Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière
Father of a family, Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière, founded a community of Daughters Hospitallers of St. Joseph with Marie de la Ferre, a steadfast and strong woman. 17th Century France witnessed a strong current of evangelization. A profound breath of renewal soon raised the Church of France.
Many missions were preached, often by secular priests. Missionary fervour grew, especially among the Christian elite, and the laity was much involved. From this context, which became known as the French School of Spirituality, two great figures would emerge: Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière and Marie de la Ferre.
Jérôme le Royer was born in La Flèche, France, on March 18, 1597, on the eve of the Feast of St. Joseph. Jérôme would work under the protection of St. Joseph and spread devotion to him throughout his life. In his home town he studied at the College, which was founded by King Henry IV and directed by the Jesuit Fathers. The royal establishment included professors, missionaries from New France, from whom Jérôme could have learned about these missions, and pupils called to play an important role in the mission Jérôme would carry out as an adult. Jérôme left the College towards 1617, intellectually and morally prepared to take his place in society and Church. At the death of his father, he inherited the little estate “La Dauversière”, whence comes the title attached to his name. Jérôme succeeded his father in the position of tax-collector for the La Flèche Region. From his marriage with Jeanne de Baugé, in 1621, five children would be born.
A man of faith and action, Mr. le Royer collaborated in the administration of the old Maison Dieu (House of God), where the sick poor received care; the three women who were at their service lived from alms obtained in the city. Jérôme wondered what to do to improve their situation. Humble and with little wealth, he prayed, consulted and hoped to discover the will of God in the events. Now, the Lord himself intervened:
On February 2, 1630, on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, with his wife and three young children, Jérôme participated at the Mass at Notre Dame du Chef du Pont (Our Lady of the Head of the Bridge). After having received communion, animated by a great fervour, Jérôme felt inspired by God to institute a Congregation of Daughter Hospitallers of St. Joseph at La Flèche, dedicated to the Holy Family under the particular protection of St. Joseph, for the service of the “sick poor”.
As the young father of a family, could he respond to such a request? Jérôme knew that if it were the Lord who had spoken to him, He would help him. Furthermore, an interior call told him that God had confided to him another mission even more difficult than the first. The mission which God gradually made clearer to Jérôme had two other facets. The first was to undertake the colonization and evangelization of the island of Montreal in New France. The second facet was to establish a hospital there which would be served by the Daughter Hospitallers which he was to found.
Mr. Le Royer wanted very much to believe his counselors, who told him that these were pious “pipe dreams”; nevertheless, he did not forget that a community of Daughters would provide a great service to the poor of the hospital in La Flèche. His meeting with Marie de la Ferre convinced him that God was at work. “The Congregation of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph was conceived within the context of a mystical experience, resulting from God’s divine initiative and the response in freedom of his servant Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière.” (Preamble, 2002 Constitutions)
In February 1635, in Notre Dame de Paris Basilica, Jérôme le Royer was in prayer before the statue of the Blessed Virgin when he saw himself in the presence of the Holy Family and heard Jesus say to Mary: “Where can I find a faithful servant?” Then the Virgin took Jérôme by the hand and presented him to her Son who said to him: “You will be my faithful servant ... work hard at my mission, my grace is sufficient for you; receive this ring and give one like it to all who consecrate themselves in the Congregation that you are going to establish.”
He returned to La Flèche, convinced that his project was not a “pious fancy”. God put Marie de la Ferre in contact with him, and she in turn made known her desire to consecrate herself to God for the care of the sick suffering. While he waited to fulfill this mandate, he undertook a specific project for the poor. He rebuilt the dilapidated hospital at la Flèche. This hospital would become the nucleus for the future congregation.
In 1643, the first constitutions of the congregation were approved and on January 22, 1644, Marie de la Ferre and her eleven companions made simple vows for one year in the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Joseph. Then they proceeded to the election of Marie de la Ferre as superior of the newly-born community.
Jérôme le Royer had worked unceasingly with Father Jean Jacques Olier to found the Notre-Dame de Montréal Society which acquired the title to the Island of Montreal and began to accumulate supplies for the ocean voyage. Mr. le Royer successfully recruited Paul de Chomedy, sieur de Maisonneuve to lead the expedition.
On June 1, 1641, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Jeanne Mance and the first colonists set sail for New France, to put into effect the “foolish enterprise” of Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière. Miss Mance looked after the produce and merchandise necessary for the subsistence of the first French inhabitants of the island, built a hospital, nursed the sick and wounded, and prepared for the arrival of the Daughters of St. Joseph.
During the next two decades, Jérôme le Royer faced many obstacles: the dissolution of the Society of Montreal, ill health, resistance from the Bishop of Angers and financial difficulties. During this period of turmoil he continued to have faith in God.
On July 2, 1659, Jeanne Mance boarded a ship bound for Montreal, accompanied by three Daughters of Saint Joseph, the Suplicians and, finally, Marguerite Bourgeois who would found the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. Before the ship left, Jérôme le Royer went aboard to bless “his daughters”.
Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière, died November 6, 1659 having fulfilled his missionary vision.