Saint Louis de Montfort: A Great Saint in Marian Spirituality
By Nora V. Clemente-Arnaldo
It was on the night of 31 January 1673 when a baby boy was born to Jean Baptiste Grignion and Jean de la Lizeule. The family lived in a big farm outside the town in a hamlet called Bois Marquez in the town of Iffendic, Bretagne, France. Here, the young Saint Louis de Montfort would spend time in church as an altar boy. He inherited his piety from his mother and from his father, he got his temperament and his big build.
Saint Louis de Montfort grew up to be a big man who never backed down from a brawl and there are those who say he may have started one or two when his adversaries were saying things which offended God or His beautiful Mother Mary. That explosive temper he got from his father, our dear Lord turned to zeal for His mother and the Church. This, according to my source of information, Bob and Penny Lord in “Visionaries, Mystics and Stigmatists”.
At the primary school of Iffendic, Saint Louis de Montfort was an obedient and intelligent pupil. Later, he enrolled at the Jesuit College of St. Thomas in Renne. He studied the humanities, philosophy and theology.
Saint Louis de Montfort was active in the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin and that gave him access to all the services in the Sodality like lectures, sermons, instructions that were especially prepared for members. So the eight years he was at Rennes in the Jesuit College was excellent training for him for the work ahead.
His closeness to the priests gave Louis Marie the desire to be a missionary and a martyr. He became familiar with stories from the Missions in Canada regarding conversion of natives, one of which was Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Indian who died during the time Louis Marie was in the Jesuit College in Rennes.
From Rennes to Paris
After eight years in Rennes (1685-1693), Saint Louis de Montfort felt he had a calling to the priesthood. Thus, he went to Paris, walking his way 348 kilometers or 226 miles. The journey took ten days. Being dependent only on God, he gave away his money and possessions to a beggar. He also exchanged clothes with a beggar so that when he arrived in Paris, he looked like one! People were afraid of him, what with his big stature and unkempt appearance. But he did not mind and kept on murmuring to himself his battle cry “God alone!”
In Paris, for the first two years, Louis went to the University of Sorbonne; the last six years were spent under the priests at St. Sulpice. He had to work to support himself in Paris. Working as a librarian, this job gave him access to all the books on Mary. What a rich blessing for him because when he began to write his books on Our Lady, he already had all the resource background.
As he progressed in his studies, a strong desire to be an itinerant preacher dawned on him. He would go from village to village, preaching the good news on Jesus.
After eight years in Paris, under difficult conditions, Saint Louis de Montfort was ordained on 5 June 1700. His first mass was at the Chapel of Our Lady who gave him inspiration, wisdom and courage. Although they ordained him, the faculties as preacher and confessor, two important duties of a priest, were not given to him.
Fr. Louis Marie worked for a while in Poitiers where the people grew to love him. When the bishop had to leave town for a month, Saint Louis de Montfort was allowed to do whatever he thought best. So, he went to schools, prisons, hospitals, market places and ministered to everyone in sight. His work was interrupted by the order of his Superior in Paris to go to Nantes. Being obedient, he walked all the way, almost 180 kilometers. The virtue of obedience paid off. He was given the faculties to hear confession as well as to preach.
He was given his first mission, a small country parish outside Nantes. Just like in Poitiers, the people here came to love Fr. Louis. The Bishop of Poitiers however wanted him back so the Superior let Fr. Louis go back to Poitiers.
Providential Encounter with Marie Louise Trichet
Saint Louis de Montfort worked in the hospital of Poitiers caring for the poor and the sick. He looked for co-workers and Providence came to his help. Marie Louise-Trichet was to become the first sister in his religious order, Daughters of Wisdom. She was from a well-known family in Poitiers and she wanted to become a nun. In February 1703, Saint Louis de Montfort was dressed and capped in the Order of “Daughters of Wisdom”. The mother of Marie Louise, being influential in Poitiers, worked against Fr. Louis until the bishop fired him from his post as manager of the hospital. Marie Louise went to a local convent. Saint Louis went to Paris for a short time and later went back to the hospital of Poiters as the people in the hospital wanted him back. This time, Saint Louis joined him with another girl, Catherine Brunet, who was to become the second entrant into the Order of Daughters of Wisdom.
Saint Louis de Montfort was a powerful preacher. He was able to get the most incorrigible citizens back to the Church – the number of conversions increased, and people called him the “good priest from Montfort”.
Satan became envious of the good works of Louis. The devils subjected the priest to pounding and beating at night in his little room. But even that was not enough. The devils wanted him to be discredited and to look foolish. Thus came another trial for Fr. Louis. The Bishop of Poitiers bowed to the pressure of villainous powers so that Saint Louis de Montfort was exiled from the diocese for the second time.
Audience with the Pope
Saint Louis de Montfort wanted to preach missions. He did not want to settle in a particular parish but go instead from one parish to another teaching catechism to poor people. After due consideration, he decided to go to Rome to seek an audience with the pope for direction. On 6 June 1706, Pope Clement XI listened to the missionary’s desire to leave France for far-off missions, like Canada. The Pope’s mandate to him, “You have in France, Father, a field quite wide enough for the exercise of your zeal. Do not go elsewhere.” The pope then gave him the title “Apostolic Missionary.” Fr. Louis obeyed.
Thus, Fr. Louis worked in Brittany, Anjou, Loire District and went to Dinan. He gave retreats, opened hospitals, and taught catechism, even to military men.
In 1709, Saint Louis de Montfort went to Pontchateau where he built a Calvary in honor of the Lord’s Passion. The people cooperated and within a year’s time, it was finished. They also planted 150 fir trees for the Hail Marys and 15 cypress trees for the Our Fathers. The Calvary was majestic and marvellous! But before its scheduled inauguration on 14 September, the bishop was pressured by a small group to dismantle it! Of course, Fr. Louis obeyed – although he was heartbroken.
In 1874, the year the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed, there was a new Calvary erected in the same place, with bronze instead of wooden crosses. Today, it is a major shrine in Brittany.
Miracles and Conversions
In La Garpache, Saint Louis de Montfort was in the rectory praying his office before dinner when the young man sent to call him returned saying that the “good priest is in conversation with a beautiful Lady who is floating in the air!”
Another time, a woman with a child approached him as he was leaving a church. The head of the child was full of scales and sores. Fr. Louis simply put his hand over the child’s head and prayed. The scales dropped off!
But the greatest miracles, according to Bob and Penny Lord, were the conversions of hardened sinners, Jansenists and Calvinists who came to his missions to disrupt and destroy.
There were many attempts to kill Saint Louis de Montfort but these did not succeed thanks to the Blessed Mother. However, after the conversion of a high ranking Protestant, an assassin stealthily sneaked into the dining room and put poison in Fr. Louis’ wine. He took an antidote that prevented him from dying but his strength slowly gave way. He was never the same again.
Fr. Louis’ last mission was in St. Laurente-sur-Savre in April 1716. He came to notice that this mission was different from the others: no insults, no ridicule, no barbs. But he felt that his strength was slipping away and on 28 April 1716, he went home to Heaven at the age of 43.
An Inspiration to Pope John Paul II
Among the principal books of Saint Louis de Montfort are “The Love of Eternal Wisdom”, “The Secret of Mary”, the “Secret of the Rosary” and “The Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Mother”. In the last book, Saint Louis de Montfort explains that perfect devotion to the Blessed Mother consists in consecrating oneself to Jesus through her and practising this consecration in everyday life by doing everything through, with, in, and for Mary in order to be more closely united to Jesus.
Let us remember that Pope John Paul II’s reading of this book, according to him, had been a decisive turning-point in his life and that Montfort’s spirituality had brought him to understand that genuine Marian devotion, far from distracting us from Christ, is on the contrary rooted in the mystery of Christ and can only lead towards him. From this book, the Pope got his motto lovingly addressed to the Blessed Mother, “Totus Tuus”.
A few examples of associations or movements inspired by Saint Louis de Montfort are: The Legion of Mary (founded by Frank Duff in Ireland in 1921), the Charismatic renewal groups who find in Mary a model for their life in the Spirit, and the Focolare movement founded by Chiara Lubich in 1943 in Italy.
St. Louis’ followers – the Montfort missionaries, the Daughters of Wisdom, and the Brothers of St. Gabriel - continue his apostolate not only in France but all over the world, always on the side of the poor.
Fr. Louis de Montfort was canonized by Pope Pius XII on 19 July 1947. It is interesting to note also that Marie Louise Trichet was beatified on 16 May 1993 by Pope John Paul II.
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