Louis’ parents were poor, hard-working people who raised eight children, the oldest of whom was Louis. In the normal course of events, Louis would have learned a trade and helped to educate his siblings, but early in his life his mother recognized that he was destined for the priesthood. At the pleading of her and his teacher, he was allowed to begin his studies. Some charitable people provided the funds for his education.
As a very young child, Louis had organized Rosary societies, preached sermons, told stories of the saints, and led the Rosary with groups of neighborhood children. He was particularly devoted to Our Lady, and he took her name in confirmation. As a student with the Jesuits at Rennes, he continued his devotions; he joined the sodality, and became an exemplary member. When he had completed his studies, he left for Paris in 1693 to begin his studies for the priesthood. He walked the 130 miles in the rain, sleeping in haystacks and under bridges, and, on arriving in Paris, he entered a poverty-stricken seminary in which the students had scarcely enough to eat, which caused him serious illness. On the verge of ordination, his funds were withdrawn by his benefactor, and it looked as though Louis would have to return home. He was taken in by a kindly priest, however.
Louis was ordained in 1700, and, after saying his first Mass in the Lady Chapel of Saint Sulpice, he was sent as chaplain to a hospital in Poitiers where mismanagement and quarreling were a tradition. He endeared himself to the patients, and he angered the managers of the hospital when he reorganized the staff. Consequently, he was sent away, but not before he had laid the foundation of what was later to be a religious congregation of women known as the Institute of the Daughters of Divine Wisdom at Poitiers, to nurse the sick poor and conduct free schools.
This rebuff was not the first Louis had to suffer; in the seminary, his superiors had exhausted themselves in trying his patience– making him seem to be a fool. All his life he was to meet the same stubborn opposition to everything he tried to do. Many of the clergy, even some of the bishops, were infected with Jansenism, and they fought him secretly and openly. In his work giving missions, his moving from one place to another was occasioned as often by the persecution of his enemies as it was by the need of his apostolate. Going to Rome, he begged Pope Clement XI to be sent on the foreign missions, but he was refused and sent back to Brittany, France, as missionary apostolic. He returned in his usual spirit of buoyant obedience, even though he knew that several bishops had already forbidden him to set foot in their dioceses.
For the rest of his life, Louis gave flamboyant missions in country parishes, some of which had been without the care of a priest for generations. Ruined churches were repaired, marriages rectified, children baptized and instructed, and Catholicity rebuilt. He joined the third order of Dominicans, and everywhere he went, he established the Rosary devotion. People who came to his missions out of curiosity, remained, and his preaching did much to renew religion in France.
His enemies were as busy as he was, however. They gave false reports to the bishops, drove him from place to place, and, in one case, succeeded in poisoning him. The poison was not fatal, and it had an unforeseen result. While he recuperated from its evil effects, he wrote True devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which he himself prophesied would be hidden away by the malice of men and the devil. After nearly 200 years, the manuscript was rescued from its hiding place, and, only a few years ago, it was given the publicity that it deserved.
In 1715, Louis founded a second religious congregation to train helpers in his forceful methods of preaching called the Missionaries of the Company of Mary.
Born: January 13, 1673 at Montfort-La-Cane, Brittany, France
Died: 1716 at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sovre, France
Canonized: 1947 by Pope Pius XII