August 21, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
By the time the young Leo Dehon started his yearlong trip to the Middle East on August 23, 1864, he was already a seasoned traveler. During the summer break following his second year of law school in Paris, Leo and his cousin spent three months in London learning English. Leo intended to return the next summer to continue practicing his English, but his plans changed when he met Leo Palustre, who proposed travelling throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland.
It didn’t take much convincing for Leo to join the adventure, which proved to be the beginning of a life-long friendship with Leo Palustre. “I was to become attached to him,” Dehon wrote, “very much so, and together with him I became enamored of all artistic beauty; we began a series of trips which provided me with thousands of useful and interesting bits of knowledge.”
As students in Paris, the two Leo’s took numerous day trips to the city’s historic and artistic sites, and during another academic break, they traveled for three months through Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Austria. After Leo successfully completed his doctoral degree in Law, his father provided him with the means to travel through Belgium and Holland. Upon his return from this graduation gift, Leo resurrected his desire to study for the priesthood.
“My father,” Leo wrote, “had promised to give me a free hand after I obtained my doctorate, but now that the crucial moment had arrived he objected.” Meanwhile, Leo Palustre suggested a trip to the Middle East. Leo Dehon’s father was more than willing to support this plan because he thought the worldly experience would finally change his son’s desire to enter the seminary.
Yet the opposite happened. Many years later, Fr. Dehon wrote, “It was to lead me to the seminary. I was filled with zeal and enthusiasm to visit so many places at leisure: the Black Forest, Switzerland, Italy, Dalmatia, the Ionian Isles, Greece, the Aegean Sea, Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Syria, the Bosporus, the Black Sea, the Dardanelles, and Hungary. I was to see nature, ancient civilizations, and finally the two holy cities of Jerusalem and Rome.”
The two friends travelled by train, horse and buggy, canoe, camels, donkeys, horseback, stagecoach, and steamer. They endured bothersome insects, an earthquake in Greece, windstorms, overflowing rivers, stifling heat, seasickness, sandstorms, and clouds of grasshoppers.
“The mountain passes in Greece are real death-traps,” Dehon noted. “On one occasion, my horse tumbled into a ravine. I succeeded in dismounting just in time. Often during this journey, I escaped grave danger, thanks to Divine Providence. As for me, I had braved all the dangers of a long trip with the casualness of a 20 year old.”
In Egypt, the two friends visited a French diplomat, who provided them with an unforgettable experience. “The festivities lasted until late in the evening. We had to observe the formality of smoking the long-stemmed Turkish pipe. Musicians sang to the accompaniment of tambourine, bagpipe, and a kind of harp. A group of young dancers concluded the entertainment. While we ate, servants, who were motionless as statues, held up big lanterns. After the soup course, we were served fried turkey stuffed with rice, pumpkin, cold meats, pastry, fruit, nuts and this washed down with champagne, crème de mocha, brandy, and two cups of coffee. We smoked the pipe again and had some more music. It was midnight when we took our leave.”
About the Holy Land, Leo wrote, “The great days of Holy Week in Jerusalem are more moving than one can express. You follow all the stages of the Passion and the Resurrection. At every hour of the day, you contemplate the sacred mysteries and can say it happened here, this is where Jesus gave us the sign of his love; this is where he suffered, where he shed his blood. I received deep impressions which have always helped me in my meditations.”
In Rome, the last stop on his trip, Leo met with Pope Pius IX. “I spoke to him about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, my vocation, and my indecision as to where I should make my studies. He advised the French Seminary in Rome. I had completed in Rome what I had wanted to do.” After a year of adventurous travels, his dream was as strong as ever. With confidence, he concluded, “My vocation was settled; it was the crowning of my voyage.”
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Notes on the History of My Life, Volumes One and Two
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
If I were to offer an honest self-reflection, I would call myself an SCJ Isolationist from the time of my first profession until 1988. Like most Americans, my worldview was shaped by two great oceans keeping the world at bay, or so we used to think. This all changed with the arrival of the SCJs who had volunteered for the soon-to-be-established Philippine Mission. The General Administration asked the United States Province to arrange a 6-month language course as well as an opportunity for the group to begin to form their own community and self-identity. In turn the US Province asked my community, the parish of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary [now called St. Martin of Tours] to host the community as they could use the empty convent as their home and place to build and develop community life.
It was a wonderful experience to get to know these men from Argentina, Indonesia, England, Germany, Holland, and Italy. I remember especially well our Christmas Eve dinner in the parish rectory where each one contributed in one way or another to make it a memorable 1988 International Christmas and began stirrings in my own heart to open myself up to the reality that SCJs live and work in many places around the globe far beyond the shores of Lake Michigan.
That initial stirring was reinforced when I became a member of the General Council in 1991, and for the next 12 years had the opportunity to visit many parts of the world and to come into contact with SCJs at various General, Regional, and Provincial meetings and encounters.
If someone asked me what was the greatest lesson those 12 years taught me, I would sum it up in one word: hospitality. No matter where I went in the Congregation, I always felt at home and accepted not as an American or foreigner, but as a brother. I admired how each culture and sometimes each house in a Province had their own twist on how to practice hospitality; but practice it they did.
If pushed further what community or Province impressed me the most, I would say without hesitation the SCJ Community at Foligno, a part of our Southern Italian Province. I kind of fell into their lives while studying Italian at Perugia about 36 kilometers from Foligno. On weekends I would spend one back in Rome and the other in Foligno. The community was most gracious to me and I kind of made it my refuge from Rome for the next 12 years.
Now I find myself spending extended time in Asia, a world so very different from my own. But the ideals of SCJ hospitality are carried out there just as faithfully and with as much care as anywhere I’ve have the good fortune to hang my hat. While as far as I know no classes in the art of hospitality are taught anywhere in the Congregation, I know first-hand that the art of hospitality is alive and well in the 40-plus countries SCJs now call home.
Thomas Cassidy, SCJ
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
Whether you have traveled near or far, what have you learned about God’s creation?
How and for whom can you practice the art of hospitality?
How does Earth’s diversity enrich you?
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer people who practice hospitality by making a home for the familiar and unfamiliar, for the noticed and unnoticed. You may find the following prayer helpful.
God of all creation,
in the global village we call Earth,
there are innumerable worlds
unfamiliar to each other
yet all reflecting in some way
your image and likeness
and heeding your call
to be fruitful and multiply.
In the home you have given us,
may we practice the art of hospitality,
welcoming new ways
of seeing, embracing, and honoring,
not only our sisters and brothers,
but also plants, animals, and other natural resources.
May Earth flourish
to our delight
and to your glory.
Each week reflections and prayers based in the Dehonian charism are published on the Dehonian Spirituality page of the U.S. Province website of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. This is an email version of that update.
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