Saint Louis de Montfort
1673 - 1716
Feastday: April 28
Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (31 January 1673 – 28 April 1716)
was a French Roman Catholic priest and Confessor. He was known in his time as a
preacher and was made a missionary apostolic by Pope Clement XI.
well as preaching, Montfort found time to write a number of books which went on
to become classic Catholic titles and influenced several popes. Montfort is
known for his particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the practice of
praying the Rosary.
Montfort is considered as one of the early writers in the field of Mariology.
His most notable works regarding Marian devotions are contained in The Secret of
Mary and the True Devotion to Mary.
The Roman Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII canonized
Montfort on July 20, 1947. A "founders statue" created by Giacomo Parisini is
located in an upper niche of the south nave of Saint Peter's Basilica.
He was born in Montfort-sur-Meu, the eldest surviving child of eighteen
born to Jean-Baptiste and Jeanne Robert Grignion. His father was a notary.
Louis-Marie passed most of his infancy and early childhood in Iffendic, a few
kilometers from Montfort, where his father had bought a farm. At the age of 12,
he entered the Jesuit College of St Thomas Becket in Rennes, where his uncle was
a parish priest.
At the end of his ordinary schooling, he began his studies of philosophy and
theology, still at St Thomas in Rennes. Listening to the stories of a local
priest, the Abbé Julien Bellier, about his life as an itinerant missionary, he
was inspired to preach missions among the very poor. And, under the guidance of
some other priests he began to develop his strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin
He was then given the opportunity, through a benefactor, to go to Paris to study
at the renowned Seminary of Saint-Sulpice towards the end of 1693. When he
arrived in Paris, it was to find that his benefactor had not provided enough
money for him, so he lodged in a succession of boarding houses, living among the
very poor, in the meantime attending the Sorbonne University for lectures in
theology. After less than two years, he became very ill and had to be
hospitalized, and survived his hospitalization and the blood letting that was
part of his treatment at the time.
Upon his release from the hospital, to his surprise he found himself with a
place reserved at the Little Saint-Sulpice, which he entered in July 1695.
Saint-Sulpice had been founded by Jean-Jacques Olier, one of the leading
exponents of what came to be known as the French school of spirituality. Given
that he was appointed the librarian, his time at Saint-Sulpice gave him the
opportunity to study most of the available works on spirituality and, in
particular, on the Virgin Mary's place in the Christian life. This later led to
his focus on the Holy Rosary and his acclaimed book the Secret of the Rosary.
Devotion to the angels
Even as a seminarian in Paris, Montfort was known for the veneration he
had toward the angels: he "urged his confreres to show marks of respect and
tenderness to their guardian angels." He often ended his letters with a
salutation to the guardian angel of the person to whom he was writing: "I salute
your guardian angel". He also saluted all the angels in the city of Nantes, a
custom that, it appears, he repeated when he entered a new village or city.
One of the reasons why Saint Louis Marie de Montfort had such devotion to the
angels is that veneration of the pure spirits was an integral part of his
training and also of his culture. His college teachers, the Jesuits, were known
for their zeal in propagating devotion to the angels. Montfort's seminary
training under the Sulpicians brought him into contact with the thought of
Cardinal de Bérulle and Olier, both of whom had deep veneration for the angels.
Furthermore, in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, manuals
of piety and treatises on the pure spirits were numerous.
From priest to preacher
He was ordained a priest in June 1700, and assigned to Nantes. His letters
of this period show that he felt frustrated from the lack of opportunity to
preach as he felt he was called to do. He considered various options, even that
of becoming a hermit, but the conviction that he was called to "preach missions
to the poor" increased.
In November 1700 he joined the Third Order of the Dominicans and asked
permission not only to preach the rosary, but to also form rosary
confraternities. The same month he wrote: :"I am continually asking in my
prayers for a poor and small company of good priests to preach missions and
retreats under the standard and protection of the Blessed Virgin". This initial
thought eventually led to the formation of the Company of Mary. At around this
time, he first met Blessed Marie Louise Trichet when he was appointed the
chaplain of the hospital of Poitiers. That meeting became the beginning of
Blessed Marie Louise's thirty-four years of service to the poor.
Frustrated with the local bishops, he set off to make a pilgrimage to Rome, to
ask Pope Clement XI, what he should do. The Pope recognised his real vocation
and, telling him that there was plenty of scope for its exercise in France, sent
him back with the title of Apostolic Missionary.
For several years he preached in missions from Brittany to Nantes. As his
reputation as a missioner grew, he became known as "the good Father from
Montfort". At Pontchateau he attracted hundreds of people to help him in the
construction of a huge Calvary. However, on the very eve of its blessing, the
Bishop, having heard that it was to be destroyed on the orders of the King of
France under the influence of members of the Jansenist school, forbade its
benediction. It is reported that upon receiving this news, he told the thousands
awaiting the blessing: "We had hoped to build a Calvary here; let us build it in
our hearts. Blessed be God."
He left Nantes and the next several years were extraordinarily busy for him. He
was constantly occupied in preaching missions, always traveling on foot between
one and another. Yet he found time also to write - his True Devotion to Mary,
the Secret of Mary and the Secret of the Rosary, rules for the Company of Mary
and the Daughters of Wisdom, and many Hymns. Just before writing True Devotion
he became a Dominican tertiary. His missions made a great impact, especially in
The heated style of his preaching was regarded by some people as somewhat
strange and he was poisoned once. Although it did not prove fatal, it caused his
health to deteriorate. Yet he continued, undeterred. He went on preaching and
established free schools for the poor boys and girls
Daughters of Wisdom
The bishop of La Rochelle had been impressed with Montfort for some time and
invited him to open a school there. Montfort enlisted the help of his follower
Marie Louise Trichet who was then running the General Hospital in Poitiers. In
1715 Marie Louise and Catherine Brunet left Poitiers for La Rochelle to open the
school there and in a short time it had 400 students.
On August 22, 1715, Blessed Marie Louise Trichet and Catherine Brunet, along
with Marie Valleau and Marie Régnier from La Rochelle received the approbation
of Bishop de Champflour of La Rochelle to perform their religious profession
under the direction of Montfort. At the ceremony Montfort told them: "Call
yourselves the Daughters of Wisdom, for the teaching of children and the care of
the poor." The Daughters of Wisdom grew into an international organization and
the placing of Montfort's founders statue in Saint Peter's Basilica was based on
Death and burial
Worn out by hard work and sickness, he finally came in April 1716 to
Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre to begin the mission which was to be his last. During it,
he fell ill and died on 28 April of that year. He was 43 years old, and had been
a priest for only 16 years. His last sermon was on the tenderness of Jesus and
the Incarnate Wisdom of the Father. Thousands gathered for his burial in the
parish church, and very quickly there were stories of miracles performed at his
Exactly 43 years later, on April 28, 1759, Marie Louise Trichet also died in
Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre and was buried next to Montfort.
On September 19, 1996, Pope John Paul II (who beatified Trichet) came to the
same site to meditate and pray at their adjacent tombs.
A young priest who influenced the popes
de Montfort influenced four popes (Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius X, Pope Pius XII and
Pope John Paul II), and is now being considered as a Doctor of the Church.
Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X both relied on de Montfort in their writings and
promulgated his Marian vision. It has been said, that the Marian encyclical of
Pius X, Ad diem illum was not only influenced but penetrated by the Mariology of
Montfort and, that both Leo XIII and Pius X applied the Marian analysis of
Montfort to their analysis of the Church as a whole.
Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII was concerned about secular attempts to destroy the faith in
Christ, and, if possible, to ban him from the face of the earth. In his analysis,
the destruction of the ethical order would lead to disaster and war, so Leo XIII
dedicated the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But in his analysis any
re-Christianisation was not possible without the Blessed Virgin Mary, so in ten
encyclicals on the rosary he promulgated Marian devotion. In his encyclical on
the fiftieth anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he stressed
her role in the redemption of humanity, mentioning Mary as Mediatrix and
Co-Redemptrix, in the spirit and words of Louis de Montfort.
Pope Leo XIII then beatified him in 1888, and, as a special honour selected for
Montfort's beatification the very day of his own Golden Jubilee as a priest.
Pope Pius X
The key Marian encyclical Ad diem illum was issued in 1904 in commemoration of
the fiftieth anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It gave Pius
X the opportunity to urge his intensified Marian devotion in his second
encyclical, and relied heavily on the views expressed in Montfort's book True
Devotion to Mary.
In fact the language of both writings is strikingly similar, which is not
surprising, since Saint Pius highly esteemed True Devotion and granted an
Apostolic Blessing to all who read it. Echoing Montfort, Pius X wrote: "There is
no surer or easier way than Mary in uniting all men with Christ."
Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII was often called the most Marian pope. He was impressed by
Montfort's work God Alone and when he canonized Montfort on July 20, 1947, he
God alone was everything to him. Remain faithful to the precious heritage, which
this great saint left you. It is a glorious inheritance, worthy, that you
continue to sacrifice your strength and your life, as you have done until today.
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II once recalled how as a young seminarian he "read and reread
many times and with great spiritual profit" a work of de Montfort and that: "Then
I understood that I could not exclude the Lord's Mother from my life without
neglecting the will of God-Trinity"
According to his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the pontiff's
personal motto "Totus Tuus" was inspired by St. Louis' doctrine on the
excellence of Marian devotion and total consecration, which he quoted:
“Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to
Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which
conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ.
Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it
follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul
to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is
consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ."
The thoughts, writings, and example of St. Louis de Montfort, an example of the
French school of spirituality, were also singled out by Pope John Paul II's
encyclical Redemptoris Mater as a distinctive witness of Marian spirituality in
the Roman Catholic tradition. In an address to the Montfortian Fathers, the
pontiff also said that his reading the saint's work True Devotion to Mary was a
"decisive turning point" in his life.
Priest and poet
While the saint is best known for his spiritual writings, he was also a poet and
during his missions managed to compose more than 20,000 verses of hymns.
Saint Louis's life coincided with some of the great highlights of French
literature and Molière, Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine dominated the
literature of his day. Montfort believed that his battle-cry, "God Alone!" did
not allow him to encourage his people to prefer classical works over sacred
hymns. Montfort’s hymns and canticles were, for the most part, meant to be sung
in village churches and in the homes of the poor. They were aimed at the masses
and had a missionary motive above all. Some authors argue that a reading of
Saint Louis’s hymns is essential for an understanding of him as a man and for
appreciating his approach to spirituality.
Montfort was a missionary at heart and many of his hymns were addressed to the
people whom he was evangelizing. He went from one parish to another with his
ever-growing collection of hymns to be sung during the parish mission. But he
also wrote hymns to express his own personal feelings, e.g. his numerous hymns
in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Based on the analysis of Bishop Hendrik Frehen of the Company of Mary,
Montfortian hymns fall into two major categories: "inspired" and "didactic." The
inspired canticles flow spontaneously, on the occasion of a pilgrimage to a
Marian shrine, or on the occasion of a joyful celebration. The didactic hymns
took more effort and time to compose, and focus on instructional and informative
qualities: they teach the audience through the use of a moral and a theme.
After the Saint Louis's death, the Company of Mary (which continued his work of
preaching parish renewals) made great use of his hymns and used them as
instruments of evangelization.
Legacy and Impact on the Catholic Church
Louis de Montfort was a priest and a preacher for only 16 years, often having
risked everything along the way. Some years before his death, he wrote to the
Blessed Marie Louise Trichet, the first Daughter of Wisdom:
"If we do not risk anything for God we will never do anything great for Him."
But it is worth noting that based on his autobiography, his sixteen years of
priesthood include many months of solitude, perhaps as many as a total of four
years: at the cave of Mervent, amidst the beauty of the forest, at the hermitage
of Saint Lazarus near the village of Montfort, and at the hermitage of Saint
Eloi in La Rochelle. On his return from his long pilgrimage to Rome, Montfort
made a retreat at Mont Saint Michel "to pray to this archangel to obtain from
him the grace to win souls for God, to confirm those already in God's grace, and
to fight Satan and sin. These occasions gave him time to think, contemplate and
Congregations de Montfort
saint's birthplace and tomb are now sites of "Montfortian pilgrimages" with
about 25,000 visitors each year. The house in which he was born is at No 15, Rue
de la Saulnerie in Montfort-sur-Meu. It is now jointly owned by the three
Montfortian congregations he formed: the Montfort Missionaries, the Daughters of
Wisdom and the Brothers of St Gabriel. The Basilica of Saint Louis de Montfort
at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre is an impressive structure that attracts a good
number of pilgrims each year.
The congregations de Montfort left behind, the Company of Mary, the Daughters of
Wisdom, and the Brothers of Saint Gabriel (whose congregation developed from the
group of lay-brothers gathered round him), grew and spread, first in France,
then throughout the world.
God Alone: Montfortian spirituality
God Alone was the motto of Saint Louis and is repeated over 150 time in his
writings. God Alone is also the title of his collected writings. Based on his
writings, Montfortian spirituality can be summed up via the formula: "To God
Alone, by Christ Wisdom, in the Spirit, in communion with Mary, for the reign of
Although St Louis is perhaps best known for his Mariology and devotion to the
Blessed Virgin Mary, his spirituality is founded on the mystery of the
Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and is centered on Christ.
Grignion de Montfort's approach of "total consecration to Jesus Christ through
Mary" had a strong impact on Roman Catholic Mariology both in popular piety and
in the spirituality of religious institutes. His book True Devotion to Mary has
been considered one of the most influential Marian books.
Saint Louis was a strong believer in the power of the rosary and his popular book
The Secret of the Rosary provides specific methods for praying the rosary with
more devotion. It has been read by Catholics worldwide for over two centuries
and is one of the earliest works to establish modern Roman Catholic Mariology.
There are more than a hundred biographies written of Montfort. They differ
in how they reflect the ecclesial and cultural milieu within which each was
The first four biographies of Montfort, by Grandet, Blain, Besnard, and Picot de
Clorivières, were all written in the eighteenth century. They reflect the
hagiographical method current then—the devotional biography. Such an approach
reflected little of the critical sensibility that had dominated most of the
seventeenth century through the works of the Bollandists, the memorialists of
Port-Royal, and Jean de Launoy. They sought to edify, praise, eulogize, and
idealize. Such early biographies are filled with anachronism, incoherence, and
over-generalization. Despite such limitations, Montfort’s early biographers
provide valuable material. They have preserved eyewitness accounts and original
documents, and they offer a solid historical foundation for reconstructing many
of the truths of Montfort’s life.
nineteenth century’s "romanticized" conception of history influenced hagiography
in two main ways. 1) Although a biography should relive the outer events of a
saint’s past, it was more important to describe the interior drama of his soul.
2) The nineteenth-century biographies of Montfort reflect this historiographic
orientation. Two biographies were prepared for the Montfort’s beatification, one
by Fonteneau and the other by Persiani. The latter is almost a translation of
the former (1887). They limited themselves to recounting the events that took
place and did not go into Montfort’s psychology. On the other hand, Pauvert
(1875) published a collection of Montfort’s unpublished letters and established
a chronology of the first years of his priesthood. A. Crosnier’s biography
(1927) was also influenced by nineteenth-century romanticism. Just before
Montfort’s canonization appeared De Luca (1943). The author took into account
the literary and spiritual milieu of seventeenth-century France and attempted to
introduced his readers to Montfort’s spiritual life, pointing out "phases" in
Montfort's growth and development.
Of the different genres of biography that purport to describe the events of
someone’s life, the "realistic" biography is much in favor. Such a method is
apparent in the four works dedicated by L. Perouas to Grignion de Montfort
(1966, 1973, 1989, 1990). The author separated himself from his predecessors by
describing Montfort, his life, and his pastoral work using a historical-critical
and psycho-sociological approach. Perouas held that the Breton saint’s path was
a "tormented journey" because he had difficulty dealing with a strained
relationship with his father, who was known for his violent temper. His long and
arduous journey toward a balanced life came to a "certain maturation for Father
de Montfort when he was in his forties." Generally more acceptable than Perouas’
Freudian psychological interpretation is his understanding of Montfort’s
ministry in the context of the sociological and pastoral realities of his times.
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