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.
August 3, 2018
Reflections from Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Leo Dehon truly and literally invested everything in his works and especially in the Congregation he founded. When, in 1883, the Oblates of the Sacred Heart were dissolved by the Vatican—an episode in the Dehonian tradition remembered as “Consummatum est” [It is finished!]—the bishop of the diocese of Soissons, Bishop Thibaudier, addressed the Holy Office and spoke of “success, existence of a college—founded in 1877 by Dehon, who assumed the risks and financial dangers—a college that today counts almost 300 students.
“The bishop, for lack of financial resources, is limited to offering what is possible…The diocese has never had such an institute of Christian education for young people destined for lay life. Dehon has a patrimony of about 300,000 francs, largely invested in this work” [Letter of Bishop Thibaudier to the Holy Office, 1884]. In other words, without the financial resources of Dehon, St. John’s College cannot exist. Shortly after, and at first sight by surprise, the Vatican allows the “resurrection” of the Congregation as a diocesan institute with a new name.
With the Patronage of St. Joseph [St. Joseph’s Youth Center] dedicated to young workers, St. John’s College, and Sacred Heart House in St. Quentin, the Congregation started from scratch, even economically speaking. Land, buildings, and furniture had to be bought or rented. Only with the passing of the years a network of benefactors, the patrimony of other confreres [fellow members of the Congregation] and other sources contributed to the financing of the Congregation.
In the first decades, however, it is above all Leo Dehon himself—and his family—who lays the foundations of the Congregation financially. This happens not without creating conflicts with the same family members. “I had to sell my property of Haie Maubecque to my brother to make money. Mr. Lecot goes back on his commitment and obliges me to pay him for the garden of the Sacred Heart House. I gave him a piece of land that my father valued at 72,000 francs—for this my brother reproached me harshly—I receive a very stern letter from my brother concerning the property of Wignehies that I sold; I offer this humiliation for the reign of the Sacred Heart.”
Guiseppe Manzoni, the great biographer of Leo Dehon, calculates that the founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus invested approximately 800,000 francs in the works of the Congregation. Presently, this would correspond to approximately three million Euros. This says a lot about the financial resources of the Dehon family, as well as underlining the economic importance of Fr. Dehon for the Congregation. In the same way, it is a further testimony of how Dehon really gave everything—and everything to the Congregation—for his dream of the work of the Sacred Heart.
Towards the end of his life Dehon recounts, “My family comes to visit me…I explain to them that my works have absorbed all my possessions and that they cannot wait for any important legacy on my part. My niece answers me with nobility that my works are worth more than an inheritance for the honor of the family and deserve divine blessings.”
Stefan Tertunte, SCJ
Director of Centro Studi Dehoniani, Rome, Italy
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
When Dorothy Kordrupel was growing up on the family’s farm in Marilla, New York, she expected one day to be a married woman. When she was in her mid-twenties and still single, she didn’t become disappointed or bitter. She decided on another goal. She would make it possible for a young man to become a priest.
Her inspiration was an advertisement she saw in Our Sunday Visitor. Charitable support was needed for a missionary order in East Africa. She decided to send monthly support for seminary education and her designated seminarian corresponded with her. When he invited her to come to Africa for his ordination, she booked a ticket and was there for the big day and for his first Mass.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Very few people in that part of Africa speak English and she needed directions in the worst way. Luckily, she found two little boys wearing Catholic medals who trusted her when she showed them hers. They took her to a Church and introduced her to their priest. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English either. But, they did locate another little boy who spoke English and he was able to get her to the right place in time to be a part of what her generosity had helped happen.
That wasn’t the end of the story, however. Before long, she was supporting seminary education for the Maryknoll Fathers and the Trinity Missionaries. She had great faith that “her boys,” now serving God as priests, would help her get to heaven. “Then, I realized,” Dorothy said, “that I wasn’t doing anything for the Sacred Heart.”
That began her now nearly thirty years of faithful support of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. It makes Dorothy happy to realize that a portion of her charitable contributions helps in the formation of candidates preparing to become priests and brothers of the Sacred Heart. However, in 1973, when Dorothy sent in her first check, the Priests of the Sacred Heart were already doing much more than educating their own. Three years before, Sacred Heart School of Theology had opened its doors to second-career vocations.
Although these were not the young men Dorothy had originally intended to help, they are often men who had heard the Lord’s call from their youth but had life circumstances that did not make it possible for them to respond. Because of the Second Career Priestly Formation Program, they were able to realize their dream and Dorothy’s as well.
Ironically, Dorothy is in a special place to understand the value of another program made available to priests from all over the world, the English as a Second Language Program. Showing your religious medal in East Africa may work in a pinch, but the work of the Lord is increasingly dependent on seminarians and priests being able to speak today’s world language, English.
Reflecting on her now 68 years of life, which included the realization of two other dreams, working in Alaska and going on walking tours of all 50 states, Dorothy sums it up back on the family farm where it all began. “I kind of did the things I set my heart on.”
Reflection Questions: Seeds for personal understanding and growth
Over the years, who has chosen to be your benefactor? How do you acknowledge your gratitude?
To whom have you chosen to be a benefactor?
What have you set you heart on? How are you attending to it?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer, hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers the benefactors of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Traditionally, the Congregation prayed twice daily for its benefactors: after the noon meal and at Night Prayer. You may find helpful these two short prayers, taken from The Community Prayers of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart .
Let us pray for our benefactors.
Lord, be pleased to reward with eternal life
all who do good to us for your name’s sake.
the generous grantor of pardon
and the lover of humanity’s salvation,
we ask your clemency
for the brethren of our Congregation,
our relatives, and benefactors,
who have departed from this life.
Grant that, through the intercession
of Blessed Mary, ever Virgin,
and of all your saints,
they may attain to the communion
of everlasting happiness.
Through Christ our Lord.