Friday, 21 October 2011

A Jesuit and the Duchess of York

This may seem an unlikely heading but the year is 1676 and Charles II was on the throne ruling a Protestant country. His brother James, the Duke of York was, somewhat embarrassingly for the King, a convert to the Roman Catholic faith.
What is more, James (later to become James II of England and James VII of Scotland) married, after the death of his first wife, Mary of Modena, a Catholic who became the new Duchess of York.
It was to this young girl that Fr Columbiere was appointed chaplain and then took up his duties at St James Palace.

The following account is from the Vatican Archives....

"He (Fr Columbiere) took a vow to observe all the constitutions and rules of the Society of Jesus, a vow whose scope was not so much to bind him to a series of minute observances as to reproduce the sharp ideal of an apostle so richly described by St. Ignatius. So magnificent did this ideal seem to Claude that he adopted it as his program of sanctity. That it was indeed an invitation from Christ himself is evidenced by the subsequent feeling of interior liberation Claude experienced, along with the broadened horizons of the apostolate he witnesses to in his spiritual diary.
On 2nd February 1675 he pronounced his solemn profession and was named rector of the College at Paray-le-Monial. Not a few people wondered at this assignment of a talented young Jesuit to such an out-of the-way place as Paray. The explanation seems to be in the superiors' knowledge that there was in Paray an unpretentious religious of the Monastery of the Visitation, Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom the Lord was revealing the treasures of his Heart, but who was overcome by anguish and uncertainty. She was waiting for the Lord to fulfill his promise and send her "my faithful servant and perfect friend" to help her realize the mission for which he had destined her: that of revealing to the world the unfathomable riches of his love.
After Father Colombière's arrival and her first conversations with him, Margaret Mary opened her spirit to him and told him of the many communications she believed she had received from the Lord. He assured her he accepted their authenticity and urged her to put in writing everything in their regard, and did all he could to orient and support her in carrying out the mission received. When, thanks to prayer and discernment, he became convinced that Christ wanted the spread of the devotion to his Heart, it is clear from Claude's spiritual notes that he pledged himself to this cause without reserve. In these notes it is also clear that, even before he became Margaret Mary's confessor, Claude's fidelity to the directives of St. Ignatius in the Exercises had brought him to the contemplation of the Heart of Christ as symbol of his love.
After a year and half in Paray, in 1676 Father La Colombière left for London. He had been appointed preacher to the Duchess of York - a very difficult and delicate assignment because of the conditions prevailing in England at the time. He took up residence in St. James Palace in October.
In addition to sermons in the palace chapel and unremitting spiritual direction both oral and written, Claude dedicated his time to giving thorough instruction to the many who sought reconciliation with the Church they had abandoned. And even if there were great dangers, he had the consolation of seeing many reconciled to it, so that after a year he said: "I could write a book about the mercy of God I've seen Him exercise since I arrived here!"
The intense pace of his work and the poor climate combined to undermine his health, and evidence of a serious pulmonary disease began to appear. Claude, however, made no changes in his work or life style.
Of a sudden, at the end of 1678, he was calumniously accused and arrested in connection with the Titus Oates "papist plot". After two days he was transferred to the severe King's Bench Prison where he remained for three weeks in extremely poor conditions until his expulsion from England by royal decree. This suffering further weakened Claude's health which, with ups and downs, deteriorated rapidly on his return to France.
During the summer of 1681 he returned to Paray, in very poor condition. On 15th February 1682, the first Sunday of Lent, towards evening Claude suffered the severe haemorrhage which ended his life.
On the 16th of June 1929 Pope Pius XI beatified Claude La Colombière, whose charism, according to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, was that of bringing souls to God along the gospel way of love and mercy which Christ revealed to us".

Part of St Claude's legacy was to leave a rich collection of writings and this following piece is extraordinarily beautiful, I hope you agree....

St Claude de la Colombiere (Jesuit: 1682)

Oh Jesus, you are my true friend, my only friend.  You take a part in all my misfortunes, you take them on yourself, you know how to change them into blessings.  You listen to me with the greatest kindness when I relate my troubles to you.  You have always balm to pour upon my wounds.  I find you at all times, I find you everywhere.  You never go away.  If I have to change my dwelling, I find you there wherever I go.  You are never weary of listening to me.  You are never tired of doing me good. I am certain of being beloved by you if I love you.  My goods are nothing to you and by bestowing yours upon me you never grow poor.  However miserable I may be, no one nobler or cleverer or even holier can come between you and me and deprive me of your friendship.  And death, which tears us away from all our other friends will unite me forever to you.  All the humiliations attached to old age or to the loss of honour will detach you from me.  On the contrary, I shall never enjoy you more fully and you will never be closer to me than whenever everything seems to conspire against me, to overwhelm me and to cast me down.  You bear with all my faults with extreme patience and even my want of fidelity and my ingratitude do not wound you to such a degree as to make you unwilling to receive me back when I return to you.  Oh Jesus, grant that I might die loving you and that I may die for love of you.  Amen.


  1. Very beautiful and, for me, inspiring, as I stumble along the path to decrepitude.

    Thanks you, and God bless!

    Chris Wright

  2. Thank you, Richard.

    St Claude is one of my favourites! In fact, I always say a prayer to him when walking past the Queen's Chapel (St James' Palace). I also very much liked that bit of writing of his that you quoted.

    God bless,


  3. Fine post,thank you. I learn something every day.