Blessed Louis Brisson and Venerable Mary de Sales Chappuis
“Through the Oblates the Savior will return to the world and people will see Him again walking the earth. The Oblate spirit will be to follow the Savior, to fit into the steps of the Savior, to place their foot in the footsteps of the Savior.”
– Venerable Mother Mary de Sales Chappuis, VHM
The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales were founded by Bl. Louis Brisson, OSFS under the inspiration of Ven. Mother Mary de Sales Chappuis, VHM in Troyes, France in 1875.
Louis Brisson was born on June 23, 1817 in Plancy, France, the only child of Toussaint and Savine Brisson. At an early age, he showed great interest in the natural sciences, including chemistry, physics and astronomy.
Brisson was ordained a priest on December 19, 1840. He became a science instructor at the Visitation School in Troyes. Due to his maturity and judgment he was also named chaplain to the Sisters of the Visitation in Troyes, a position he held until 1884. Due to his daily interaction with the sisters and their superior, Ven. Mother Mary de Sales Chappuis, Fr. Brisson became imbued with the spirit and teachings of St. Francis de Sales, especially those contained in the Spiritual Directory, a handbook of exercises whose purpose is to maintain a sense of God’s presence in one’s life throughout the day.
One day, after Brisson had argued with Mother Chappuis, Christ appeared to him. As he looked into the Lord’s eyes, his heart was converted and he gave his consent to follow Mother Chappuis’s direction. She continued to advise, strengthen and guide Fr. Brisson until her death on October 7, 1875.Over time Mother Chappuis told Fr. Brisson that he was to do a great work for Christ by founding an order of priests under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales who would work for the same aims that St. Francis de Sales had – to reprint the Gospel of Christ through the living of the Spiritual Directory and to promote Salesian Spirituality through their daily lives and activities. Although Brisson initially resisted Mother Chappuis request, she was persistent in her demands.
Living during the Industrial Revolution, Brisson saw how many young people who had migrated from the rural farms to the cities were in need of food, shelter, and guidance. In 1859, Brisson opened a home for girls working in textile factories. Knowing he would need help running this home he invited (St.) Leonie Aviat to begin a new congregation, the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales.
In 1871 the Bishop of Troyes asked Fr. Brisson to reopen the sole Catholic school for boys in the Diocese of Troyes. Together with five other priests, Fr. Brisson reopened the school and formed a community. On August 27, 1876, Fr. Brisson and these five other priests professed vows as Oblates of St. Francisde Sales.
In 1881 Fr. Brisson spoke with Pope Leo XIII and accepted a foreign mission to South Africa which put the governance of the Oblates under the Pope through the Propagation of the Faith. Within the following ten years the Oblates had spread to Brazil, Ecuador, Namibia and England. In 1893 the first Oblate, Fr. Joseph Marechaux came to White Plains, NY to act as chaplain to the Sisters of Divine Compassion.
In the early 1900’s the French government closed the religious houses in France. The Oblates transferred their General House to Rome. Because he was too old to travel, Fr. Brisson went to his family home in Plancy. He died on February 2, 1908, with Mother Aviat, OSFS, and Oblate priests by his side.
On September 22, 2012, Fr. Brisson was beatified in the cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Troyes, France. Over 400 Oblates and Oblate Sisters attended the celebration of their founder and continue to reprint the Gospel in their lives through the practice of the Spiritual Directory and service to others.
Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal
The tumultuous years in France after the Protestant Reformation formed the background for St. Francis de Sales. He was born on August 12, 1567, into a family of nobility of what was then the Kingdom of Savoy, which bordered France, Italy and Switzerland. He received his schooling under the Jesuits at the College of Clermont in Paris and the University of Padua, where he earned a Doctorate in both Civil and Church Law.
To the great disappointment of his father, Francis gave up a most promising civil career in favor of the priesthood. After his ordination, he was sent as a young missionary to the Chablais district of Savoy for four years. There he became famous for his pamphlets in defense of the faith. These writings are now collected into a book known as The Catholic Controversy. By the end of his missionary apostolate, Francis had persuaded about 72,000 Calvinists to return to the Catholic Church.
Francis was ordained a bishop and named the Bishop of Geneva in 1602, but resided in Annecy (now a part of modern day France), since Geneva was under Calvinist control and therefore closed to him. He was never permitted to take his seat in the cathedral in Geneva. His diocese became famous throughout Europe for its efficient organization, zealous clergy and well-instructed laity – a monumental achievement in Francis’s time. Francis’s fame as a spiritual director and writer grew. He was persuaded by others to collect, organize and expand on his many letters addressing spiritual subjects, and to publish them in 1609 under the title The Introduction to the Devout Life. This became his most famous work and remains a spiritual classic found in bookstores throughout the world today.
In 1604, while preaching in Dijon, Francis met the recently widowed Jane Frances de Chantal who desired to consecrate herself more fully to God. Francis’ friendship with Jane was one of the most important in his life and six years later, in 1610, Francis and Jane founded the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary (VHM) a contemplative order dedicated to prayer and contemplation known for the simplicity of its rule and traditions and its openness
Francis’ special project was the writing of A Treatise of the Love of God, over which he prayed and labored many years. It is also still published today. Francis de Sales died on December 28, 1622, at the age of fifty-five. In addition to the works above, his published letters, sermons and conferences comprise approximately thirty volumes. The enduring value and popularity of his writings led the Church to bestow on him the title Patron of Catholic Writers.
In 1604, while preaching in Dijon, Francis met the recently widowed Jane Frances de Chantal, who desired to consecrate herself more fully to God. Francis’s friendship with Jane was one of the most important in his life, and six years later, in 1610, Francis and Jane founded the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary (VHM), a contemplative order dedicated to prayer and contemplation It was through the persistence of one of these sisters some two hundred fifty years later, Mother Mary de Sales Chappuis, VHM, that Bl. Louis Brisson, a priest of Troyes in France, founded the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales – a community of priests and brothers dedicated to living and spreading the spirit and teachings of Francis. Fr. Brisson also founded a community of sisters with the same name.
The spirit and reputation of Francis and the influence of his writings spread rapidly after his death. The Church formally declared him to be a saint in 1665 and in 1867 gave him the rare title of Doctor of the Church – a title conferred on only thirty-five other saints in the history of the Church, all of whom are renowned for their writings. Francis’ de Sales memorial is observed by the Church on January 24.
Click here to watch a short video on the life of St. Francis de Sales.