What Pope Benedict XVI has called the “Pilgrimage of the relics of St Claude de la Colombiere” is currently wending its way around the Cathedrals of Ireland. Since June 14th a steady stream of people of all ages has been filing past the Reliquary of this 17th century French Jesuit saint, only canonised on 31 May, 1992 by Pope John Paul II.
Spiritual Director of the visionary of the Sacred Heart, St Margaret Mary (1647-1690), he was instrumental in taking the devotion out of the monasteries and into the mainstream of life. The meeting between these two saints has led to an extraordinary flourishing of religion in subsequent centuries, including the establishment of upwards of 300 new religious congregations, male and female, bearing the term “Sacred Heart” in their title. This is about one a year ever since and more than 150 of them were founded in the 20th century.
For a period he was chaplain at the Palace of St James, London to the Duchess of York, Mary of Modena, step-mother in law of King William of Orange. Mary, the wife of William was so attached to her young step-mother that she wanted her to be with her in the Netherlands when giving birth to her first child. Sadly this child was still-born.
Claude was falsely accused of complicity in the Titus Oates plot but his French nationality and the influence of Louis XIV saved his life. He referred in his letters home to the bounty on the head of the Archbishop of Armagh, Oliver Plunkett. Claude died of tuberculosis on February 15 1682, several months after Oliver’s martyrdom at Tyburn in July of the previous year.
The relics reach the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin on Wednesday afternoon, July 19th and will remain there until they leave for France on the morning of Friday, July 21st. As St Claude was widely known in his lifetime for his skill as a confessor, the organisers hope that the Sacrament of Penance will be on offer continuously in the vicinity of the relics during the 40 hours that they are in Dublin.