St. Claude de la Columbiere
Today is the feast of St. Claude de la Columbiere (1641-1682), a Jesuit missionary, who was the brilliant and holy spiritual director of St. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Claude de la Colombiere is best known for his association with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the devotion of the Sacred Heart, but his life has its own drama. He was sent to England after his spiritual direction of St. Margaret Mary was over and became embroiled in the Titus Oates “Popish Plot,” was imprisoned, then banished from England. His story is part of the history of the seventeenth century.
He was born near Lyons in 1641 to a very devout family and entered the Society of Jesus at Avignon. After his novitiate, he taught grammar and the humanities. Even before his ordination to the priesthood, he gained a reputation as a preacher. After completing his studies in Paris, he became tutor to the sons of Colbert, the financial minister of Louis XIV, but was dismissed from his post and returned to Avignon.
In 1675, after his solemn profession as a Jesuit, he was appointed superior at Paray-le-Monial, in which the convent of St. Margaret Mary was located. Here he became her spiritual director, encouraged her in the spread of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and was described by our Lord as His “faithful and perfect friend.”
Claude was known for his solid and serious sermons. They were aptly directed at specific audiences and, faithful to their inspiration from the gospel, communicating to his listeners serenity and confidence in God.
Because of his remarkable gifts and judgment, he was sent to England, to be court preacher to the duchess of York, wife of the future James II, and took up residence in London. His radiant personality and splendid gifts were noted by everyone. When the alleged “Popish Plot” to assassinate King Charles II shook the country, Blessed Claude was falsely accused of complicity in the plot and imprisoned.
Thanks to his title of preacher to the Duchess of York and to the protection of Louis XIV, whose subject he was, he escaped death but was condemned to exile in 1679. The last two years of his life were spent at Lyon where he was spiritual director to the young Jesuits there, and at Paray-le-Monial.
He died on February 15, 1682, an apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI. He was canonized in 1992 by Pope John Paul II. His relics are preserved in the monastery of the Visitation nuns at Paray-le-Monial.
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