Blessed Julian Maunoir, SJ
Born : Oct 1, 1606
Died : Jan 28, 1683
Beatified : May 20, 1951
Julian Maunoir was born in Brittany, in a small hamlet in Rennes. At fourteen he entered the Jesuit College in Rennes for his studies. When his superiors came to know of his interest for a spiritual life, they instructed him in mental prayer and spoke often to him about the Jesuit missionaries in China, Japan, and Canada. Julian entered the Society in Paris at nineteen with the Canadian mission in mind. He studied philosophy at La Fleche and later assigned to the college at Saint-Ives at Quimper, Brittany where he taught Latin and Greek. He resolved to study the difficult Breton language in order to teach the faith to the neglected Breton peasants. He worked hard at it and within two months he was sufficiently fluent to be able to preach in Breton, a success he attributed to our Lady whose help he implored. He continued preaching to the Breton peasants in the hamlets until he went to Tours to begin his theological studies prior to ordination.
Julian was torn between two mission fields: was it to be Canada or Brittany? While he entered the Society to go to Canada, yet he felt God was especially calling him to Brittany. The solution came when he contracted a fever which almost killed him. His left arm became inflamed and gangrene set in. He received the Last Sacrament on Christmas Eve, where he vowed to devote his life preaching God’s salvation to the Bretons if his health was restored. The infection ceased, the swelling receded, and within a few days he was out of bed. There was no doubt what God was asking of him. He was ordained in 1637 and returned to Brittany in 1640 and was assigned again to Quimper.
Fr Maunoir had a mission to fulfill but did not know how to begin it. He met the former priest, Fr Nobletz, the one-time itinerant missionary of Lower Brittany, now retired because of poor health and decided to use the same methods to reach out to the poor, hardworking peasants and fishermen. Fr Maunoir together with his companion, Fr Pierre Bernard visited the cities and towns of the mainland as well as the offshore islands, preaching and hearing confessions. As many of the Bretons were ignorant of their faith, Fr Maunoir insisted on giving them a good foundation in Christian doctrine. His mission usually lasted four to five weeks focusing on God, the purpose of life, the commandments, and the sacraments. He used visual aids in catechizing the people, with charts depicting the life of Christ, the seven deadly sins, hell and so on. From Fr Nobletz he also learned the need for instructional hymns to teach the faith and moral values and composed most of the hymns, setting them to well-known tunes.
Fr Maunoir’s mission bore great fruit and his audiences were not just single parishes but several parishes came together, totalling 10,000 to 30,000 individuals. On these occasions he asked the parish priests whose parishioners were attending the mission to help in hearing confessions, catechizing, and distributing Holy Communion. When these priests saw the fruit resulting from these missions, seven asked their bishop’s permission to help the “Good Father” as Fr Maunior was called. Fr Maunior was so overjoyed that he immediately began training his assistants. In 1651 there were seven; by 1665 there were 300, and by 1683 almost 1000. Fr Maunoir organized them into the “Breton Missionaries” who carried on his work after his death.
Fr Maunoir gave forty-three years of his life to the Breton people to whom he gave some 400 missions, an average of ten a year. He would take off one month each year to rest and write spiritual books. During his final years, 1681 and 1682, he gave only six missions a year because of ailing health. When he sensed his end was near at the end of 1682, after completing a mission at Scrignac, he asked his companion to return with him to Plevin. Upon arrival, he went to bed because of sheer exhaustion and contracted pneumonia. After weeks of pain, “Good Father”, the “Apostle of Brittany” returned his soul to the God who gave him life. The bishop at Quimper arranged for Fr Maunoir to be buried in the cathedral, but finally acquiesced to the people of Plevin’s wish to have him buried in the Plevin parish church .