November 13th, 1802 – November 13th 2022
220 years of Jean Gailhac: from a life received to a life given!
In collaboration with the Heritage and Spirituality group: Maria Helena Morra RSCM, Lucienne and Waldemar (Brazil)
This is a view of Jean Gailhac Square in Béziers. In the centre is the “Maison des Gailhac”. The half-destroyed wall on the left is part of the church of Saint Aphrodise of which Father Martin was the parish priest. In the foreground you can see the statue of the “Black Madonna of Rocamadour”, the second most important Marian devotion in France, after ND de Lourdes. We have here, symbolised, three great influences on Gailhac’s being and acting: his parents, the old, committed priest, and Mary, mother of Jesus.
Jean Gailhac is the son of the rural exodus. His parents migrated from the countryside to the city. It was there that they “converted” to support and educate their seven children. Antoine, the father, was a “jack of all trades”: “manufacturer”, “cart driver”, “farmer”. Jeanne Elisabeth, the mother, was very present with her son and introduced him to the Christian faith and to the love of the poor.
Father Jean-Jacques Martin was a member of parliament when the Revolution of 1789 broke out. He opposed the submission of the Church to the State. Persecuted, he went into exile in Rome for eight years. He returned secretly and worked clandestinely in Béziers until 1802, when he took charge of the parish of Saint Aphrodise. He was 62 years old when J. Gailhac was born. His moral strength and social commitment motivated the young boy’s vocation. He died in 1824, two years before Gailhac was ordained.
On his way out of his house, Gailhac encountered the sculpture of Mary with her son on her lap. How many times did he stop and reflect before it? What did his mother and Father Martin tell him about the Virgin? To what extent did this image influence his veneration of the Immaculate Heart and his vision of Mary as the “prototype” disciple of Jesus, a worthy model for the religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and for all Christians?
We can leave these questions to our imagination, but we can legitimately conclude that the example of his parents, the commitment of Father Martin and the firm gentleness of the woman who sang the Magnificat, led Gailhac to make his life, received as a gift and cultivated in sharing, a life “on the way out”, “on the road”. A life offered creatively and continuously in the service of the most vulnerable of his time, despite all the criticisms, persecutions, and political, financial, and ecclesial obstacles that he had to face.
To celebrate the birth of Father Jean Gailhac, for us, religious of the SCM and collaborators of the Institute of the RSCM, means to affirm that we are the first responsible for the construction of the person we want to be and of the heritage we want to leave in this world.
From what life has provoked in us, from the influences we have received and from the convictions and values we have developed over time, what does the life of J. Gailhac teach us about the assumption of the past, the choices of the present and the construction of the future we hope for?
Let us pray…. “Behold, I make all things new; do you not recognize it?