St. Louis de Montfort
Feast day: April 28
Louis Marie Grignion was born on January 31, 1673 in the small French village of Montfort in the region of Brittany. There he was baptized and lived the first two years of his life. Throughout the rest of his life he associated himself with Montfort, dropping his surname and preferring to be called simply “le Pere de Montfort” which means “the Father from Montfort.” That was to honor Montfort, the place of his baptism, which was to St. Louis the most important event of his life and the source of his vocation and mission.
Louis was the second of 18 children born to deeply Christian parents. He had a happy and loving family. His father was a notary who is said to have had a fiery temper. His mother was known to be a devout Catholic and dedicated mother. Two years after his birth his family moved to a farm house in Iffendic where he spent his early childhood.
When Louis was 11 years old he was sent to Rennes, the capital of Brittany, to attend school at the Jesuit College of Thomas A. Becket. It was a prestigious school with over two thousand young men enrolled. Here he made life-long friends with fellow students and many of his Jesuit teachers and spiritual directors. As he grew into adolescence Louis’ personality developed as an intelligent and studious young person. He was artistic, profoundly spiritual, and somewhat shy. Louis had a tremendous love for the Blessed Sacrament, spending much time in adoration and often receiving communion. He also joined the Sodality of Our Lady, a group initiated by the Jesuits for young Catholics to grow in their spiritual lives through special devotion to the Virgin Mary. It was here at the Jesuit school that Louis began to discover Mary as the secret of living for God alone. Louis’ vocation became more apparent to him and his spiritual directors as he progressed in school. it was at the shrine of Our Lady in the Carmelite church in Rennes that he made the decision to enter the priesthood.
In 1692, when Louis was 19 years old he left Jesuit College to enter the seminary and study theology in Paris. On the way to Parish he gave away his money and possessions to the first beggars he met along the way. He even exchanged clothes with one of them having been so enthusiastic to abandon himself completely to God’s providence. He wanted to live the gospel radically, joyfully and freely through a voluntary poverty and detachment that made him more like Jesus Christ.
In Paris, Louis joined the seminary directed by the priests of the parish of St. Sulpice. He attended classes at the Sorbonne for the first two years and spend the next six years of theological study with the Sulpician priests. He was known for possessing a great intelligence, a strong love for Our Lady, and a special desire to serve the poor and outcast people of society. He read avariciously commentaries on the works of Thomas Aquinas , Bernard of Clairvaux, Vincent de Paul, John Eudes, Francis de Sales, as well as the Fathers of the Church His main source of learning and inspiration was Sacred Scripture which he would frequently quote later on in his sermons and writings.
As time went on his calling became clearer: to be a missionary to the poor. After he was ordained he wrote the following in a letter to his spiritual director about his time in seminary: “I had wished to form myself for the missions and in particular for teaching catechism to the poor. I feel a great desire to make our Lord and his holy Mother loved, and to go about in a poor and simple way, catechizing poor country people.” God Alone
Louis Marie de Montfort was ordained to the priesthood in 1700 and celebrated his first Mass in honor of Mary at the Lady Chapel of St. Sulpice on June 5th of that year. At the time he did not know he would only have sixteen short years of priestly ministry but he began working tirelessly, preaching parish missions and ministering to the poor in Poiters. He began to found in Poiters, with Marie Louise Trichet, a religious order of women, the Daughters of Divine Wisdom. He also served the sick and poor at hospitals in Paris.
During this time much criticism and many obstacles were levied against Fr. Louis for his way of living and working among the poor. It was difficult to understand how to live out the mission God was calling him to in the face of so much opposition. In a simple and unpresumptuous way he decided to seek the counsel of the Pope. He set out on this journey to Rome walking, begging for food and shelter along the way. In June 1706, the young priest met with Pope Clement XI and poured out all his desires and difficulties. Louis was ready to accept whatever counsel or command the Holy Father gave him, even if it meant giving up his ministry to the poor. The Pope, however, saw that God had entrusted an extraordinary gift to the young priest. He named him Apostolic Missionary and told him to renew the Church in France by teaching and preaching about renewing the grace of Baptism by making a personal consecration to the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus, the Son of Mary. In this way Fr. Louis received a clear confirmation from God of his vocation and ministry.
Fr. Louis de Montfort would have a fruitful through difficult mission in the coming years. Over the next 15 years he preached nearly 200 retreats and missions throughout western France. He was audacious and innovative in his works and words, moving people with his message of God’s love and the tenderness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He preached in churches, monasteries, barracks, poor houses, town squares and even in houses or prostitution.
Father Louis did not only preach to the poor and simple but lived and identified with their lifestyle. He had few possessions: a Bible, breviary and a few notebooks in a knapsack. His cassock was worn and threadbare. He appeared to be a wandering vagabond. Some found it offensive and undignified for a cleric to appear this way and more than once he was forbidden to preach in various dioceses. Louis was always obedient to the local bishop and would move on to bring his message elsewhere. He did not give importance to what people thought of him but lived for God alone. Once he found a poor man dying of leprosy in Dinan. He embraced him, picked him up and carried him to a nearby monastery. He pounded on the door crying out: “Open up to Jesus Christ!” This is one recorded event of probably countless similar actions throughout his life.
Many of the people simply knew Fr. Louis Marie de Montfort as “the good Father from Montfort” or “the Father with the big rosary” because of the large rosary he wore attached to the cord-like belt of his cassock. Fr. Louis used every gift and talent he had to serve his people and glorify God – his intelligence, his power as a preacher, and even his artistic talents. As he walked from town to town he would carve little figures of saints or Catholic symbols to present to the people when he arrived.
Another factory that impeded Fr. Louis Marie’s word was the error of Jansenism present in France at the time. Jansenism was a theological and spiritual current that stressed the unworthiness and distance of humanity from God. It tended to cause people to avoid receiving Holy Community, to fear God as a harsh judge, and to doubt his love. St. Louis combated this with his emphasis on living a total surrender to God, receiving Jesus daily in the Eucharist, and deep trust and devotion to Mary, Mother of God.
The opposition to Fr. Louis took on a new level when enemies began to make attempts on his life. On one occasion he was poisoned and, though he survived, the poison did irreversible damage to his health. Amidst these trials Fr. Louis Marie found refuge in the religious houses of the Jesuits, Sulpicians, and Dominicans in western France. They always welcomed him for much needed retreats and time of solitude apart from his tiring mission. His peace and tranquility came above all from his total consecration to Jesus through Mary. He never aspired to success or fame but only to please God alone as Mary did throughout her life.
Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort died on April 28, 1716 at the age of 43. His last sermon was on the tenderness of Jesus, the Incarnate Wisdom of the Father. he is best known today for his two works of Marian spirituality: True Devoction to the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Secret of the Rosary. These works summarize his intense love and confidence in Mary. We discover in these books how his entire life was given to Jesus through Mary. The following quotes from his writings demonstrate this:
“Here is a secret, chosen soul, which the most High God taught me and which, inspired by the Holy Spirit, I am confiding to you. It all comes to this then. We must discover a simple means to obtain from God the grace needed to become holy. It is precisely this I wish to teach you. My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God.” St Louis de Montfort in Secret of Mary 1,6
“If devotion to the most Holy Virgin is necessary to all men simply for working out their salvation, it is still more so for those who are called to any special perfection; and I do not think anyone can acquire an intimate union with Our Lord and a perfect fidelity to the Holy Ghost without a very great union with the most holy Virgin, and a great dependence on her assistance.” St. Louis de Montfort in True Devotion to Mary 43
Another popular devotion that has passed down through the centuries after his death is the Total Consecration through Mary which he recommended and preached as a path of holiness. Today, many Catholics continue to make this consecration as a way of living more fully their baptismal commitments and surrendering their lives fully to God.