St Claude de la Colombiere SJ relic to return to London

St Claude de la Colombiere SJ
St Claude de la Colombiere SJ

Relics of St Claude de la Colombiere SJ and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque will visit  England in November 2016 for a special tour around central London. These two saints are most associated with the devotion to the Sacred Heart.  

The initiative for the visit of the relics came from Emmanuel Community – a charismatic group of lay people and religious who originate from Paray-le-Monial in France but also have a group based at Our Lady of Victories Kensington. They have been collaborating with the Jesuits at Farm Street, St Patrick’s Soho Square and the Sisters of Tyburn Convent to organise this special two week event. 

The opening mass to welcome the relics is to be celebrated by Bishop Nicholas Hudson at Farm Street Church at 6pm on Wednesday 9th November, alongside other local events running up to the tour. The plans include visits to Our Lady of Victories Kensington and St Patricks Soho Square, which already holds a holy relic of St Claude, as well as possible visits to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, to Tyburn Convent, and to Sacred Heart School in Hammersmith. 

St Claude is considered a local saint for the Jesuits of Farm St, as he spent three years resident at St James’s Palace as chaplain to Mary of Modena, then the Duchess of York, and the wife of the future King James II of England. This is why the parish boundary for the Catholic parish of Farm St Church includes St James’ Palace, even to this day. 

Superior of the Jesuit community, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ said “We are delighted to have been invited to be part of the planning committee for this exciting event to honour St Claude and St Margaret Mary and the devotion to the Sacred Heart, with which the Jesuits have had such a long historic association. We look forward to collaborating with the Emmanuel Community and colleagues in Westminster to deliver an inspiring event to conclude this Jubilee Year of Mercy.”

St Claude was born in 1641 in southern France, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1659. He served in the college and the Jesuit church in Lyon for many years, before being appointed Superior of the Jesuit community in the village of Paray-le-Monial, Burgundy in 1675. He was also assigned as spiritual director to the sisters of the local Visitation Convent, and there met St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. She had been struggling with the meaning of her spiritual visions of the Sacred Heart of Christ, and had been dismissed by fellow sisters and theologians alike. St Claude offered her guidance and understanding, and he became a zealous apostle of the devotion.

St Claude was missioned in 1676 to the ambassadorial post of chaplain to the Duke and Duchess of York at St James’ Palace. Although separated from St Margaret Mary at this time, he continued to guide her through correspondence. He found his work in England difficult not least because of the religious politics of the royal household where Catholics were held in deep suspicion.

During the so-called ‘popish plot’ of 1678 (where Catholics were falsely accused of attempting to assassinate King Charles II), St Claude was accused of conspiracy and thrown into prison. Because of his connections to the Duchess of York and his French nationality he was exiled back to France rather executed as so many English Jesuits were at this time. However, his health had rapidly deteriorated during his incarceration and he barely made it back to France. He became the spiritual director to Jesuit novices in Lyon, and died in Paray-le-Monial on February 15th 1682 aged only 41.

Claude de la Colombiere was beatified in 1929 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1992.