This location is associated with De La Salle because of a retreat that he made at the convent Abbey. However, the Carmelite Abbey has become infamous because of the activities associated with the French Revolution, which also involved Blessed Brother Solomon.
De La Salle’s Retreat
De La Salle withdrew to this convent of discalced Carmelites on Rue Vaugirard after the troubles with the teachers of the town. After two weeks of prayer and meditation, he returned to the St. Yonnovitiate in Rouen, which he had begun the year before.
In this convent—a major part of which is now the Catholic Institute of Paris—is buried Frederick Ozanam, Founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, who died at the age of 40. In the chapel to the left of the sanctuary is a statue of Our Lady which was designed by Bernini but executed by one of his students. During the French Revolution, it was removed then later returned in the 1930’s. In the church, in the second chapel from the back on the right is a plaque commemorating all those put to death here. Brother Solomon is mentioned by name at the right of the altar.
During the French Revolution
During a particularly intense time period of the French Revolution, the local priests and religious had been herded into the church. Later, they were to be conducted into the sacristy (used as a dining area during the revolution), and down into the corridor. There at a table, within earshot of the death throes of their colleagues who had preceeded them, they were asked if they had taken the Oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. If they had not, and were not prepared to do so, they proceeded down the corridor and met their fate at the steps which lead outside. After the event, it makes the words of Br. Solomon’s last letter very prophetic. He wrote them to his sister, Marie-Barbe, on the Feast of the Assumption two days before his imprisonment:
“I wish you a joyful feast. I pray that you may spend it in good health with your dear family, and in peace and quiet, so rare in our day. May our perfect submission to the will of God satisfy for every other consolation. Let us suffer all it may please him to permit, and let us remain faithful to him.”
Brother Escaped Slaughter
There was another Brother with Brother Solomon who hid among the dead and later escaped and acted as a witness. About 160 priests and religious were murdered here. Their bodies were put into a well and ditch, which are no longer part of the property. The bones were later exhumed, when a road was being built, and buried in the crypt. In the second room in the crypt, Br. Solomon’s name appears just inside the doorway, on the left hand side. Here in this room are gathered the bones of at least 100 of the martyrs. The skulls are kept separate to show the marks of the violence done to the people.
Brothers by the Numbers
At the beginning of the French Revolution the Brothers had in their schools, which were nearly all free, about half as many pupils (36,000) as there were in all the secondary schools in France (72,747). At that time, there were 121 communities in France and 6 communities abroad; a total of about 1000 Brothers. In 1792, when the Institute was suppressed on all French territory, in decreeing this suppression the Assembly nevertheless declared that the Brothers had “deserved well of their country.”
1) This is a rather dramatic spot in both French and Lasallian history. How is it that such a horrendous thing could be done by people of good will and passion?
2) Imagine yourself as being one of the people inside, being asked to make a choice such as they had to make. How do you think you would respond?
3) What kinds of things can we do through our educational ministry that may ameliorate the human tendency toward violence? What could you do personally for yourself?