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Pierre Olivaint

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Pierre Olivaint was born in Paris, 22 Feb., 1816. His father, a man of repute but an unbeliever, and embittered by reverses of fortune and career, died in 1835 without having returned to the faith. He was survived by his wife, also without religion, and three children. At twenty Pierre left home, and the College of Charlemagne, where he had made a brilliant course of studies, imbued him with the doctrines of Voltaire. His heart, however, had remained remarkably pure, and he writes at this time: "I desire, if by any possibility I should become a priest, to be a missionary, and if I am a missionary to be a martyr." In 1836, Pierre entered the Normal School, and, where so many lose their faith, conversion awaited him. Led away at first by Buchez's neo-Catholicism, then won by the sermons of Lecordaire, he made his profession of faith to Father Ravignan (1837), and from that time became an apostle. At the Normal School he formed a Catholic group which by its piety and charity soon attracted attention and respect. The Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul attracted the élite of the schools, and Olivaint with twelve of his companions established them in the parish of Saint Ménard. By the ardour of their charity and faith, these heroic youths symbolized the religious renaissance in France. In 1836, Olivaint heard that Lecordaire was going to restore the Dominican Order in France. Several of his friends had already decided to follow the great orator. He wished to follow him also, but was detained by the duty of supporting his mother. After a year of professorship at Grenoble, he returned to Paris, and occupied the chair of history at Bourbon College; in 1841 he accepted a position as tutor to the young George de la Rochefoucaud.

In 1842 Olivaint won the junior fellowship in a history competition. His lecture was on Gregory VII, and M. Saint-Marc Girardin closed the assembly with these words: "We have just heard virtue, pleading the cause of virtue". At this time war was declared against the Jesuits. Quinet and Michelet changed their lectures into impassioned lectures against the society. On 2 May, 1845, M. Thiers was to conduct before the assembly an interpellation against these religious. Olivaint saw that it was his duty to be present. "I hesitated" he said to Louis Veuillot, "I hesitate no longer. M. Thiers shows me my duty. I must follow it. I enter today." And the day of the proposed interpellation he entered the novitiate of Laval. This sacrifice was hard for Madame Olivaint who as yet had not been converted by the virtues of her son. After a year's fervent novitiate he was made professor of history at the College of Brugelette, in Belgium. On 3 May, 1847, he made his first vows, and on the completion of theological studies he received Holy orders. In the meanwhile the law of 1850 had established, in France, the right of controlling education. Pierre Olivaint was summoned to Paris, where he remained. On 3 May, 1852, Pierre arrived at the College of Vaugirard of which the Jesuits had accepted charge. He was to spend thirteen years here, first as professor and prefect of studies, and then as rector. A model teacher, he trained the heart as well as the mind, and by his exhaustless energy, added to the direction of his college, many works of zeal, among others, "L'oeuvre de L'Enfant Jésus pour la prèmiere communion des juenes filles pauvres", and "L'oeuvre de Saint François-Xavier" for the workmen of the parish of Vaugirard.

After twenty-five years devoted to teaching, Father Olivaint was named Superior of the House in Paris (1965). He accepted this burden with courage, and displayed an unbounded zeal. An indefatigable preacher and director, he exercised by his sanctity and irresistible influence over all. His mother yielded to him, and under his direction Madame Olivaint prepared by a life of prayer for a very holy death. In the meantime, a spirit of revolt agitated Paris and spread throughout France. The religious renaissance of the nineteenth century, in which Pierre Olivaint had been an example, called forth a retaliation of evil. In January, 1870, Father Olivaint wrote, "Persecution is upon us; it will be terrible; we will pass through torrents of blood." On the desertion of Rome by the emperor had followed the disaster of the French troops. The investment of Paris was planned, and to those who advised him to fly, he replied that he was the post of danger. The most formidable danger pending was the commune, now mistress of Paris. "Let us be generous and ready for sacrifice" said Father Olivaint. "France must have the blood of the pure to raise her again; which one of us indeed, is worthy to offer his life, and what a joy, should we be chosen." He was chosen. On 4 April, 1871, the fédérés arrested Mgr Darboy and several others. On the fifth, they took possession of the house on the Rue de Sèvres and Father Olivaint quietly gave himself up. On 24 May, Mgr Darboy and five other prisoners were executed; on the twenty-sixth, fifty-two victims, Father Olivaint marching at their head, were dragged through Paris and massacred in the Rue Haxo. The day after this expiation the commune was overthrown. The remains of Father Olivaint and the four priests who fell with him (Fathers Ducoudray, Caubert, Clere, and de Bengy) were placed in a chapel in the Rue de Sèvres, where the pious faithful still continue to invoke them, and numberless graces have been attributed to their intercession.


CLAIR, Pierre Olivaint p=90tre de la C. de J. (Paris, 1878); de PONLEVOY, Actes de la captivité et de la morte des PP. Olivaint, Ducoudray, etc. (Paris, 1878); OLIVAINT, Journal de ses retraites annuelles (2 vols, Paris, 1872).

About this page

APA citation. Suau, P. (1911). Pierre Olivaint. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Suau, Pierre. "Pierre Olivaint." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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