SECTION FIVE: Some Examples of the Blessings Brought About in France by the Ordination Retreats
The first testimony we will cite is Monsieur Vincent himself. In 1633 he wrote a letter to a priest of the Congregation who was in Rome, in which he spoke from the depths of his heart of the blessings which God had bestowed upon the ordination retreats from their beginning.
I must tell you, if I haven’t already done so, that it has pleased the goodness of God to bestow a very special and unbelievable blessing on the ordination retreats. All those who have participated in them, or almost all, are leading lives becoming their station as good and perfect priests. Some among them of noble birth, or gifted in some other way by the goodness of God, live as regular a life as we do ourselves. Some even are more recollected than many among us, especially myself. They schedule their time, make mental prayer, celebrate mass, examine their conscience every day as we do. They regularly visit the hospitals and prisons, and even the colleges, where they catechize, preach, hear confessions, all with the evident blessing of God. Among others, twelve or fifteen in Paris who live this way. These are respectable men, who are becoming known to the people.
A few days ago, one of these priests suggested that perhaps those who had attended the ordination retreats might form some sort of assembly or company. This took place, to the great satisfaction of all the others. The purpose of the assembly is to look to their own perfection, and to lead a life pleasing to God, to make him known and served in society, and to procure his glory in the clergy, and among the poor. All this is done under the guidance of someone here, where they meet every week. In imitation of some of the pastors of the diocese making retreats with us, these gentlemen thought of doing so too, and have actually begun. God will, we hope, be pleased to give his blessing to all this, which I recommend especially to your prayers.1
This is how the first fruits of the ordination retreats which Monsieur Vincent had the happiness of gathering from the first services he rendered them. Later they were to produce abundant advantages for the entire Church, not only in Paris but in the dioceses of France and Italy as well. These exercises were started in Rome itself by priests of the Congregation of the Mission. Inspired by the spirit of their holy founder and guided by his counsel, they succeeded in filling his Church with good priests. This same thing happened in many other places where the priests of the Mission were not yet established, or where the bishops themselves set up ordination retreats according to the model furnished by Monsieur Vincent and which his community has continued wherever they worked.
Let us add to the testimony of Monsieur Vincent that of some other clergy. Henry Louis Chastaigner de la Roche-Pozay, bishop of Poitiers, sent his candidates for ordination to Richelieu, where the priests of the Mission offered the same ordination retreats as at Paris. The superior of the house there wrote to Monsieur Vincent in June of 1642:2 We received only forty-three candidates. Their modest demeanor has begun to produce a marvelous edification, so much so that the people seeing them at the divine office could not restrain their tears of appreciation at the sight of their good order, modesty and devotion. These good people seemed not to see men but angels from paradise. To God alone be the glory. To Cardinal Richelieu, who brought us here, be the merit and reward. To ourselves be shame and embarrassment before heavenly and earthly powers at daring to serve in such a lofty ministry.3
In December of 1643, Monsieur Vincent received a letter from the bishop of Angouleme in which he, among other things, asked to have a house of the Congregation of the Mission established in his diocese. He referred to how God had blessed the ordination retreats which he had begun that same month. That blessing had been so great, he said, that everyone in the city of Angouleme praised and blessed the name of God, and prayed for the continuation of such a good work.4
In the same year, 1643, Eleonor d’Estampes, archbishop of Reims, had written to Monsieur Vincent requesting priests of the Mission to offer the ordination retreats to the first group of candidates to be ordained in his diocese since his installation.
I do not know how to thank you for the favor you did me in sending your missionaries to conduct the ordination retreats for my candidates. I assure you they were badly needed, and could not have been sent to any place where they were more needed. They themselves will send you an account of the success of this retreat.5
In the same year, 1643, the ordination retreats were begun by the priests of the Mission in the city of Noyons. The clergy of the local conference wrote to Monsieur Vincent as follows:
If our thanks should match the blessings received, our Company would fail in its duty to thank you sufficiently for the magnificent edification received from your priests in the direction and instruction of our ordinands. We have waited a long time for this blessing from you, but now that our group has experienced for itself the happy results of this service, we find that we lack words to express the sentiments we feel.6
From the pen of a pious member of this same Conference comes a personal letter to Monsieur Vincent:
I would like to be able to find the proper terms to express the consolation and edification we felt at the sight of the candidates, but also of the members of the conference, and particularly the conferences which Monsieur N. of your Congregation gave. He so touched hearts that the gentlemen of the Conference could not stop speaking of it. Among the ordinands, many let it be known beforehand that they wanted nothing to do with the making of a general confession, and especially not to one of your priests. After hearing the conferences they were so moved they openly admitted their bad intentions, and contrary to their original resolution, stated their desire to make their general confession, and to one of the missionaries. This they all did, so moved to tears were they. In my own name, I thank you for your great charity towards us, and in addition I write in the name of these gentlemen. They asked me to tell you how pleased they were at the retreat.7
In May 1644, Monsieur Vincent sent two priests of his Congregation to Chartres at the invitation of Jacques Lescot, then bishop of that city. So blessed was their work for the ordinands that the bishop wrote his thanks in these words:
The two missionaries you did me the honor of sending for the Pentecost ordinations are fine representatives of the clergy. They are upright, learned, capable, careful, and zealous. Thanks be to God, their work was blessed abundantly, for which I, and the entire diocese, are infinitely obliged to you. The people here are well disposed. But we need the help of your charity. Please, Monsieur, I am counting on it, since your charity is so universal and great that you can refuse no one.8
In March 1645, the bishop of Saintes wrote to thank Monsieur Vincent for the priests of the Congregation he had sent for these same retreats. “Our ordinands make them with exceptional blessings, but there is such a demand for places now that we will be hard pressed to accommodate all who want to come.”9
It would take entire volumes to relate in detail all the benefits these retreats produced, wherever they were offered, or to speak of all the graces and blessings received by those who put no obstacle in the way of grace. This appeared even in their exterior deportment after their ordination in their changed life and in the practice of all the priestly virtues. It is enough to say that because of lack of workers Monsieur Vincent was unable to respond to each of the bishops of the kingdom for priests to conduct the ordination retreats in their dioceses. This general approval is an obvious tribute to the excellence and usefulness of the retreats.