I’ve always enjoyed biographies, whether sports or politics or entertainment, and especially liked finding out about the person’s childhood. Those stories often are different from mine and can give you insight into why the person’s life unfolded as it did. For instance, when Daniel Brottier was a child – so goes the tale – his mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I won’t be either a general or a pastry chef,” the French boy said. “I will be the Pope!”
His mother reminded him that to be the pope, he would first have to become a priest. So Daniel responded: “Well, then I’ll become a priest!”
And a holy, hard-working priest he did become. In fact, Brottier is on the cusp of being canonized as a saint by the Church. His feast day was Saturday (February 28), when I ran across his story.
Saints fascinate me. We don’t know much about many of them, frankly. There are so many “beautified” people in the history of our Catholic faith. In fact, I can’t find any source that gives an exact number of canonized saints, those who have cleared the first hurdle toward sainthood (beautified) and those who have been accepted into the approval process (venerable). I found a place where it is estimated that more than 10,000 men and women have been at least beatified.
That includes Blessed Daniel Brottier, who was born in 1876 and died in 1938.
Beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. It takes proof of another miracle for the pope to canonize the saint – which means the person lived a holy life and resides in heaven. Canonization does not “make” a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done.
Some quick highlights of his life:
After spending the early years of his priesthood working with Catholics in France, he found a passion for missionary work in Africa and went to Senegal to start a parish. … His bishop recalled him to France, where he was charged with raising money to build the Cathedral of Dakar (the capital of Senegal). He lamented that his vocation was moved to the city of Paris rather than rural Africa. … Brottier joined the French forces during World War II and served as a chaplain with the Red Cross. He was cited for bravery six times. … After the war, he founded the National Union of Servicemen, then in 1923 was put in charge of a Paris orphanage. His final 13 years of life were spent living with the orphans and raising money to support the Orphan Apprentices of Auteuil, which grew from supporting 140 children to more than 1,400 at his death. Father Brottier sought two things: to save the most unfortunate, and to dedicate those efforts to the intercession of Saint Thérèse.
“My secret is this: help yourself and heaven will help you,” Brottier said. “I have no other secret. If the good God worked miracles (at Auteuil), through Thérèse’s intercession, I think I can say in all justice that we did everything, humanly speaking, to be deserving, and that they were the divine reward of our work, prayers and trust in providence.”
Pope John Paul beatified Brother Brottier in 1984.
So … does a French priest who died before World War II began have any relevance for today’s faithful? Of course! Never mind his amazing accomplishments and devotions to his work as a missionary and at the orphanage, along with the miracles that occurred. Have you ever had to endure a headache? Blessed Daniel suffered severe headaches most of his priesthood; they were the reason he couldn’t return to Africa. Do you have a soft spot in your heart for children? Blessed Daniel championed the cause of orphans. “Open the door for him” was written on a poster featuring a homeless youngster standing in the street before the gates of the orphanage.
I found this book:
“The Youngsters’ Best Friend: Fifteen Days of Prayer with Blessed Daniel Brottier”
Published in 2007, the book’s introduction includes this: “To pray fifteen days with Blessed Daniel Brottier means that in spending time in his company, we are making apostles of ourselves, in order to act as he acted. In every stage of his extremely active life, there gleams one after the other fifteen facets of his impressive sanctity. They reflect the essential aspects of the journey of his apostolic life and introduce us to prayer.”
The chapter entitled “Obstacles” begins with this profession of faith, which Blessed Daniel wrote during his time in Senegal. It still speaks to Christians today … or so I believe:
I believe in God, in the soul, in immortality.
I believe in virtue; I believe in goodness.
I believe in constant effort and in austere work.
I believe in justice, life and in mystery.
I believe in wisdom and in truth.
I believe in the good I do and in charity.
I believe in sorrow, which saves the world.
I believe in happy deaths and in fruitful ideals.
I believe in the blood of Christ and in martyrs.
Blessed Daniel didn’t become the pope. I think he was every bit as accomplished as he ever could have imagined.