Father André Coindre: Missionary and Founder
by Brother René Sanctorum, S.C.
2. THE MINOR SEMINARY
In 1804, André Coindre was at Our Lady of L'Argentière 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."1 And, in fact, we see in this prelate a sort of uncontrollable obsession with these institutions.*:
"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 sol id 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,"^ 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.+ The brothers have family traits to uphold!
3. THE MAJOR SEMINARY
After having brilliantly completed his studies at L’Argentière 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." #
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 Nicetius, in 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 Fontainebleau.)
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."@
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.
Part II: THE MISSIONARY
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 Schönbrunn 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!).
* Joseph Jomand, Fesch par lui-même, Imprimerie Emmanuel Vitte, Lyon, 1970, pp. 55-57.
^ Brother Jean Roure, S.C., Father André Coindre, 1787-1826, A Chronology, Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rome, 1987, p. 33.
+ Chronology, pp. 29,31,35, 37.
# Ibid., p. 11.
@ En cette nuit-là, p. 218.
The Memoirs of Brother Xavier
by Brother Jean-Pierre Ribaut, S.C.
The Memoirs of Brother Xavier
In 1817, Father Andre Coindre, seeing the hospitals and prisons of Lyon filling up with young children, decided to create a "providence" or refuge in which to gather them together and to protect them from the prevalent dangers in society. He began by finding a secure place for five or six of these homeless boys in a cell of the Chartreuse, a former Carthusian monastery, near the side door of the church.1 He entrusted them to the care of a young man called Genthon, whom he appointed as supervisor. Genthon taught his young charges how to wind silk thread onto bobbins and he gave them some basic learning. Soon the number of boys increased. So, he proposed teaching them a trade which might eventually become, for these poor unfortunates, a means of earning a living. To this effect, two silk looms were set up.
But already the quarters, which by then accommodated about fifteen boys, had become too small. Clearly new premises had to be found. A house situated on a property belonging to a Mr. Feréol became available. It was for rent. A price was agreed, and in 1818, the refuge of St. Bruno (the name which Father Coindre had given to this little gathering of souls) moved to this new site. These premises allowed for the setting up of even more looms and even to undertake other work linked to the weaving trade.
Just at that time a certain Dufour appeared on the scene and sold Father Coindre on the idea of setting up a spinning mill, insisting that he himself would operate the machine. The mill was purchased forthwith at a cost which ran to three or four thousand francs. It soon became evident, however, that instead of making money, this new machine was in fact becoming a drain on their resources, either due to maintenance costs or due to the wages which had to be paid to the supervisor. There was no choice but to discontinue this kind of work and to dismiss Mr. Dufour. The establishment limited itself to purchasing a few more weaving machines. As the number of boys had increased still further, the premises had once again become too small.
So Father Coindre, in agreement with his father who had decided at that time to retire from business 2 (he had been a wholesale salt merchant), determined to buy a house (just then on the market) located within the grounds of the fortress Saint-Jean. The property met their needs exactly. They agreed on a price with the vendor, and father and son each contributed half. In 1820, everything was moved to our new shelter 3.
The number of boys continued to increase, and in consequence it became necessary to add to the number of super visors. Father Coindre, seeing that his charitable work was succeeding, enlisted the help of the faithful to establish a support fund, for many of the boys came from very poor families. A great number of people supported him in this project and it soon became possible to take in even more boys.
But this charitable work still remained incomplete. Father Coindre soon realized that the wages which he was required to pay his supervisors would always be a drain on the refuge. Besides, their reliability oftentimes left a lot to be desired. Far too often it became necessary to pay the silk merchants for the very silk which the refuge was treating for them. He resolved to found a group of brothers to replace all the supervisors. He shared his plans with two of these very supervisors in whom he had perceived attitudes appropriate to the religious life: one was called Guillaume Arnaud, the other Antoine Genthon. The former replied that he would need to have time to reflect on the matter, especially as the thought had never occurred to him. The second man replied that he did not consider himself called to this kind of life. In fact he left the refuge and became a salesman for Périsse Publishers.4
While all this was going on, Father Coindre was called away to lead a parish mission in Belleville where he did a lot of good.5 While there, he came across a young man called Claude Mélinond who went to him for confession and to ask advice, declaring his intention to withdraw from the world. This young man suffered from deformed feet which caused him to walk in an ungainly way. Father Coindre told him to be patient and that soon he would perhaps be able to find something for the young man. Upon his return from Belleville, Father Coindre asked Guillaume Arnaud what decision he had come to with regard to his earlier proposal. Arnaud replied that, knowing the world well enough as he did, he believed that with the grace of God he could find within himself the strength to despise it. And with that the good priest embraced him warmly and replied reassuringly: "You will be the first of those with whom I will endeavor to form a community. From this moment on, I am entrusting to you in a special way the care of our foundation". - 1821.
Father Coindre left to begin a parish mission in Saint Etienne where he marshaled all of his zeal for the conversion of these wretched folk.6 And how successful he was, as we were told by one of his colleagues (Father Ballet). In one of the parishes there called Valbenoîte, he met a few young men who lived apart from the world under the leadership and guidance of the good pastor of the aforesaid parish7, They each had a job and earned their living by the work of their hands. It occurred to Father Coindre, who always had his charitable work at the forefront of his mind, that much could be made from this little nucleus. He discussed the matter with the pastor, sharing with him what he had already done in Lyon. Included in the group were a few men of middle age, especially one called Victor Guillet who had been married. He even had a daughter whom he had seen placed in a convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph where one of his aunts already was. There was another called Dufour who had holdings in the aforementioned area and who owned a factory which manufactured silk braid.
They all agreed amongst themselves to join us. There would be two foundations, one in Lyon which would always be considered as our motherhouse and the other in Valbenoîte. To that end the pastor let us have a house which had belonged to him, quite near the church. Father Coindre was to be the superior general and was to have complete authority over the foundation. Everything was clearly agreed upon. The members, seven in number, came to us in Lyon to make a retreat and to each receive a name in religion. Father Coindre wrote to Claude Mélinond in Belleville to come to Lyon to join us. After completing his mission, he came back to the Carthusian monastery to preach the retreat. We were ten in total, that is Guillaume Arnaud, Victor Guillet, Antoine Dufour, François Rimoux, X, X, X, X 8, Claude Mélinond, and François Porchet. This last was a teacher who had been coming to visit us regularly over the previous few months. He suffered from some kind of paralysis in one arm which limited his use of it.
At the end of the retreat he led us to Notre-Dame de Fourvière where he celebrated holy mass for our intentions, thus placing us under the protection of this good Mother. He then gave each of us a name in religion to signify that, in leaving behind the name that we had had in the world, we were to live from then on for God alone. Thus he gave the name Brother Xavier to Guillaume Arnaud, Brother Borgia to Victor Guillet, the name Brother Ignace to Antoine Dufour, Brother Augustin to François Rimoux, Brother François to Claude Mélinond, and finally the name Brother Paul to François Porchet. Our first habit was a kind of frock coat9, with a little "pélerine" or cloak.
When all of this was done, he proceeded to assign to each the work he was to do. He named Brother Borgia the director of the house in Lyon and Brother Ignace director of the house in Valbenoîte. Brother Ignace left straight away for his assignment along with four companions. Brother Borgia, Brother Xavier, Brother Augustin, Brother Francois, and Brother Paul remained in Lyon.
It was on the 30th of September, 1821, that good Father Coindre established us as a congregation under the rule of Saint Augustine and under the constitutions of Saint Ignatius.10
Having established us as a community, Father Coindre earnestly desired to give a great impetus to his charitable work. He sent out notices to all the churches in Lyon that there would be, on such and such a day, a talk given by himself in the church of Saint-Francois to promote his new work. He urged all the benefactors of the foundation to attend. They came in droves. The business community and the nobility seemed to make it their duty to respond to the call. He spoke movingly on brotherly love, on the pressing need to save the street children of Lyon who were a constant prey to all sorts of depravity. He put it to them that they might each sign a covenant of several years' duration so as to assure the future of the work. What is more, he urged them to establish a committee which would be responsible for collecting the contributions and be the overseers, and to advise the brothers who were to conduct the establishment.11 He was listened to with the utmost attention. A collection was taken up after the talk and a large number of people signed covenants in the amount of twenty-five francs per year for a five-year period. A committee was formed, with a chairman, treasurer, secretary, two auditors, not to mention several hangers-on. The group committed itself to the support of thirty poor boys in the in¬stitution at a cost of three hundred francs per year and per pupil. The commitment was for five years only. The name Pieux-Secours was given to the institution. Paying pupils were also accepted. At that time the number of silk manufacturing machines was increased and a shoemaking work¬shop was added. As there was then no brother qualified in this trade, a supervisor by the name of Jassoné [?] had to be hired. The equipping of the school and the setting up of the workshops had cost eight thousand francs which was met in large measure by the money that Father Coindre paid into the coffers of the institution.
1822. - The pastor of Valbenoîte had had second thoughts at the handing over of his house to us for our work. This was because he could not control things as he had thought he would be able to do. He wanted the institu¬tion in his parish to become independent. However, at the same time, he turned to Lyon for help. Father Coindre re¬plied saying that it would not be possible to lend any sup¬port to a work which sought to go its own way and thus, be of no help at all to us. If he was unhappy at having given over his house to us, then he was welcome to take it back, as no contract had yet been signed. He did just that and the brothers who were there, became discouraged and left, each in his own direction.
1 It was in July 1817 that Father Andre Coindre founded a refuge for boys in the Chartreuse modeled after the one which he had founded for girls at the beginning of 1816; the term "Providence Saint-Bruno" referred to the totality of the charitable work set up in the former Carthusian monastery, the "cells" for the girls being to the right of the side entrance to the church, and to the left those for the boys who were housed there from July 1817 to October 1818.
2 Vincent Coindre (1765-1818), born at Hieres-sur-Amby (Isere), established himself in Lyon as a master tailor, in the first instance, then as a wholesale salt merchant. He died in Lyon, in the Clos des Chartreux, no. 3, on 15 November 1818.
3 Guillaume Arnaud had been "involved with the charitable work since 18 April 1820." It is worth noting that this is the first time the author strays into the narrative, though as a rule he strives diligently to relate the events with deliberate objectivity.
4 The Statistical Directory for the City of Lyon and the Department of the Rhone list the Périsse brothers, publishers and booksellers, with a shop at no. 33 rue Mercière. A great number of documents which bear upon our history is owed to this establishment, beginning with the Prospectus for Pieux-Secours, printed in 1823 (Cf. Brother Jean Roure, Father Andre Coindre, 1787-1826, A Chronology, p. 124)
5 The parish mission in Belleville in which Father Coindre played a role, took place from 30 November 1817 to 7 January 1818. Brother Jean Roure thinks that it was probably in September or October 1820 that he preached a retreat in Belleville during which he met Claude Mélinond (Op. cit., pages 87 and 89).
6 Eleven missionaries preached the mission at Saint-Etienne from 25 March to 17 May 1821. In addition to the city itself, it encompassed other neighboring towns, such as Valbenoîte. Father Coindre was part of the team in the parish of Notre-Dame, along with the future cardinal Donnet and Father Jean-Marie Ballet. The latter a companion of our founder for a number of such missions, received from Claudine Thévenet a portrait of Father Coindre in thanks for a retreat which he gave to the Religious of Jesus-Mary at Fourviére in 1826. He in turn gave the painting to François Coindre in 1856, when he himself was vicar general in Avignon.
7 Jean-Baptiste Rouchon (1761-1844), pastor of Valbenoîte in 1803, had acquired the buildings of the former Cistercian abbey in June 1817 so as to found a refuge in which to teach young indigent boys of the parish. It is with this aim that he had gathered together the four collaborators who would eventually make their way to Lyon in September 1821 to join with those of Father Coindre for the retreat prior to the founding of the institute.
8 Of the seven disciples of Father Rouchon, Brother Xavier and after him the series of institute registers have only retained the names of Antoine Dufour, who had been in charge of the community of Valbenoîte, of Victor Guillet, director general of the brothers and director of Pieux-Secours over fifteen years, and that of François Rimoux, the first master of novices. The little time which the four others spent involved in the work of Father Coindre would explain that their names came to be forgotten. We do not possess a single official document which predates the first profession, on 14 October 1824. The Register of Personnel no. I, preserved in the archives, covers the period from 30 September 1821 to 30 August 1873, but it would seem to have been instituted only in about 1840.
9 In the beginning the brothers did not have a distinctive costume; little by little a sort of uniform evolved made up of knickerbocker trousers and a black frock coat, a sort of riding coat which went to the knees, and which could be covered over almost completely by an ample coat, called a “carrick” or “carrique”; tradition also decrees that they wore, in addition, a black “stove pipe” hat. It might be noted that these clothes were of the type worn by the middle class. Brother Jean-Baptiste, of the Little Brothers of Mary, the first biographer of Father Champagnat, recounts that when the Brothers of Valbenoîte went to Lavalla, in May 1822, their middle class clothing, their tidy and refined look (frock coat, cloak and high-topped hat similar to that of our own first brothers), stood out in sharp contrast with the rough clothing of the youngsters of Lavalla and upset Father Champagnat (Op. Cit., New Edition for the Bicentennial, Rome, 1989, p. 165 and note 15).
10 The Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of St. Ignatius which are referred to here must be understood in the sense that they served as a general inspiration or background relative to the basic principles of the religious state and of common life. It would be impossible to find any direct influence of these works in the articles of the rule which were left us by our founder.
11 The thirty-two page brochure, entitled Pieux-Secours, Charita¬ble Foundation for Young Boys, printed by Périsse Press in 1823, of which a copy is still preserved in the archives of the city of Lyon, were provided after the Prospectus and the report presented at the annual general meeting of the covenant holders held on 30 October 1823, the membership of the administrative council and the list of all the covenant holders for the charitable work from its foundation up till then.