The three women walk down the rue Jean-Paul II, each with a bouquet in hand. They come to lay flowers in front of the closed portal of the Montfort missionaries, at the entrance to the places where Father Olivier Maire lived and was found dead, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. “We really had to show fathers that we are there for them, explains Stéphanie Varvat, a shopkeeper accompanied by her daughter and her mother-in-law. They are the soul of this village, they are of great importance to all the inhabitants ”.
→ STORY. Murder of a priest in Vendée: the “pain” and “incomprehension” of Catholics
The congregation, founded in 1705 by Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, a religious with a special Marian devotion, has been established in the small Vendée town of 3,600 souls for three centuries. The motherhouses of the three branches of the Montfortian family – the Montfort missionary fathers, also known under the name of the Company of Mary, the Daughters of Wisdom and the Brothers of Saint Gabriel – occupied imposing premises there. They are located near the basilica built in the center of this “little Lourdes”, which attracts tourists and pilgrims, about ten kilometers from Cholet (Maine-et-Loire).
In this peaceful village, almost everyone knew Father Olivier, near or far. “Obviously, we met him in everyday life, I don’t know what to say, it’s very hard”, testifies Nicole Roche, a 55-year-old Saint-Laurent. “It’s very difficult to live with and it will continue to be so in the days to come”, continues a customer of the bakery in front of the church where the provincial superior of the Montfortians had again played the organ on Sunday August 8, a few hours before being killed.
“We live it in hope, despite everything”
The emotion is even stronger among the parishioners and the religious who came to meditate in the basilica. “It’s like a catastrophe that has befallen us, a test to test our faith”, confides Sister Dorothée, member of the Institute of Militants of the Blessed Virgin, housed in the presbytery. “It’s a drama”, sums up a brother from Saint-Gabriel. “We live it in hope, despite everything, says Father Pierre Bonhommeau, a member of the small wounded community. Father Olivier was faithful to his commitments, which guided him throughout his journey. “
→ PORTRAIT. Father Olivier Maire, “the Gospel to the end”
For the rest, the Montfortians of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre prefer not to speak out while the investigation is underway. But four of them celebrated a mass, Tuesday, August 10 in the morning, in the crypt of the basilica, accompanied by Father Santino Brambilla, former superior general of the congregation.
In the evening, a vigil of prayers was organized, a time of meditation in which Henri, an 87-year-old faithful, was to participate. “Obviously, I feel great sadness, said the octogenarian. Father Olivier was a friend, I received him at home. But I also pray for his killer. “
→ TRIBUNE. Father Olivier Maire, unconditional generosity, an exceptional approach
Emmanuel Abayisenga, the Catholic of Rwandan nationality who accused himself of having killed the priest and was placed in a psychiatric hospital, had been received by the Montfortians after being released from prison on May 31. Indicted for the fire at Nantes cathedral in July 2020, he was under judicial control. “But what was he doing there, why was he still in France, why hadn’t he been expelled?” “, asks Philippe.
“I also feel a little bit of anger”
This retired firefighter had taken part in several pilgrimages to Lourdes with Father Olivier. In his mind, a form of incomprehension mingles with his sadness. “I also feel a little bit of anger He admits. In Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, few people knew of the presence of the man involved in the Nantes fire in their town. The discretion of the Montfortians on this subject was commensurate with the “sensitive” aspect of the affair. “Nobody knew it”, confirms Bertrand Lemaire, who runs the Christian bookstore adjoining the basilica.
→ INVESTIGATION. In the head of the arsonist of Nantes cathedral
A retired architect, he published a biography of Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, titled ” On the high seas “ and published by CCFO editions, whose preface had been written by Father Olivier Maire. “He was anything but a boastful, resumes the bookseller. This role in hospitality was his secret garden. It was a way of continuing a tradition developed among the Montfortians by Father Gendrot, former superior general. “
This tradition is part of the spiritual heritage of Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, a religious man turned towards the poor. “Our founder gave us the mission to take care of the neglected, those who are in need of financial means and affection”, details Sister Madeleine, nun of the Daughters of Wisdom in La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime). Montfortain in Pontchâteau (Loire-Atlantique), Father Paul René abounds. “Following the example of Saint Louis-Marie, we go to the most neglected, for they are for us a sign of the presence of Jesus Christ. “
A strong tradition of hospitality
Most Montfortian houses are thus marked by this concern for people passing through or homeless, who can often find refuge there for a night or two. “Before the pandemic especially, we often welcomed vagrants, looking for shelter, something to eat or to be able to wash themselves”, indicates Father Paulin Ramanandraibe, rector of the basilica of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre.
The reception can sometimes be longer. The mother house of the Daughters of Wisdom, also located in the Vendée town, was still hosting families in difficulty or people placed for several months a few years ago. Some communities have also been able to accommodate people coming out of prison, like Emmanuel Abayisenga.
→ READ. Murder of Father Olivier Maire: gray areas in the psychiatric follow-up of the alleged murderer
If the ” poor and little ones are always welcome ”, in the words of the La Rochelle nun, it is necessary to seek “Reconcile welcome and prudence”, underlines Father Paul René. Thus, he explains, guests are often invited to stay in different buildings, or at least separate, from the living rooms of the brothers.
The reception within the community itself, as Emmanuel Abyisenga was in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, slips the priest, is therefore “ still a bit exceptional ”. For Father Santino Brambilla, one thing is certain, however: “We cannot always measure every consequence, but the welcome of Father Olivier testified to the Montfortian evangelical attitude”.
♦ Monday, August 9, Emmanuel Macron shared on Twitter a photograph of the religious killed, writing: “He wore the generosity and love of the other even in the features of his face. On behalf of the Nation, I pay tribute to Father Olivier Maire. Warm thoughts for Montfortians and all Catholics in France. Protecting those who believe is a priority. “
♦ On August 11, at 8:30 p.m., Mgr François Jacolin, Bishop of Luçon, will preside over a prayer vigil, broadcast on KTO live from Luçon Cathedral.