God makes use of diverse means to attract priestly or religious vocations to Himself. Thus, exile in Italy was the occasion for Eugene de Mazenod to meet Don Zinelli, a saintly priest, who inspired him with the idea of the priesthood. Also, Father Damase Dandurand confidently responded to Bishop Ignace Bourget’s personal suggestion to enter the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, even though he had never thought of it before. In this instance, Providence was not wrong, since the first eastern Canadian Oblate lived to be one hundred and two! And then, the first Irish Oblate, William Daly, entered our Congregation as the result of a chance encounter between his director and Bishop de Mazenod in Marseille. For his part, young Louis d’Herbomez owes his vocation to a distraction on the part of Father Libermann, a Jewish convert.
While he was at the Major Seminary of Cambrai, in France, Louis d’Herbomez felt a strong desire to give himself to the foreign missions, away from the country of his birth. One day he spoke of this to his spiritual director. The reply was: “Your plan is very praiseworthy. But it requires much serious thought. Recently, Paul Libermann has just merged his community with the Fathers of the Holy Spirit for the evangelization of the black African natives. Contact him. He will surely guide you.” The seminarian wrote immediately to Father Libermann. The priest was delighted with this request and responded immediately. But, as we were later told by Father d’Herbomez: “As saintly as he was, Father Libermann was at times distracted…” His written response did not leave. When it was ready to be mailed it was placed in a folder and forgotten. One day, as the folder fell to the floor by accident, the letter emerged. When it got to the addressee, it was too late.
During the preceding month, Father Jean-Claude Léonard, OMI, newly arrived from Canada to recruit missionary vocations, had visited the Seminary at Cambrai. Since the seminarian d’Herbomez had not received an answer to his letter, he decided to follow the Oblate. In November 1847 he entered the Novitiate at Nancy.
Forty years of
missaionary life (1850-1890)
In this case also, Providence had seen clearly. Bishop d’Herbomez had a long and fruitful apostolic career. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1849 by Bishop de Mazenod himself. The following year he was sent to the missions in Oregon. In 1857 he settled on the island of Vancouver. In 1863 he became the first Apostolic Vicar of British Columbia and founded several Oblate missions in that region. In the short space of four years, from 1864 to 1868, he opened fifty-five chapels. He founded a hospital in New Westminster, and confided its direction to the Sisters of St. Anne. His apostolic audacity knew no limits. For his whole missionary life he relied confidently on his episcopal motto: “If God is for us, who will be against us?” (Romans 8:31). When he died, on June 30, 1890, at the age of sixty-eight, all the faithful of his diocese, Amerindians as well as White, wept deeply, but they consoled one another by saying: “What a beautiful vocation this fortunate distraction has provided for us.”