The first Brothers of Saint Vincent de Paul chose Saint Francis de Sales as the second protector (patron saint) of their Institute. A model of charity and fraternal union, the Holy “doctor of love” inspired religious, Fathers and Brothers, to become humble and united to one another in fraternal and apostolic life.
It is to this patron saint that the RSV owe the spirit of abandonment and trust in God, as well as the family spirit. He is a model of confidence, kindness, wisdom and gentleness.
According to the confidences of Maurice Maignen, the “privileged sanctuary of Monsieur Le Prevost was the Chapel of the Ladies of Saint Thomas Villeneuve, where he never tired of praying at the feet of the Black Virgin, before whom Saint Francis obtained a grace which freed him of a terrible obsession.
The Sisters of Saint-Thomas Villeneuve, who then lived in rue de Sèvres, had inherited, in 1806, the famous statue of the Black Virgin, called Notre-Dame de Bonne Délivrance, which had been in the church of Saint- Etienne-des-Grès near the Panthéon, church destroyed in 1792.
We do not know exactly what Mr. Le Prévost came to ask the Black Madonna, but already at that time, we are in the year 1843, he was following the enlightening advice of two priests, the fathers of Malet and Beaussier, united to Saint Francis de Sales.
It was undoubtedly under the influence of his confessors that Le Prevost made Saint Francis de Sales one of the pillars of his spiritual life. Father de Malet, whom Le Prevost met regularly during the years 1835-1836, was a great devotee of Saint Francis and of whom he said at the end of his life: “It was he who put me on the path of trust in God.” It was Father Beaussier, their director of conscience after the death of Father de Malet in 1843, who transmitted to the members of the nascent community the spirit of trust and abandonment to God, and who guided it to better face the first difficulties of life together, taking Saint Francis de Sales as protector, as M. Maignen tells us in his written on the history of this devotion among the first Brothers of Saint Vincent de Paul. He wrote it in 1890, at the end of his life. (see excerpt below)
From the first years of the Institute, M. Le Prevost found in Saint Francis lessons for consecrated life and community life. He wanted a work by Saint Francis de Sales on the demands of religious life to be read in community.
Indeed, Mr. Le Prévost found in Saint François de Sales, what could help his brothers in their spiritual fight.
Here is what M. Le Prévost wrote to two of his brothers:
– “we will arrive, if possible, at what our good friend Saint Francis de Sales has achieved, “don’t ask for anything, don’t refuse anything”.
– “Let us pray for each other and as Saint Francis de Sales wanted, let us love each other on earth as we will love each other in Heaven”.
Excerpt from a lecture given by Maurice Maignen, a few days before the feast of Saint Francis de Sales in January 1890.
“The choice of Saint Francis de Sales as patron of the Congregation was not imposed immediately, from our origins, as was the case for Saint Vincent de Paul. The need arose at the end of the first or second year, when the enthusiasm of the first days of our meeting for the service of God and the poor died down, and day after day the difficulties of living together have become more acute.
We realized that meeting under the same roof was not enough to constitute the union and fusion of minds, hearts and characters between three men so different in age and education. Mutual support was one of our first difficulties, to our great surprise. Then, the devotion to Saint François de Sales, friend of Saint Vincent de Paul, was recommended to us by Mr. Le Prevost and Mr. Beaussier. It has become the object of our spiritual readings. For a long time, we put Rodriguez’s writings aside. The study of the writings of the holy bishop of Geneva, his conversations collected by the first Sisters of the Visitation, etc. …. were our favorite texts.
Gentleness in relationships, gentleness of heart towards others, patience in the face of sometimes somewhat contradictory and even difficult events, as well as tenderness towards oneself in weaknesses or falls, were the essential conditions of peace. interior in religious life. Saint Francis de Sales is the master par excellence of fraternal union and charity.
Monsieur Le Prevost wanted this great saint to become our model and our teacher.
He who carefully studies our Constitutions which perfectly summarize the thought of our Founder; whoever endeavors to enter into his direction and his advice, by the meditative reading of his admirable letters, will easily find the thoughts, the feelings and the marvelous doctrine of Saint Francis de Sales to guide and inspire all our relations with our neighbour, in the community and in the works. It is clear that in a few lines it is impossible to summarize at the same time the works, the virtues, and above all, such a profound science of souls, which overflowed in the life of Saint Francis de Sales. There is, however, one point which needs to be dwelled on, even if it is not dealt with so thoroughly. It is of the greatest importance for the Brother of Saint Vincent de Paul who seeks the perfection of his state of life and who wants to achieve it seriously, in his works of charity and in his religious life, what God expects of him.
Without a doubt, Saint Francis de Sales is the universal counselor for the practice of gentleness, peace and union in common life; it is for all the Congregations; it is for the great Orders; his writings are the delight of souls dedicated to the religious state.
We owe him the character with which he marked our humble society from the very beginning: what we call “the spirit and the life of the family”. How Mr. Le Prevost had it in his heart and did his best to spread it!
The expression “family life” has sometimes surprised some of our brothers. They wanted to see reign among us the hard forms of the old great Orders in place of the simplicity of direction and affectionate life that M. Le Prevost constantly gave us as an example and as a precept. He maintained that cordial intimacy between the Brothers, which made us love the House and the Community so much, where we were so happy to return to rest in the evening, after the worries of the work and the fatigues of the day.
The Congregation has grown and today this intimate life is more difficult; but it can still be the soul of the House of Works. It must perpetuate in the Congregation the spirit of charity, simplicity and joy which animated our beginnings and which is the specific character of our family”.
(In the second part of his lecture, M. Maignen will approach the way of praying of Saint Francis de Sales, whom he describes as the doctor par excellence of the union of the interior life and the active life, “having shown expert and having taught admirable rules to practice”.