The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Father Peter Joseph Picot de Cloriviere

Father Peter Joseph Picot de CloriviereVery similar was the life of the Servant of God, Peter Joseph Picot de Cloriviere, born of a noble Breton family of Saint Malo on 29 June 1735. Peter Joseph, with his brother Michel, received his education in the college of the English Benedictines at Douai. At sixteen he entered the navy, but, having no liking for the service, left it a year after. For two years he remained unoccupied at home, undecided what calling to follow. “With a head filled with a thousand plans,” he writes of himself, the youth of nineteen went to Paris to study law. It was his good fortune here that a zealous priest took notice of him. This father warned him of the dangers around him and suggested as the best means of avoiding them the frequent reception of the sacraments. De Cloriviere at length conceived so great a desire for holy communion that his confessor was constrained to permit him to receive every day. In this way his vocation soon became clear to him. The thought of being a priest with the duty of daily celebrating Mass gave his soul the greatest comfort and consolation. He writes that his vocation to the Society of Jesus was a direct inspiration from God. He tells of it as follows. One day he communicated in the church of the novitiate of the Jesuits, with whom up to this he had had no acquaintance. When leaving the church he met an unknown person who said to him: “God calls you under the protection of Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier. Here is the novitiate, and you must enter.” Going back into the church he began to pray interiorly and arose with the fixed conviction that God called him to the Society of Jesus. But lest he might be the victim of a delusion he put the matter before his confessor. The latter after mature consideration decided for the genuineness of the vocation. Objections on the part of his relatives were yet to be overcome, but on the Vigil of the Assumption, 1755, De Cloriviere, now twenty-one years of age, entered the novitiate. For only six years had the Servant of God lived in France as a Jesuit when persecution forced him into exile. His supe- riors assigned him to the English province, which had its house of studies in Belgium. So Father Rivers, as he was called by the English fathers, studied theology in Liege from 1762 to 1766, and then made his third year of probation in Ghent. We find him in England the following year in the care of souls. But when he fell into serious illness there, his superiors gave him an easier office in helping the novice-master at Ghent.

It was especially during the first years of religious life that Father de Cloriviere had to endure many trials. His speech was not clear and he stuttered. Hence, he was not able to appear in public and consequently suffered much humiliation. This affliction caused him many an hour of dejection, for he wished most earnestly to preach the word of God and he now felt that nature denied him the power. He feared that he would become only a burden to the Order, yet he clung with great love to the much persecuted Society. But this suffering came from his humility and impelled him to bind himself more closely to God. It is wonderful to read of his heroic determination, his fervor in the performance of his duties. The heavenly favors of which his sickness in England was the occasion, were so great that in his own words one can hardly form any idea of them. Still in spite of this he had afterward many a battle to fight against the lower nature.

In 1777 Father de Cloriviere was appointed spiritual director, as far as the constitutions of the Order permitted, of the Benedictine nuns in Brussels. Besides this, of course, he performed many works of zeal for souls. On 21 July 1773, Clement XIV signed the decree suppressing the Society of Jesus; but Father Ricci, the superior-general, learned of it only on 16 August, and thus it happened that on 15 August Father de Cloriviere had the happiness of making his solemn vows in the Society.

After the suppression, the Servant cf God remained at his post in Brussels until in 1775 the government of Brabant discovered and promulgated a statute of 1752, which declared that no French director of a convent of women would be permitted in the realms of his Imperial Majesty. And a few weeks later we find Father de Cloriviere filling the same office for the Benedictine nuns in the abbey of Jarcy near Paris. In 1779, at the request of the bishop of Saint Malo, he accepted the parish of Param6 on the Breton coast. His stuttering in the pulpit caused him many unpleasant moments, but his heartfelt prayer obtained for him a sudden cure of this evil. His zeal was rewarded by the greatest success; for in 1786 the confidence of his bishops called him to the direction of the diocesan college at Dinan. Since the Revolution continually became more menacing, he asked John Carroll, the first bishop of the United States, to allow him to go to America. Carroll was himself a former Jesuit and had lived in the same house with De Cloriviere in Liege. The day of departure was fixed. But he could not refuse his own bishop, who asked him not to forsake his countrymen in such grievous times. During the worst period of the Revolution De Cloriviere lived under a fictitious name at a castle in the neighborhood of Paris. After 1799 he could again appear in public. In 1791 he founded the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which without community life practically followed the aims of the Society of Jesus. To the same end he founded a society of women – “The Society of the Sacred Heart of Mary,” which is still in existence. As soon as freedom was re-established he gave both societies a rule of life. In 1804 Father De Cloriviere was arrested by the police. One of his relatives was a participator in the conspiracy of George Cadoudal, and so suspicion was cast on him. From 1804 to 1808 he was a prisoner in the Temple. His greatest grief during this time was that he could not even once offer up the Holy Sacrifice. Yet his friends so managed that he could keep the Holy Eucharist in his cell. The following year brought him some relief, but he was not released until 11 April 1809.

From the Temple Father De Cloriviere turned to the vicar-general of the Society of Jesus with a prayer to be received again into the Order. He again received an invitation from Archbishop Carroll to come to America and take up the direction of novices. But in 1814 he received word from Russia that he should rather stay in France and there work for the re-establishment of the Society of Jesus.

This was no light task, for the houses of the Society in France had been closed for more than fifty years and there survived only a few of the former Jesuits. Father de Cloriviere himself was seventy-five years old. The first to place themselves at his disposal were members of the Society of the Faith, among them their distinguished superior, Father Varin. A residence and a sort of novitiate were established in Paris. A little later Father de Cloriviere was able to obtain the old abbey of Saint Acheul, near Amiens, and here to begin a college. Many priests and students sought admis- sion. He was soon in a position to undertake at least a few of the many colleges which were offered him. But his chief care was to school the young religious thoroughly in the ascetic spirit. For this he possessed the ability of a master. God had visited him for many years with interior trials, had given him every sort of experience in the school of suffering, freeing his heart from all earthliness. An old man now, De Cloriviere could make use of the rich treasure of his experience and see the result of long years of loyalty in the service of God. After three years the Order in France had five colleges and two residences, with one hundred and forty-five members – a rapid development, indeed. And the few fathers who had belonged to the old Society thoroughly imbued the younger members with their good spirit.

Father de Cloriviere was always distinguished by his devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Before the tabernacle he was to die. On the morning of January 9, 1820, the aged man of eighty-four knelt at the communion-rail in the private chapel of the house at Paris, immersed in profound prayer. Here came the angel of death that he might look face to face upon Him whom he had adored under the sacramental appearance of bread. This beautiful death increased the repute for sanctity of the Servant of God.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916