23 April ǀ WORLD BOOK DAY

Posted April 23, 2023

Anabela Costa- Archivist Unit Portugal

Sr Marie France Correau – Heritage and Spirituality

To participate in the worldwide tribute that this day wishes to pay to books and their authors, we wanted to discover the library of Father Gailhac. We have chosen to present one of the books it contains and to evoke its impact on the founder of the Congregation of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

When the book speaks…

With works printed between 1665 and 1889, the copy of the Introduction to devout life from the library of Venerable Father Jean Gailhac (1802-1890) is one of the most recent works present there. Authored by Saint Francis of Sales (1567-1622), this is an edition corrected by the (still) unknown A.M.D.G., edited in Avignon (France) by the bookseller Mouriés Aîné and printed in Jacquet’s workshop in 1834.

This is an edition in French, paginated in Arabic numerals and structured in 5 parts/books and 120 chapters, also featuring the “commentary” of Pope Alexander VII (1599-1667), the “dedicatory prayer” and the “preface” of the author, as well as the “manner of devoutly reciting the Rosary”, the “prayer of the Church for the feast of Saint Francis de Sales” and the “table of chapters”. 

The text, printed on paper without a watermark, is written in roman characters with 34 lines with notices at the end of the page (word or part of a word on the right side that is repeated at the beginning of the next page) spread over 33 notebooks with a numeric signature from 1 to 32, with the exception of the first one that has the letter “a” as a signature.

The binding is original, with cardboard planes, fully covered in leather, decorated only on the book’s spine where, engraved in gilded iron, the title and 5 vignettes with stylized plant motifs are presented. Internally, it is lined with marbled paper, also used in the endpapers.

Although harmonious, this copy from our founder’s library is quite simple and unpretentious, not featuring capital initials and having as its only decoration vignettes with stylized floral motifs indicative of the parts/books and chapters which, in turn, are presented with titles in black capitals. The decoration is completed by an engraving of plant motifs present on the frontispiece and small medallions with floral motifs that fill the text void, in a reminiscence to the “horror of emptiness” of medieval manuscripts. Note the absence of handwritten notes, namely: marginalia, signatures, property marks, ex-libris and super-libros.

… the Work inspires

On December 28 2022, the Church celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of St. François de Sales, bishop, and doctor of the Church.  Sometimes called the apostle of gentleness, he wrote Introduction to the devout life, a work found in the library of the Venerable Father Gailhac and which is presented to you above.

Father Gailhac, spiritual guide, was nourished by this writing and shared the delight of the Holy Bishop in “the two dear and well-loved virtues which shone in the person of our Lord, which he recommended to us, as if by them, our hearts would be especially consecrated to his service and applied to his imitation: Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart (Mat 11,29).  Humility perfects us towards God and gentleness towards our neighbor*”. 

On the foundation of the Institute, when he undertook the formation of Mother St Jean, our founder asked her to identify with Jesus, gentle and humble of heart: “My child, listen, Jesus Christ our Lord will be your model.  Jesus Christ begins by doing, then by teaching… My daughter will therefore work first to maintain a great equanimity in all circumstances, with all kinds of people, remembering these words of the Savior: “Learn from me to be meek and humble of heart”. (Letter of September 6, 1849).               

It is not only a question of superficial mastery but indeed of an in-depth transformation: to learn from Jesus, to let him “imprint all his features, all his likeness” in our hearts.  And for J Gailhac, gentleness is the divine “trait” par excellence.  “It is the blossoming of all the virtues.” ** This is how he describes it at length in a letter to his “dear daughters” dated October 10, 1881:  “In it is the strength and power of the gospel…it is by true gentleness that the Apostles converted the world”.

J. Gailhac, an indefatigable apostle, let gentleness express itself in his encouraging responses to the sisters who wrote to him to confide their difficulties and their weaknesses. As he did yesterday for them, he still invites us today to ask God in the prayer: “O God!  infinite sweetness, complete your image in us…Lord, give us your gentleness, that of Jesus Christ…we will use it only for your glory”.                                                                            

  *Introduction to the devout life- 3rd part ch 8 

  ** Religious Life TRP Jean GAILHAC Chapter VII

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