Venerable Fr. Francis Libermann had a most remarkable journey of faith. It culminated in 1848 when Libermann brought new personnel and a renewed spiritual energy to the Spiritans that transformed the Congregation. Libermann is considered to be our “second founder.”
He was born into an orthodox Jewish family in the Alsace region of France in 1802, and given the name Jacob. Jacob Libermann’s father was a rabbi, and Jacob was preparing to become a rabbi himself but his studies led him to discover the New Testament and to Christianity. He was baptized Francis Mary Paul, in 1826, at Christmas. Soon after he felt the call to the priesthood and began studies in earnest. However, sickness intervened in the form of violent attacks of epilepsy. This put his vocation on hold. It was fifteen years before he was finally ordained, in 1841.
Those intervening years, though full of struggle, were also a time of grace and of maturing, as Libermann became an advisor and confidant to many seminarians and others wanting to grow in the spiritual life. His own trials and painful experiences, as well as joys and perceived blessings, developed in him a great confidence in Providence and a sense of the Holy Spirit directing human affairs.
His approach of “practical union with God” helped him, and others, find the divine in the everyday and to face life with confidence and faith.
His spirituality of responsiveness to the Spirit served Libermann well during the difficult period of organizing his Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and of gaining official permission from Rome to begin the apostolate to people of African descent. Libermann’s followers viewed his being cured of epilepsy at this time and subsequent ordination as approbation from heaven on the mission of his “little band”, whose charismatic leader and visionary apostle he had become.