The Practicality of Francis Libermann ~ Séamus Galvin C.S.Sp
The Practicality of Francis Libermann
Séamus Galvin C.S.Sp
Libermann the person
The only memory of Francis Libermann that I have from my seminary days is that of a very pious priest and spiritual director. The life and work of the man who guided the Congregation with such faith, love and manliness were not routinely made available to us. Therefore, we left Kimmage with little or no knowledge of this wonderful person other than the "Thoughts of the Venerable Father" ringing in our ears.
Libermann (pictured) was a man of outstanding talent and a man of God. His management of the merger of two congregations was done with tact and patience, allowing him to eventually succeed in overcoming the opposition of his confrères in the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He would act justly and with compassion but he could also be firm. In his dealings with government ministers at home and abroad he showed himself to be a very able and competent person. His practical approach gained him a reputation for diplomacy and the French government was known to hold him in high esteem. An excellent administrator, he illustrated this in two principles which he saw as essential to the good administration of the community. The first demanded that a superior treat confrères as human beings not as things. The second was his pragmatism in dealing with potential entrants into the Congregation.
Freedom of conscience
Open to the world, Libermann firmly believed in freedom of conscience and of not forcing people into conversion: Let us frankly and simply embrace the new order and breathe into it the spirit of the Gospel. In other words, rather than complaining about how things had changed, it was better to accept the change and then make the very best out of it. He understood the importance of the laity and he wanted them involved in the task of evangelization as catechists, helpers and as models of Christian life. He got his congregation to train them in such roles as teacher, farmer or master craftsman so that their talents would be used to advance the missionary work of the Church. He wanted an authentic local Church which would have a native clergy and he encouraged his missionaries to lose no time in cultivating such local vocations.
Libermann’s emphasis on sanctity did not imply that he scorned natural talent. Rather he was so convinced of its usefulness - and that of training - that he always directed his missionaries to prepare themselves for their task, stressing the need for careful but flexible planning. When he presented candidates for the episcopacy, he spoke of them as well-educated, capable, conciliatory and used to dealing with the world. His missionaries were not to be in positions below their God-given talents but in ones where their aptitudes and desires would be taken into account, leaving them fulfilled in their work.
In his relationship with civil authorities he aimed at preventing conflict and securing goodwill while at the same time safeguarding freedom in the religious sphere, and he asked his missionaries to do likewise so that they would have the goodwill of these people in order to promote their missionary work.
Libermann was a good and holy priest, a man of many talents and humane in his dealings with others; he was kind, compassionate, firm and decisive. Possessing both vision and great humility, he realized that God is all and man is nothing. In honouring him, let us ask the Lord for the grace we need to emulate him.