July 18th: Servant of God Jacques Sevin, SJ

July 18th: Servant of God Jacques Sevin, SJ

Born : December 7, 1882
Died : July 19, 1951

Fr Jacques Sevin was born in Lille, France but spent most of his youth in Tourcoing, Belgium where he studied, first at the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels and later at the Sacred Heart College. Later, he studied at Providence College in Amiens, his father’s alma mater but after seven years, had to interrupt his studies because of continual headaches. After spending six months in England, he resumed his education in Lille.

Jacques had thought of wanting to be a priest at 13, but while making a retreat at 16, he had his first thoughts of becoming a Jesuit. When he confirmed his earlier thinking at a subsequent retreat while he was doing his English studies at Lille’s Catholic University, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Saint-Acheul near Amiens in Sep, 1900. When the French Jesuit students had to go into exile because of a recent governmental decree, they continued their noviceship training in Arlon in the Belgian Province where Jacques took his first vows in Sep 2, 1902 before moving to Antoing also in Belgium to pursue his classical course. He did his regency teaching English at St John Berchmans College in Florennes and was also in charge of the students’ theater before going to Gemert, Netherlands for his Philosophy and later his theology at Enghien, Belgium.

During his years in theology, Jacques kept up with events in England and after 1908 he followed the growth of the Boy Scout movement and studied the writings of Lt Gen Robert Baden-Powell, the British army officer who founded the movement in 1907. He was asked to investigate the movement in the summer of 1913 after two unfavourable articles of the movement appeared in the Jesuit periodical Etudes. While attending a scout rally in London on Sep 20, 1913, he met Baden-Powell and it was there and then that Jacques resolved to establish a Catholic branch of the Boys scouts in France.

After his ordination at Enghien on Aug 2, 1914, Fr Sevin was sent by his provincial to visit Cardinal Francis Bourne of Westminster to negotiate with the British government the possibility of accepting religious from Alsace-Lorraine, who had been uprooted from their monasteries because of the war. Fr Sevin spent his free time writing about scouting, as the movement had spread beyond Baden-Powell’s expectations. There were 100,000 scouts in Gt Britain within a year of its founding and 500,000 throughout the world. Though there were opposing voices to the movement in France, Fr Sevin was convinced that it was needed and it could be a vehicle for imbuing French youth with Catholic principles. Fr Sevin founded his first troop in Mouscron but it was an underground group and the boys were without uniforms in order to prevent them from being deported to Germany.

When Fr Sevin was visiting Paris on his way to seek a rest cure in northern Italy, he founded the national Association of Scouts of France and was named its General Commissary and Secretary General. He received the Silver Fox award, the highest honour from Baden-Powell for his role in establishing the Boy Scouts movement in France.

Between 1921 and 1939 when Fr Sevin was in Lille, he wrote Le Scoutisme, on the need for Catholic boy Scouts and also formed a school-camp to train scout leaders. However, he had to resign as Commissary General because of opposition from some of the French clergy alleging that his training of French youths as scouts would turn young men from thinking about the priesthood while others claimed that the movement was geared to attract the youth towards Protestantism. These voices were finally silenced when Pope Pius XI approved the movement in 1926.

After Fr Sevin was relieved of all his duties connected with the movement, he occupied himself in giving conferences and exhortations to priests and religious, and retreats to seminarians, laity and scout troops throughout France. During the nine years, Fr Sevin envisioned a religious congregation of sisters to work with young girls and this vision became a reality when he met Jacqueline Briere, the head of a Girl Scout troop in Saumur. The congregation was finally established on Jan 15, 1944 when the first priory was formed at Issy-Les-Moulineaux and its first members were four former Girl Scout mistresses. In March 1950, Fr Sevin, in obedience to his major superiors, relinquished his role over his congregation as the rules of the Society did not permit its members to be in charge of a congregation of sisters.

In 1915 Fr Sevin celebrated his fiftieth year as a Jesuit and was sixty-nine of age. He fell ill on the way to Boran and it was at the Boran priory that he spent his last months. In his final hours, his last words to his daughters were: “Be saints all of you! Nothing else counts.” Fr Sevin clasped his crucifix in his hands – the same that he had received on the morning of his first vows – and kept repeating: “My companion, my companion. This is my companion.”

Fr Sevin surrendered his soul to Our Lord on July 19, 1951 and was buried in the priory grounds at Boran. His cause is presently under consideration.