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Louis-Henri de Lestrange

Priest, master of the novices in the celebrated monastery of La Trappe

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Lestrange, LOUIS-HENRI DE (in religion, Dom AUGUSTINE), b. in 1754, in the Chateau de Colombierle-Vieux, Ardeche, France; d. at Lyons, July 16, 1827. He was the fourteenth child of Louis-Cesar de Lestrange, officer in the household of King Louis XV, and Jeanne-Perrette de Lalor, daughter of an Irish gentleman who had followed James II, King of England, to France in 1688. He was ordained priest in 1778, and was attached to the parish of Saint-Sulpice. In 1780, Msgr. de Pompignan, Archbishop of Vienne, in Dauphine, chose him for his vicar-general, with the ulterior determination of having him as his coadjutor with the right of future succession. This prospect of being made bishop alarmed the Abbe de Lestrange, and in the same year he severed all the ties that bound him to the world, and entered the celebrated monastery of La Trappe. He was master of the novices in that monastery, when a decree of the National Assembly, dated December 4, 1790, suppressed the religious orders in France. Dom Augustine with twenty-four religious left for Switzerland, where the Senate of Fribourg authorized them to take up their residence in Val-Sainte, an ancient Carthusian monastery about fifteen miles from the city of Fribourg. From Val-Sainte, Dom Augustine established foundations at Santa Susana in Aragon, Spain, at Mont Biac in Piedmont, Italy, at Westmalle, Belgium, and at Lulworth, England. In 1798 the French troops invaded Switzerland, and the Trappists were obliged to leave the country. Some of them settled at Kenty, near Cracow; others at Zydichin, in the Diocese of Lusko, and in Podolia. In 1802 Switzerland recalled them, and Dorn Augustine took possession once more of Val-Sainte, and in the following year he sent a colony to America under Dom Urbain Guillet.

In 1804 Dom Augustine founded the monastery of Cervara in the Republic of Genoa, and Napoleon not only authorized the establishment, but granted it a revenue of 10,000 francs. Moreover he desired that a similar institution be founded on the Alps, at Mont-Genevre, to serve as a refuge for the soldiers who were to pass to and fro between Italy and France. To secure the success of this establishment he granted it an allowance of 24,000 francs. This protection was not, however, of long duration. The Republic of Genoa was united to the empire, and there, as in all the other states under the sway of Napoleon, an oath of fidelity to the empire was exacted from ecclesiastics and religious. The religious of Cervara, acting on the advice of some eminent personages, and of some influential members of the clergy who assured them that the pope had allowed the oath, took the oath of fidelity. Dom Augustine, who had received from Pius VII, then prisoner at Savona, knowledge of the Bull of excommunication issued against the spoliator of the States of the Holy See, commanded the Prior of Cervara to make immediate retractation. The emperor became furious. He caused Dom Augustine to be arrested at Bordeaux and thrown into prison. At the same time, by a sweeping decree of July 28, he suppressed all the Trappist monasteries throughout the empire. The prefect of Bordeaux, upon the entreaties of several of Dom Augustine's friends, gave him the limits of the city for his prison. The abbot availed himself of the liberty thus accorded him to hasten the departure of his religious for America; he himself obtained from the police permission to go to Val-Sainte and Mont-Genevre, where his presence was required. Pursued again by the emperor, he crossed Germany and arrived at Riga, whence he left for England and America.

Dom Augustine arrived in New York in December, 1813. The Jesuits had just abandoned a building which they had in that city, and which they had used for a classical school. The edifice occupied the place where now stands St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Dom Augustine purchased the site for the sum of $10,000, and in 1814, on the downfall of Napoleon, Dom Augustine returned to France and took possession once more of his former monastery of La Trappe. But his trials were not ended. He was accused of imposing extraordinary hardships on his religious; he was reproached with his frequent voyages and long absences. The Bishop of Seez, in whose diocese is the monastery of La Trappe, deceived by unjust insinuations, took the part of the detractors, and claimed over the monastery the authority of "direct superior". Dom Augustine, to put an end to these disputes with his bishop, abandoned La Trappe, and sought refuge at Bellefontaine, in the Diocese of Angers. The complaints were carried to Rome and submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars. Dom Augustine was summoned to Rome. He returned justified, and loaded with favors by the pope. Posterity has given Dom Augustine de Lestrange the title of "Savior of La Trappe". His remains repose in the monastery of La Trappe in the Diocese of Seez alongside those of Abbot de Rance.

F. M. GILDAS


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