“I will train them and you will put them to work.”
Poullart des Places to Grignion de Montfort
The Foundation of the Seminary of the Holy Spirit
In Paris, in 1701, the Jesuits accepted one of their former students from their college at Rennes, Claude François Poullart des Places. He had obtained a degree in law at Nantes in 1700, but changes his plans to pursue the legal profession in order to study theology.
While Claude was studying at Rennes, he became very friendly with a fellow student, Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. In 1703, Louis -Marie asked Claude to help him start a small company of poor priests who would work under the standard and protection of the Blessed Virgin. Though Claude dreamt of being a missionary and martyr, he told his friend that he wanted to pursue his own dream.
If God blessed his work with success, he could count on him for providing missionaries. “I will train them and you will put them to work. In this way we will both be satisfied”.
The Assembly of Friends
There was great poverty and suffering in the streets of Paris. The “Assembly of Friends” (Aa) committed themselves to a spirituality and charitable works that would be carried on in secret and without any fuss. One passage in their handbook read:
“There is no greater proof of the love we have for God than that which we have for our neighbour, who has taken the place on earth of the dying Jesus in order to be the nearest and most immediate object of our affections… The ones in the worst state are the sinners who are outside God’s grace. These are to be regarded with the most compassion and comforted with the most care”.
Claude Poullart des Places’ adherence to this group had a great influence on the work which he was to found. In 1702, we find him engaged in “quietly providing the necessary food for four or five poor students”.
Foundation of the Seminary of the Holy Spirit
The little group continued to grow. Finally, a dozen students asked Claude to set up a community, so at Pentecost, 1703, in the Church of Saint Etienne-des-Grès, the group consecrated themselves to the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Conception. Guided by Providence and with the approval of his confessor, Claude became the founder of the Seminary of the Holy Spirit even though he was not yet a priest and was only 23.
During a retreat he made in the Christmas holidays of 1704, he wrote: “It is already three years since the Lord in his extraordinary mercy, pulled me from the world”.
Claude encouraged them to live their lives as priests in poverty and amongst the poor.
Six Years of Direction by Claude des Places
These poor clerics received an extended and solid theological formation from the Jesuits of Louis-le-Grand. Claude encouraged them to live their lives as priests in poverty and amongst the poor.
Claude was finally ordained priest on December 17, 1707, but he died of pleurisy on October 2, 1709, aged only 30. He was buried with the poor in a common grave in the little cemetery of Saint Étienne-du-Mont, beside the chapel of Our Lady. The Diocese of Paris introduced the cause of the beatification of Claude François Poullart des Places in 1989.
The Seminary, based solidly on poverty and a love of abandoned souls, already had 70 students. It was known by:
- the poverty of its students
- the lack of fees charged for formation
- the length and depths of its studies
- its dedication to poverty and apostolic availability
The applicants were poor but also had an aptitude for study. They would study three years of philosophy, four years of theology and, for the more able, two years of further study.
Pierre Caris, who was in charge of getting food for the poor students for more than 40 years, relied entirely on Providence to fill their plates: “I do my best to pay my debts but I never catch up with them…”