Born at Limoges (Haute-Vienne), January 27, 1829.
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, February 25, 1850.
Oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, February 26, 1851. (no. 301)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, September 1851.
Died at Paris, January 3, 1890.
Marc de L’Hermite was born at Limoges on January 27, 1829, the third of six children born to Felix, administrator of mail and delivery and of Rose de Maleplane. He was baptized the day after in the cathedral of Saint Stephen.
As a child, Marc’s health was fragile, but he was full of fun with an irrepressible gaiety. When he came of age to begin classical studies, he attended classes as an extern at the former Jesuit college of Mauriac (Cantal) at the time under the direction of the diocesan clergy. It was there that he received his First Holy Communion. Shortly after his mother died, his maternal grandmother stepped in to take over the role of mother in as much as this was possible. Meanwhile, Mr. de L’Hermite was transferred to Seine-et-Marne and he placed his son in the church boarding school of Felletin (Creuse) where Marc’s name often appeared when there was a question of winning prizes. In 1842, along with some of his confreres, he founded at the college the Confraternity of Saint Vincent de Paul. On August 20, 1846 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. After his summer vacations, he had begun to study philosophy and theology at the major seminary, when his older brother Henry who was preparing to enter the monastery at Solesmes was drowned along with his fellow travelers in a coach caught in a flash flood of the Loire near the city of Feurs.
The Oblates established themselves at Limoges in September of 1847. Marc got to know Father Charles Baret. He soon fell under the spell of Father Baret because he felt an affinity with Father Baret’s temperament of artist and poet. The positive results wrought by the Oblate missions stirred up his enthusiasm and his determination to emulate them. On February 25, 1850, he took the habit at the novitiate of Notre-Dame de l’Osier, made his oblation on February 26, 1851 and set out on the road to Marseilles. Bishop de Mazenod was very taken with this young man, a youth of noble stock and a very good religious. He ordained him to the priesthood on September 20, 1851. Marc was only twenty-three years old. He celebrated his first Mass at Notre-Dame de la Garde.
At Talence (Bordeaux) (1851-1854)
Father de L’Hermite’s first obedience was for the diocese of Bordeaux where the Oblates had just opened a house, first at Pont-de-la-Maye and then at Notre-Dame de Talence. The young priest participated in the first Oblate mission preached at Saint-Estèphe in the Médoc area, then from December 1851 to October 1852, he did replacement work in parishes. In 1852-1853, he took part in missions preached by the Oblates.
On February 13, 1853, the Oblates took charge of the parish and the shrine of Notre-Dame de Talence. Father Hector Merlin was appointed superior and parish priest. Since Father Merlin had a heart condition, he spent a lot of time in the confessional but did little preaching. He appointed Father de L’Hermite assistant priest in the parish with special role of preaching, making parish visits and supervising parish works, especially the work of the Refuge.
On March 21, 1854, Bishop de Mazenod, who corresponded regularly with Father de L’Hermite, wrote: “I have been told that you have been ill and tired out [...] What I recommend, though, is that you do not tire yourself too much and to husband your strength. In a few years time you will not need to be so cautious, but you are still quite young and you need to become more strong...” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1202, p. 189-190) In November 1854, Father de L’Hermite preached the retreat at the college of Felletin. Immediately afterwards, he went to visit his father at Clermont and fell gravely ill. He received Viaticum on December 8 and only began to celebrate Mass again on February 26, 1855. Bishop de Mazenod invited him to come to Marseilles to convalesce. Marc remained in Marseilles from March to July. He then left once again for Talence, traveling through Clermont and Limoges. He received an October 3 letter from Father Casimir Aubert, the secretary general of the Congregation, through which he learned that he had been appointed superior of the Oblate house of Notre-Dame de Cléry.
Superior of Notre-Dame de Cléry (1855-1863)
In 1854, Bishop Dupanloup, the bishop of Orleans, had entrusted to the Oblates the parish and the shrine of Notre-Dame de Cléry and asked them as well for four priests to preach parish missions. Father James Brun, the first superior and pastor, had to leave in 1855. Bishop de Mazenod replaced him by Father de L’Hermite, giving him Father Jean Marchal as his assistant priest. The pastor and his assistant priest visited this parish not noted for its prayer life and founded works. In 1862, the superior wrote that the good being done in the parish “is considerable in an area where it is not a matter of building up the faith, but rather creating faith from scratch.” The number of pilgrims grew year by year. Once or twice a year, the pastor accompanied his confreres in preaching parish missions, and preached several retreats, a Lenten series at Notre-Dame de Rennes and a month of Mary at Saint Louis d’Antin in Paris.
In 1859, in Paris, he blessed the marriage of his brother Louis and presided at the taking of vows of his youngest sister, Henriette, as an Ursuline like her older sister, Marie. While he was preaching the Lenten series in Rennes, on March 30, he learned of the death of his father. During his stay in Cléry, Father de L’Hermite, a friend of Louis Veuillot, wrote some articles published in the journal L’Univers and wrote a work entitled: Un pèlerinage à Notre-Dame de Cléry, published in 1858.
Father de L’Hermite’s biography ends in this manner the chapter in his life dedicated to his stay in Cléry: “At twenty-six years old, appointed superior, in reality, the founder of a mission like Cléry, burdened by the weight of numerous responsibilities: parish work, promoting the pilgrimage, setting up parish missions, being superior of the community, administrative relations with an exacting diocesan authority and working under a bishop whose heart only partially made up for his petulance, the young superior acquitted himself of these weighty responsibilities by gaining the esteem and affection of everyone.”
Superior at Aix (1863-1865)
Father Hippolyte Courtès died in Aix on June 3, 1863. He had been superior of the birthplace of the Congregation since 1823. Born and bred a citizen of Aix, he knew and understood the social milieu well. He had been spiritual director of many people. To find a replacement for him would not be an easy task. Father Fabre appointed Father de L’Hermite to replace him, trusting in the fact that his name, his talents and virtues, his manners of one born to gentility would help him avoid of some of the pitfalls.
The new superior arrived in November of 1863 and was well received by the Oblates and the faithful who regularly attended the Mission church. He noticed that the house had deteriorated and required urgent repair. He also noted that there were there “many chaplains and few mission preachers.” He soon learned, however, that the house was the centre of many activities: Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul, ministry to the chimney sweeps, initiatives to help the poor, the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart. He hosted Catholic student groups, while Father Bonnard was chaplain for seven hundred school children. In ministry outside the house, the priests were prison chaplains, chaplains of the huge mental institution and of the group the Servant Ladies. In 1864, the archbishop of Aix asked for two Oblates to do evangelization work in the Camargue. He approached the superior with these words: “You were formed as missionaries to Provence. It is a ministry in the Provençal language. It will contribute to making you even better known in our Midi.” The project failed in the face of local opposition that the archbishop did not want to confront.
The superior then preached several retreats and sermons for special occasions in Aix and in Marseilles and the retreat for superiors at Autun in July of 1864.
Superior at Rennes (1865-1867)
Several times, Bishop B. Saint-Marc, the archbishop of Rennes, had expressed the desire to see the Oblates established in his diocese. Father Fabre who for a long time already wanted to establish the Oblates in Brittany, an area which at the time was rich in vocations, sent two priests and two brothers there in 1864. On June 9, 1865, the Superior General wrote to Father de L’Hermite: “I have need of you for establishing the house in Rennes. You are known; they want to see you come there; everyone is asking for you. The situation is very delicate and very important. You alone are able to handle it and ensure a favourable outcome.”
Father de L’Hermite left Aix after the procession of the Sacred Heart, a practice that had formerly been established by the Founder. He arrived at Rennes on June 28. The Oblates settled in on Pré-Perché street in some abandoned warehouses, two of which were transformed into a chapel which subsequently served as a mission chapel for the only church in a working class neighbourhood of fourteen thousand residents. Two priests staffed the house and ministering in the chapel while four others each year evangelized many parishes through parish missions and retreats, some forty of them in two years.
Provincial of Province du Nord (1867-1873)
Because of obedience, as he himself wrote, Father de L’Hermite was already used to folding up his tent at the first word of command to go pitch it some place else. In the month of August 1867, he received notification from Father Fabre appointing him provincial for province Nord and founder of the house of Saint Martin of Tours.
Bishop Hippolyte Guibert, o.m.i., archbishop of Tours since 1856, wanted to revive devotion to Saint Martin, the great wonder worker of the Gauls. A superb basilica which, already in the sixth century, had been extolled by Gregory of Tours, had been destroyed by the wars of religion and then by the Revolution. Only two colossal towers were left standing. Bishop Guibert entrusted to the Oblates the task of reconstructing the basilica and of reviving devotion to the saint. Later on, as archbishop of Paris, he would do much the same thing, asking the Oblates to build Montmartre and spread devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Father de L’Hermite accepted the post of provincial, but was able to obtain that, at Tours, he would only be the collaborator of the superior, Father Achilles Rey. They arrived in Tours on October 2, 1867. At the time, province Nord had seven houses. The house at Rennes would be founded in 1868, but, while Father de L’Hermite was provincial, five others were founded: Saint Martin of Tours in 1867, Notre-Dame d’Arcachon in the diocese of Bordeaux and Saint Andelain in the diocese of Nevers in 1869, the juniorate of Sion in 1870 and Notre-Dame de Pontmain in the diocese of Laval in 1872.
As provincial, Father de L’Hermite was a man of decisive action. He especially disliked the times of abeyance between when a superior was named and when he took office. He wanted to see no delays and wanted to prevent “the excesses of wagging tongues.” He liked to listen to his men and, with patience and tact, worked for good relations in the whole group as well as promotion of the spiritual life. In addition to difficulties with individuals, something he called “family quarrels,” he had to deal with the encroachment on his time of administrative problems: new foundations, appointments, financial questions, etc. The most difficult event during his time as provincial was the war of 1870-1871 which involved the temporary shutdown of the scholasticate at Autun and the dispersion of the scholastic brothers, as well as major dislocation for the priests and brothers, especially in Paris and Nancy.
Superior of Saint Martin of Tours (1873-1875)
When his six-year term as provincial expired, Father Achilles Rey was appointed provincial and Father de L’Hermite replaced him as superior of the Oblate house at Tours which was transferred to Saint-Venant square in June of 1874. At Saint Martin’s, in a temporary chapel, the Oblates received pilgrims who came in ever increasing numbers and at the same time, the Oblates were directors of several works. When he became superior, Father de L’Hermite, while he saw to the good functioning of the community, continued to direct the works that had been his responsibility since 1867: the Purgatory, workers, soldiers after 1870 and women teachers.
Assistant General and Vice-Superior of the General House (1875-1890)
In 1874, Father Charles Jolivet, the assistant general, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Natal. In their January 15, 1875 session, the General Council replaced him with Father de L’Hermite. Three days later, he received his marching orders for the General House, at that time on Saint-Pétersbourg street in Paris. There, he was appointed vice-superior of the house, with the Superior General remaining as the local superior. It was a bitter blow for Father de L’Hermite who, for twenty years had been a traveler and a preacher. As he himself said, he did like his cell “but that along with a mixture of outside activities.”
His biography has very little to say about his role of assistant general. The biographer simply wrote: “We will not describe the details of his activities in this role. You would have to write the history of the Congregation of the Oblates over a fifteen year period with its happenings concerning personnel or works in the four corners of the world and in fourteen provinces or vicariates. All important issues landed on the work table of the General Council. Father de L’Hermite shared in these worries. But it would be a difficult thing to determine the role he played in secret sessions whose decisions took on a collective form or which were underwritten by the superior of the society. We only know that the new assistant brought to his work the conscience, supernatural devotion, clarity of vision, and wisdom for which he was well known and which had only become more mature with experience and age...”
Father de L’Hermite did little traveling. He went to Rome in 1877 to take part in the celebration of Pius IX’s jubilee as Pope, to Inchicore in 1883 and to Ponzano (Italy) in 1885 to preach the annual retreat of the Oblate scholastics, once again to Rome in 1887 where he took part in the General Chapter. He usually stayed in Paris where he was given the responsibility for ministry in the public chapel of the house. Responsibilities, however, he did not lack: director of the review Missions O.M.I., from 1875 until his death and, for fifteen years, he was director of the Ladies of the Holy Family, a secular work which was affiliated with the Sisters of Hope. They visited the poor of Paris in their homes and the director spent a good deal of his free time with the ailing poor. He still preached sometimes, especially in Paris, in religious communities, institutions and seminaries. He usually wrote out his sermons. We have extant twenty-eight booklets (3500 pages handwritten).
Illness and Death
On November 6, 1880, in the wake of the decrees levelled against the Jesuits and the non-authorized religious congregations, the chapel was sealed shut and the priests were forcibly expelled. Father de L’Hermite, the vice-superior, and Father Marc Sardou, the General Treasurer, were authorized to remain in the house as custodians. Father de L’Hermite found this situation and the loneliness of living in an empty house very difficult. Since his health was already fragile and worn down by work, he had to cut back his activities more and more. He only went out to visit the sick and hear confessions in the chapels of the Sisters of the Reparation of the Blessed Sacrament on Douai street and the Sisters of Notre-Dame on Hoche avenue. The death of Cardinal Guibert on July 8, 1886, exacerbated Father de L’Hermite’s health problems. He was struck down by a state of severe weakness and anaemia, and even of a great sadness. Only his faith and the charity of his confreres who, little by little returned to the house, sustained him.
He died in Paris on January 3, 1890, after having receive the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum. His funeral rites were celebrated on the feast of the Epiphany and he was entombed at the cemetery of Montmartre. In a circular letter, Father Fabre wrote: “His passing was gentle and holy, like his life [...] For forty years, he was the devoted child of our dear Congregation, a congregation to which he gave himself and which he always loved as the best of mothers. In every one of his functions, as simple religious, local superior, provincial, assistant general, in all the situations and posts that he held, his regular observance, his charity, his devotion never for a moment failed to meet expectations. His zeal for the salvation of souls was always in full flame.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Oblate General Archives in Rome.
General documentation: will, letters received, 1 dossier.
Letters to various recipients, A-Z. 3 dossiers (250 letters)
Letters to Father Fabre (1865-1889): 2 dossiers (165 letters)
Comments for missions, notes for talks, retreats and missions: 28 booklets (about 3500 pages)
Works by Father de L’Hermite:
Un pèlerinage à N.-D. de Cléry, Orleans, 1858, 120 p.
Le R.P. Courtès, o.m.i., supérieur de la Mission d’Aix-en-Provence. Sa vie ses pensées. Notice historique, Aix-en-Provence, Sardat, 1868, 195 p.
L’esprit de s. Martin d’après les récits de Sulpice Sévère, historien de sa vie, Tours, Mame, 1876, 89 p.
Numerous articles written by him in Missions O.M.I., See Analytical Index.
Works about him.
DEVES, Marius, o.m.i., Un apôtre, le père de L’Hermite, o.m.i., Paris-Lyon, Delhomme et Briguet, 1898, 515, p.