On Monday, March 3, 1845, a few days before Easter, three lay people, Jean-Léon Le Prevost, Clément Myionnet and Maurice Maignen, met in the chapel of the Lazaristes in front of the shrine of Saint Vincent de Paul, rue de Sèvres in Paris, to receive the blessing of Bishop Angebault, bishop of Angers
This was the founding act of our Institute, which was originally called Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul.
Let’s retrace the great moments of the foundation’s history.
Since 1825, Jean-Léon Le Prevost, the future founder of the Institute, a native of Normandy, worked in Paris at the Ministry of Cults. He lived at 4 Cassette Street, near St. Sulpice Church. On April 25, 1830, like many Parisians, he was certainly impressed by the solemn procession of the relics of St. Vincent de Paul that was being transferred from the Notre-Dame Basilica to the chapel in the rue de Sèvres. It was not yet time for him to put himself in the school of the great saint of charity, but soon he would be seized by grace…
Since his arrival in Paris, two steps from his home, at 18 rue Cassette, Le Prevost frequented the salon de Montalembert where artists, thinkers, writers, such as Eugène Boré, Lacordaire, Lamennais, the musician Liszt as well as the youngest of the group, a young university student, law student, Frédéric Ozanam… They discussed politics, social change, Catholicism…
Even if he is upset by the political and social events of the 1830s, (July Revolution – the Three Glorious of 26-27-28 – fall of Charles X… revolts in Belgium, in Poland, capitulation of Warsaw), the young artist, sensitive and romantic as desired, aspires in fact to other things than poetry and politics… A friend, Charles Gavard, who also frequented Montalembert’s salon, introduced him to a young poet from Anjou named Victor Pavie. It is to him that he will confide, in the first letters he left us, his spiritual journey.
Le Prevost gradually abandons the dreams of romanticism and a deceptive political freedom and begins his ascent towards God… his path of conversion and the search for his vocation. On August 9, 1832, he announced to his friend Pavie that he had become a believer again.
Jean-Léon Le Prevost
The social situation in France, and particularly in Paris, is dramatic: the poor are left to their fate, the nascent industrialization begins to exploit the workers, and especially the children, who work in miserable conditions, the craftsmen struggle to survive.
Frédéric Ozanam, a young student at the Sorbonne who, with a group of friends, met at Emmanuel Bailly’s house in a study circle called the “Conference of History”, decided, in order to defend the Catholic faith, to become more involved in the field of charitable devotion.
Thus, on April 23, 1833, springing from the loving and zealous heart of Frederic Ozanam, the “Conference of Charity” was founded, with Bailly as its president.
At the same time, Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, exemplified the effective love dear to St. Vincent: she cared for, fed, soothed and consoled the poor of the Mouffetard neighborhood.
It was she, Sister Rosalie, who pushed these young students to concrete action, and taught them to see the Lord in the poor, visiting them, respecting them and considering them as brothers.
Then another flame appears: this time it comes from the already conquered heart of Mr. Le Prevost who wants to “give a form to his faith”. The Lord responds to his desire with a providential meeting in a small restaurant in the rue des Canettes where he often had meals with his friend Levassor.
Frédéric Ozanam founded the Conference of Charity on April 23, 1833. A few months later, in November of the same year, Jean-Léon Le Prevost, in this restaurant, was approached by Frédéric Ozanam and his young companions whom he knew at Montalembert. The exchange is more than cordial, hearts are united around the same faith and the same impulse of charity. Le Prevost was then invited to join the new Conference of Charity.
Later on he will meet Emmanuel Bailly, whose devotion to Saint Vincent is obvious.
Mr. Le Prevost was certainly very marked by the life of Monsieur Vincent, because on February 4, 1834, inspired by a grace of the Spirit, he proposed to the Conference of Charity to take Saint Vincent as its patron. The proposal was accepted and a new turn was taken by the St. Vincent de Paul Conference.
And for the first time in the minutes of the SSVP, on December 8, 1835, we speak of the ” Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, of which Emmanuel Bailly is president and M. Le Prevost vice-president” (until 1839).
A bit of charitable history that unites Ozanam and Le Prevost…
“During his charitable visits, Mr. Le Prevost had the opportunity to discover, near the Pantheon, rue des Grès, a reformatory for young men. He conceived the project of supporting and catechizing these young prisoners. Thanks to the intervention of his lawyer friend Levassor, M. Le Prevost obtained permission on July 8, 1834. With Ozanam and other confreres, M. Le Prevost began the work in August 1834. The visits will continue until 1836.
Comment n. 57 of the Letters of JLLP.
By the end of 1834, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul had become so large that some members, including Mr. Le Prevost, wondered whether it should be divided. and even spread it throughout France?
On February 17, 1835, the decision was made to split the SSVP into two sections: St-Étienne-du-Mont with Bailly and Ozanam, and St-Sulpice with Levassor and Le Prevost.
On March 3, 1835, ten years to the day before our foundation, the first meeting of the St. Sulpice Conference took place. Le Prevost became president on December 11, 1836. It was then that, for nearly ten years, Mr. Le Prevost’s zeal and creativity led him to give himself heart and soul to the charitable works of the SSVP. The St. Sulpice Conference will earn the beautiful title of “Queen of Conferences.
In the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul, several small works were created: for the poor, the orphans, the sick: the house on rue Copeau, the patronage of apprentices…
In the spring of 1843, a young man of 21 years old came to the apartment of Mr. Le Prevost, at 98 rue du Cherche-Midi. His name is Maurice Maignen. He was born on March 3, 1822 in Paris. He heard of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
He went to the chapel in the rue de Sèvres,
Saint Vincent has not finished inspiring Mr. Le Prevost. In April 1844, he founded the work of the Holy Family. On Sundays, in the basement of St. Sulpice church, he gathered the poorest families to bring them some consolation and Christian formation: prayers, songs, talks, lotteries… Mr. Maignen helped Mr. Le Prevost in this work which quickly spread to other parishes.
It would be necessary,” he says to Maignen, that God caused to arise in his Church, for the salvation of the poor and the workers, a new society of religious, entirely devoted to these works, of which we see the power, and, on them, the manifest blessing of God… These would be, friend, the true monks of the nineteenth century”.
Ah!” exclaims his young confidant, “if there were ever a few men decided to embrace a life like that, I would leave everything to follow them…”
On that same day in 1844, while continuing his conversation with Maurice Maignen, Le Prevost told him how, one morning in September, as he was leaving the chapel of the Lazarists, he had been approached by a member of the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul in Angers, who also wanted to consecrate himself to God in a new Institute dedicated to workers’ works. His name is Clément Myionnet, he is 32 years old.
The Angers Conference had been founded at the end of 1838 thanks to the help of Florestan Hébert who gathered three other companions, including Clément Myionnet. By December, Victor Pavie had joined them and the group already had 36 members.
By giving more of himself to the poor, Clément Myionnet’s vocation became clearer. Faced with the difficulties of maintaining the works, in particular a family home for young people in difficulty, Myionnet saw that it was necessary to have men who were totally dedicated to the works of youth. He spoke to his bishop, Bishop Angebault, who encouraged him in his undertaking. But the collaborators are lacking. He asked Bishop Angebault for permission to leave for Paris, “there,” he said, “I will find someone who has the same thoughts as I do. I have the intimate conviction of it”.
After praying at Notre-Dame des Victoires, Clément Myionnet met a colleague from Angers, Doctor Renier, who spoke to him about Jean-Léon Le Prevost. Myionnet goes to his house in the rue du Cherche-Midi, but Mr. Le Prevost has left for Duclair.
Clément Myionnet stays in Paris and tries to meet Le Prevost. At the5th attempt, he met him on the rue du Cherche-Midi. Together they go to the chapel of the rue de Sèvres, in front of the shrine of M. Vincent.
On October 6, 1844, Myionnet gave his definitive answer and on January 20, 1845, he left Angers to attend mass at the foot of the shrine of St. Vincent in the company of Mr. Le Prevost.
In 1844, the SSVP rented a house at 24 rue du Regard to set up an oratory for apprentices. It was in this house that the first community was established.
In fact, as early as 1842, Mr. Le Prevost was already thinking of founding a religious community. For this purpose, he animated an “intimate meeting” of young people at the home of M. de Missol, at 18 rue St-Sulpice. Among them, a young architect, Gardès, who will join C. Myionnet and M. Le Prevost, but will give up, after the second day…
Asked to take over from the Brothers of the Schools who had to leave the house on Rue du Regard, M. Le Prevost crossed the Rubicon… he set up his community on Rue du Regard. In the diary of the Work of the Apprentices, he wrote in a few lines the birth certificate of his religious family:
“J.M.J. sancte Vincenti a Paulo, March1, 1845. Brothers Myionnet and Gardès take possession of a house on Rue du Regard n° 16 rented by the Society of St-Vincent de Paul for the meeting of the apprentices that it sponsors. The two brothers will give their care to these children…”
It was a Sunday, therefore a day of “patro”, rue du Regard! With these damn kids that are the little Parisians, Mr. Myionnet spent a day…painful, but “finally it happened”. In the evening, he is alone…in the deserted house deserted by his companion, the apprentice architect recoiling from the work to be built…
It is unlikely that a religious congregation would meet for its official debut: in fact, it is composed of only one member who is totally free: the others are either married or still have families.
The watchwords of the Bishop of Angers are: courage and perseverance, because the “A grain of mustard seed will bear fruit . And the sun that will make this humble seed grow in a still stony ground… on this blessed day of March 3… to God and to their brothers… they all three signed in their hearts the act of foundation, the word is given, it must be kept!
May1, 1846: it was not until fourteen long months after March 3, 1845, that the patience of the first three Brothers was finally rewarded. That day, ” On the first day of the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, Clément Myionnet ‘s solitude came to an end: he welcomed the founder of the family in “their” house on Rue du Regard. “Day awaited so long, day forever blessed” .
Meanwhile, Maurice Maignen ‘s life went on, between his state duty as a civil servant, his family, the Œuvre de la rue du Regard, and mass at the Lazarist chapel. He longed to be able to join his brothers, held close to his own by the ties of the heart…
When suddenly, a quarter of an hour of heroism and there he was, freed… on September 2, he left his job and his family and fled to Normandy to find Mr. Le Prevost!
Here he is, the next day, September 3, in Duclair… his decision is made. With M. Le Prevost he knelt before the tabernacle of the village church, then went to Chartres to make a retreat. On September 21, 1846, Clément Myionnet joined him.
It was during this retreat, on September 19, at the top of the Alps, in the village of La Salette, that a beautiful lady addressed a message of conversion and reconciliation to two humble children. It was the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of La Salette.
The Brothers of Saint Vincent de Paul welcomed this event as a sign from heaven! Mr. Le Prevost will have a chapel built in Vaugirard which will be his last home on earth.
On October 3, 1846, with the entry into community of Mr. Maignen, the three Brothers, already united in heart, were now entirely united, body and soul, in the house on Rue du Regard.
On Saturday, October 3, Brother Le Prevost wrote in the community newspaper: “Brother Maignen, at the price of great sacrifices, and by breaking the natural ties that were obstacles to his dedication, became the third member of the community. “The three monks of the 19th century are now established in the house on Rue du Regard. Three men so different that they will have to learn to live together, not without pain, but in charity…
A few months later, while he was in Duclair, resting in his native land, the father of the family, Jean-Léon Le Prevost wrote to his sons Clément Myionnet and Maurice Maignen one of his most beautiful letters. It gives us the most beautiful thing we have: our identity. It is, one could say, written with two hands… that of Vincent de Paul and that of Jean-Léon.
Duclair, August 26, 1847
Dearest and beloved brothers,
Feeling in my heart a sweet and pure joy of all these memories, I bless God who deigns to form already in us the family spirit and to consolidate day by day our union. […]
Let us enter into this movement, dear friends, without haste as well as without sluggishness, following the steps of God; with Him, we will surely go and reach our end. Don’t you feel, as I do, in your heart a certain power, a kind of aspiration for the future, a great desire, a great hope? Well, the sign and the strength of our mission is there; God has put in us the desire so that we pray, the hope so that we act; let us pray with all the breath of our soul, let us work with a holy courage, and let us walk in confidence, because we are in the way; each step carries us to the goal.
We did not despair of our time, of our country, of our brothers, we thought that in this movement, still vague and weak, of the people towards faith, there was some impetus, some fertile promise, we will not be deceived.
It is charity that arouses all around us; it is charity that awakens souls, pushes them and gathers them; it is also charity that carries us away and envelops us in its action; charity does not fail and does not remain on the way, once lit, it must spread, shine and carry its warmth far. Everything also serves as food for him. So let us not be afraid, dear friends, let us not look too much at our unworthiness which often stops us and makes us timid; charity, like the flame, consumes and purifies; by it we will be penetrated, vivified, by it we will be transfigured. Oh, may this thought animate and console us. It is charity that pushes and urges us, we are moved by it; by it so ardent, so powerful; by it strength, will, love, infinite love, love of God! […]
I am sure that if we have the courage to love and support one another with charity, God will also support us, love us, and confirm us in our mission, no matter what qualities we may lack; it seems to me, for my part, dear friends, that I will succeed without difficulty, so try to do your part.
Your friend and brother in N.S. Le Prevost