St. Claud

(1641-1682)

Certain male saints are noted for their apostolic collaboration with certain female saints. Thus God saw fit to have St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica work together; St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi; St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal.

Add to these St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Claud La Colombiere. She was the Visitandine visionary entrusted to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; he was her spiritual director and co-propagator of that devotion.

Claud, born near Lyons, France, of a good family, was exceptionally talented. He was, for instance, highly informed about the fine arts. But even more important than his broad culture was his interior disposition to relate all things prayerfully to God.

Trained by the Jesuits, he did not feel attracted to the religious life, yet he overcame that feeling and joined the Society of Jesus himself. Assigned as a scholastic to Avignon, he was called on while not yet ordained to preach in honor of St. Francis de Sales. His sermon was so brilliant that his superiors sent him on to Paris to study theology. While there, he was also named tutor to the sons of John Colbert, the great French statesman. In France, Claud became thoroughly acquainted with the doctrines of the Jansenists, whose false piety made them think that God was harsh and vengeful.

After ordination and final vows, Father Colombiere, despite his youth, was appointed superior of the Jesuit college at Paray-le Monial. He had just made a private vow to practice to the last detail the rules of the Society of Jesus; and now he consecrated himself totally to the service of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion that he had decided to be the best antidote to the chilling theology of the Jansenists. The sermons he preached in and around Paray were classics. But the providential reason for his appointment had been to guide Sister Margaret Mary, who belonged to the Visitation Convent in that town. The many visions she had had of Jesus and His Sacred Heart had puzzled her. Claud calmed her fears, and made her realize that she should be completely open to the task that our Lord was asking of her. Fr. Claud was not long at Paray, but he had accomplished his mission. He had also taken upon himself the vigorous promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, which Jesus had asked St Margaret Mary to spread.

In 1676 Fr. La Colombiere was assigned to England, to be chaplain to Italian Princess Mary Beatrice d’Este, the Catholic duchess of York. He took advantage of his three-year stay in Britain to preach the Sacred Heart and to win many converts to Catholicism.

But while he was in London a new persecution of Catholics arose. An ecclesiastical adventurer named Titus Oates reported a (fictitious) plot of the Jesuits and other Catholics to assassinate King Charles II. Faced at that moment with the conversion to Catholicism of James, the King’s brother and heir-apparent to the crown, the government sought to prevent a Catholic succession by accepting Oates’s lies and arresting and executing many Catholics as alleged participants in the “Oates Plot”.

Of those arrested in this last great bloodletting of English Catholics, 25 priests and laymen were martyred. Fourteen of these are now Blessed, seven canonized. Fr. La Colombiere himself was jailed for acting as a priest and for making converts. But he was saved from execution through an appeal by King Louis XIV, and simply exiled to France.

By then, Fr. Claud’s health was broken by the internment, and after much suffering patiently borne, he died at Paray in 1682. It is said that St. Margaret Mary received divine assurance on the day after his death that her mentor was already in heaven.

This priest to whom we are so indebted for our present devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also had an incidental connection with the Church in America. Among the early cures attributed to St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the healing of St. Claud’s brother, a priest serving on the Canadian mission!

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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