Venerable Fr. Francis Libermann

Venerable Fr. Francis Libermann
April 14, 1802 – February 2, 1852

Don’t jump to conclusions and don’t judge according to what you are used to in Europe. Forget about Europe, its customs, its ways of thinking; you have to make yourselves blacks with the blacks so as to form them in their own way and not according to the European model. For their perfection and sanctification, relate to them as slaves do to the customs and habits of their masters, so that gradually you will make them a people of God. This is what St. Paul refers to as making ourselves all things to all men so as to win them for Jesus Christ.

Libermann to the community of Dakar, November 1847. NDIX, p.330-331

Venerable Fr. Francis Libermann had a most remarkable journey of faith. It culminated in 1848 when Libermann brought new personnel and a renewed spiritual energy to the Spiritans that transformed the Congregation. Libermann is considered to be our “second founder.”

He was born into an orthodox Jewish family in the Alsace region of France in 1802, and given the name Jacob. Jacob Libermann’s father was a rabbi, and Jacob was preparing to become a rabbi himself but his studies led him to discover the New Testament and to Christianity. He was baptized Francis Mary Paul, in 1826, at Christmas. Soon after he felt the call to the priesthood and began studies in earnest. However, sickness intervened in the form of violent attacks of epilepsy. This  put his vocation on hold. It was fifteen years before he was finally ordained, in 1841.

Those intervening years, though full of struggle,  were also a time of grace and of maturing, as Libermann became an advisor and confidant to many seminarians and others wanting to grow in the spiritual life. His own trials and painful experiences, as well as joys and perceived blessings, developed in him a great confidence in Providence and a sense of the Holy Spirit directing human affairs.

His approach of “practical union with God” helped him, and others, find the divine in the everyday and to face life with confidence and faith.

His spirituality of responsiveness to the Spirit served Libermann well during the difficult period of organizing his Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and of gaining official permission from Rome to begin the apostolate to people of African descent. Libermann’s followers viewed his being cured of epilepsy at this time and subsequent ordination as approbation from heaven on the mission of his “little band”, whose charismatic leader and visionary apostle he had become.

Francis Libermann was a pioneer of strategies now recognized as a blueprint for modern missionary activity.

Joining the Spiritans

Soon his growing group was asked by Rome to join another much older Religious community, legally and canonically established in France, but on hard times by the mid-1800s. That Congregation was the Spiritans. In 1848, Libermann’s young, energetic, flourishing group joined the Spiritans, immediately bringing much needed new life to the Congregation.

Libermann recruited and educated missionaries, both lay and clerical. He negotiated with Rome and with the French government over the placement and support of his personnel.

Francis Libermann was a pioneer of strategies now recognized as a blueprint for modern missionary activity. He urged the Spiritans to “become one with the people” so that each group received and understood the Gospel in the context of their own traditions. Fr. Libermann’s zeal was so inspiring that when seminarians in France heard of the deaths of some of the first missionaries to West Africa, they lined up at his door to volunteer as replacements.

Inspiration to Thousands

He exhausted himself in the process of leading his great enterprise, and died on February 2, 1852 before his 50th birthday. Surprisingly, Fr. Libermann himself never went overseas. Yet he inspired and empowered literally thousands of missionaries around the globe.

Libermann was a visionary, a missionary, a profoundly spiritual man who has affected the course of history in the last 150 years. His influence and that of his Spiritans, in the Church and in the emerging world has been inestimable.

Fr. Libermann faced incredible obstacles, yet patiently accepted his trials and tribulations with great inner peace and tranquility. May God bless the Spiritan Congregation, and all of us, through the intercession of Venerable Francis Libermann. And may his spiritual teaching of Practical Union with God through the Holy Spirit bring us closer to the path of holiness our daily lives.

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Young Jacob Libermann celebrates his Bar-Mitzva. (Libermann 1815-04-22)

Jacob Libermann arrives in Paris and meets M. Drach and his brothers who have become Christians. M. Drach finds him a little room at the top of Collège Stanislas; it is there, alone with a few books, that he tries to find the way he should proceed. (Libermann 1826-11-06)

François Libermann is confirmed in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. (Libermann 1827-04-15)

Less than six months after his baptism, François Libermann receives the tonsure in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris as a cleric for the diocese of Strasbourg. (Libermann 1827-06-09)

François Libermann, 10 months after his conversion, is admitted to the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. He had received the tonsure at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on June 9th. (Libermann 1827-09-06)

François Libermann has a vision of Jesus at St. Sulpice on the Feast of the Priesthood of Christ; he interprets it as meaning that he himself is excluded from the priesthood. This is the only such happening that is revealed by Libermann. (Libermann 1831-07-16)

Jacques Laval, a medical doctor, enters the seminary of Saint-Sulpice to study theology; a few miles away, François Libermann is studying philosophy at Issy. (France 1835-06-15)

Libermann arrives at Rennes as assistant director of the Eudiste noviciate; he takes part in the opening retreat. (Libermann 1837-09-20)

François Libermann is ordained priest by Mgr. Miolland in his private chapel at Amiens. On the same day, Frédéric Le Vavasseur is ordained in Paris. (Libermann 1841-09-18)

Three days after his ordination, François Libermann celebrates Mass for the first time at the convent of the sisters of Louvencourt (near La Neuville). (Libermann 1841-09-21)

Opening of the noviciate at La Neuville, Amiens (France) with MM. Libermann, Le Vavasseur and Collin. (Holy Heart of Mary 1841-09-27)

Libermann accepts the mission of Bourbon. (Holy Heart of Mary 1842-05-03)

Libermann accepts the mission of BouLibermann’s missionaries, having misunderstood his instructions, proceed to Cap des Palmes, where they are welcomed by John Kelly and Denis Pindar. They fall sick one after an-other and within a month, on December 30th, Léopold de Régnier is the first to die. (Holy Heart of Mary 1843-11-30)rbon. (Holy Heart of Mary 1842-05-03)

Bishop Collier, the Vicar Apostolic of the island of Mauritius, visits Père Libermann at La Neuville at brings him news of Jacques Laval. (Holy Heart of Mary 1844-05-21)

Libermann writes to Bessieux: “Now that we have been given better news about the healthiness of the climate in Gabon, we have decided to send you more men as soon as possible“. (Gabon 1845-09-01)

Libermann writes to Bessieux: “Now that we have been given better news about the healthiness of the climate in Gabon, we have decided to send you more men as soon as possible“. (Gabon 1845-09-01)

Having arrived at Marseille on September 1st, Père Libermann visits several ma-jor seminaries in the west of France and returns to La Neuville on September 28th. The Society buys the Trappist monastery of Notre Dame du Garde. (Holy Heart of Mary 1846-09-01)

On behalf of M. Monnet, Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, M. Loevenbruck visits Père Libermann at Notre-Dame-du-Garde regarding a possible union with his Congregation. (C.S.Sp. 1848-05-08)

François Libermann, the superior of the Missionaries of the Holy Heart of Mary, writes to Cardinal Fransoni at the Propaganda proposing a union of his Congregation with that of the Spiritans and the appointment of M. Monnet as Vicar Apostolic of Madagascar. (Holy Heart of Mary 1848-07-07)

M. Monnet, the 10th Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, leaves Paris for his Apostolic Vicariat in Madagascar, having resigned on November 22, 1848, in favour of François Libermann. (C.S.Sp. 1849-05-14)

Five years after its foundation, the Congregation has 9 novices (including 6 priests) with Libermann at La Neuville; at Notre Dame du Gard, with Pères Schwindenhammer, Clair and Lannurien, there are 28 theologians and philosophers, 8 brothers and 3 lay people. So altogether, there are 37 in formation. (Holy Heart of Mary 1864-11-01)

Pius IX signs the decree introducing the cause of François Libermann. (C.S.Sp. 1876-06-01)

A decree from the Congregation for Saints in Rome approves the writings of François Libermann, adding that “it is rare that an examination arrives at such a favourable conclusion”. (Rome 1886-05-15)

Pius X declares the heroicity of virtues of François Libermann. Henceforth, he will have the title of “Venerable”. (Rome 1910-06-19)

The remains of François Libermann are transferred from the grounds of Chevilly to the chapel of rue Lhomond. (C.S.Sp. 1967-07-04)

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