“If you were to open his heart you would find an orphan and the Cathedral of Dakar”
Daniel Brottier was born on September 7, 1876 in Ferte-Saint-Cyr in the diocese of Blois, northern France. Quite early on he showed an interest in the faith. Not surprisingly, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest on October 22, 1899. However, not content with working for the Catholics of France, he decided to give his life to bringing the gospel to unbelievers. With this in mind he entered the congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers. He was sent as a missionary to Senegal, W. Africa where he worked with great drive and commitment in the parish of St. Louis.
He was recalled to France in 1911 and became involved in raising funds for the cathedral of Dakar, capital city of Senegal. The First World War intervened. He was enlisted in the French forces and worked in the Red Cross with the function of chaplain. In this capacity, he took part in the battles of Lorraine, the Somme, Verdun and Flanders. One of the fortunate few to survive the war, he founded the National Union of Ex-Servicemen shortly after leaving the French forces.
In 1923, the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Dubois, asked the Congregation of the Holy Spirit to take over the Orphans of Auteuil, a shelter for the many half-starved children living on the streets of Paris. Providing refuge and education for children was an early and ongoing option for the Congregation, which often had orphanages attached to seminaries and schools.
Fr. Daniel Brottier took up the task. For 13 years, Fr. Brottier lived among these abandoned children. He welcomed them, listened to them and suffered with them in their misery.
Of the orphanage, Fr. Brottier wrote; “So they turn, up full of confidence, at Auteuil. They have heard that in this house, as long as space can be found, children like them will get something to eat and drink, and a place to sleep. Even better, they have been told that at Auteuil you are taught how to work and prepare for the future, so that there will be no more talk of the miseries suffered in the past. And later on, they can start a family of their own, full of joy and love.”
Fr. Brottier, without thinking of himself, tried to give the children at least sufficient comfort to make them want to live like everybody else:
“Believe me, there has to be a minimum of well-being and comfort if these young people are to grow up without bitterness. Otherwise they will later on sow the seeds of revolt and anarchy in society”.
“We must not doubt Providence. We must pray and act… with that programme we can flatten mountains.“
Finding Allies in a Practical Union with God
Daniel Brottier found an ally and friend for his life and work – Thérèse of Lisieux. At Auteuil, he “plotted” with her many ways of “tempting Providence” for the running and development of the work for orphans. Although preeminently a man of action, his work flowed from an interior “practical union” with God. He put it this way:
“If Providence exists, if God is concerned about orphans and abandoned children, if the birds of the fields and the lilies in the valleys are dear to him, if the merits of some can go to help others, ….then in that case, we must act out this belief. We must not doubt Providence. We must pray and act…with that programme we can flatten mountains. We must press on with total confidence in God. Either we have faith, or we don’t have faith.”
Father Brottier died on February 28, 1936 in the Hospital of Saint Joseph in Paris. He was buried in the Chapel of St. Thérèse in Auteuil on April 5, 1936. He was declared venerable in 1983, and beatified on November 25, 1984, by Pope John Paul II.
You probably remember, Monseigneur, that several things made me hesitate about perpetual vows. I had often felt drawn (and it still occurs sometimes) by a desire for the contemplative life. But each time I wanted to do something about it, I was prevented by ill health. Most probably, this will also stop me dreaming about a return to Senegal.
Daniel Brottier to Mgr. Le Roy : 06.01.1919
|1903||Daniel Brottier arrives at Saint-Louis. He starts several new pastoral initiatives- work with young people, a youth band, conferences and cinema. He also starts the first francophone African newspaper in 1906, entitled "L'Echo de Saint-Louis". (Senegal 1903-11-27)|
|1914||Père Daniel Brottier volunteers as a military chaplain at the outbreak of the First World War and is appointed to the 26th Infantry Division. His courage and devotion during the next four years gain him the respect and admiration of all. (France 1914-08-26)|
|1919||As soon as the war is over, Mgr. Jalabert contacts Père Daniel Brottier in Paris to re-launch the plan, first formulated in 1912, to build a cathedral for Dakar in memory of all the dead of francophone Africa. (Senegal 1919-05-07)|
|1984||Daniel Brottier is beatified by Pope John Paul II. (C.S.Sp. 1984-11-25)|