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Priest, War Hero, and Friend of Orphans: Meet Blessed Daniel Brottier

He did it all


In the long history of the Church there have been Saints of all types, from cloistered contemplatives to men and women who went out into the world with an energy that would astonish most of us. Daniel Brottier was certainly one of the latter. Born in France in 1876, he had lofty ambitions from a young age. Before his tenth birthday, his mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His precocious answer was: “I won’t be either a general or a pastry chef; I will be the pope.” After his mother informed him that he first had to be a priest to be elected pope, he replied: “Well, then I’ll become a priest.” He did just that in October of 1899.

He began his priestly ministry as a teacher, but soon tired of the classroom. In 1902 he joined the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, better known as the Spiritans. His desire for missionary work was fulfilled when he was appointed vicar of a mission parish in Senegal, where he worked tirelessly until 1911 when poor health forced him to return to France.

Father Brottier was understandably upset by this development, but was not deterred in his life of service. Asked by the Apostolic Vicar of Senegal to help raise funds for a cathedral in the capital city of Dakar, he spent seven years doing so. The African Memorial Cathedral was consecrated on February 2, 1936, only weeks before Brottier’s death.

His fundraising work was interrupted for four years by the cataclysm that was the First World War. Despite his frail health, he volunteered as a chaplain at the outbreak of the war, serving with the French 121st Infantry Regiment for the entire war. In the course of ministering to the troops, he was cited six times for bravery and was awarded both the Croix de guerre and the Légion d’honneur. Though he repeatedly risked his life aiding the wounded and dying, he did not suffer a single wound during his 52-month enlistment, a feat he attributed to the intercession of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In gratitude, he built a chapel for her at Auteuil (an area in the western part of Paris); it was the first church dedicated to the Saint.

In addition to his war service and fundraising efforts for the cathedral in Senegal, Father Brottier worked ceaselessly for the orphans of France, of which there were many before the war and countless more after. When he took charge of the orphanage at Auteuil in 1923, it could accommodate 140 orphans. By the time of his death 13 years later, it cared for more than 1400.

Daniel Brottier died in Paris on February 28, 1936, at the age of 59. More than 15,000 people attended his funeral and he was buried in the chapel he built for St. Thérèse. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1984 (earning the title “Blessed”) and his feast day is February 28.

This quote of his may best sum up his life: “We must press on with total confidence in God. Either we have faith, or we don’t have faith.” Fitting advice from a man who pressed on with total confidence and faith his entire life. He never reached his childhood goal of becoming pope, but he was certainly a Saint.


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