Père Louis Marie Léveil SJ (1884-1973) - Part I

Source: District of Asia

With the death of Fr. Léveil, Tamil Nadu lost on this earth, but gained in heaven, one of those holy priests whom God grants at times to certain countries or regions, to be an instrument of spiritual renewal and heavenly blessings for their people. Fr. Léveil was venerated as a ‘man of God’ in whom shone God’s love and through whom God dispensed His favors.  The following is a summary of a book recently appeared to promote the process of the cause of beatification of the Servant of God Père Louis-Marie Léveil SJ. The book is titled ‘Pearl of Maravanadu, the life and mission of Fr. Louis-Marie Léveil SJ’. It was written by Fr. S. Xavier Alphonse and printed by Léveil Publications, Sivagangai 2019. It runs about 100 pages. May this be a small tribute to a great missionary of our times. Condensed by Fr. Therasian Xavier SSPX.

Louis was born on the 6th of April 1884, at Laille, a village of Ille-et-Vilaine, one of the districts into which the old province of Brittany is divided. The ‘Bretons’ have always been reputed for a good dose of stubbornness, a fierce attachment to religion, and their devotion to Saint Anne, Patroness of Brittany. Translate stubbornness into tenacity of purpose, and there you have Fr. Léveil all over: his religion was God and souls, and nothing else counted for him.

Of Louis’ parents we know only their names, Joseph and Julienne. If we judge by what we know of Louis, we cannot but conclude that piety and virtue were in great honour in his home: piety was as if ingrained in his very nature, blended with a guileless innocence that seemed incapable of even suspecting evil.

After his elementary studies in the village school, Louis went for his secondary studies to the ‘College Ste. Croix de Vitre’, run by Diocesan priests. He then joined the Major seminary at Rennes, but after one year of Philosophy he was called for military service which in those days lasted one year. From the army he joined on 6 Oct. 1906 the novitiate of the Toulouse Province, then in exile at S’ Heeren Elderen in Belgium.

Br. Louis sailed for India a few days before the completion of his novitiate, for he reached the Mission on 14 Oct. 1908. After one year of Juniorate, he underwent the full course of three years of Philosophy. He did four years of regency at Palayamkottai High School, then went to Kuresong for Theology and to Ranchi for his Tertianship. He was back in Madura Mission in 1921, and was sent almost immediately to the parish of Andavurani in the north-east of Marava, where he was to remain for full twenty two years.

Fr. Léveil at Andavurani:

As the headquarters of a parish, the village of Andavurani was still a spoor show when Fr. Léveil took charge of it. It was divided into two, North and South, each with its own chapel. The bigger of the two, in North Andavurani, served as the village church. South Andavurani had been administered by the Goan Priest of Oriyur until 1893.

What the village needed was a church vast enough to contain the whole population. Fr. Léveil set to work at it without delay. The result was a very spacious construction in between North and South Andavurani. How he got the money needed for it we do not know. But it must have been then that he began that large correspondence with benefactors which he kept up till the very end. Special mention must be made here of a benefactress who was probably his first one and remained faithful to him during his whole life-time, we mean his niece, Mére Marie de Jésus. Besides the regular supply of articles of piety, the distribution of which Fr. Léveil made one of his means of apostolate, who can say how many benefactors she enlisted on his behalf? Not content with this role of procurator to her dear Missionary, she herself came in 1970, to rejoice with him at the sight of all that she had been instrumental in achieving for the extention of Christ’s Kingdom in Marava.

The new Church of Andavurani was consecrated by Mgr. Leonard in 1928. Fr. Léveil then turned his attention to another enterprise no less urgent than the church had been, that of providing the village with a convent and a school. He set about it in a way characteristic of him: he invited two Sisters of the Susaiapperpatnam convent to spend three days in his parish, no to discuss plans, oh no! but just to go round some of the non-Christian villages, to distribute medicines and baptize dying children. The net result was twenty six little souls sent to heaven. That visit was enough to arouse the enthusiasm of the Sisters. Convent and school, plus an orphanage, were soon a reality.

Fr. Léveil was, and continued throughout his life to be, a great builder. Yet, when people spoke of him, it was not of his building ‘achievements’. He was, it was said, a holy priest, having great power with God, whose blessings carried with them a special efficacy. So people came eagerly to him to be blessed; he would be called at any time  of the day, or even of the night, to go and bless persons, animals seeds, fields, anyone or anything in trouble. And the Father was always ready: “Father Léveil was never left in peace” says one who knew him; “nor did he ever try to reserve for himself a moment of privacy”. He was ‘all to all’, and blessing was a way for him to give himself. Every Saint, we are told, reproduces in himself some aspect of our Lord’s life. Fr. Léveil instinctively brings back to memory the image of Jesus going through towns and villages blessing the little ones brought to Him by their mothers. Fr. Léveil in the act of blessing –this is, we imagine, how people will fondly keep representing him in their memory.

Every blessing from Fr. Léveil  was received with a childlike belief in its efficacy, and ‘Miracles’ were attributed to them. “His very presence in Marava during the last few years of his life, writes on who was for many years his higher superior, “was credited with producing the abundant rains and consequent prosperity of the region during that period.  He himself believed in miracles as the answer to earnest prayer, especially to the great patron Saint of Marava, St. John de Britto, and he had a number of stories to tell of favours granted.”

As for the spiritual care of his flock Fr. Léveil made it of course his main concern. He would go to one of the outlying stations of Saturday, visit each house, say Mass on Sunday morning, and then return to Ramnad for a second mass. If no bus was available, he would walk back the ten or twelve miles in the blazing sun, and although it was by now 11 am, he found his Christian waiting for him, still fasting from the previous evening. The Father would immediately begin Mass, preach, and, after Mass have “a word for everyone, a smile, give an advice, or a paternal warning…”

Fr. Léveil at Sarugani

Towards the end of his life, he was back to Sarugani, Fr. Léveil was no more to bear the responsibilities of a parish priest. He was given the spiritual direction of the clergy of the whole district, and appointed ordinary or extraordinary confessor of a number of convents. He was also made Assistant to the parish-priest.

Rev. Fr. M. Rajasekaran, the parish priest writes this very interesting details on Fr. Léveil at Sarugani:

"He was preaching during the mass, and gave conferences to the Fathers. His main means of apostolate was prayer, long hours of it. People say that sometimes he used to get up at night and go the church to pray. He did not spare himself walking to the villages. Obedience and selfless charity were special features of his piety. The hundreds of people who flocked to get his blessing received a small medal and picture, containing of prayer “O Jesus King of Love, I put my trust in thy loving mercy.” He gave palm leaves with prayers against rats and worms that destroy the crops. The holy water blessed by him was taken by the people as having the power to cure diseases."

"Many poor people experienced his kindness. When they came from long distances he gave them travelling expenses. He helped a few to study. Some families were and are still given help for their maintenance, with money got from benefactors abroad."

"St. John Britto and St. Thérèse of Child Jesus were his special patrons. He kept a relic of St. Thérèse in his chest pocket till the last breath of his life and asked me to give it to the convent of Andavoorani, the first convent he founded.  He was, and is considered by the people, a saint and a benefactor who received any one without distinction.” (to be continued)