André Coindre 1787-1826 Missionary and Founder
by Brother René Sanctorum, S.C.
Part I: THE FORMATIVE YEARS
Andre Coindre was born on 26 February 1787, probably a short distance from Saint Bonaventure Church, in a house on rue Saint-Dominique, renamed rue Gasparin in 1902 after having borne in 1794 the name of the wicked Chalier and after having been rebaptized, so to speak, rue Emile-Zola at the end of the last century. We can see, in passing, how our cities have their life and their history inscribed in their flesh.
You will be kind enough to release me from saying my sources each time. Frequently, they are second hand or compilations, for I have nothing of the historian about me.
I shall mention, once and for all, the three main references: Brother Eugene's Vie du Père André Coindre; Sister Gabriela Maria's En cette nuit-lá, aux Pierres-Plantees... Claudine Thévenet; and Brother Jean Roure's Father André Coindre, 1787-1826, A Chronology – which themselves quote a host of works, notes, articles, and archives and where I refer the more curious.
André's father, a tailor and later a wholesaler in salt, was able to afford his children a comfortable life despite the hard times. (He died at Clos des Chartreux in 1818, but André's mother survived her son.) The Coindres had, in fact, three other children: two daughters, the younger of which died in infancy, and another son, Francis Vincent, who became a priest and, at his brother's death, superior general of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, following which he became chaplain of the Religious of Jesus-Mary at Fourvière.
André Coindre was baptized on 28 February 1787 by Father Anthony Joseph Lernoix, who was executed five years later, his body mutilated and his head borne on a pike before being left to hang among the linden trees of Bellecour - one of the first Lyonnaise martyrs of the French Revolution.
The childhood of Father Coindre coincided with this very troubled period for the nation and very dramatic one for the Church of France.
A longstanding tradition in the Institute has it that André's mother herself taught him his prayers and catechism. But isn't this, in part, a pious supposition, if we read in the life of Bishop Mioland — he, too, born in Saint Nicetius parish, on 26 October 1788 — that "not a crucifix stayed in the house; the fear that I might be indiscreet resulted in my no longer being made to pray"?1 And Father Linsolas, a priest of Saint Nicetius parish and (during the exile of Archbishop de Marbeut) de facto administrator of the diocese of Lyon, prescribed the hiding or destruction of holy books on account of the searches that were conducted even in the homes of the most docile citizens.
Which measures of prudence and which procedures were used as André and his brother and sisters were initiated to the mysteries of our faith? We have to resign ourselves to never knowing.
But what is certain is that the most circumspect vigilance on the part of civil authority did nothing to impede the most reckless audacity in this domain. In fact, the same Father Linsolas, in 1793, at the peak of the persecution, had organized, for example, a group of female catechists for the purpose of visiting not only the sick in the hospitals but also the priests, sisters, and other persons in the prisons, as well as of teaching catechism clandestinely to young girls and of preparing them, in great secret, for their first communion. Similar movements were begun for the sake of helping boys. Everything leads us to presume that André benefited from like devotedness. Remember, it was dangerous at that time, in Lyon, to parade one's faith or to be recognized as a royalist or as one who participated, in whatever manner, in the rebellion of Lyon against the Convention (the National Assembly of 1792-1795) from May to October in 1793. Witness the long list of victims — including many priests — of the firing squad and the guillotine. It will be recalled that the two Thévenet brothers were executed, in the presence of their sister Claudine, on the plaine des Brotteaux on 5 January 1794. At eight years of age, the little André was sent to school by his parents to a teacher in the neighborhood, probably a nonjuring priest, as there were very many of them who, taking advantage of the namelessness of the big city to conceal themselves, exercised this profession in hiding, since the right to teach was reserved only to those who had sworn allegiance to the Convention (decree of 19 December 1793).
At about this time, the Coindre family left rue Saint- Dominique (rue Gasparin) for a street parallel and near to Saint Nizier Church — rue de la Poulaillerie. The name indicates well enough the role that this street played in the market in the heart of the old city (there still exists today, along Saint Nizier Church, the rue de la Fromagerie). If I mention this street — rue de la Poulaillerie — it is because, first of all, Peter Waldo lived here, the founder of the Waldensian sect, and on that account the street was called the cursed street right up to the sixteenth century; and then, in 1602, the same street held city hall, in a former residence of the bishops of Lyon; thirdly, the Querbes family lived here at about the time that the Coindres arrived: two future founders living at a few meters from each other — a fact worth remarking! Within a few years, Andre Coindre and Louis Querbes were practically classmates at the major seminary. Father Querbes, furthermore, began his priestly ministry as a curate at Saint Nizier.
With the coup d'etat of 9 November 1799 (18 brumaire an VIII), the faithful were finally able to breathe, even if they were not immediately granted all their liberties. The Concordat of 1802 at last gave the Church a chance to reorganize.
At Saint Nicetius, the new pastor assembled a few boys and had one of his curates teach them both profane subjects and Christian doctrine while training them to be good altar boys. André Coindre was one of them. He proved eager to work and study, so much so that his companions, aroused to jealousy, began to bully him. We don't know if Louis Querbes was one of those companions, anymore than we know if André Coindre let himself be pushed around. Anyway, it seems that André did not attend that school for more than a year.
2. The Minor Seminary
In 1804, André Coindre was at Our Lady of L'Argentiere Minor Seminary, which had just opened its doors. We know that Cardinal Fesch, uncle of the Emperor, had only one idea in his head: to found seminaries for the reformation of the clergy, an indispensable condition for the re-Christianization of the country. Napoleon used to joke about it: If we were to put my uncle into a still, seminaries would flow out."2 And, in fact, we see in this prelate a sort of uncontrollable obsession with these institutions3:
"It's the seminarians, my dear Father Cholleton," he writes to the vicar-general in charge of seminaries, "that should occupy you: that is where your pride should be; it is only there that you will find the road to heaven. I dispense you from all other work." (3 July 1805)
And again: "For the love of God, for the Church that you hold dear, I beseech you to unload on Father Paul the nuns, sisters, brothers, and all those who keep you tied down to the confessional. Your main obligations, Paradise itself, are in the bell towers of the seminaries. You don't have to look elsewhere. . . . If I were at Lyon, I would set fire to your confessional. And I assure you, in the name of God, that you are not doing any good there, and that. . . you are wasting precious time." (12 January 1806)
"Your sighs for your confessional give me constant proof of your disposition to give in perpetually to temptation." (18 February 1806)
And Father Cholleton had better not try to give spiritual direction by correspondence!
To another priest: "I am not satisfied with Father Cholleton. . .. I see very clearly that he spends the whole day in the confessional and that all his time is divided among the nuns. . .. What have we to expect from nuns and sisters? Will they heal the wounds of the Church? Why, then, waste time with them? Let him turn over to Father Paul the pious women, nuns, sisters, and brothers; let him give me news about my major seminary, let him fill up my minor seminaries.” (12 January 1806)
I shall not dwell on the foundation of Our Lady of L'Argentière Minor Seminary, set up in a monastery that had been closed down in 1791, pleasantly situated about fifty kilometers from here and half a league from Sainte-Foy-l'Argentiere, except to recall that the cardinal had desired to make of it the most distinguished seminary of France.
Accordingly, he entrusted the institution to teams of the best educated and most solid priests to be found, among whom was a group of Fathers of the Faith, who were believed for a long time, but wrongly, to be a resurgence of Jesuits (the Society had been suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773). These Fathers of the Faith were there but briefly, for the Emperor had them dismissed in 1807 on charges of royalism.
From the start, this seminary, obviously intended for the training of candidates to the priesthood, nevertheless accepted students who laid no claim to a vocation. These were registered as lay or doubtful, tags that turned out to be useful on the day that the cardinal wrenched from his nephew the decree of 7 March 1806, according to which "ordained clerics (minor orders at least) are not subject to the military draft or to service in the national guard,"4 a measure of which André Coindre was a beneficiary.
What may be striking to us today is the relatively advanced age for minor seminarians. For example, in the third-year class, which was André's level at the time of his entrance, there were nineteen students. Four were at least as old as he was (seventeen years of age), and one was twenty- two years old. The time and circumstances explain these anomalies.
André spent five years at L'Argentière, where he followed not only a classical course (a lot of Latin, the French classics) but also — astonishing innovation for the period — a year of physics, that is, of sciences and mathematics (astronomy, hydrostatics, aerostatics, mechanics, statics, physics, etc.), which was introduced for the best students. Of the thirty-four graduates in 1808, fourteen stayed on for this new science course.
André obtained, naturally, excellent marks and remarks, which walked hand in hand as he advanced. Thus, the first year: "Pious, hardworking, and open; satisfactory progress; good conduct." The second year (he began to feel too much at home!): "A bit frivolous and talkative, but good-hearted, faithful to all his duties; a bit touchy, but very frank (could he have let himself be pushed around?); pious, edifying." Later years: "Works very well, excellent," etc.5 The brothers have family traits to uphold!
3. The Major Seminary
After having brilliantly completed his studies at L'Argentiere by formally discussing scientific questions from nine till noon on 26 July 1809 in company with several classmates, André Coindre had three months of vacation — until All Saints Day — to prepare his entrance into Saint Irenaeus Major Seminary, then situated on place Croix-Paquet, that is, at the foot of Croix-Rousse (a Lyon suburb, higher in elevation).
The program at Saint Irenaeus was of three years. The first, Sacred Scripture; the second, dogmatic theology; the third, moral theology.
We don't know much about André Coindre's life at the major seminary except that he received good comments on his learning and conduct and that his motto may be said to have been: "Spare no effort to become the salt of the earth and the light of the world."6
Cardinal Fesch had set up, as to have been expected, a team of professors of the highest quality, and Saint Irenaeus Seminary formed quantities of priests — 413 in thirteen years (more than thirty annually) — among whom a host of celebrities: a cardinal, Ferdinand Donnet; bishops: Dufetre, Mioland, de La Croix d'Azolette, Coeur, Loras; and that amazing roll of founders who happened to study at Croix-Paquet at the same time: Louis Querbes (Clerics of Saint Viator), Marcellinus Champagnat (Little Brothers of Mary), John Claude Colin (Society of Mary), Leonard Furnion (Sisters of Adoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), not to mention John Mary Vianney.
André Coindre was ordained by the hands of Cardinal Fesch on 14 June 1812 at Saint John's Cathedral. He celebrated his first mass in the church of his baptism, here, at Saint Nizier, in the presence of his parents. (Pope Pius VII, just arrested by Napoleon, was led incognito through Lyon in the night of 16-17 June on the way to his prison at Fontaine-bleau.)
But the seminary was not over for André Coindre. He felt a need to study for a further six months, in order to train himself for sacred oratory. It is said of him: "He distinguished himself not only by his priestly qualities but also by his noteworthy gifts as an orator."7
This period of formation terminated, André Coindre was named first curate to Canon Chapuy at Notre Dame parish in Bourg-en-Bresse (which is in the diocese of Belley, but that diocese had not yet been reestablished). This city had a population of about ten thousand. As we learn from the parish registers, Father Coindre administered many baptisms — 320 in two years and eight months (ten monthly); that he presided at numerous infant burials — a reminder of the misery, sickness, and infant mortality of the times. On 5 December 1813, at Saint John's Cathedral, Father Coindre pronounced the panegyric on the anniversary of the Emperor's coronation and of the battle of Austerlitz in presence of — claims the orator's brother-in-law — Napoleon himself. To be given a like task at the age of twenty-six, he had to have been already recognized as a gifted speaker. In November 1815, he was transferred to Saint Bruno's parish at Croix-Rousse, where he performed the functions of curate while beginning to participate in missionary activities.
1. Sister Gabriela Maria, R.J.M., En cette nuit-là, aux Pierres-Plantées…Claudine Thévenet, Paris, Editions France-Empire, 1973, p. 121.
2. En cette nuit-là, p. 162.
3. Joseph Jomand, Fesch par lui-même, Imprimerie Emmanuel Vitte, Lyon, 1970, pp. 55-57.
4. Brother Jean Roure, S.C., Father André Coindre, 1787-1826, A Chronology, Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome, 1987, p. 33.
5. Chronology, pp. 29, 31, 35, 37.
6. Ibid., p. 11.
7. En cette nuit-là, p. 218.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ANDRÉ COINDRE 1787-1826 MISSIONARY AND FOUNDER
by Brother René Sanctorum, S.C.
1. Membership in the "Carthusians"
As early as June 1814, Father Claude Mary Bochard, a vicar-general of Lyon, and Father Nicholas de La Croix d'Azolette had conceived the idea of founding an association of missionary priests — the Society of the Cross of Jesus — that they in fact carried out at Croix-Rousse in 1816 on the site of the former Carthusian monastery. It was the resuscitation of a creation of Cardinal Fesch of 1806 — the Missionaries of France — that the prelate had established in a part of the former Carthusian monastery that he had bought with his own money. This society, immediately successful, had been suppressed along with all other missionary societies and many clerical congregations — Sulpicians, Vincentians, etc. — by the Emperor's decree issued from Schonbrunn on 26 December 1809 that the cardinal, with all his influence, was not able to have repealed.
By the time of this refoundation, Father Coindre had already given a part of his energy to preaching. He had given the Advent sermons at Saint John's Cathedral in December, 1815 and participated in the missions of Saint-Just-la-Pendue (Loire) and of the parishes of Saint Bruno and Saint Justus in Lyon (Rhone) in 1816. Naturally, he sought admission into the newly formed Society of the Cross of Jesus.
2. The Missions
a. The History. It has sometimes been said and written that the missions had arisen during the Restoration for the re-evangelization or re-Christianization of a France whose faith had been uprooted by the Revolution. This statement supposes that the faith of the Christian people had hardly any depth, to become thus dried up within some ten to fifteen years. It is true that during the revolutionary period, preaching, catechesis, and the administration of sacraments suffered greatly. It is understandable that the subsequent generation was rather uninformed as regards religion.
Missions in France, moreover, had been in existence for almost two centuries. Saint Vincent de Paul had impressed the spirit, program, and method. In the eighteenth century, the Jesuits and Father Bridaine continued a tradition of missions that the Revolution merely interrupted.
With the Concordat, missions were taken up again, only to be brusquely stopped on account of the quarrel between the Emperor and Pope Pius VII.
But as we have just seen, the Emperor had no sooner gone into exile than the missionaries set off once again on their rounds.
b. The Missionaries. The missionaries did not all have the same formation as Father Coindre; many had the temperament of Crusaders. But for both sorts, it almost always happened to identify Church and Throne. The missionaries would urge their worked up audiences to shout hosannas to God and King.
But what generosity they had! What devotion to the very end! What a passion for the Church and for the Gospel, which needed to be proclaimed to the masses, especially to the lower classes!
Their preaching was not encumbered with theological subtleties. The meat was in the important truths — I was going to say general truths — especially death, judgment, heaven and hell; and for morality: purity in marriage, prudence in relationships and in leisure, honesty, etc. That some orators overdid it involuntarily and unwittingly, that they exaggerated to the point of causing terror, is a fact. But let us not judge a bygone century with today's mentality (must we speak of bygone? did not such things exist even a mere thirty years ago?), a century influenced to the core by Jansenism (even the missionaries preaching against it were themselves affected by it!).
c. The Means. The missionaries used many fail proof pedagogical procedures.
Such were hymns. Every mission included singing practice. Any simple and catching melody, even profane, was good for new lyrics. We can imagine the powerful effect of this method on people who were illiterate for the most part, but who very often had a well-developed memorizing ability.
Mention must be made of the great processions in the city and in the country. At the mission of Saint-Just-en-Chevalet, ten to fifteen thousand people came from Saint- Romain, Arcon, Villemontais, Jure, Champoly, Saint-Marcel, Cremeaux, Cherier, "banners flying, men and youths, girls dressed in white, penitents, national guards, the mayors of the various parishes wearing their sashes. . . the cross bearers, the drums, the national guard. . . the police on horseback to protect the clergy."1
No wonder the trees along the route should be filled with gaping onlookers, that the faithful should watch amassed on the walls and even the roofs! The spectacle must not have been lacking in color!
Another pedagogical means: common attitudes and gestures. Who could have remained unmoved at the sight of three thousand men raising their right hand in perfect unison — as it happened at Grenoble — and renewing their baptismal promises?
There was also the knell. "For several days, and at certain hours of the afternoon, he (Father Coindre) had the bells rung, as for a funeral; upon the lugubrious tolling, people, in each house, were supposed to fall to their knees; on the streets and public squares, they were to interrupt their conversations and pray fervently to obtain the return of strayed souls."2
And stage management. At Saint Joseph's Prison of Lyon, before beginning his sermon on sin, Father Coindre removed his surplice, declaring his unworthiness to wear it, put a noose around his neck, took a lighted candle in his hand, and only then delivered his sermon.
At the obligatory cemetery service, the missionary addressed the crowds before an open grave, a skull in his hands. Fragile nerves were sometimes put to a hard test! "Not less legitimate in principle, but more debatable in application, were the hunt after bad books and the open hostility to the dance."3 Undoubtedly the missionaries wanted to engrave convictions in the hearts of their listeners, but it may have been better simply "to enlighten minds, to alert consciences, without presiding themselves. . . at the destruction of books, without having the girl dancers. . . swear oaths that they would not keep."4
d. The Program. Missions lasted up to three, four, and even six weeks. The program was pretty much the same from one mission to the next. Essentially, it consisted of instructions, two per day usually, that took not more than an hour each, including the gloss, that is, a short period for practical tips or anecdotes to put the hearers in the spirit and to make sure that latecomers didn't miss the beginning of the sermon.
In the cities, the first instruction took place at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m., for the men going to work. In winter — and missions occurred mostly in winter — when the churches were freezing, it required heroism on the part of everybody. The evening instruction, meant for all, was given at the end of the workday and, during the cold season, extended beyond nightfall.
On certain days the program varied: high mass (ordinarily for the dead), confessions (over several evenings, sometimes going well into the night), first communion of children, communion of men, communion of women (apart, naturally! but maybe for greater facility), consecration of children to Mary, renewal of baptismal promises before a richly decorated altar, a time of recollection (a whole afternoon, for example), procession to and service at the cemetery, a free afternoon (particularly needed by the missionaries), etc.
For the plantation of the commemorative cross, occasionally the cross was put into place before the ceremony, but often it was carried triumphantly in procession on a haphazard wagon that kept the municipal authorities on pins and needles, for the cross may have measured twelve, even fifteen, meters high and weighed half a ton!
e. The Organization. The missionaries worked in teams of two, four, six, sometimes nine, even eleven, priests and obtained the cooperation of the local clergy for confessions and for the orchestration of ceremonies.
Each mission had its leader who was called the prefect of the mission and who energetically directed the whole affair.
Here are some of his duties as they are indicated in notes addressed to the missionaries being sent to Saint-Sauveur and drawn from the bylaws of the Society of the Cross of Jesus5:
"The prefect or head of the mission, upon arriving, shall prepare everything, reconnoiter the terrain; leaving nothing to chance, he shall see everything, hear everything, keep from acting and even judging precipitately, and then decide wisely upon his plan and pursue it with resolution. . . .
"He shall confer with his collaborators on the progress of the mission. . . foresee the future, seek advice, and make decisions.
"The prefect shall settle all at once the order of talks, instructions, and ceremonies."
The missionaries prepared for their task by studying moral theology, eloquence, and spiritual theology, and just before the mission, by a few mortifications and increased recollection.
During the mission, they had to take measures against laxity, vanity, or murmuring; to be discreet with regard to the local clergy, saying only good about them and encouraging the people to trust in them; to desire to help all the parishioners, showing "preference, if there must be any, to the poor, the ignorant, the most to be pitied."
Rising was at 4:30 a.m. in order to have time for personal or group prayer; meals (during which the Bible was read) and the divine office took place in community. The horarium, however — of the people as well as of the missionaries — was to be adapted to circumstances.
"Sincere thanks" to the family that gave lodging, "friendliness without familiarity. . . sobriety especially at table" (does this mean that they could relax a little when not at table?).
"They shall make up" for exercises of piety "that cannot be done, increase their fervor in saying mass and the breviary.
"They shall watch out for excessive enthusiasm." Etc.
f. The Evaluation. After the mission there was, as we would say today, an objective evaluation of the operation6:
"1 it would have been desirable to have had a meeting with the local clergy. . . in order to have uniformity of principles (especially for confessions).
"2 the singing of the hymns dragged because. . . because. . . because. . . .
"3 there's no point in singing Latin motets that nobody knows (already!). . . .
"4 the opening of the mission did not have enough bang: it could have used a procession, a rousing speech. . . .
"5 some conferences were too long-winded and not always very exact in the definitions."
There was no hesitation in naming names:
"6 some talks were too long: like Father Chevallon’s judgement, Father Barricand’s passion. . . .
"8 it would be very advantageous to have at the end of the daily instruction a quarter of an hour given to the examen of sins and an act of contrition. The country folk do not know how to examine themselves, and many confessions lack sincere sorrow. . . .
"12 the fabrication of the cross was thought of too late. . . .
"14 it would have been useful to have the list of persons publicly separated in order to reconcile them. . . .
"15 incurable persons were left aside. . . who wanted to receive a few words of consolation from the missionaries. . . .
"17 it would have been desirable to have in front of strangers a greater reserve and more thoughtfulness toward each other (the missionaries). . . ." Etc.
Let us presume that in subsequent missions fewer mistakes were made!
Some missionaries, such as Father Ballet, a companion of André Coindre, "missioned" for over forty years. With length of time, if their memory balked at new topics to learn, they knew by heart the old standbys — "pardon of injuries," "hell," etc. — to the point of being able, while pronouncing them, to count the number of men, women, and children present! The mission had become ingrained in their very reflexes.
g. The Repercussions. A final word — on the reception given to the missions. It frequently happened, especially in the cities, that the missionaries were badly received, at least at first (a certain press having aroused the population against them). Consequently, they often began before a sparse and irreverent audience. Youths would come to disturb the instructions under cover of darkness in the badly lighted churches. This situation, far from disheartening the missionaries, only served to galvanize them. Rare were the cases in which the missionaries failed to win over the people after a few days or a week. And then would be seen churches filled to the rafters, such that Father Coindre was able to report the following, with regard to the mission of Saint-Just-en-Chevalet (1820)7:
"People can be seen on ladders and benches in order to see the ceremony from the church windows."
And: "The number of adults who come to communion is prodigious; in order to avoid confusion, communion is given to the children alone, after which they are made to evacuate the church, and then to the adults, which lasts up to eleven o’clock."
Or again: "Fifteen hundred men come to communion, and then five hundred women after the men have evacuated the church."
Or this: "The confessors are so tightly besieged that several penitents can not get out of the confessional except by climbing over the shoulders of those waiting to confess."
And to top everything: "Prodigious affluence of men; there is not enough room for all of them even though there is not a single chair in the church. They are perched on the confessionals, the side altars, the backs of pews, and outside they climb by ladders to enter by the windows" (I am only quoting a text written in the very hand of the Founder!).
The authorities, especially in the cities, had a great fear that these enormous gatherings might degenerate or that the missionaries might take advantage of them to propagate subversive ideas. For example, a secretary of prefecture told the Minister of the Interior of the fear that the officers had "that Father Coindre might preach the restitution of the national goods." There was "no cause for alarm." However, "restrain this type of preaching as much as possible. . . let the exercises be held inside the churches."8
Faced with the request of the pastor of Montbrison for the authorization of a mission, the prefect consulted the minister, who responded: "The government neither forbids nor encourages it; I have not given and do not want to give any authorizations."9
We can imagine the political use that could have been derived from such demonstrations. But in fact, "there is reason to praise the zeal of the missionaries," writes the prefect of Lyon to the minister in 1820, "and the prudence that they had in not mixing with their sermons any digression of circumstance, politics, or temporal interest." Just the same, "assurance that there will be no mission at Lyon."10
We must remark, also, in some places, an opposition set up by anticlericals that was expressed in pamphlets, satirical rhymes, or tracts. For instance, this unsigned text with regard to the mission of Saint-Etienne (1821): "People, another step and you will be in the most horrible inquisition; let these clever missionaries come and they will break up your families and homes. Stand at the ready to back up your brothers. You will see that if the other cities have been coward enough to bear the tyrannico-fanatic yoke, this one will know how to shed it. Await the signal, and perish with them those who invited them!"11
In spite of these furious bursts of oratory, the opposition shown did not prevent a great success for the mission of Saint-Etienne. In fact, "three thousand citizens. . . on the day of our departure, took their places in front of the horses of the two coaches and escorted, hymnal in hand, their evangelizers up to Saint-Chamond"12 (twelve kilometers on foot!). But these noisy demonstrations, which were not rare, disturbed rather than pleased the missionaries. Father Coindre was worried about it. Good is not accomplished in noise.
3. Coindre the Missionary
André Coindre devoted practically his whole priestly career to missionary activity, even while working in countless other undertakings, as we shall mention in an instant. To these missions must be added a large number of retreats given in the minor seminaries of the diocese of Lyon (Alix, L'Argentiere, Meximieux, Saint-Jodard, Verrières), in religious communities, in prisons, and in hospitals and also the isolated sermons as well as the series of Advent and Lenten sermons.
He had, in a way, specialized in preaching on the last ends: death, judgement, hell, heaven, hope. It is said that after one of his sermons, in a church filled to breaking, the entire congregation was left hushed for a long moment, paralyzed with fright, unable to budge even their little fingers. One witness declares: "When he proclaimed the fearful truths of religion — with an emotional, echoing voice — his animated talks brought terror to consciences."13
Other subjects dear to him were sin, contrition, confession, scandal, human respect; and on the other side of the coin, religious truth, Christian greatness, Christian charity, pardon, the Virgin Mary.
It was often he who provided the preaching at the plantation of the commemorative cross at the end of a mission.
His contemporaries did not tire of praising his speaking ability as a missionary: "Not since Bridaine," writes Cardinal Donnet, "had such powerful oratory reverberated under sacred roof. Soundness of thought, brilliance of form, perfection of delivery, communicative emotion, all that impresses and enthralls an audience was found in his talks, which could sustain comparison with those of the great preachers of our day."14
It was in 1880 that the cardinal-archbishop of Bordeaux wrote those lines for the benefit of the first biographer of Father Coindre. We may find them dithyrambic, as to be expected from a former fellow seminarian of Croix-Paquet, especially when he credits his friend with sustaining comparison with the great of his time (Lacordaire comes to mind). As for James Bridaine (1701-1767), whom many of you must never had heard of — which is nothing to be ashamed about — the dictionaries describe him as a missionary of vehement eloquence, indeed trivial, and one whose sermons were not published before 1823. And yet, praises similar to those made by Cardinal Donnet are repeated in many other quarters: "His art lay in the variety and unity of his instructions. Endowed with a fertile imagination and unlimited in noble and grand concepts drawn more often than not from Sacred Scripture, which. . . was his constant and favorite object of study, he captivated and enthralled with the authority of an apostle."15
"In order to draw them to God, what tenderness of expression, what power, what wealth of language did he not use? . . . His words, glowing with faith and charity, enlightened minds, softened hearts, subjugated the most rebellious wills."16
And again: He captivated "the listeners, who were being instructed by sound doctrine and heartfelt eloquence, sweeping the masses along by his emotive sentiments, animated gestures, and thundering voice."17
"It was ravishing, it was sublime!"18
"It was divine!"19 (Nothing less!)
And we know that on many occasions, for instance, at Saint-Etienne, the crowds wanted to carry him in triumph on the day of the plantation of the cross. But in truth, a reading of the sermon notes left by Father Coindre does not warrant these enthusiastic praises. Personally, I was rather disappointed after having read them: many cliches, little originality of thought, nothing that could be compared with, for example, a Bossuet, whom, by the way, he quotes sometimes in naming and sometimes not, according to the custom of the times. It even happened that he simply took some ready-made sermons from the preceding century (it was a current practice). His contemporary, the Curé of Ars, did as much.
So, how come such a success? The fame of Father Coindre and of the extraordinary results of his preaching reached throughout France.20 I think that André Coindre made up for his want of literary ability by a stirring oratorical skill — stirring primarily because powerful (he was able to make himself heard in open air by thousands of persons; it often happened that he addressed outdoor crowds from a window) and secondly because convinced and dramatic: "Who could describe the resonance of the voice," continues Cardinal Donnet, "the authority of gesture, that oratorical passion and that spiritual vibration that increased by a hundredfold the force of the speaker?"21
This is why vicar-general Bochard, founder of the Brothers of the Cross of Jesus - no longer existing — even though "particularly liking Father Coindre . . . often reproached him for dissipating in minor works (understand especially providences) a first-class talent for preaching."22
Father Coindre was a member of the Society of the Cross of Jesus or "Carthusians" — since called Priests of Saint Irenaeus - until 1822.
It was not, strictly speaking, a religious congregation. It was only from 1820 that the missionaries pronounced vows of obedience to the archbishop and of stability. André Coindre, not taking those vows, remained an associated member until he left the group. Why did he leave? It has been said that he did so in order to devote himself more intensely to, in particular, his nascent congregations. But we know that he gave himself to a host of other fronts.
It is possible that he wanted to remain free to eventually work in other dioceses or, more probably, that he desired to introduce his institutes in other dioceses since their development in Lyon was stalled by the ecclesiastical authorities.
The fact remains that he was asked by the bishop of Saint-Flour, who was then also administrator of the diocese of Le Puy, which was shortly to be reestablished, to found a society of missionaries for the department of Haute-Loire. The project took shape in the Society of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Monistrol-L'Eveque (today Monistrol-sur-Loire), of which our Founder was superior general until 1825 and to which he gave Statutes drawn from the Rule of Saint Augustine.
Meanwhile, in Lyon, in 1824, hostility between the successor of Cardinal Fesch, Bishop de Pins, and the vicars-general caused this bishop to take his distance from the "Carthusians." He tried to create another society of missionaries. He consulted, then, Father Coindre, who, enthused by the scheme, declared himself available and even sent a proposed set of Statutes. But nothing further was done, for the bishop approved the Marist Fathers that same year.
During that time, Father Coindre had to refuse a similar request from the bishop of Dijon.
In the diocese of Le Puy, where his missionaries (as well as his sisters and brothers) were carrying out their activities, Father Coindre was exposed to the antagonism of a large number of envious clergymen. A mission preached at Blois in 1824 with an organization of preachers that went by the name Missionaries of Saint Martin, made Father Coindre acquainted with that diocese and its pastor, Bishop de Sauzin, who appreciated him very much. This encounter is at the origin of our Founder's last adventure, as we shall see later on.
1. Archives of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome.
2. Brother Eugene, S.C., Vie du Père André Coindre, Lyon, Librairie Delhomme et Briguet, et Le Puy, à l'Institution des Sourds-Muets, 1888, p. 56.
3. Father Ernest Sevrin, Les missions religieuses en France sous la Restauration, vol. 1, Procure des Prêtres de la Miséricorde, Saint-Mandé (Seine), 1948, p. 352.
5. Archives of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome.
6. Archives of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome.
7. Archives of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome.
8. Archives of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome.
11. Father George Babolat, Les chartreux de Lyon, missionaires diocésains depuis le cardinal Fesch, Extrait des Actes du 98e congrès national des sociétés savantes, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1975, p. 135.
12. Vie, p. 48.
13. Vie, p. 142.
14. Ibid., p. xiii.
15. Vie, pp. 54-55.
16. Ibid., pp. 142-143.
17. En cette nuit-là, p. 370.
18. Vie, p.57.
20. En cette nuit-là, p. 300.
21. Vie, p. xiii.
22. Archives of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome.