Libermann, François Marie Paul, ven.

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Religious founder; b. Saverne, (Bas-Rhin), France, April 12, 1802; d. Paris, Feb. 2, 1852. He was destined to become a Jewish rabbi like his father Lazarus Libermann, but his reading of the New Testament and the influence of his oldest brother, a convert, led to his own conversion to Catholicism. At his baptism in Paris on Dec. 24, 1826, he changed his name from Jacob to François Marie Paul. In 1827 he entered the Sulpician seminary at Issy, but an attack of epilepsy (1829) shortly before the subdiaconate impeded his reception of Holy Orders. Because of his wholesome influence on the seminarians, he was permitted to remain as part of the staff. While still in minor orders he acted as novice master (183739) to the eudists, who were reorganizing after their suppression during the French Revolution. Acquaintance with Creole seminarians inspired Libermann to found the Society of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to evangelize former slaves (1839). In 1840 he went to Rome to win approval for the new society and was ordained there (1841). In 1841 he also opened the society's first novitiate at Neuville, near Amiens. Seven of his missionaries accompanied the Irish-American bishop Edward barron to Africa (1843) and were among the first to penetrate the interior. Later the congregation was entrusted with missions in Mauritius, Réunion, and Haiti. At the Holy See's request, Libermann's society merged in 1848 with the holy ghost fathers, founded in 1703 but in decline since the French Revolution. Libermann became their eleventh superior general. He continued the educational traditions of the older congregation but infused it with the missionary spirit and apostolic methods of the newer institute. Libermann's spirituality was characterized by concreteness; its essential features were later popularized by St. thÉrÈse de lisieux as the way of spiritual childhood. The decree approving the heroicity of Libermann's virtues was issued in 1910.

Bibliography: g. lee, The Life of the Venerable Francis Libermann (St. Louis 1911; repr. London 1937). e. leen, The Voice of a Priest (New York 1946). h. w. homan, Star of Jacob (New York 1953). a. l. van kaam, A Light to the Gentiles (Milwaukee 1962).

[a. l. van kaam]