Fr. Jean Berthier, M.S.

Father Jean Berthier,
M.S. (1840-1908)
The Founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, Father Jean Berthier, M.S., was born in Chatonnay, France, on February 24, l840. As a boy he learned about the apparition of Our Lady of La Salette and his interest in Our Lady of La Salette never faded. John showed a desire for religious life when he was very young and prepared for the diocesan seminary by studying Latin.

On October 23, 1858, at the age of 18, he entered the seminary in Grenoble with an ardent desire for holiness. His attraction toward a life of humble service and attention to the poor was strengthened during a visit to the Grande Chartreuse. From then on, he wanted to be a religious.

During his vacation in 1861, he went to La Salette with six other seminarians. He already knew all about the apparition, having heard the story from his grandmother since he was six years old. "Once on the mountain," he writes, "the eyes of my head saw nothing special; but the eyes of my soul saw plenty. The thought that Mary had graced this place with her presence, that her tears had watered the ground on which I walked. The missionaries who, with unequaled fervor, were reciting their breviary. I was taken up by all this and, when it came time to leave, I said to myself: I shall come back here."


The La Salette Community

As a deacon, he joined the Missionaries of La Salette at the mountain of La Salette on July 14, 1862. There a real hardship awaited him. During an epidemic of the flu, he began to spit up blood. The doctor diagnosed tuberculosis, made him stop all ministry and advised complete rest. Spending some time with his family was not helpful. Would he be able to live the life of a missionary? Fr. Philippe Orcel, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Grenoble, and Fr. Pierre Archier, M.S., agreed that he should wait a while.

Fr. Pierre Archier, M.S.
Fr. Berthier went back up to La Salette, convinced that "if the Blessed Virgin sows crosses on my path, she will also know how to make them grow." A ray of sunshine would soon bring him some light and comfort to him. Fr. Jean-Baptiste Berlioz gave him some good advice: "Do some writing because you have to do something." "I would never have thought of it," he would write later, "and it was precisely in that way that I began to do the little good that I've done in my life." Despite his health issues, his strong will and trust in God helped him to arrive at his goal. On September 20, 1862, at the age of 22, John Berthier was ordained a priest by Bishop Ginoulhiac.

For decades Fr. Berthier enjoyed his summers at the mountain, La Salette, ministering to the visiting pilgrims. He celebrated Mass, preached, heard confessions and explained the message of Our Lady of La Salette. There were few staff members, so in addition to priestly duties, he did a variety of manual jobs to help care for the pilgrims. Those who heard Fr. Berthier preach were moved by his modesty, education and humility.

In his writings, as in everything he did, he was a missionary. The Virgin had said: "Make this known to all my people." His books cater to every category of the people of God. Like the Blessed Virgin, he wanted to speak simply and yet profoundly. He knew that "her message was identical to the message of the Gospel." He drew some conclusions: "Nothing must come from myself," but I must draw from "what is most edifying in the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the theologians and the most esteemed authors" but then explain it all in terms that can be understood by simple people and children.

Reaching Out to Belated Vocations

Pope Leo XIII
This love of children and of the poor would culminate in the foundation of a work for "the young people that many had discounted." "It is on the mountain of La Salette that the idea for this work first saw the light of day" (Constitutions of the Holy Family, 1895, n° 13).

Two thoughts remained on Fr. Berthier’s mind. First, he wanted to promote the message of La Salette to help lead people to the Lord. Second, he saw a lack of missionaries in the Church. This Bible verse was on his mind: “The harvest is abundant, but laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Mt 9:37-38).” During his missions throughout France, he met many men who wanted to become priests, but in general they were considered too old to begin their studies.

From the time of his novitiate and during more than thirty years of ministry, Fr. Berthier experienced a concern for so-called delayed vocations of young men from 14 to 30 years of age "for whom the one thing lacking was a program that could give them the wherewithal to study and to prepare themselves for a missionary life" (Letter to the Propagation of the Faith, 26.03.9). From 1880, the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII (3.12.80) reinforced his convictions. I have always had "the thought of helping delayed vocations. With the consent and permission of my superiors, I left my ministry and my country and I came here to begin this work. Therefore, my children, if you are here, it is through the intercession of our good mother, Our Lady of La Salette."

Fr. Berthier wanted to offer these men a path to become a priest and made plans for a school. After encouragement from Pope Leo XIII to follow his work for late vocations, Fr. Berthier, at the age of 55, went to Grave, Holland, and on September 28, 1895 he founded the Institute for Late Vocations. With the permission of the Holy See in Rome, this became the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Family. While there were many challenges, Fr. Berthier had a deep confidence in God and persevered.

Missionaries of the Holy Family

Early House for the
of the
Holy Family
Fr. Berthier gave his work "the title of the Holy Family and placed it under the protection of Our Lady of La Salette who was to be invoked often" (Constitutions, 1895, n° 13). Thus, the Virgin Reconciler inspired Fr. Berthier to establish in the Church a work consecrated to the Holy Family. The Holy Family would form the framework for this work, its specific form, its lifestyle, its spirit, its apostolic ministry. Isn't that where the reconciliation of people with God and among themselves must take place? It is the prototype, the anticipated realization of the human family reconciled in Christ, under the humble appearance of a poor family. A family that never ceases to grow, adding all those who, following Jesus, and with Mary and Joseph, do the will of the Father.

The missionary orientation of Fr. Berthier's religious life grew stronger as time went on, even when his health put him to the test. He was able to reach a wide and varied audience through his writings, his preaching ministry, his conferences and his retreats. By founding the Missionaries of the Holy Family, he was able to multiply the missionary in himself ''as often as he was able to send good workers to the Lord's vineyard" (Constitutions,1895, no 16).

In 1908, just thirteen years after the Institute began, Fr. Berthier witnessed the ordination of twenty-five priests and nearly two hundred seminarians as members of the Missionaries of the Holy Family.

Fr. Berthier now judged that his presence was no longer required and desired only, according to his own words, “to disappear from the face of the earth.” The first days of October, l908 were particularly difficult for him. On October 16, early in the morning, his last agony noticeably began. Repeatedly he said: “I wish to say one more Mass!” He celebrated Mass, but he himself was the victim of his sacrifice, because a few minutes after he had uttered these words, he gently breathed his last, surrounded by his spiritual sons.

His institute was still very young at the time of his death, but he had trained the missionaries well. Today there are over 900 priests, brothers and seminarians serving throughout the world.

Prayer to Obtain the Beatification of John Berthier

Untitled-5Father in Heaven, you found it fitting to choose your servant, Jean (John) Berthier to foster a zealous devotion to Our Lady of La Salette and the Holy Family of Nazareth, and to be an untiring apostle in the education of belated vocations: grant me this favor (here mention your intention) … so that I may praise you all the more, and obtain for myself and others, your blessing on this earth and eternal life in heaven.

Grant, O Lord, that John Berthier soon may be privileged with sainthood, in order that he may serve as a model of the virtues he practiced so faithfully during his life. Amen.

For a novena: Say one Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father with this prayer, for nine consecutive days.

Imprimi Potest: Very Rev. Philip Sosa, M.S.F. - Provincial, North American Province

Anyone receiving special favors through the intercession of Father Berthier, please notify in writing: Very Rev. Father Provincial, M.S.F., Missionaries of the Holy Family, 3014 Oregon Avenue, Saint Louis, Missouri 63118

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