September 14, 2018
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
As the seventh and most recently appointed curate [of the Basilica of St. Quentin], Fr. Dehon was given particular responsibility for a ministry that seemed unrewarding and unpopular: that of catechism in the primary State schools. The Guizot law of 1833 provided a time specifically set aside for moral and religious instruction. All the young people received this instruction as the law required until this was repealed by Jules Ferry’s law in 1882.
The church used these opportunities to spread the gospel message. As early as 1839, Dupanloup [later, Bishop of Orléans], who was then a priest at St. Sulpice in Paris, underlined the importance of the catechism. He started a form of instruction that he described in “The General Method of Catechetics” and “Discussions on the Catechism.” He suggested, “Teaching the catechism is not just telling children about Christianity, it is nurturing them in Christianity.”
Dehon regularly came into contact with the Bishop of Orléans who, in his opinion, “had written the best treatise on education” and which made a tremendous impact on him. Dehon put into practice what he had read. In the very first year of his priesthood, he prepared about a hundred boys for their first communion. This gave him the chance to get in touch with St. Quentin’s working class.
But he soon noticed that this instruction did not have lasting effects and was not really teaching them Christianity. Although this assessment was commonplace enough, it was decisive in determining Dehon’s future. He was led into starting many projects, even founding a religious Congregation to put right this sad state of affairs.
It also revealed a new dimension of Dehon’s personality: he was an educator who cared about the formation of Christians. He wanted to turn the young, working class lads, often from deprived backgrounds, who came to the catechism instruction into mature, educated Christians. To achieve this, he opened a youth club in 1872. Then in 1877, this was followed by the foundation of a secondary school, the Institution of St. John.
Later he became interested in the formation of seminarians and priests and in making them aware of the social dimension of their priestly ministry. Through his spiritual writings, his conferences, and retreats, he journeyed with men and women on the road to evangelical perfection.
All his life, Dehon would be involved, in one way or another, in teaching and formation, for he knew that in this, lay hope for the future, including the spreading of the gospel. And it is important to note that the foundation of his Congregation began with something altogether much wider—a practical project providing for education.
Excerpt from A Short Life of Leo Dehon, Yves Ledure, SCJ
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian Spirituality
The love for all people is what really stands out to me when I think of Fr. Dehon. Here at St. Joseph's Indian School, we get a variety of students that come from different reservations. I remind myself that I need to love everyone as Jesus did and as Fr. Dehon tried to imitate. Respecting and showing love to all students, whether they have been at St. Joseph's Indian School for eight years or only four weeks, helps to promote a sense of belonging or welcome.
Along with showing love to all students, our Mission challenges us to follow the footsteps of Fr. Dehon and his preaching of the Word of God and the love of Jesus Christ. Here on our campus, I may teach a student that has never heard of Jesus. As sad as that may sound to some people, this presents a great opportunity to teach the student the love and grace that comes from our Lord. I am blessed with that opportunity.
Finally, and most important, is the love of Jesus that gives peace to believers. For my students, going back to their home may be a difficult experience. Reminding my students that Jesus can bring them peace in their lives is very important. This is similar to what Fr. Dehon did for the workers in France, reminding them through all their tough times the love of Jesus will always be with them.
Religion Teacher at St. Joseph's Indian School, Chamberlain, SD
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
“Catechism is not just telling children about Christianity, it is nurturing them in Christianity.” What do you think “nurturing” entails?
What do you think is needed to form mature and educated Christians?
By virtue of your Baptism, what role can you play in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
This year, the Church designates September 16 as Catechetical Sunday, “an opportunity to reflect on the role that each person plays, by virtue of Baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel” [United States Catholic Conference of Bishops]. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers those who minister as catechists, as well as all the baptized, who are called to nurture one another in their Christian faith. You may find helpful the following prayer, a paraphrase of Psalm 53, taken from Water and Enrich My Heart, Prayers Based on the Psalms, by Charles Flood, SCJ.
Let me, Lord,
by my living of the Christian vocation,
be the best and most effective answer
to the scoffer and the unbeliever.
Make me willing to discuss intelligently
but never ready to argue acrimoniously.
In place of unreasoning fear
give me unwavering trust in your holy name.
Thus, let me be
the best and most vibrant example
of what your love can mean in my life
and in that of earnest seekers.
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.
Anyone is welcome to receive the Dehonian Spirituality email. Click here to add a subscriber.
The Dehonian Spirituality updates are edited by David Schimmel, U.S. Province director of Dehonian Associates. Questions or comments for David? Click here.
Click here to learn more about the Priests of the Sacred Heart on the US Province website. Click here to visit us on Facebook.