Preacher, writer, and educator, b. March 17, 1840, at Touvet (Isere), France; d. March 13, 1900, at Toulouse
Didon, HENRI, preacher, writer, and educator, b. March 17, 1840, at Touvet (Isere), France; d. March 13, 1900, at Toulouse. At the age of eighteen he left the seminary of Grenoble to enter the Dominican Order at Flavigny. Four years later he went to Rome to complete his studies at the Minerva. returning to France a lector of sacred theology he taught Scripture for a brief time, and began at Paris in 1868 a brilliant career as a preacher. A sincere desire to communicate his faith to others, coupled with accomplished art, enabled him to make the most of the qualities of an orator with which nature had endowed him. He had a majestic carriage, strong features, a massive forehead, black eyes, a vibrating voice which he perfectly controlled, and an ease in emphasizing his words by superb gestures. Frank, straightforward, and sympathetic, he readily won the hearts of his hearers, whom he dominated by his presence and startled by his boldness. He was essentially a man of his time, an advocate of progress; but withal loyal to the Church whose place in modern civilization he strenuously endeavored to strengthen. He was at his best when preaching on social subjects. He delivered the funeral oration of Archbishop Darboy, of Paris, who had been shot by the Communists May 24, 1871. In the following year he preached Lenten and Advent conferences in the principal churches of Paris, many of which he published. In 1879 he was bitterly assailed by the secular press of Paris for the attitude he took in a series of conferences on the burning question of the indissolubility of marriage, which he discontinued at the request of the Archbishop of Paris, but published in book form. A year later he was bitterly attacked by other critics while delivering Lenten conferences on the Church and modern society, and the accusation was made that he was in contradiction with the Syllabus. Although his preaching was orthodox, he was sent by the master general of his order to Corbara in Corsica. There for seven years he labored at a "Life of Christ", leaving his retreat for an extended visit in Palestine and again for a sojourn at the Universities of Leipsig, Gottingen, and Berlin. In 1887 he returned to France, where, in 1890, he completed his "Life of Christ". It met with a remarkable sale and was soon translated into several languages: two English translations were made in 1891-2.
In January, 1892, Father Didon reappeared in the French pulpit, when he preached at Bordeaux a religious-political sermon in favor of the Republic. He then delivered at the Madeleine in Paris a series of Lenten conferences on Jesus Christ (tr. Belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, 1894). Thereafter he gave only occasional sermons and lectures, his time and energies being devoted to the education of youth. At the Dominican colleges in and near Paris, cultivating educational theories but little developed elsewhere in France, he did away with compulsion as much as possible, taught the students that discipline is the way to liberty, fostered in them a spirit of self-reliance together with a loving reverence for authority, and checked the development of a critical spirit. Some of his educational theories may be seen in his work "Les Allemands" (tr. The Germans, 1884), which is a study of the German universities with application to France; others may be found developed at length in his college addresses published in pamphlet form. The deeply religious character of Father Didon is especially manifest in his "Lettres a Mlle Th. V." (Paris, 1900), which quickly went through thirty editions and appeared in English; in his "Lettres a un ami" (Paris, 1902); and "Lettres a Mere Samuel" (Annee Dominicaine, 1907-8). Besides the works mentioned above many of his sermons and addresses have been published in French and some have been done into English.
ARTHUR L. MCMAHON