Dehonian Spirituality includes a monthly reflection and prayer based in the spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians).
Reflections from Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
It all began with catechism class. Fr. Leo Dehon had an assignment to teach religion to the public grade school students in a French city filled with factories. After doing this for a year, Fr. Dehon had prepared about 100 boys for their First Communion. He soon realized, however, that his instruction was not helping very much to equip these boys for their future.
He wanted to create a place where young boys and teenagers could gather outside of school or the factory for fun and learning practical skills. Eventually, Fr. Dehon built a youth center that had recreation rooms, classrooms, a gym, a library, a bank in which to deposit savings, a chapel, and even a band and a choir. As St. Joseph’s Youth Center grew, it added an employment agency as well as lodging for young workers. Soon, over 500 young men were involved at the center.
At this time in France, many teenagers were already working in factories but receiving a fluctuating daily wage with no benefits. To address this problem, Fr. Dehon organized a Workers’ Union at the Youth Center to help the young men understand their rights and duties as laborers. He wanted to help them fight for a living wage and healthy working conditions. He also set up a study club for young men who were planning to become employers in the future.
As successful as St. Joseph’s Youth Center was, Fr. Dehon wanted to do more for youth. In his day, an anti-Catholic French government favored public schools over private schools, but he wanted to offer more than the public schools were providing. Fr. Dehon intended not only to teach the regular subjects, but also to form Christians as “persons of heart, of sacrifice, and of commitment.” Whatever the students would eventually do in life, Fr. Dehon believed they must always be “the living image of Jesus Christ. Such is the purpose of Christian education,” he concluded, “such is our purpose.”
So, in 1877, he opened St. John Institute. He chose this name because John was the well-beloved disciple who was close to Jesus’ Heart. Before the school year began, Fr. Dehon gave a talk on Christian education. He spoke about his responsibility to parents and society in training their children “whom God loves so much and wishes to see treated with utmost respect.”
This type of education was important for Fr. Dehon because he believed it could help address and solve the social problems of the day. Dehon wanted to train future leaders and factory owners, who would put into practice the Christian principles of justice and charity.
At the center of St. John Institute was Fr. Dehon himself. One of his former students wrote, “What we loved was to see him mixing among us and finding out about our lives in a familiar way. We loved to talk with him. He put himself on our level and was interested in all of us.” Another man recalled, “He was a good Father for the students and was much loved by them, in spite of his strictness. He was spontaneous, lively, teasing, affectionate, above all with young people.”
This year, World Youth Day will be celebrated in Panamá from January 22-27. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers all the young people who will gather—and those unable to gather—to celebrate their faith. May their youthful energy be contagious as they breathe new life into the practice of our Catholic faith. You may find helpful this official “Pilgrim Prayer,”for World Youth Day in Panamá 2019.
you call us to live our lives as a way of salvation.
Help us to recall the past with gratitude,
to embrace the present with courage,
and to build the future with hope.
Lord Jesus, our friend and brother,
thank you for looking upon us with love.
Let us listen to your voice
as it resonates in the hearts of each one
with the strength and light of the Holy Spirit.
Grant us the grace of being a Church
that goes forth with vibrant faith and a youthful face
to communicate the joy of the Gospel.
May we help to build up the kind of society we long for,
one where there is fairness and fellowship.
We pray for the Pope and the bishops;
for young people; for all those
who will take part in World Youth Day in Panama
and for those who are preparing to welcome them.
Our Lady of Antigua, Patroness of Panama,
help us to pray and live with generosity like yours:
“I am the servant of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”