Henri Chaumont was born in Paris on 11 December 1838, of Pierre Chaumont and Anne Korsten. He was the second child of a family of 8 children. He was baptized on 16 December 1838.
At the age of four, his mother consecrated him to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His incomparable devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary traces back its root from this self-offering to the Virgin Mary at St Ignace Church (Paris). As soon as he knew to read, he took interest in reading the “Annals of Holy Childhood”, the missionary magazine of Holy Childhood. He declared then, “I will be a missionary; I will be ready to suffer martyrdom to convert the people of China”. Already the missionary flame was lit very early in his heart. It will keep burning vibrantly up to the end of his life. His desire will be fulfilled when he saw the first group of his missionary Daughters to Nagpur, the second group of missionaries to China.
Henri received first communion on 26 June 1850. He met Mgr Gaston de Ségur who became his spiritual director until 1881. Who played a great role in the life of Henri Chaumont. His future and the foundation of the Society will depend much on this holy priest, an experienced spiritual director, filled with the spirit of St Francis de Sales.
Soon after his first communion, Henri told his parents about his desire to become a priest. They were happy and ready to help their son to realize his desire but Henri came across a great trial, starts a crisis of scruple and anxiety after listening to a sermon at the Church. This will last for two years obliging him stop school going. To help him come out of this crisis, his father sent him to work as an apprentice with a clock maker for 4 years. The boy was slowly freed from the scruple and anxiety and got back his inner peace.
During the early years of his life, Henri became an ardent reader of the “Annals of the propagation of Faith”. They increased the missionary ardor that was already burning in his heart by reading the “Annals of the Holy Childhood”.
He himself says that even at the age of 14, he felt that it is mainly through women that the Gospel can reach a family. At the age of 16, Henry entered the minor Seminary in Versailles in 1855. In 1858, he entered the Seminary of Montmorillon (France).
Influence of St Francis de Sales and the Acts of the Apostles in the life of Henri Chaumont:
As a seminarian Henri Chaumont received two profound influences:
1. Saint Francis de Sales: In the year 1859 (on 5th October), he entered the Seminary of Issy-les-Moulineaux. The “letters of St Francis de Sales” were read in the dining hall. This had been a revelation, a ray of light all through his life. He asked for copies of these letters for himself. In his words: “From that time I did not stop the study of St Francis de Sales which I undertook at the same time with my Philosophy. I was carrying this volume everywhere and studying it as I had done before with the Annals of the Propagation of Faith. It was the starting point, a stroke of grace”.
2.The Acts of the Apostles, a source of constant inspiration for the apostolate. Before his ordination, Henri Chaumont came to the Seminary in St Sulpice (Paris) on 1st October 1860 where he started reading and meditating the Acts of the Apostles. “The Apostles formed the faithful women living in the world to practice virtues and they in their turn became their auxiliaries. If at all God deigns to entrust some souls to me, if He gives them to me for their direction in the midst of the world, I will form them in the Apostolic tradition, I will make use of the method of the Apostles. This dream became a reality…This is what I tried to reproduce among the Daughters of St Francis de Sales” (Henri Chaumont at a retreat to the Daughters of St Francis de Sales in 1895).
Ordination had to be on 19 December 1863 by Mgr Darboy but he was ordained a priest on 18 January 1864 in the Chapel of the Seminary of St Sulpice, by Mgr Henri Maret, delegate of the Archbishop.
The two sentiments which went through his minds were: love of God and his unworthiness but having always the aim salvation of souls.
Missionary life and Salesian spirituality were the two poles of his formation. As a secular Priest at the service of the Diocese of Paris, all his life was marked by these two aspects.
At first he was appointed at the Parish of St Marcel, in a very poor zone of Paris, a materially and spiritually poor district (1864 – 1868).
At confessional and through visits Fr Chaumont comes to know the people, their needs and expectations, especially the need for Christian instruction and formation, the need of spiritual growth manifested especially by women and young girls at confessional and the material needs which he tries to address through various people whom he could help.
He becomes seriously ill in January 1868. His family and friends priests pray St Francis de Sales for his healing. But on 29th January, (the then feast day of St Francis de Sales), the dying patient was cured. He then promised to go to Annecy to thank the Saint for his miraculous healing.
First pilgrimage to Annecy in June 1868
After recovering, Henri left for Annecy on 1st June 1868. Praying at the tomb of St Francis de Sales, his project of forming a group of women living in the world became clear.
Convinced of it as the absolute necessity, he wanted to make known to women in the world, aspiring to a devout life, a Rule of Life according to St Francis de Sales.
He gave them the bond of a spiritual family, helped by spiritual friendship without changing anything in their family life or exterior life (wearing no habit, taking no vows…).
In December 1868 Fr Chaumont was appointed assistant priest in St Clotilde, in a rich quarter of Paris.
God puts two providential persons madame Carré and Mother Marie Gertrude on his way who will become his close collaborators in carrying out his project for the evangelization of women by women, to live according to the Gospel in the world under the patronage of St Francis de Sales and his missionary dream of evangelization (empowerment) of pagan women in far away countries.
Meeting Mother Marie Gertrude
In the beginning of 1868 Felicie Gros, born on 27 march 1850 (later Mother Marie Gertrude), after having discovered the book “Introduction to Devout Life”, comes to meet Fr Chaumont.
In 1868, he had already drawn up a small “Rule of Life” according to the “Introduction to the Devout Life”. The manuscript of this rule of life was copied several times so that many could be helped by it. Fr Chaumont showed it to great people to ask tfor heir opinion: Mgr Marmillod, who was the bishop of Geneve at that time, Mgr de Ségur, Fr Brisson etc. It was a confirmation for him to continue his undertaking. In 1868, Fr Chaumont had the ooccasion to meet Mother Marie de Sales, superior of the Visitation Sisters of Troyes who was very virtuous and experienced in religious life. She told him that the Lord had specially chosen him to undertake this foundation.
There was a delay of 4 years due to political problems.
War broke out between France and Germany, and he becomes military Chaplain during it.
All those years Fr Chaumont felt interiorly that God wanted that the women living in the world who could live the evangelical perfection, will be of great help to the priest as the women of the first Christian community was helping the apostles. But he had no means to realize his project. (Acts 1:14).
So the only solution he found was to go to Annecy and pray at the tomb of St Francies de Sales where he prayed for light through the intercession of St Francis de Sales and St Jeanne de Chantal.
An unexpected coincidence took place. Two women on whom the Lord had cast his eyes came to Annecy who would become in the future the first members of the Society.
They received the Holy Communion from the hand of Fr Chaumont. After Mass, the three of them proceeded to “la chapelle de la Galerie” (Annecy) to pray with all fervor for this intention. Coming out of this Chapel, they took the decision to found the Society on 15 October. They also prepared a “Rule of life” for this future society.
Thus the foundation of Society took place on 15th October 1872, on the feast of St Therese of Avila. He recommended that all the main foundations should be done on 15th October. It was founded in the “Petite Oeuvre” rue Cassette (Paris), a small room as that of Bethlehem where the poverty was very visible. It was a boarding place for the orphans, the directress of it was the godmother of Fr Chaumont.
There were only a square table and some straw chairs. They could see on the wall a small Crucifix and a picture of the Blessed Mother. Mme Carré had brought a small box in which was a statue of St Francis de Sales and the project of the “Rule of life”. The box in which it was brought was made the pedestal to keep the statue of St Francis of Sales. Only three of them were present for this meeting: two of them who had gone to Annecy and another lady. (Mme Carré, Mme Sallard, M. Mort).
The founder wanted that the aim of the Society should be “to lead a simple life by practicing the commandments, the precepts and the evangelical counsels”.
They should have the zeal for the sanctification of souls by their spiritual advises and good examples based on charity, spiritual friendship and amenity. (In the beginning the rule was made on experimental basis).
The three of them formed a council, which was called the “Council of the Trinity” as it was done for the glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
MADAM CARRE DE MALBERG
Madam Carré de Malberg was born on 8 April 1829 in the family of Mr. Colchen, a business man and was baptized Caroline. When she was 12, she was sent to the boarding shcool of the Visitation. At the age of 20, she married her cousin Paul Carré who was a military officer. He was not a practicing Christian and so his wife did all in her power to bring him back to faith. Of her four children only one of them survived. The son followed his father’s carrier and was crushed by his horse in 1885, lingered in pain and died a most edifying death.
Colonel Carré’s return to religious practice was a source of joy for which she had been praying for a long time. During the early years of her marriage Mme Carré felt the need of spiritual guidance and ardently prayed for a director to help her to realize her spiritual aspirations. She found in Fr Chaumont the guide she sought but she took him as her spiritual director only after consulting with her brother, a Dominican priest. This young priest had a prolonged study of the works of St Francis of Sales, to whose intercession he owed many graces. He was already directing many souls according to the “Introduction to the Devout Life”. She made a preliminary retreat and adopted the “Rule for a life of perfection”. The war of 1870 made it imperative for her to leave Paris but Fr Chaumont helped her through letters.
Fr .Chaumont realized that she was not an ordinary soul but one destined to have a great and lasting influence over others, a soul that needs to be refined as by fire to fit it for that great work of founding the association of St Francis of Sales.
MOTHER MARIE GERTRUDE
Mother Marie Gertrude was born on 27th march 1850 in Paris as the only daughter of Mr. Eugene Gros and Madam Léonie Poissant. She was baptised on 26th April 1851 and was named Félicie Gros. Her father died when she was five years old and since then her mother tirelessly worked hard to educate her only daughter and to bring her up with good moral values.
Felicie was very frail in her health due to diabetes which she inherited from her mother. Seized by God’s benevolent love that she experienced very specially through her mother and influenced by the teachings of St. Francis de Sales in the “Introduction to Devout Life”, she felt being attracted towards a life of Holiness and joined the “Society of the Daughters of St.Francis de Sales” (An Association of St. Francis de Sales founded by the servant of God Fr.Henri Chaumont and venerable servant of God Madam Carré de Malberg on 15th october 1872 in Paris} in the year 1873.
She made her consecration in this society on 19th january1875 and received her new name Sr. Marie Gertrude of Precious Blood. On the first year of her consecrated life, aware of her spiritual talents and leadership qualities, the founder entrusted her with the task of forming a new group of christian teachers along with him in different parts of France. Later observing her extra ordinary spiritual gifts, talent and missionary zeal as well as her enthusiasm for the salvation of souls and her willingness to sacrifice anything for the cause of mission in spite of her weak health, the founders assigned her to found the “Catechist Missionaries of Mary Immaculate” - CMMI (The religious branch of the same society) today know as “Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate”(SMMI) in India specially.
She was sent to India on 12th October1889 along with three other daughters of St. Francis de Sales after a special formation for mission countries for the evangelization of Non Christian women and to make them apostles in their turn. This first departure was realized as a response to the request and in the name of Bishop Riccaz of Nagpur by Reverend Fr. Joseph Tissot, the Superior General of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales - the congregation which was responsible for the development of the newly formed diocese of Nagpur.
This first group of Missionaries reached Nagpur in India, their missionary destination, on 2nd November 1889.under the vibrant leadership of Mother Marie Gertrude. The pioneers faced with strong faith, filial confidence in God and missionary dynamism all challenges that come on their way in this new mission field. Soon this missionary branch began to spread in the other parts of the India and abroad.
Despite her weak physical health, Mother Marie Gertrude was full of zeal and enthusiasm for the task entrusted to her. Focusing her life and also that of her sisters' lives of Eucharistic Jesus, centering her life on the word of God with deep faith and filial confidence in the Divine Providence, she established number of Missions in India and also followed the mission in the other parts of the world like China, Madagascar and Europe in the capacity as co-foundress, general councillor and assistant to the missions.
Going against the practice of her way, with an undying missionary dynamism, she and her companions dared to travel miles, either on foot or in the bullock cart or horse back or even in the boats to carry Good News of God’s Love. She led challenging missionary tours in the faraway villages for evangelization. She and her sisters used to spend days and weeks in the houses of the villagers. sharing their daily living condition and communicating to them the Good News of salvation. It is commendable here that Mother Marie Gertrude and her companions were the pioneering missionaries who took up such challenging missionary expedition in India in the era of the Church when religious women were expected to be confined to their convent walls.
She sustained the Christian commitment and missionary enthusiasm of her sisters and communities through her exemplary life of holiness. She gave frequent spiritual conferences to the communities, preached retreats to her sisters and wrote personal letters to her sisters and communities. Having lived the virtue of Obedience in a very heroic manner even at the cost of her life, she and her sisters have been instrumental in the evangelization of large number of villages in the central and south India and Bangladesh.
Her missionary audacity led her to hundreds of villages in central India and Tamil Nadu in order to share the Gospel of salvation. Her out standing compassion for the least and the lost, the Dalits and down trodden of the society, especially to women and children found its realization in the homes, hospital and welfare centers she established for the widows, the orphans, the lepers, the abandoned, the aged and differently able children in India and other countries in the world.
Aware of the health hazards of the people during her days, she began medical Apostolate. Aiming at the emancipation of girl children and also as one of the best means to contact families, she ventured into the educational apostolate. Through her personal contacts and compassionate listening to the families, she assisted in mending many broken relationships in the families.
When central India (Nagpur) was hit by epidemics like cholera, plague and famine especially between 1891 to 1903, she and her sisters dared to walk through the streets of Nagpur treating the ill affected people, often welcoming the widows and children orphaned by the death.