Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire

Henri-Dominique Lacordaire at the convent of Sainte-Sabine in Rome, by Théodore Chassériau (1840), Musée du Louvre

Jean-Baptiste Henri-Dominique Lacordaire (12 May 1802 – 21 November 1861), often styled Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, was a French ecclesiastic, preacher, journalist, theologian and political activist. He re-established the Dominican Order in post-Revolutionary France. Lacordaire was reputed to be the greatest pulpit orator of the nineteenth century.

Early life and education

The son of a doctor in the French navy, Henri Lacordaire was born on 12 May 1802 at Recey-sur-Ource (Côte-d'Or) and raised in Dijon by his mother, Anne Dugied, the daughter of a lawyer at the Parliament of Bourgogne who was widowed at an early age, when her husband died in 1806. Henri had three brothers, one of whom was the entomologist Jean Théodore Lacordaire. Although raised a Catholic, his faith lapsed during his studies at the Dijon Lycée.[1] He went on to study law. He distinguished himself in oratory at the Society of Studies in Dijon, a political and literary circle of the town's royalist youth. There he discovered the ultramontane theories of Bonald, de Maistre, and Félicité de Lamennais. Under their influence he slowly lost his enthusiasm for the encyclopedists and Rousseau, though he maintained an attachment to Classical Liberalism and the revolutionary ideals of 1789.

In 1822 he left for Paris to complete his legal training. Although legally too young to plead cases, he was allowed to do so and he successfully argued several in the Court of Assizes, attracting the interest of the great liberal lawyer Berryer.[2] However, he became bored and felt isolated in Paris and in 1824 he re-embraced Catholicism and soon decided to become a priest.

Thanks to the support of Monseigneur de Quélen, the Archbishop of Paris, who granted him a scholarship, he began studying at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Issy in 1824 over the objections of his mother and friends. In 1826, he continued this education in Paris, which was generally mediocre. He wrote later that: "Those who remember having observed me at the seminary know that they have several times had the temptation of calling me mad."[citation needed] His seminary experience inspired Sainte-Beuve’s novel Volupté.

At Saint-Sulpice, he met with Cardinal Rohan-Chabot, later archbishop of Besançon, who advised him to join the Society of Jesus. Nevertheless, after long hesitations by his superiors, he succeeded in being ordained a priest of the archdiocese of Paris on 22 September 1827. He was appointed to a modest position as chaplain of a convent of nuns of the Order of the Visitation.[1] In the following year, he was named second chaplain of the Lycée Henri-IV. This experience convinced him of the inevitable de-Christianization of French youth educated in public institutions.