Jean-Jacques Olier

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Jean-Jacques Olier, S.S.
J.J. Olier.jpg
Portrait of Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the Society of Saint-Sulpice, by an unknown author
Ordination21 May 1633
Personal details
Born(1608-09-20)20 September 1608
Paris, Kingdom of France
Died2 April 1657(1657-04-02) (aged 48)
Paris, Kingdom of France
Denomination Roman Catholic
Alma mater College of Sorbonne

Jean-Jacques Olier, S.S. (20 September 1608 – 2 April 1657) was a French Catholic priest and the founder of the Sulpicians. He helped to establish the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, which organized the settlement of a new town called Ville-Marie (now Montreal) in the colony of New France.

French people are a Romance-speaking ethnic group and nation who are identified with the country of France. This connection may be ethnic, legal, historical, or cultural.

Société Notre-Dame de Montréal organization

The Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, otherwise known as the Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal pour la conversion des Sauvages de la Nouvelle-France, was a religious organisation responsible for founding Ville-Marie, the original name for the settlement that would later become Montreal. The original founders of the organization were Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière, Jean-Jacques Olier and Pierre Chevrier. They were later joined by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance. The organization's mission was to convert the Indigenous population to Christianity and found a Christian settlement, which would be later known as Ville-Marie.

Montreal City in Quebec, Canada

Montreal is the most populous municipality in the Canadian province of Quebec and the second-most populous municipality in Canada. Originally called Ville-Marie, or "City of Mary", it is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city. The city is centred on the Island of Montreal, which took its name from the same source as the city, and a few much smaller peripheral islands, the largest of which is Île Bizard. It has a distinct four-season continental climate with warm to hot summers and cold, snowy winters.


Early life

Olier was born in Paris, but the family moved to Lyon, where his father had become a judge. There he was given a thorough education in the classics at the local Jesuit college (1617–25). He was encouraged to become a priest by Francis de Sales, who predicted his sanctity and great services to the Catholic Church. [1]

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts. The City of Paris is the centre and seat of government of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an estimated official 2019 population of 12,213,364, or about 18 percent of the population of France. The Paris Region had a GDP of €709 billion in 2017. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018, Paris was the second most expensive city in the world, after Singapore, and ahead of Zürich, Hong Kong, Oslo and Geneva. Another source ranked Paris as most expensive, on a par with Singapore and Hong Kong, in 2018.

Lyon Prefecture and commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Lyon or Lyons is the third-largest city and second-largest urban area of France. It is located in the country's east-central part at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône, about 470 km (292 mi) south from Paris, 320 km (199 mi) north from Marseille and 56 km (35 mi) northeast from Saint-Étienne. Inhabitants of the city are called Lyonnais.

Francis de Sales French bishop, saint, writer and Doctor of the Church

Francis de Sales was a Bishop of Geneva and is honored as a saint in the Catholic Church. He became noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God.

In preparation for this career, Olier first studied philosophy at the College of Harcourt in Paris, then scholastic theology and patristics at the College of Sorbonne. He preached during this period, by virtue of a benefice which his father had obtained for him. The young student became a man of great ambition; he also frequented fashionable society, which caused anxiety to those interested in his spiritual welfare. He lived in the grand manner of the day, having two carriages and many servants. [2] His success in defending theses in Latin and Greek led him to go to Rome for the purpose of learning Hebrew so as to gain greater notice by being able to defend his theses in that language at the Sorbonne. [1]

Lycée Saint-Louis

The lycée Saint-Louis is a post-secondary school located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, in the Latin Quarter. It is the only public French lycée exclusively dedicated to classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles. It is known for the quality of its teaching and the results it achieves in their intensely competitive entrance examinations (concours).

Scholasticism Predominant method of critical thought in academic pedagogy of medieval European universities, circa 1100–1700

Scholasticism was a medieval school of philosophy that employed a critical method of philosophical analysis presupposed upon a Latin Christian theistic paradigm which dominated teaching in the medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700. It originated within the Christian monastic schools that were the basis of the earliest European universities. The rise of scholasticism was closely associated with the rise of the 12th and 13th century schools that developed into the earliest modern universities, including those in Italy, France, Spain and England.

Patristics or patrology is the study of the early Christian writers who are designated Church Fathers. The names derive from the combined forms of Latin pater and Greek patḗr (father). The period is generally considered to run from the end of New Testament times or end of the Apostolic Age to either AD 451 or to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

When his eyesight began to fail, Olier made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy, where his official biographies attest not only to a cure, but also a complete religious conversion. For a time he considered entering the Carthusians, and visited the charterhouses in southern Italy. Upon the news of his father's death in 1631, however, he returned to Paris. Once back in the capital, he refused a chaplaincy at the royal court, with its prospect of high honours. Instead he gathered the poor and the outcast on the streets for instruction in the Catholic faith, a practice which was at first derided but soon widely imitated. Under the guidance of Vincent de Paul, Olier assisted de Paul's missionaries, both in Paris and the rural countryside, while he prepared for Holy Orders, being ordained 21 May 1633. [1]

Pilgrimage Journey or search of moral or spiritual significance

A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about the self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.

Loreto, Marche Comune in Marche, Italy

Loreto is a hill town and comune of the Italian province of Ancona, in the Marche. It is most commonly known as the seat of the Basilica della Santa Casa, a popular Catholic pilgrimage site.

Carthusians Catholic Church religious order founded in 1084

The Carthusian Order, also called the Order of Saint Bruno, is a Catholic religious order of enclosed monastics. The order was founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084 and includes both monks and nuns. The order has its own Rule, called the Statutes, rather than the Rule of Saint Benedict, and combines eremitical and cenobitic monasticism. The motto of the Carthusians is Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, Latin for "The Cross is steady while the world is turning."

Revival of religion

A disciple of Father Vincent de Paul and of Father Charles de Condren, Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-1657) took part in "missions" organized by them in France. [2] The work Condren had most at heart was the foundation of seminaries after the Counter-Reformation model mandated by the Council of Trent. The Catholic Church felt that its success in its own renewal lay in the thorough and systematic formation of the clergy through their education in these schools. The attempts in France to carry out the designs of the Council having failed, Condren, unable to succeed through the Oratory, gathered a few young ecclesiastics around him for that purpose, Olier among them. The missions in which he employed them were meant to impress on their minds the religious needs of the country.

Charles de Condren French theologian

Charles de Condren, Cong. Orat., a Doctor of the Sorbonne, was a French mystic of the 17th century, and is considered a leading member of the French School of Spirituality.

Counter-Reformation Catholic political and religious response to the Protestant Reformation

The Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation or the Catholic Revival, was the period of Catholic resurgence that was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. It began with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and largely ended with the conclusion of the European wars of religion in 1648. Initiated to preserve the power, influence and material wealth enjoyed by the Catholic Church and to present a theological and material challenge to Reformation, the Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort composed of apologetic and polemical documents, ecclesiastical reconfiguration as decreed by the Council of Trent, a series of wars, and political maneuvering. The last of these included the efforts of Imperial Diets of the Holy Roman Empire, exiling of Protestant populations, confiscation of Protestant children for institutionalized Catholic upbringing, heresy trials and the Inquisition, anti-corruption efforts, spiritual movements, and the founding of new religious orders. Such policies had long-lasting effects in European history with exiles of Protestants continuing until the 1781 Patent of Toleration, although smaller expulsions took place in the 19th century.

Council of Trent 19th Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church

The Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563 in Trent, was the 19th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, it has been described as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.

Parish of Saint-Sulpice

A first attempt to found a seminary at Chartres failed. On 29 December 1641, Olier and two others, the Abbés de Foix and du Ferrier, formed a small community at Vaugirard, then a suburban village near Paris. Others soon joined them, and before long there were eight seminarians, who followed with the priests the same rule of life and were instructed in theology, with Olier teaching Holy Scripture. The pastor of Vaugirard took advantage of the presence of the priests in his parish to take an extended vacation, during which time they reformed his parish. [2]

Chartres Prefecture and commune in Centre-Val de Loire, France

Chartres is a commune and capital of the Eure-et-Loir department in France. It is located about 90 km (56 mi) southwest of Paris. Chartres is famous world-wide for its cathedral. Mostly constructed between 1193 and 1250, this Gothic cathedral is in an exceptional state of preservation. The majority of the original stained glass windows survive intact, while the architecture has seen only minor changes since the early 13th century. Much of the old town, including the library associated with the School of Chartres, was destroyed by bombs in 1944.

15th arrondissement of Paris French municipal arrondissement in Île-de-France, France

The 15th arrondissement of Paris is one of the 20 arrondissements of the capital city of France. In spoken French, this arrondissement is referred to as quinzième.

Impressed by the reports of this reform, the curé of the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, who had become discouraged by the deplorable state of his parish, offered it in exchange for some of Olier's benefices. In August 1641, Olier took charge of the Parish of St. Sulpice. His aims were to reform the parish, establish a seminary, and Christianize the Sorbonne, then very secular in its instruction. This was to be achieved through the example set by the seminarians who attended its courses. The parish covered all of the Faubourg Saint-Germain-des-Prés, with a population as numerous and varied as a large city. It was commonly described as the largest and most fashionable parish in the city. There Olier trained his priests in community life. The parish name came to be identified with the society he founded. [2]

Of special attention were the poor, the uninstructed, and those in irregular marital unions. Thirteen catechetical centres were established, for the instruction not only of children but of many adults who were almost equally ignorant of the Catholic faith. Special instructions were provided for every class of persons, for the beggars, the poor, domestic servants, midwives, workingmen, the aged, etc. Instructions and debates on Catholic doctrine were organized for the benefit of Calvinists, hundreds of whom were converted. A vigorous campaign was waged against immoral and heretical literature and obscene pictures. Pamphlets, holy pictures and prayer books were distributed to those who could or would not come to church, and a bookstore was opened at the parish church to supply good literature.

It would appear that Vincent de Paul so esteemed Olier that in February 1644 he risked the ire of Cardinal Mazarin by obtaining a benefice for Olier that Mazarin was seeking for the son of the Duke de la Rouchefoucault. [3]

Society of Saint-Sulpice

In 1645, Olier founded the Society of St. Sulpice, which established seminaries throughout France that became known for their moral and academic teaching. [4] During the period of the Fronde (1648-1653), the civil war which reduced Paris to widespread misery and famine, Olier supported hundreds of families and provided many with clothing and shelter. None were refused. The poor were cared for according to methods of relief inspired by the practical genius of Vincent de Paul. His rules of relief, adapted in other parishes, became the accepted methods and are still followed at St. Sulpice.

At times, as many as 60 to 80 priests were ministering together in the parish, of whom the most illustrious, a little after Olier's time, was the Abbé Fénelon, later Archbishop of Cambrai. This was one of the best effects of Olier's work, for it sent trained, enlightened zealous priests into all parts of France, and later beyond.

Orphans, very numerous during the war, were placed in good parishes, and a house of refuge established for orphan girls. A home was open to shelter and reform the many women rescued from prostitution, and another for young girls exposed to the danger of that. Many free schools for poor girls were founded by Olier, and he laboured also at the reform of the teachers in boys' schools, not, however, with great success.

Olier perceived that the reform of boys' schools could be accomplished only through a religious community; which in fact came about after his death through the work of Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, a former pupil of St. Sulpice. Free legal aid was provided for the poor. He also gathered under one roof the nuns from many different communities and Orders who had been driven out of their monasteries in the countryside and had fled to Paris for refuge. He cared for them till the close of the war. In the end, there was no misery among the people, spiritual or corporal, for which the pastor did not seek a remedy.

Olier led the movement against duelling, formed a society for its suppression, and enlisted the active aid of military men of renown, including the marshals of France and some famous duellists. He converted many of noble and royal blood, both men and women. He worked to overcome the common idea that Christian perfection was only for priests and religious orders, and inspired many to the practices of a devout life, including daily meditation, spiritual reading and other exercises of piety, and to a more exact fulfillment of their duties, whether at the court, in business or at home.

Seminary of St. Sulpice

The second great work of Olier was the establishment of the seminary of St. Sulpice. By his parish, which he intended to serve as a model to the parochial clergy, as well as by his seminary, he hoped to help give France a worthy secular priesthood, through which alone, he felt, the revival of religion could come. The seminary was at first installed in the rectory of the parish, but very soon (1 October 1642) moved to a little house in the vicinity, de Foix being placed in charge by Olier. The beginnings were in great poverty, which lasted many years, for Olier would never allow any revenues from the parish to be expended except on parish needs. From the start he designed to make it a national seminary and regarded as providential the fact that the Parish of St. Sulpice, and thus the seminary, depended directly on the Holy See.

Within two years, students had come to the seminary from about twenty dioceses of France. Some attended the courses at the Sorbonne, others followed those given in the seminary itself. His seminarians were initiated into parochial work, being employed very fruitfully in teaching the catechism. At the Sorbonne their piety, it appears, had a very marked influence. After Father Olier described his model of a seminary to the Assembly of Clergy of France in 1651, bishops throughout the country asked the Sulpicians to oversee the operation of their seminaries.

At this time, Mere Marie Alvequin, superior of the Dames Augustines de St. Magloire, petitioned Olier directly, and through others to undertake the responsibility of spiritual director of the monastery, but Olier preferred to focus his attentions on the parish and seminary of St. Sulpice. [5]

New establishments

The rules of Olier's seminary, approved by the General Assembly of the Clergy in 1651, were adopted in many new establishments. [6] Within a few years, Olier, at the urgent request of the bishops, sent priests to found seminaries in several dioceses throughout the country. The first was at Nantes in 1648. It was not Olier's intention to establish a congregation to conduct seminaries, but merely to lend priests for the foundation of a seminary to any bishop and to recall them after their work was well established. The repeated requests of bishops, considered by him as indications of God's will, caused him to modify his plan, and to accept a few seminaries permanently.

The society which formed around Olier at St. Sulpice was not formed into a religious institute, but instead continued as a community of secular priests, following a common life but bound by no special religious vows. The aim of the society was to live perfectly the life of a secular priest. Olier wished it to remain a small company, decreeing that it should never consist of more than seventy-two members, besides the superior and his twelve assistants. This regulation remained in force until circumstances induced a successor, the Abbé Emery, to abolish the limitation.

Political influence

Olier's influence was powerful with the Queen Regent, Anne of Austria, to whom he spoke with great plainness, yet with great respect, denouncing her prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, as responsible for simoniacal and unworthy nominations to the episcopate. He persuaded the rich— royalty, nobles, and others— to a great generosity, without which his large works of charity would have been impossible. The foundation of the present Church of St. Sulpice was laid by him.

Founder of Ville-Marie in New France

Olier was always the missionary, with a global outlook. His zeal led to his helping in the foundation of the Society of Our Lady of Montreal. The society organized the establishment of the colony of Fort Ville-Marie in New France, the nucleus of the modern city of Montreal. The Sulpicians undertook their first overseas mission at the colony in 1657, and eventually were given the control of the seigneury of much of the colony. [7]

Later life

Olier suffered a stroke in February 1652. He resigned his pastorate into the hands of Abbé de Bretonvilliers and, when he regained sufficient strength, on the orders of his physicians he visited various spas of Europe in search of health, as well as making many pilgrimages. On his return to Paris, his old energy and enthusiasm reasserted themselves, especially in his warfare against Jansenism. A second stroke at Saint-Péray, in September 1653, left him completely paralysed.

Olier was an influential author. Besides letters, which reveal his strength as spiritual director, he wrote four books intended for his parishioners: La journee chretienne (1655), a Catechisme chretien (1656), L'Introduction a la vie et aux vertus chretiennes (1657), and L'Explication des ceremonies de la grande messe de paroisse (1657). These books, written in the years immediately before his death, are all the more remarkable as Olier was partially paralyzed at that time. [3]

Olier's last years were full of intense suffering, both bodily and mental, which he bore with the utmost sweetness and resignation. His visions and his mysticism caused the Jansenists to ridicule him as a visionary; but they, as well as others, acknowledged his sanctity. His numerous ascetical writings show him a profound master of spiritual doctrine. His friend, Vincent de Paul was with him at his death.

Olier was buried in the Church of St. Sulpice. When the interior of the church was destroyed during the French Revolution, his remains were lost. Only his heart, removed per the customs of the day, is preserved in the Sulpician seminary in Issy-les-Moulineaux. [8] He is the author of mystical writings.[ citation needed ]

Attempt at canonization

Diocesan attempts to canonize Olier were introduced in Paris and Montreal between 1865 and 1867, but the Vatican did not proceed with the cause. Vincent de Paul regarded Olier as a saint. Writing to Mademoiselle d' Aubrai on 26 July 1660, just two months before his own death, Vincent de Paul stated that he had "asked God for great graces through the intercession of M. Olier." [3] Church historian, Frederick William Faber, in his "Growth in Holiness" (Baltimore ed., p. 376) says of him: "Of all the uncanonized servants of God whose lives I have read, he most resembles a canonized Saint".


"When we look to the legacy of Jean-Jacques Olier," Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor of The Catholic University of America, has said, "we can find three enduring elements: the priests of the Society of St. Sulpice, the structure of seminary formation and the outline of the spirituality for the diocesan priest." [4]



Monographs and articles

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  1. 1 2 3 Fenlon, John Francis. "Jean-Jacques Olier." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 12 Jun. 2013
  2. 1 2 3 4 "A Brief History", Society of the priests of Saint-Sulpice, Province of Canada
  3. 1 2 3 Mahoney C.M., Robert P., "Vincent de Paul and Jean-Jacques Olier: Unlikely Friends". Vincentian Heritage Journal, Vol.28, Issue 1, 1 October 2008
  4. 1 2 "Priestly Examples of Faith, Hope, Love", 4 August 2009, Catholic University of America Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Thompson, Edward Healy. The Life of Jean-Jacques Olier, Burns & Oates, 1886
  6. "History", Sulpicians - Province of the U.S.
  7. "Sulpicians". The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  8. "Founder". Society of the priests of Saint-Sulpice.