The Spiritual Letters of Venerable Francis Libermann
Fr. Francis Libermann (1802-1852) the convert Jew from Saverne, France, was an unlikely choice to guide others in the way of Christian living. As a failed seminarian and epileptic living off the charity of others, he sought only the consolation of God's love. His brokenness lived with gentle serenity inspired those who knew him at the Seminary of St. Sulpice, Paris. Many would seek him out for spiritual advice, consolation and encouragement. Read more
Fr. Walter van der Putte, C.S.Sp., edited and translated four hundred and forty-one of these letters for publication in five volumes of the Duquesne Studies, Spiritan Series (1962-1966). They constitute a correspondence to seventy-four lay people, clergy and religious. In some cases, there is only one letter; in others, there are many more.
Each correspondent is on his or her particular journey of discipleship and looks to Libermann to help them discern the Spirit of God at work in their lives. This he does with consummate skill and great devotion. As you read on you will draw closer to the spiritual treasure the letters contain and find in them a wisdom and consolation to accompany you in your way of Christian discipleship.
Spiritual Letters of The Venerable Francis Libermann. Volume 1: Spiritual Letters to Sisters and Aspirants (Nos. 1 to 90). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1963
1. Louise des Loges: Trust in God and you will not be disappointed
Begin reading with Louise des Loges, one of five girls who heard God's call to serve in the new apostolate to the much-neglected peoples of the French colonies and along the West Coast of Africa. She consulted Fr. Tisserant, a member of Fr. Libermann's Holy Heart of Mary Congregation, about her missionary vocation. Following Fr. Libermann's advice Louise entered the Institute of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, a Society dedicated to the new mission outreach. She took the name of Sister Aurelia. Read more
2. Rose Lapique (Sister Paule): Allowing God's grace to work in us
Rose, like Louise, also wanted to give herself totally to God in the service of those most in need through the new missionary outreach of the time of which Libermann was a leader. She sought direction from him. He outlined a daily timetable for her as she considered joining the Blue Nuns of Castres. Read more
3. Letters to Missionary Sisters: Preparing for Mission
Libermann wrote three of these letters to Sr. Aloysia. The other is written jointly to the four sisters at Castres (Paule, Aurelia, Aloysia, and Cecile) preparing to go on mission to Guinea, West Africa where, Libermann warns them, they will encounter many trials and difficulties. They are not to be in a hurry, but rather, take care to prepare themselves well for the challenge ahead of them. Read more
4. Mother Marie De Villeneuve: A Saint Rebuked
Mother Marie founded the diocesan congregation of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (the "Blue Nuns") at Castres in 1836 to "go where the voice of the poor calls us." Fr. Libermann's first communication with Mother Marie was in relation to the missionary vocation of Sisters Paule, Aurelia, Aloysia, and Cecile (see correspondence above) who were among the first sisters to open a convent in Africa, at Dakar, in 1849. Read more
5. Jenny Guillarme: Discernment of Spirits
Jenny Guillarme who had left the convent, became a seamstress and was resolved to live a saintly life. Well known as a holy person in Paris she was associated with the recovering and restoring of the medieval relic of Christ's Holy Tunic of Argenteuil. She was member of a Saint Sulpice prayer group and sought direction from many priests. She corresponded with Fr. Louis Marie Caverot who later became bishop of Saint-Dié in 1849, and Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon in 1876.
The introduction to the letters tells us "her imprudence and indiscretion had frightened off several priests who had tried to direct her soul." Libermann's 19 letters written over two years (1843 - 1845) offered Jenny sure guidance. In his direction, he focuses on discerning the working of God's Spirit in her life. Sensitive to the interior movements of Jenny's soul - thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions - he helped her to reflect on them, understand where they came from and where they were leading her. Read more
6. Pauline Libermann (1824-1891): from Honey to Pepper
Thirteen letters between a beloved uncle and a devoted niece comprise this correspondence between Fr. Libermann and his niece, Pauline, eldest daughter of Libermann's brother, Samson. The correspondence begins with an indulgent uncle's encouragement when Pauline was 12 years of age and extending to three months before Libermann's death in 1852 with a letter challenging Pauline to be grateful to God for the blessings she has received in living her religious vocation and never to doubt God's abiding love for her. Read more
Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann. Volume 2: Letters to People in the World. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1963.
7. Dr. and Mrs. Samson Libermann: Brother writing to Brother
Fr. Van de Putte, C.S.Sp. introduced this selection of 45 letters written from 1828 to 1847: "Venerable Francis Libermann practiced and preached great detachment from creatures, but he also knew how to love them in God. He thus preserved always a strong attachment to his eldest brother, Samson, and his sister-in-law." Read more
8. Marie Libermann: Don't Worry, Be Happy!
Twenty-one letters between Fr. Libermann and his niece and goddaughter, Marie, began in December 1838 when she was nine years of age and continued up to November 1851. Marie considered a religious vocation but never joined a convent. Rather, she lived an intentionally Christian life "in the world." This was difficult for her, in her adolescence and early adult years as her vivid imagination distracted her from this focus. Fr. Libermann counselled Marie in different letters to deal with this by (1) having a strong desire to belong to God; (2) surrendering herself to God; (3) living joyfully without being overconcerned about herself - "laugh when you feel like laughing"; (4) trusting in the Lord - "who is hidden among us on earth for the sole purpose of filling us with himself"; (5) patience - "abandon yourself completely into God's hands." Marie died (from typhoid fever) seven years after her uncle in Paris in 1859. Read more
9. Madame Victor Rémond: The Unrecognized Director
Madame Rémond, a wife, mother and teacher from Lyons wrote to the seminarian Francis Libermann on the recommendation of her brother, Father de Goy who had Libermann as his spiritual director when he was at Issy. He introduced his sister to Libermann who responded, "Let the lady write to me, and if I see that it is the spirit of the Lord who is guiding her, I will reply." Read more
Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann. Volume 3: Letters to Clergy and Religious (Nos. 1 to 75). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1963.
10. François Lieven: A Cry for Help
The Deacon François Lieven suffered a debilitating illness preventing him from ordination. He turned to the Acolyte, Francis Libermann for consolation and encouragement. They corresponded for three years until Francois' death in 1837. Read more
11. Eugene Dupont: Discerning a Vocation
The Seminarian Eugene Dupont felt attracted to missionary work. He consulted Francis Libermann who was in Rome at the time seeking approval for his missionary congregation, the Holy Heart of Mary. Nineteen letters of Libermann's direction spanning from August 1840 to April 1844 demonstrate the importance of patience in discerning God's will. Dupont was ordained for the Archdiocese of Rouen. Read more
12. Francis Xavier Libermann: Quieting a Troubled Mind
Fr. Libermann's nephew, Francis Xavier, looked to his uncle for advice on his missionary vocation. He joined his uncle's congregation and made his Consecration to the Apostolate a year after Libermann's death. He lived a further fifty-four years as a Spiritan. Read more
13. Fr. Jean Bessieux: The Patience a Missionary Needs
Jean Remi Bessieux (1803-1876) was one of two survivors of the ill-fated group sent to West Africa by Libermann in 1843. In 1848, he became Vicar Apostolic of ‘The Two Guineas'. He died in Gabon in 1876. These four letters, written between May 1845 and September 1846. These letters render advice on how to live as a missionary. Read more
14. Fr. Jacques Laval: Discerning and following God's Plan
Jacques Laval (1803-1864) was a doctor in France who then became a priest. He then joined Libermann's congregation to serve the former slaves of Mauritius in 1841. He remained there until his death in 1864. Venerated by Hindu, Muslim, and Christian alike, Fr. Jacques Laval was the first Spiritan to be beatified in 1979. Read more
15. Fr. Thiersé and Fr. Thévaux: Solidarity in Mission
Both François Thiersé and François Thévaux left Libermann's novitiate for Australia in 1845. Three years later, they took up assignments to Mauritius. The four letters in this collection (1846 - 1851) speak to their missionary experience in Australia and their transitioning to Mauritius. Read more
16. Antoine Durand: Courage and Perserverance
One letter written to a missionary "suffering all sorts of painful emotions at the moment of your departure" [for the African Mission].
17. Bishop Etienne Truffet: The Strength that Comes from Within
Etienne Truffet was ordained in 1835 and entered Fr. Libermann's novitiate in 1846. In December of that year, he became Vicar Apostolic of the Two Guineas and arrived at Dakar in May 1847. He died six months later. Libermann wrote to him on June 7 and November 22 (the day before he died). Read more
18. Fr. Ernest Briot: The Missio Dei
Ernest Briot entered Libermann's novitiate in 1843. He worked for a short time in the vicariate of the Two Guineas. The first letter was written before he joined the novitiate; the second, as he prepared to depart on mission; the following two letters when he was in Dakar. Read more
19. Fr. Pierre Le Berre: Respect for Others
Pierre Marie Le Berre was ordained a priest in 1844 and entered Libermann's novitiate the following year. He travelled to Africa in 1846 and remained in Gabon until 1891 when he died. Read more
20. Fr. Claude Chevalier: Be a patient Educator
One letter written to a missionary who is to "avoid premature enthusiasm" and who is to "Study, penetrate deeply into the character, the mentality and the fundamental attitude" of the students he is to teach.
21. Fr. Prosper Lamber: God gives the increase
Missionaries "are sowers of the Divine Word but it is God who causes that sacred seed to bear fruit."
22. Fr. François Joseph Baud: God wounds my heart and I kiss his hand
A letter of sympathy on the death of a missionary who is "always ready to make any sacrifice, even the sacrifice of himself, out of love for anything that his Heavenly Father might desire."
23. The Community of Cape Palmas (Liberia): Be patient with one another and rejoice together
Missionaries are to "Rest awhile when you face obstacles that you are unable to overcome. Wait for ‘God's own time' full of confidence, and be faithful when that moment arrives."
24. The Brothers of Réunion (Indian Ocean): The Congregation is a tree with many branches
Libermann rejoices that the congregation "has brought forth a small branch that promises to produce fruits of salvation and sanctification" with the opening of a Brothers' novitiate in Réunion.
25. Brother Pierre Mersy: Be Faithful to Our Lord
Advice for all missionaries, "Watch over yourself ... Be on your guard never to remain idle ... Make a rule for yourself for the whole day and be faithful to it."
26. Brother Auguste Pagnier: Prepare your soul
A word of consolation for one who is dying, "The moment of eternal bliss is coming closer. The nuptials with the Lamb without stain are approaching, but the preparations for the feast demand labor and pain."
27. Fr. Jean Baptiste François: Do not nurse regrets
The missionary belongs entirely to God and so, "Sacrifice yourself constantly, especially in your interior: sacrifice your desires, sentiments, your affections, your ideas, and your own will; in a word, all that is in you."
28. Fr. Henry Warlop: Do not cling too much to your own ideas
Strong emotions and imagination can wreck a missionary's perspective on things. The remedy is "to weigh things well before making decisions and before allowing yourself to be carried away."
29. Fr. Pierre Logier: God has chosen you
The missionary vocation is one of offering oneself entirely to God. "Keep yourself at peace, be happy because you have placed yourself at the disposal of the Divine Master to do with you whatever he wants."
30. Fr. Martin Duby: Think before you act
Missionaries make many mistakes but "avoid worrying about it and put all your confidence in God, in Jesus, and in Mary."
31. Fr. Charles Lairé: Walk humbly with your people
Missionary are to bear Christian witness through how they live. "The Africans do not need and will not be converted by the efforts of clever and capable missionaries. It is holiness and the sacrifice of their priests that will be the instrument of their salvation."
32. Fr. Jean Claude Duret: The Apostolate of Presence
The missionary's presence in a particular place is a preparation for listening to the Good News. "The people in this place [Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast] are not yet well-disposed for the reception of the seed of the Gospel, but your presence among them will soften them in cooperation with the grace and mercy of God."
33. Fr. René Jean Guilmin: God is watching over you
Blessings come into a missionary's life disguised as crosses. "The blessings the Lord ours out on your labors are the beginning of his gifts. The crosses are contradictions He mingles with them as salt on food; they keep us in a spirit of humility and abandonment to God."
34. Fr. Jerome Gravière: Authority is both firm and gentle
The superior of the community exercises care when he has difficulties with a particular member. "Take into account his weakness and imperfection; handle him so as not to hurt his pride; avoid, as muh as possible, any friction, disputes and even discussions."
35. Fr. Jean Vaugeois: Beware of being over-active
When the religious spirit is over run by activity, problems arise. "I'm afraid that your ministry has caused you to launch yourself too freely into the world. This activity make have been prompted by zeal but it is also possible that other motives might be mixed up with it."
36. Fr. Joseph Bourget: Take the beam out of your own eye first
Some criticism levelled against those in authority is the result of an "overheated imagination". "Let us pass judgment on ourselves instead of judging our superiors ... Avoid imitating those who see motes in the eyes of others and fail to see the beam in their own eye."
37. Bishop Aloyse Kobès: Religious life is the indispensable means for mission
Missionaries risk exaggerating the importance of what they do, rather than who they are. If they are not living religious lives, "they will accomplish nothing because God's blessing is attached to their holiness and their holiness depends solely on their fidelity to the practices of the religious life."
Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann. Volume 4: Letters to Clergy and Religious (Nos. 76 to 184) Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1964.
38. Eugene Viot: Do not become a prey to illusions
Libermann began his spiritual direction by letter in October 1828, only two years after his conversion. The recipient Eugene Viot was a seminarian at St. Sulpice and a friend to Libermann. He provided the seven letters (from 1828 to 1833) six years after Libermann's death describing them as "precious relics of my dear friend." Read more
39. Mr. Delasorne: Do not waste your time on trifles
Delasorne, like Viot was a companion to Libermann at St. Sulpice. These four letters (from 1835 to 1838) stimulate the reader to be on guard against "that laziness an indifference into which we so easily fall when nothing stimulates and prompts us to serve God properly." The antidote to such waywardness is to live a truly interior life that Libermann describes as "an abyss that must swallow u all that exists in us." Read more
40. Guy Leray: Remain before God as a Beggar
These twelve letters written from 1834 to 1838 encourage the reader not to worry about natural desires. "Our wicked flesh is always with us; why should we desire not to feel its sting? Would our nature be better for that? So let us not fear the flesh, for the Lord will conquer it." Read more
41. Mr. Boulanger: Rules for the interior life
Here are two letters written in the summer of 1835 to a seminarian of St. Sulpice following the death of his mother. Libermann proposes "certain rules that you ought to observe for your interior life." Read more
42. Fr. Francis Telles: Abandon yourself to God's Will
These eight letters to Fr. Telles, written between August 1836 and May 1839 while he was bursar of the Sulpician Seminary of Issy, focus on the need for patience with oneself in God's service. "We must undoubtedly do the best we can, but without torturing ourselves or being continually on the watch." Read more
43. Fr. Mangot: God takes care of those who sincerely seek Him
Nine letters written between 1836 and 1845 span Fr. Mangot's seminary days and his first years as a priest. Writing in 1878, he expressed how these letters were a treasure trove to him. "They are a relic which I prefer to any other ... I have merely to read them and I find refreshment amidst life's tribulations." Read more
44. Antoine Beluet: Beware of self-love
Four letters written from August 1835 to August 1836, while Antoine was a seminarian, were part of a cherished spiritual friendship. Writing some seventeen years after Libermann's death Beluet remembered that when Libermann "explained the Gospel for which he had a very particular liking, we said to one another what was once said by the disciples of Emmaus, ‘Was not our heart burning within us while he spoke?'" Read more
45. Mr. Fréret: Be united with God in everything
One letter written in September 1831 to this seminarian at St. Sulpice called for strong resolutions. "What a treasure this interior life is! What happiness, not only in its possession, but also in working at its acquisition! But we must act earnestly, and not go at it in a half-hearted way."
46. Paul Carron: Be not pre-occupied with yourself
Thirty-four letters, written between 1836 and 1842 to Paul Carron, a seminarian at St. Sulpice. Shortly after his ordination, he became secretary to the Archbishop of Paris. A recurring theme is the attitude of humility necessary for a mature spiritual life. "Let us be and remain nothing before Him, so that He may operate with this ‘nothing' according to His incomparable good pleasure." Read more
47. Fr. Jules Cahier: Finding value in suffering
Fr. Cahier suffered a number of debilitating illnesses and Libermann's seventeen letters written between 1837 and 1845 provided him with much needed encouragement and Christian insight into human suffering. Read more
48. Fr. Grillard: Living continually in God's presence
Fr. Grillard, a Sulpician priest, was a seminarian at St. Sulpice along with Libermann. Remembering him he wrote, "He did not lose sight of the presence of God, for he was always recollected and modest." Read more
49. Mr. de Conny, Seminarian: Keep it simple!
Seven letters written in a little over a year (from February 1838 to May 1839) to encourage the reader to overcome his faults and progress on the path to holiness.
"Accustom yourself, dear friend, to offer God all your actions and to perform them solely out of love for Him. In all this, do not seek to feel the effects of that love, but simply to reserve this habitual will, frequently repeating and renewing that intention, but gently and peacefully."
50. Mr. Hacquin, Seminarian: Leave the past in the past
One letter written in May 1838 to encourage the reader not to dwell on his failings in the past. "Don't worry about the past. Instead, put your whole confidence, your joy and love in Him who calls you to such great things and bestows upon you such great favors."
51. Mr. Richaud, Seminarian: Keep calm and trust in the Lord
One letter written in February 1839 encouraging patience. "Be content and remain in great joy, because it pleases the divine Spirit to breathe in your soul and to vivify it in this way ... Wait for God's own good time, and do not seek to anticipate it ... Be content with what God is pleased to grant you."
Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann. Volume 5: Letters to Clergy and Religious (Nos. 185 to 274). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1966.
52. Frederic Le Vavasseur: Discern God's designs for you
These fifteen letters written between 1838 and 1847 document a spiritual journey of one of Libermann's closest collaborators in establishing his congregation. These letters tell of a fiery temperament and one who is prone to being discouraged at weakness in himself and failure in others. Read more
53. Eugene Tisserant: Be humble in all that you do
Ten letters written between 1837 and 1842 from Libermann to Tisserant, who, with Le Vavasseur, was instrumental in founding "the mission to the blacks". Libermann counsels against self-confidence. "Be docile and humble in God's sight; in your own small way and in all humility fill yourself with the desire of pleasing Him. Don't presumptuously aim at high things, but be satisfied with dragging yourself before the divine Master in all your poverty with the intention of being agreeable to Him in all things." Read more
54. Ignatius Schwindenhammer: Patience in God's unfolding plan
Six letters written between 1842 and 1851 to the one Libermann would designate to succeed him as congregation leader. The Holy Spirit and not our personal activity is the source of holiness. "We ought always to follow the promptings of the divine Spirit who dwells in us ... The divine Spirit wants to be the soul of our soul, and we should let Him be absolute master over it, enabling Him to communicate to it His life and action. We should allow Him to act in us just as our body allows itself to be activated by the soul." Read more
55. Jerome Schwindenhammer: I want to tell you something about myself
Four letters written between 1846 and 1851 cautions Libermann's young protégé "Do not put your confidence in my words, in my direction of your soul, but seek to obey God alone and to follow His guidance." Read more
56. Louis Marie Lannurien: How to discern a vocation
Seven letters written between October 1841 and March 1843 gives advice on the discernment of a missionary vocation. "I believe that we should give your inclination to our holy work a chance to mature. When a farmer casts a seed in the ground, the one who will do the harvesting does not quickly pull out the young shoot that appears above the ground; he waits until there are flowers and fruit." Read more
57. Etienne Clair: Beware of self-love
Thirteen letters written between 1839 and 1847 warn against self-love and acting "like a child who wants categorically and absolutely to get the things he happens to see." Libermann writes strong words to re-align the reader to God's will. "See God in everything and see Him alone, forgetting yourself more and more. Never desire praise nor have any esteem for yourself. Avoid also self-pity and self-complacency." Read more
58. Fr. Marcellin Collin: Don't worry too much about yourself
Ten letters written between 1843 and 1851 gently guide the reader from being pre-occupied with himself to abandoning himself to God's will. The best way to deal with personal faults is "to drag ourselves before the feet of our good Master and put our entire confidence in Him." Excessive introspection weighs down the soul. Libermann advises, "Continue to march toward the goal to which the Master guides your step. March on and don't pay too much attention to sorrows and tribulations."
Marcellin is not to fear punishment for doing wrong. "Always consider Jesus merciful rather than severe ... Avoid rigidity, try to be gentle in your interior at all times. Do not be harsh; always lean to the side of mercy and gentleness. This is what you should attend to, for you have a strong inclination to the opposite and herein lies your great fault."
59. Fr. Stanislas Arragon: Be always gentle and calm
Four letters written between 1845 and 1847 urges his reader to be self-controlled and to have patience with others. "You plunge into activities with excessive eagerness and excitement. Realize that the Spirit of God is not in such behavior. Stop and ask yourself whether the radical way in which you judge things is in harmony with the mind of God."
Fr. Arragon is often impetuous and abrupt with others. "Learn to become moderate in adopting an opinion, to defend it peacefully, to relinquish it with humility, and thus to conform your judgment to that of others."
60. Fr. Charles Blanpin: Suffer with love and confidence in Jesus
Eleven letters written between 1843 and 1851 seek to console one who is suffering many setbacks including the loss of his voice. "We have to pass through a state of wretchedness to make us realize profoundly that we are nothing. We are entering the way of holiness. I assure you, dear friend that I don't know anyone who arrived at solid and stable perfection without passing first through the crises you have experienced."
The disciples of Jesus "who through the designs of His love are associated in that holy and great work [of salvation], must have a share in His suffering and His humiliation in order that they may have a true share in His work."
61. Joseph Lossedat: There are no half-measures in serving God
Ten letters written between 1843 and 1847 show that there are no half measures in following the divine Master. "When we bargain with Him, we must expect Him to do likewise and we shall gain nothing by it. If, on the contrary, we act with generosity and surrender completely to Him, Jesus accepts our offering with the fullness of His divine love and complacency and He gives Himself also completely to us."
Confidence in God empowers generous self-giving in God's service. "Our Lord is with us. With His help, we will overcome all obstacles. Let us go on and do what our weakness permits. It belongs to Him to bless our works. And He will bless them. It belongs to Him to straighten out our foolish mistakes and He will do it."