March 23 – They sought the honour of his company

March 21, 2024

Claude Bernard

Fr. Claude Bernard

A French ecclesiastic known as “the poor priest” (le pauvre prêtre), b. at Dijon 23 December, 1588; d. in Paris, 23 March, 1641. His father was a distinguished lawyer, and filled successively offices of honour and responsibility. Young Bernard was educated at the Jesuit College of Dole and was remarked for his brilliant imagination and wit. Pierre Le Camus, Bishop of Belley, urged him to enter the priesthood, but he declined, saying that he preferred the life of a poor gentleman to that of a poor priest. Shortly afterwards he went to Paris as a protégé of M. de Bellegarde, Governor of Bourgogne. For a while the social life of the capital attracted him; gradually, however, some disappointments together with the death of an intimate friend who was killed in a duel, brought about a decided change in his mode of life and led up to his entrance into the priesthood. He was ordained by the above mentioned Bishop Le Camus and invited to his first Mass the poor of the city, distributing to them all his possessions, and, later on. an inheritance of 400,000 livres, or about eighty thousand dollars.

Henceforth Bernard devoted himself to the service of the poor, and delighted in the name of “the poor priest”. The poor, the sick and the prisoners were his special care; He fed, nursed, consoled, and instructed them with more than motherly tenderness. This life of self-sacrifice seemed rather to increase his personal charms. Wealthy and distinguished persons sought his company, and for honour of entertainment at his modest table contributed abundantly to his charities. His kindly wit never deserted him. When Cardinal Richelieu once pressed upon him the acceptance of some favours he replied that he would be pleased if stronger boards were placed in the tumbril, or cart, on which the condemned were taken to execution. “It is a pity”, said he, “that the constant dread of falling through the vehicle should distract our attention from God”.

Portrait of Fr. Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the Society of Saint-Sulpice

Bernard’s methods were characterized by some as odd and reprehensible. He continued, however to enjoy the friendship and admiration of saintly priests like Bourdoise, Olier, and St. Vincent de Paul-an ample justification of his character and sacerdotal ministry. In the history of charity, he bears a striking resemblance to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul, and his beatification has often been urged by the royal court and by the clergy of France. He founded at Paris, for the education of the poor candidates for the priesthood, the seminary of Trent-Trois which still exists. He contributed much to popularize the beautiful prayer to the Blessed Virgin known as the Memorare, sometimes attributed to him but certainly of an earlier date.

The life of Bernard has been written by GAUFFRE (1680); LEMPEREUR (1708); RIOM (1834); FELLER, Biog. univ.(Paris 1834), II, 244; ROHERBACHER, l’Eglise(1850) XXV, 251-261.

CHARLES B.SCHRANTZ (Catholic Encyclopedia)



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