Ravignan, Gustave François Xavier de
RAVIGNAN, GUSTAVE FRANÇOIS XAVIER DE
Jesuit, popular pulpit orator and preacher of conferences and retreats; b. Bayonne, Dec. 1, 1795; d. Paris, Feb. 26, 1858. After an early and distinguished career in law, during which he rose to the rank of deputy attorney general at the Royal Court, Ravignan caused a sensation by retiring to the Sulpician seminary at Issy in May 1822. In November of that same year he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Montrouge. He was ordained July 25, 1828.
Ravignan taught dogmatic theology at St. Acheul near Amiens for two years, moving with his students during the revolution of 1830 to Brieg in Switzerland, where he continued to teach until 1835. During this time his missions and retreats began to win for him a fame that was augmented by his stirring Lenten sermons in the cathedral at Amiens and at St. Thomas d'Aquin in Paris. In 1836, the Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor de Quelen, called him to succeed Lacordaire in the pulpit of Notre Dame. Ravignan's preaching was characterized more by the magnetism and conviction of his own personality than by the eloquence or imagination of the words themselves.
Most of his sermons and conferences were published only posthumously from notes made by listeners, although he was prevailed upon before his death to edit 39 of the conferences given at Notre Dame from 1836 to 1847. These form the bulk of Conferences du R.P. Ravignan (Paris 1860), upon which his oratorical fame is largely based. In 1841 Ravignan began the custom of concluding the Lenten conferences with a retreat during Holy Week. This proved such a success that it was necessary for him to preach several retreats concurrently.
During the quarrels over the Falloux Law and the use of pagan classic literature in secondary schools, Ravignan sided with the party of Dupanloup, Montalembert, and Berryer. He refused, however, to take any active public or political role, such as the post of deputy, which was offered to him in 1848. Dupanloup wanted to associate him with the direction of L'Ami de la Religion, but the general of the Society of Jesus would not allow it. Only to defend his own order against its attackers did Ravignan take to the public forum. His book, De l'existence et de l'institut des jésuites (1844), made its mark, although it had little effect upon the policies of the government of Louis Philippe. His two volumes on Clement XIII and Clement XIV (1854) served at least to bring to light the shameful circumstances that had given rise to the suppression of the Jesuits in the 18th century.
Bibliography: a. de ponlevoy, The Life of Father de Ravignan (New York 1869). p. dudon, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951–) 13.2:1793–1802. c. sommervogel et al., Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, 11 v. (Brussels-Paris 1890–1932;v.12, suppl. 1960) 6:1499–1509.
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