Today, April 28, is the feast day of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, most well known for his unceasing preaching of the glories of Mary and the rosary, and his greatest contribution to the Church, the doctrine of Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Louis de Montfort was born in 1673, the second of 18 children, into a poor but deeply faithful family in France. At the age of 11, Louis became a student at the Jesuit College of Saint Thomas a Beckett, where teachers considered him to be intelligent, studious, deeply religious, and noted that he was somewhat shy, except when helping the poor. At the age of 19, he entered seminary in Paris. Along his way – he walked the entire stretch from the college in Rennes to the St. Sulpice Seminary – events occurred that lead Louis to take a vow of radical poverty:
“Much has been written about Louis' hike to Paris. It took him 10 days. It wasn't a hitch-hike such as the modern boy is accustomed to take when he wants to go somewhere. Louis walked. It rained most of the time, and he couldn't always find a dry place when he needed it. And things kept happening. He saw beggars who needed his money more than he did. He met others who needed his clothes. Before he had gone very far, he had parted with all his money, given away all his clothes, and had put on some wretch's rags. He reached Paris soaked, smeared, rumpled, unshaven. . .”
–From Wisdom's Fool by Eddie Doherty
A few years after being ordained in 1700, Louis founded, with Blessed Marie Louise Trichet in Poitier, the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Wisdom, a religious institute of women devoted to caring for the poor and unceasingly preached on the rosary and authentic Marian devotion. His works, however, brought him in conflict with the Jansenists in the diocese, and he was made to leave Poitier. He then went to work at the large La Salpetriere Hospital in Paris helping to care for 5,000 destitute patients for a short time but was again asked to leave. Still, it didn't dishearten Louis' faith:
“His spiritual director gave up on him because of what was bandied about as “Father de Montfort's strange ways.” Alone in the capital, considered a failure by his former seminary professors, he found lodging under a staircase in a dilapidated house not far from his alma mater, St. Suplice. He wrote to Marie Louise: “My only friend is God…those friends I once had in Paris have deserted me.” Yet it was from within this dark night that he wrote his brilliant foundational work, his first spiritual masterpiece, The Love of the Eternal Wisdom.”
–From Wind, Light and Water by J. Patrick Gaffney, S.M.M.
Shortly after, and after being expelled from another diocese, he set out, walking from Western France to Rome, to seek advice from the Pope. Louis asked Pope Clement XI to be sent to Canada to work in the missions there, but instead, the Pope, recognizing Louis de Montfort's extraordinary gifts from God, named him Apostolic Missionary, and told him to return to his native land. There, he was to continue to teach against Jansenism and to preach on total consecration to Jesus through Mary; true Marian devotion has always been key in Louis' teachings:
“The chief of de Montfort's life was, of course, the degree and the character of his devotion to Mary. Even among the saints – not one of whom was without an ardent love for Mary – his love processed a special fire. He had the gift of imparting this to those who listened to him, and through his writings he was to do the same for the generations who were to come after him.”
From The De Montfort Way by Frank Duff
And so from this point on and for the rest of his life, with the Pope's blessing, St. Louis Marie de Montfort wandered, preaching in about 200 missions and retreats throughout Northwestern France. As always, Louis was obedient to the local bishops and if asked to leave the diocese – he often was asked to leave since many of the clergy were uncomfortable with his zealous preaching against the errors of Jansenism or disdainful of his impoverished lifestyle and appearance – he would move on to preach in a new community. Now, nearly 300 years from the time of his death, St. Louis de Montfort's treatises on authentic Marian devotion and consecration to Jesus through Mary remain as relevant and vital today.
St. Louis de Montfort, tireless laborer for souls in the fields of the Lord, champion of devotion to His mother, Our Blessed Lady, and example of simplicity and holiness for all Christians, please pray for us, that we may be drawn ever closer to Jesus, through Mary, and that we may never fear to profess the true Catholic faith in all our actions and all our words. Amen.