Saint Claude La Colombiere, SJ
Born : Febrauary 2, 1641
Died : February 15, 1682
Beatified : June 16, 1929
Canonized : May 31, 1992
Claude La Colombiere was born in southern France and studied grammar at a Jesuit school in Lyons before he was ten years old and before doing literature and philosophy. At seventeen, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Avignon as he felt drawn to be a Jesuit. After he took his vows, he stayed on to complete the philosophy course he had begun in Lyons. He later taught grammar and literature at Trinity College in Avignon before he went to Clermont College in Paris to begin theology. He was ordained a priest in 1669 when he was 28. He continued to teach rhetoric for 3 years until his appointment as preacher at the Jesuit church attached to the college where each Sunday, he instructed his congregation in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.
In 1674, he left to begin his tertianship: a year of solitude and prayer. Unknown to Fr La Colombiere, God was preparing him for a singular mission. For three years he felt moved to obey all the rules of the Society in the strictest manner possible and he finally made his vow of complete fidelity during his long retreat as a tertian.
Fr La Colombiere’s first assignment after tertianship was to be superior of a small community in Paray-le-Monial, where there was a convent of cloistered Visitation sisters. One of them, Sr Margaret Mary Alocoque was specially blessed by our Lord, who was then revealing to her, the secret treasures of his Sacred Heart. Sr Margaret Mary suffered greatly as some members of her community thought her vision was a delusion and their skepticism caused her much suffering. When Fr La Colombiere was introduced to the community in February 1675, Sr Margaret Mary heard an interior voice speaking to her, “This is he whom I have sent to you.” as our Lord had earlier promised to send her his “faithful servant and perfect friend,” who would not only understand her but would also guide her.
Fr La Colombiere became the confessor of the convent and Sr Margaret Mary’s spiritual director. She opened her soul to him and told of the supernatural events taking place in her life. He had the insight to recognize this vision as a real gift from God and a true revelation. In his own prayer, Fr La Colombiere came to learn the Lord’s wishes more clearly. In June, 1675, the Lord made an explicit request regarding the devotion to his Sacred Heart, when he showed Sr Margaret Mary his heart and asked her to establish the Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi as a special feast and to tell Fr La Colombiere to do all he could to spread this devotion. At the predesignated time on June 21, 1675, Fr La Colombiere and Sr Margaret Mary obeyed our Lord’s explicit request and privately celebrated the first feast day of the Sacred Heart.
Fr La Colombiere’s time in Paray-le-Monial lasted only eighteen months as he was next assigned to be preacher to the duchess of York in London. The duke and duchess were Catholics and by special privilege of the duke’s brother, King Charles II, they were permitted to have a chapel in St James Palace and only a non-English priest could be the duchess’ chaplain. Fr La Colombiere later left France to live in a foreign court where he continued to preach the message of Christ’s love for mankind, symbolized by his Sacred Heart. His preaching of the Sacred Heart so inspired the duchess that years later she was the first royalty to request Pope Innocent XII to establish a solemn feast in honour of the Sacred Heart.
England in the seventeenth century was not a safe place for Catholic priests. Fr La Colombiere was betrayed by a Frenchman whom he befriended in London and in Nov 1678, this betrayer falsely denounced the Jesuit to the government in return for a reward and Fr La Colombiere was arrested on charges of traitorous speech against the king and parliament. He was locked up in a cold dungeon for a month which caused his health to deteriorate rapidly. He returned to Lyons, France and stayed there as a spiritual father to the young Jesuits in the school he once taught. He continued to preach the Sacred Heart but when his health did not improve, his superiors sent him back to Paray-le-Monial in 1681. Although he loved the place dearly, his health could not recover. In early February 1682, a fever attacked him and he died on February 15, 1682.
Fr La Colombiere was forty-one when he offered God the very heart that Christ had once placed in his own heart. He was buried in the Jesuit chapel; his remains today lie in a church that was built in 1685 over the same spot .