By: Cróna Esler
THE sacred Reliquary of St Claude La Colombiére arrived in Ireland on Wednesday last (June 14) and will be carried to various religious venues across the country, first coming West tomorrow (June 21). The relics will remain in Ireland until Friday July 21, when they will be returned to Paray-le-Monial in France.
In total, the relics of St Claude La Colombiére will be brought to more than 30 Churches and Cathedrals in Ireland, making a total of seven stops in Galway, Mayo and Sligo.
Claude La Colombiére was born on February 2 1641 at Saint Symphorien d’Ozon in the diocese of Lyon in France. In his early childhood, Claude’s family moved to Vienne, where he received his early education. However, Claude later returned to his native Lyon, where he completed his studies in rhetoric and philosophy. It was during this time that Claude is said to have first sensed his calling to a religious life within the Society of Jesus.
Claude went on to enter the Jesuit novitiate in Avignon at the age of 18 and in 1660 he moved from the novitiate to the college, where he took his first vows and completed his studies in philosophy. Claude then became a Professor of Grammar and Literature, before transferring to the College of Clermont in Paris to study theology. Here, he was given the added duty of tutoring the children of Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert.
Once ordained, Claude returned to Lyon and taught in the college for a period, before becoming a full-time preacher and guide of several Marian congregations. Fr Claude was gifted with conveying the message of the Gospel and became known for his demanding sermons. A deeply spiritual man, Fr Claude had no illusions of holiness about himself and his soul was deeply rooted in his love for God.
At the age of 34, Fr Claude pronounced his solemn profession and was given the position of Rector of the College at Paray-le-Monial, which he gratefully accepted. It was in the Convent of the Visitation that Claude’s mission was to be further extended because unbeknownst to him, a religious sister, Margaret Mary Alacoque, was receiving visions of the message of the Sacred Heart.
Sister Margaret Mary doubted her visions and had great difficulty, in the beginning, in discussing the details of her discussions with Jesus. While Claude was, at first, unsure what to make of these secret communications, he assured her of his belief in the validity of what she told him. Through his prayers and discernment, he came to understand that he would be instrumental in spreading the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In June 1675, both Claude and Sr. Margaret Mary consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Sr. Margaret Mary became distressed about what began to occur within her, as she was experiencing spiritual desolation, the darkness which veiled God’s intentions for her, the pitiless temptations and attacks of Satan, and worst of all, the unbearable feeling of how sinful she was in the sight of God’s holiness. Claude became Margaret Mary’s Spiritual Director and remained here for two years.
In 1676, Claude transferred to London, where he took up his appointment as a preacher to the Duchess of York. Because of the times he lived in, this proved to be an extremely difficult and challenging task. During this time, Claude resided in St James’ Palace, giving spiritual direction and instruction to many Catholics who had been forced to give up their faith. In addition, he continued to communicate with Sr. Margaret Mary by letter. Claude worked tirelessly but the inclement weather took its toll on his health.
Towards the end of 1678, Claude was falsely accused of being complicit and was arrested and imprisoned. Here, his health worsened. However, thanks to his association with the Duchess of York and his protection by Louis XIV, Claude escaped death and returned to Lyon, where he became Spiritual Director of the Jesuit scholastics.
In 1680, Claude was again sent to Paray-le-Monial, when tuberculosis gripped him. He remained here for the last two years of his life. Claude passed away on February 15 1682, at the age of 41. In 1684, his ‘Sermons’ were published.
The remains of Claude La Colombiére were laid in the Jesuit Chapel at Paray until 1763. His remains were then transferred to the care of the nuns of the Visitation, where they stayed until 1792. During the French Revolution, the sisters were forced to leave and took with them the remains of Claude and Sr. Margaret Mary (who had died in 1690).
In 1817, a number of the nuns joined the Visitation Convent at Charite-sur-Loire. They were anxious to take the relics of Claude and Margaret Mary with them but the Mayor of Paray-le-Monial took responsibility for them and placed them with the Parish Priest for three months. When the sisters were in a position to return to their Convent, they again took charge of the relics.
In 1828, the relics of Claude La Colombiére were handed over to the Jesuits. When their house was closed, the Jesuits confided the relics once more to the Visitation sisters but before they did so, removed four large bones from his body, which are kept in Jesuit houses in Paris and Rome.
During the pontificate of Leo XII on January 8 1880, the Cause of the Beatification of Claude La Colombiére was first introduced. On June 16 1929, Fr Claude was declared Blessed by Pope Pius XI and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 31 1992.