Father Peyramale, “good parish priest” of Lourdes

Marie-Dominique Peyramale, the parish priest of Lourdes

by Yves Chiron

Venison, 312 p., €24

“Father Peyramale was a tall man, with an imposing gaze and a severe face. He was the mountaineer with his somewhat rough nature (…) He spoke short and cold, and at first glance, we didn’t feel attracted. But there were two men in him, one very rough, the other very good, very simple, very dignified. The second caused the first to be forgotten. As soon as we had spent a few moments with him, the ice was broken, we were not sure which was more to admire, the qualities of his original and resourceful mind, or the natural generosity of his heart. (…) Priest above all and always, he never lost the opportunity to place the word that edifies, the advice that enlightens. One listened to him with respect, one then underwent an irresistible attraction, and leaving him one was his friend. » These few sentences, signed Jean-Baptiste Estrade, tax collector in Lourdes, reveal the contours of the contrasting figure of Marie-Dominique Peyramale (1811-1877), the parish priest of Lourdes.

Difficulty listening to accounts of apparitions

Specializing in contemporary religious history, Yves Chiron is used to tackling high figures. We owe him in particular the biographies of Brother Roger of Taizé, of Padre Pio and of several popes. To paint the portrait of this son of a family of ten children (most of whom died), he had to extract from the archives and the enormous literature on Lourdes, the relevant fragments to compose his portrait, in the manner of a mosaicist.

The letters that the abbot sent until his death to his brother Alexandre, his younger brother, give access to the personality of the priest who only aspired to “tranquility”: he had even refused, at first, his appointment to the parish of Lourdes. Cautious, even suspicious, he confides to his brother his trouble listening to accounts of apparitions by Bernadette Soubirous (14 years old!) whom he brutally questions. The girl’s determination confuses him. ” The police intervenedhe tells Alexander. She threatened this child to put her in prison until the age of 21 if she returned to the cave. There was no way to stop him. She answered all the questions, all the intimidations with a reason and a firmness above her age. »

Builder of the church requested by the Virgin

Once convinced of the veracity of Bernadette’s words, whom he will accompany spiritually, he will never cease to protect her from the curiosity, sometimes unhealthy, and from the fervor she aroused: everyone wanted to meet her. “The Lourdes affair” and its developments will teach him the art of dealing with the local and imperial authorities, ready to repress the slightest disturbance to public order. He will also have to spare the different susceptibilities, even rivalries, which agitate the Catholic camp.

The future saint will show him a sincere attachment until the death of the abbot, which coincides with the feast of the birth of Mary. “ The Most Holy Virgin came to seek our good Father on the day of his birth to reward the sacrifices and the harsh trials he accepted and suffered for love.she wrote.

Foremost among these, the complex management of the construction site of the church requested by the Virgin: “Go and tell the priests that we are building a chapel here and that we come there in procession. » Yves Chiron describes with a meticulousness, which sometimes loses the reader, the negotiations with the various actors and entrepreneurs… A generous priest (he distributes without counting the goods he receives to the poor), the « builder » turns out to be a very poor manager . When he died, he left several hundred thousand francs in arrears on the construction site of his new parish church – the other project of his life, the completion of which he would never see.

Very popular among the population, this zealous organizer of processions to the Grotto saw his fame endure after his death, until the Bishop of Tarbes put a stop to the nascent cult at his tomb (there is even talk of healings miraculous). It is the merit of Yves Chiron to shine his spotlight on the endearing and little-known figure of the one who was nicknamed the “good priest”.

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