Père Laval

Pilgrimage to the tomb of Father Jacques Désiré Laval


Blessed Jacques Désiré Laval was born on the 18 September 1803 in a department of the Normandy region of France. He was the child of a successful farmer. His uncle was a priest, and he grew up in a devoutly Catholic household. His mother died when he was seven years old.

Laval was then educated at Évreux, and the Collège Stanislas de Paris. Though initially uncertain whether to pursue the priesthood or the practice of medicine, he received his medical degree in 1830 and set up a practice in Saint-André and Ivry-la-Bataille in his native Normandy. He re-examined his choice after a near-fatal riding accident. Feeling he was called to the priesthood, he closed his practice and entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice; he was ordained in 1838, and worked as a parish priest for two years. However, desiring a more active ministry he entered the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary (later renamed as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit). He was sent as a missionary to the island of Mauritius on 14 September 1841.He spent the next twenty-three years in service to the people of that island nation.

Many of Père Laval’s parishioners were poor and uneducated former slaves. He lived with them, learned their language, fasted when supplies were short, and slept in a packing crate.His medical training was useful to his ministry, as he worked to improve conditions in agriculture, sanitation, medicine, and science.Laval was tremendously successful—he is believed to have made 67,000 converts in his parish.Jacques Laval was beatified on 24 April 1979, the first of 1,340 people beatified in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

The date of Père Laval’s death has become a holiday of sorts in Mauritius, marked by a festival and procession to the site of his tomb at Sainte Croix , a couple of miles to the north of Port Louis.

The annual pilgrimage to the parish church of Sainte-Croix originated on the day of his funeral procession in 1864.The funeral oration commented on the words of Isaiah: Evangelizare pauperibus misit me — “He sent me to announce the Gospel to the poor”.The casket was followed by more than thirty thousand weeping people and buried opposite the church in Sainte Croix. Every year, offerings and ex votos are placed at the site of his tomb from the night of 8 September until the end of the feast of the blessed.

A building on the campus of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a university administered by the Holy Ghost Fathers, is named “Laval House” in honour of Blessed Jacques Désiré Laval. A picture of Père Laval is found at Notre Dames de Lourdes (Leicester Square, London)

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