Dehonian Spirituality


Dehonian Spirituality is a weekly e-publication. Mailed most Fridays, it includes prayers and reflections based in the spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians). Text from a recent issue of Dehonian Spirituality appears below.

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October 19, 2018
Theme: Apostle of Social Action 

Reflections from Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart

“Love one another” [John 15:12].  This is the mission of Jesus; it is under this aspect that the prophets have portrayed him to us.  “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” [Isaiah 61:1].  The whole of economic and social reform is generally contained in the principles he lays down: the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of all men.

He sets the example of simplicity and labor. He chooses the workshop as his abode; the shepherds are his first adorers; he is a laborer and the son of a laborer.  See him in Nazareth in an apron and with the tools of a carpenter.  He despises wealth, luxury, honors.  He claims for the working man justice, respect, brotherly love.

Christ and the apostles promulgated and propagated universal brotherhood.  O priests, devote yourselves to good words, the old and the new.  Support the popular press, especially the Catholic press. Promote reading circles, study clubs, lectures, and retreats which train apostles and leaders.  Approach the people by defending their interests.  Approach the people by invoking justice and law on their behalf.

The Priestly Heart of Jesus, 26th Meditation: “The Priestly Heart of Jesus and the Duties of Social Life and Popular Action”


Oblation: The daily practice of offering oneself to God’s will

For one who wishes to know the political, social, and economic teaching of Fr. Dehon, it suffices to read the encyclicals of Leo XIII.  A faithful disciple of the Pope to the very end, this priest was no less his disciple as to the means of attaining it.  His activity with regard to the clergy and the working man, in the Third Order [of St. Francis] and in the Christian Democracy movement, always assumed its authority from the example given at Rome.

He was the loyal knight of the Pope, not out of simple naïveté, but out of intelligent conviction. To be faithful to the Pope is the duty of every Christian, but the man of science will not fail to prove by experience that Revelation cannot enter into conflict with Reason, since both teach the truth.  This is why, in the directives laid down at Rome, he will have no trouble in acknowledging them to be sound and clear-sighted doctrine.

“Canon Dehon,” says Fr. Prelot, “is not the head of a school: his thought offers nothing original in its construction, but as an apostle, he puts the pontifical directives into practice.  The social and economic life are presented as matters of learning, therefore to be studied and observed: he studies them in the light of the Gospel.  But he is above all a man of doctrine.  His moral teaching, whether concerning the individual or society, is of divine origin and taught by the magisterium of the Church.  Canon Dehon considers it a point of honor to submit to her.”

But then, it is not in the realm of social science that Fr. Dehon has a great part to play, but rather in the realm of social action.  In it, affirms Fr. Prelot, he is a precursor, from a twofold point of view.  First of all, by his activity itself; secondly, by what he calls the “philosophy” of his activity, the state of mind which governs his activity, the mentality of which it is the expression.

His activity is that of a precursor.  Fr. Prelot made mention of the fact that St. Joseph [Youth Club] at St. Quentin, was indeed rather new in its complex and already specialized organization; likewise, with his labors on the Diocesan Board [of Social Welfare] and on the Commission for Social Studies.  The meetings at [the exemplary factory at] Val-des-Bois and the famous Ecclesiastical Congress at St. Quentin, were a forecast of the Social Weeks.  Finally, Fr. Dehon entered energetically into the Christian Democracy movement, especially as spiritual director to many of its pioneers.

Fr. Dehon is a precursor also with regard to the spirit which urges him on.  Fr. Prelot describes his activity in educating the people, in social legislation, in professional organization, and in politics.  The education of the people calls for the activities of a priest, and the apostle of the encyclicals calls upon the clergy the “go to the people.” But he also wishes to provide them with lay helpers.  In order to do this, he begins by mobilizing the ruling classes, then enlists the help of laymen from all classes, already organizing the apostolate of the working man for the working man.

In the matter of social legislation, Fr. Dehon belongs to the school of Liѐge.  Along with it, he holds the opinion that the State has an important role to play in the life of society.  Accordingly, he contributed in forming the course of ideas which gave France her social reforms in legislative matters.  Fr. Prelot furnishes a fairly large list of social reforms defended in the Christian Social Manual and which were implemented, in the course of the following years by laws of the French Parliament.

Finally, as regards the political thinking of French Catholics, Fr. Dehon, of aristocratic and royalist background, became well aware, in the course of his adult life, that Royalism had seen its day.  And since he was, above all a priest, he sacrificed whatever might have remained of his personal preferences for the monarchy and became an untiring promoter of unity among French Catholics.

All of Fr. Dehon’s political and social activity was constantly inspired by devotion to the Heart of Jesus; this priest showed by his life that the Heart of Jesus is the beginning, the means, and the end of all his social and political activity.

Excerpt from The Personality of Leo John Dehon, “Political and Social Life,” Henry Dorresteijn, SCJ [with references to The Social Work of Canon Dehon, Robert Prelot, SCJ]


Reflection Questions: Seeds for personal understanding and growth

In his meditation on the duties of social life and popular action, Fr. Dehon suggests that “bringing good news to the poor and binding up the brokenhearted” [cf. Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18-19] describes Jesus’ mission to “love one another” [John 15:12].  As a follower of Jesus, in what way do you make this mission your own?

What would it entail to study the social and economic life of our world in light of the gospel?

Fr. Dehon believed that the State has an important role to play in the life of society.  What does this require of you as a citizen?


Prayer: hands lifted in prayer, hands prepared to serve

In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers the citizens of the United States who soon will be participating in mid-term elections.  You may find helpful the following Prayer of Reparation, taken from the community prayer book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the United States.

Lord Jesus,
help us to recognize you in the poor,
in those who suffer persecution,
and in those who are denied basic human rights.
Open our minds, our hearts, and our lives
to the needs of our brothers and sisters.

Increase our faith in the power of your great love,
so that we may face our fears
and reject all false security.
Inspire us to take the risks necessary
to change the world
and to proclaim the equality of all people.

Savior and lover of humanity,
make your love know through us.
Help us to work unceasingly
to build the kingdom of God you proclaimed.