crucifix for the last time to the kneeling crowd. Here you have the end of our story, our final meditation on the life, death, work and posterity of the Breton missioner.