From 1781 to the summer of 1785 Pierre completed his secondary studies in Chatellerault. At 17 years of age, he entered the University of Poitiers, whic at the time was a city of some 30,000 inhabitants.
In 1787, he completed philosophy and began theological studies. Because his parents were experiencing financial difficulties, he looked for a job without abandoning his studies. In 1788 he tutored the children of the attorney F. Chocquin. He won the confidence of the couple, and even cared for the children, the house and the administration of the land in their absence.
In 1789, the year the French Revolution broke out, he entered the Seminary to prepare himself for priestly orders.
It is strange that the Good Father entered the seminary precisely at the moment when the worse times for the Church were approaching, the beginning of the Revolution.
In 1790 he was ordained sub-deacon and preached in his village, Coussay-les-Bois, for the first time. In December, he would be ordained deacon. It was the year in which the Constituent Assembly approved the Civil Constitution for the Clergy; priests had to swear to it or be subjected to deportation. He only stayed in the seminary for two years, because the Lazarists, who directed it, abandoned it in August of 1791, refusing to take the Constitutional Oath (Civil Constitution for the Clergy).
In the summer of 1791, he contacted the Vicars of the legitimate Bishop of Poitiers. From their prior knowledge of him, they gave him a document that authorized him to be ordained a priest by any bishop in communion with the Pope. Coudrin, fully aware of the current situation of the Church in France and concretely in Poitiers, decided to be ordained a priest.
He traveled to Paris where he learned that there was a bishop hiding at the Irish Seminary. He was secretly ordained a priest on March 4, 1792.
He immediately returned to Coussay. On April 8th, Easter Sunday, the parish priest invited him to celebrate the Mass in his parish church. By order of the mayor, he had to announce at the end of Mass that a new constitutional pastor would soon take possession of the parish. The Good Father announced it, but with a defiant commentary toward the civil authority. Consequently he and the legitimate pastor had to flee the village that same day in order to be saved.
Thus began a period in which the course of events forced the Good Father underground, a situation that would last for several years. But it would not obstruct his intense apostolic activity. His audacity, risking and total trust in Divine Providence would be the notable features of his personality.
This imposed clandestineness brought him to the farm at the castle of Motte d’Usseau, in a village where his cousin was the farmer and the owners were well known.
Thus the Good Father began five months of seclusion in the farm’s granary: five months of a deep experience of God in prayer. He reflected on the history of the Church and on the limited news of the revolutionary events that his cousin shared with him. The year was 1792.
In this context, the so called “vision” took place, in which, for the first time he was conscious of the call to start a new community of missionaries: men and women. He was only 24 years of age.
On the 20th of October he was reading the life of St. Caprasius, who witnessing the martyrdom of a young girl confessing her faith, decided to leave his own hiding place during a time of persecution. Likewise, the Good Father prostrated himself at the foot of an oak tree and surrendered himself to God, ready to face any danger, even death.
He walked to Poitiers, using little frequented paths. He contacted priests who had not sworn an oath and the legitimate diocesan authorities. He knew, with greater realism, that the religious situation in Poitiers at that moment was becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous for those like himself, who in spite of everything, wanted to exercise their clandestine ministry. But he was not intimidated; he did not stop his activity. Few possessed his audacity in the most dangerous places and the riskiest initiatives.
In the spring of 1793 the well-known episode of the Hospital of the Incurables occurred. During a surprise inspection there by the revolutionaries, he escaped by substituting as a vagabond whose corpse had been removed a little earlier. The vagabond had been nicknamed “Marche-a-terre”.
In the midst of all this intense and risky activity, he did not forget his destiny to found a community that he had envisioned during his seclusion in the Motte. In April 1794, while being sheltered in the house of one of his directees, he made contact with the Association of the Sacred Heart. Later, he and other priests would create the Society of the Sacred Heart for priests.
In 1795 a 27 year-old young woman, Henriette Aymer, came in contact with the Association of the Sacred Heart. In previous years she stood out in the frivolous environment of the city. During the Revolution, she and her mother were incarcerated for concealing a refractory priest in their home. She spent 11 months in jail, and she left looking at life in a different light. What she calls “her conversion” took place there. She sought a spiritual guide whom she found in the Good Father.
After experiencing some difficulty, Henriette was accepted into the Association. Due to her personality and rich interior life, she experienced a polarization of her relationship with some members of the group. Fr. Coudrin directed many members, within the Association, of the group called the “Solitaires”. In March of that year there was a conversation between Father Coudrin and Henriette Aymer which seemed to have resulted in the formulation of the first practical decision to establish the Congregation: the resolution to buy a house and initiate a form of religious life for the group of “Solitaires”. In August the group of “Solitaires” made resolutions and donned the habit. Father Coudrin wanted to form the masculine branch at the same time.
On October 20, 1800 the Good Mother made her first vows with four companions. On Christmas Eve 1800 the Good Father made his first vows and the Good Mother made final vows. (This is the date we consider as the birth of the Congregation.) The Good Father was the Superior of the new community. He took the name Marie Joseph.
The Congregation was going to have to live the most rigorous clandestineness during the period of Napoleonic domination. It did not receive the approval from Rome until 1817. However, this did not prevent its growth, both in members and in geographical expansion. The confidence of the Bishops (Mende, Cahors, Sees…) would facilitate several foundations of brothers and sisters. The Good Father was the Vicar General of several dioceses. The brothers were in charge of the administration and teaching in the seminaries; they established schools that would become a source of vocations for the Congregation.
The relational difficulties between the Congregation and the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church (for example, in Paris) moved it to develop other ministries such as parish missions. When education became more difficult because of legislative impediments, the brothers accepted work in remote missions. At the same time, after the approval of the Congregation by Rome, the Good Father achieved the institutionalization of the new community: the General Chapters of 1819 and 1824, elaborated the Constitutions. Thus, at that time in the Good Father’s life, the maximum numerical growth and the greatest geographical expansion of the Congregation took place. Especially notable was the number and quality of those who were destined for the foreign missions, above all for some of the archipelagos of Oceania (Hawaii, Gambier…).
After developing intense activity, the Good Father and the Good Mother journeyed together until the end of their days. The Good Mother died on November 23, 1834. Shortly before this, the Good Father abandoned his pastoral duties (at that time he was Vicar General in Rouen) and returned to Picpus, the central house in Paris. In feeble health, he continued to govern the community. On Easter Monday, March 27, 1837, he died in Paris. His last words had a missionary resonance: “Valparaiso…Gambier…”
Dates in the life of the “Good Father”
March 1, 1768, he was born in Coussay-les-Bois: At the time Coussay was a small village close to the city of Poitiers, the capital of the region of Poitou, France.
1790. He was ordained sub-deacon and deacon. He made the decision to prepare for the ministry of the priesthood, precisely at the moment that marked the height of the French Revolution.
March 4, 1792. He wais ordained a priest at 24 years of age, in a clandestine way, at the Library of the Irish College in Paris.
From May to October 20, 1792. He spent five long months in a granary (attic) of the Motte d’Usseau, it began with his entering the Motte to avoid the risk of being captured.
"...It is there that one day, enclosed in my granary, after having said Mass, I saw what we are now. It seemed to me that we were many gathered together, forming a large group of missionaries called to spread the Gospel everywhere. When I was thinking of this missionary society, the idea of a society of women also came to my mind.... This desire of forming a society that carried the faith to everyone never leaves me....". This was the peak spiritual experience that marked his entire life as Founder.
October 20, 1792. He left the granary and became a clandestine apostle in the midst of the Reing of Terror:
"When I left, I prostrated myself at the foot of an oak tree that was not far from the house, and I surrendered my life. I became a priest with the intention of suffering all, sacrificing myself to God, and, if necessary, of dying in his service... However, I had a certain presentiment that I would be saved....".
From that time, Poitiers and its surroundings became the stage of an apostolic activity that put him in constant danger and continuous risk of his life.
November 1974. He encountered Henriette Aymer for the first time.
December 24, 1800, Christmas Eve. The Congregation was born: he made his vows.
March 27, 1837. The Good Father died in the house at Picpus, Paris. He died at the age of 69. He arrived at the end of a full and extraordinarily fruitful life at the service of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, and of several dioceses in France.
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