Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 12, 2007
The Lord appeared in mystical visions
Brilliant mural showing the Sacred Heart tells chapel's amazing story
St. Claude La Colombiere – February 15
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Pilgrims flock to the chapel of St. Claude La Colombiere in Paray-le-Monial.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Closely associated with St. Margaret Mary Alocoque as her confessor, Claude La Colombiere became a witness to her mystical experiences and chief supporter in promotion of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Canonized himself by Pope John Paul II in 1992, the 17th century Jesuit is buried in Central France's Paray-le-Monial where his shrine is visited by thousands each year in conjunction with veneration at the nearby tomb of St. Margaret Mary.
Paray is a pleasant town on the banks of the tranquil Bourbince stream, since 971 a centre of religious activities and one-time home to several saints.
Sacred Heart Basilica
Most church sites are in the old city centre, dominated by the Sacred Heart Basilica. It was built in a remarkable 15 years beginning in 1092 by St. Hugues, a smaller version of the once-great Romanesque Benedictine Abbey of Cluny. In 1875, the church was designated a minor basilica by Pope Pius IX and dedicated to the Sacred Heart to commemorate the apparitions experienced by St. Margaret Mary.
It has been the main parish church for almost 10,000 Paradiens for more than 200 years.
Claude La Colombiere was born near Lyon, France, in 1641 and early on entered the Jesuit college at Avignon where he became recognized for his abilities as an outstanding preacher and teacher. Ordained in 1674 after a period spent in the French court, Claude was soon appointed superior of the order's small Paray-le-Monial community. There he became spiritual director to Visitation Order Sister Margaret Mary.
As a priest, he had consecrated himself to love of the Sacred Heart, so was able to relate closely to the experiences of the young novice.
In 1671, 24 year-old Marguerite Alacoque took the habit of the Visitation Convent in Paray. The novice had endured an unhappy youth in a relative's household and was inured to suffering when she became the recipient of miraculous visions of Our Lord.
Her mystical experiences aroused much opposition in her community and her only real believer and supporter was Father Claude.
Today, pilgrims are able to pray in the Chapel of the Visitation, scene of the extraordinary appearances of Our Lord and His Sacred Heart to Sister Margaret Mary and where he requested that a feast day be established to celebrate this aspect of his divine love.
Here, her tomb and the remarkable frescos illustrating her visions are visited by thousands annually.
Because of his reputation as a confident, Father Claude was named in 1676 to the court of future King James II in London where, although highly esteemed, he was falsely accused of complicity in the spurious "Oates Plot" and was jailed with other supposed Catholic conspirators.
Some of these became martyrs for their faith but Claude, at the request of King Louis XIV was released and deported to France in 1679. There, gravely ill, Margaret Mary entreated him to retire to Paray where, three years later he died, the result of his mistreatment in London.
Sister Margaret Mary survived her mentor for another eight years and was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
The chapel of St. Claude La Columbiere, not far from the basilica and the Chapel of the Visitation, is a modest structure with a statue of the saint above the front entrance.
Inside, visitors may pray at his tomb and admire stained glass windows that portray scenes from the holy Jesuit's life.
Beneath the church's small dome, the main altar of the Most Holy Sacrament is backed by a brilliant mural showing the Sacred Heart seated on a throne surrounded by angels and the principal personages associated with the amazing events at Paray.