SUNDAY
September 3, 2000
volume 11, no. 159


Beatifications for Sunday, September 3, 2000
Beatification of Father William Joseph Chaminade
Founder of the Marianists - 1761- 1850

Taken from the Marianist Page from the University of Dayton

    William Chaminade (he took Joseph as his Confirmation name and preferred it) was the second-youngest of 15 children of Blaise Chaminade and Catherine Bethon. Born in Perigueux, some 60 miles northeast of Bordeaux, he went at the age of ten to the College of Mussidan (20 miles closer to the port city), where one of his brothers was a professor.

    First as a student, then as teacher, steward, and chaplain, he remained at the college 20 years. The turmoil that marked the beginnings of the French Revolution forced him to leave; and, except for three years in exile, he spent most of his long life in Bordeaux itself. It was during the most trying period of the Revolution, when persecution had forced him to go underground because of threats on his life, that Chaminade met Marie Therese. She was a very important part of the Catholic community that continued to carry on its spiritual mission in most difficult circumstances. The Archbishop, de Cice, was in exile; the churches, when they were open at all, were in the hands of Constitutional clergy - those who had taken the schismatic oath of allegiance to the revolutionary government. Priests, such as Chaminade, who refused to take the oath were forced into hiding and had to go about in disguise. It was the laity - women in particular - who preserved and passed on the teachings of Christianity; formed a communication network for the priests who refused to take the civil oath; distributed the sacraments and provided moral encouragement to the dying, including imprisoned priests awaiting execution; instructed the young; supported the weak; and witnessed, sometimes at the cost of their lives, to the power of Christ at work within them.

    Chaminade carried on his ministry in Bordeaux from 1791 to 1797, openly when he could, secretly when he had to. So successful was he in disguising himself and concealing his hiding places that the police, after numerous fruitless attempts to find him, declared he must have left the city. That meant his name was carried on the official lists of the emigres, which contained the names of those banned from returning to France. In a moment of relative tolerance in 1797, he came out of hiding to exercise his ministry openly. But a sudden shift in the political situation caught him off guard. He was falsely accused of having returned from exile without permission and was forced to leave France.

    Taking refuge in Spain, he spent three years in Saragossa praying at the shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar, sharing life with thousands of other exiles, and planning for an unknown but hoped-for return to France. With the end of the Revolution in 1800, he returned to Bordeaux. Appointed administrator of the badly-devastated Diocese of Bazas, he managed to restore it to some semblance of normalcy within two years. At the same time, he began in Bordeaux a work that would occupy him for the next 50 years. Chaminade gathered together a number of young men and women, many of whom he had known before and during the years of persecution, and he formed a "community" of mutual support and Christian outreach that attracted people from all sectors of society and parts of the city. He first worked in limited and temporary quarters, but in 1804, he established the permanent headquarters for his work in the former chapel of the Madelonnette Sisters. The site became the center of the Sodality of the Madeleine. It remains today in the hands of the Marianists and is a vital urban church in Bordeaux.

    Chaminade's concept of the Sodality was to gather all Christians - men and women, young and old, lay and clerical - into a unique community of Christ's followers unafraid to be known as such, committed to living and sharing their faith, and dedicated to supporting one another in living the Gospel to the fullest. The enterprise was placed under the patronage and protection of the Virgin Mary. As Chaminade's own insights developed, he came to see the Sodality as the Family of Mary, dedicated to sharing her mission of bringing Christ into the contemporary world. It was characterized by a deep sense of the equality of all Christians, regardless of state of life; by an energizing spirit of interdependence; by effective concern for individual spiritual growth; and by the desire, in Chaminade's words, of "presenting to the world the amazing and attractive reality of a people of saints."

    Side by side with him in this endeavor was Marie Therese, who headed up the Young Women's and Married Women's sections of the Sodality. At the same time that Chaminade was administering the Diocese of Bazas and inaugurating his work with the Sodality, he was also encouraging and assisting Marie Therese in her efforts to provide an environment where prostitutes desirous of changing their lives might find the support they needed. In 1808 he became aware of the work that Adele and her associates were doing in the Agen area, some 60 miles upstream on the Garonne River. Similar in many ways to the Sodality of the Madeleine, her Association affiliated with his in Bordeaux. Out of the Sodality developed the Institute of the Daughters of Mary and the Society of Mary - the two Marianist religious orders in the Family of Mary. These three foundations - the Sodality of the Madeleine, the Institute of the Daughters of Mary, and the Society of Mary - are considered the wellsprings of the Marianist thing. They were the creations of these three people.

    They have common characteristics, a common spirit, and the same goals and purposes. And they all continue today as various segments of the Marianist Family. Marie Therese Charlotte de Lamourous 1754 - 1836 Marie Therese, the eldest of 11 children, was of a noble, but relatively poor family. Her father, a lawyer, apparently was not skilled at being a business manager and had to sell various parcels of the family's property in order to make ends meet. All that remained for Marie Therese's inheritance was a portion of her mother's estate, a country home and farm at Pian en Medoc, some 12 miles northwest of Bordeaux. Born and raised in Barsac, she moved to Bordeaux with her family when she was 12. Very close to her mother - they related almost as equals - she became head of the family at the latter's death in 1785. When nobles were forced out of the port cities in 1794, she retired to the family estate at Pian. The pastor at the local church there was a Constitutional cleric, so she refused to attend services. But she remained on good terms with the man and was instrumental in having him renounce his civil oath. With his departure, the parish church was abandoned; Marie Therese filled this void, and she became the heart and soul of the parish community for the next six years. She gathered the parishioners for prayer, religious instruction, family counseli ng, and secret Masses celebrated by disguised and fugitive priests. For all practical purposes, she was the "pastor" of the flock and was dearly-beloved by all. In fact, when the Revolution was over and priests could function in the open again, she h ad a hard time persuading "her" parishioners to go to the church again instead of coming to her. She kept in touch with Chaminade during his three-year exile, 1797-1800. On his return she worked with him at developing the Sodality.

    But her major work after 1800 was breathing life back into a badly needed service in Bordeaux: providing a place to live and an opportunity to change for the many prostitutes who wished to redirect their lives. Such a work had been begun before the Revolution by two of her friends. When calm was restored, one of them, Jeanne Germaine de Pichon, took it up again. When she approached Chaminade to ask for Marie Therese's help, his response at first was negative; he had counted on Marie Therese for his work with the Sodality and was unwilling to let her spend energy on something else. On second thought, he left the decision up to her. She herself at first would not hear of it. But, after a couple of visits to the house where the prostitutes had been sheltered, Marie Therese changed her mind. Even though she had been in poor health since her premature birth almost 50 years before, she approached her work with incredible energy, determination, compassion, and creativity. When the number of prostitutes proved too large for several different rented locales, she made a leap of faith. Without funds, but with great confidence in God, she purchased at auction a former convent, named it Maison de la Misericorde (the House of Mercy, or Loving-kindness), and took in as many prostitutes as it could hold - eventually up to 400 at one time. The only condition for entry was that the women wished to change their way of life. They came freely; they stayed freely. And despite overwhelming obstacles and difficulties, the work prospered. Through all the years until Marie Therese's death, Chaminade was at her side with his encouragement, fundraising, spiritual guidance, and personal friendship.



Return to Front Page of Current Issue