La Vie de Monseigneur Alain de Solminihac, Evesque Baron, et Comte de Caors, et Abbe Regulier de Chancellade, by Léonard Chastentet. Caors: Jean Bonnet, 1663.
Call number: SpC. 282.092 S688Yc1663
The reform of the French Church had many aspects that attracted the attention and activities of Vincent de Paul. Included among these were the reforms of the episcopacy and the priesthood. Eventually, Vincent’s commitment to the appointment of worthy bishops would lead him to membership in the famous Council of Conscience under the regency of Anne of Austria. His interest in the reform of the priesthood would lead him to be an early French proponent of the establishment of Tridentine-style diocesan seminaries. The creation of these diocesan seminaries were among the signal accomplishments of a new generation of French reform bishops including Blessed Alain de Solminihac (1593-1659, beatified 1981). Solminihac served as the Bishop of Cahors from 1636 until 1659.
Solminihac, who has been called the “Saint Charles Borromeo of France,”1 began his ecclesiastical career as the reforming abbot of the Abbey of Chancelade—a title he inherited from his uncle. Ordained in 1618, he undertook four years of advanced theological studies in Paris. While in Paris he also moved in the circles of the spiritual elite, meeting Francis de Sales among others. He acquired a fierce devotion to doing God’s will in imitation of Christ, as well as an equally fierce, austere, commanding, and ascetical personality.
Certainly Solminihac’s relationship with Vincent de Paul long pre-dated the first surviving letter between the two in 1633. In this letter Vincent notes, “God knows well that you are one of the persons in the world in whom Our Lord has given me the most confidence.”2 Immediately upon his appointment to the See of Cahors, Solminihac began the reform of the diocese. The bishop knew that he wanted to found a seminary, but the Tridentine ideal had yet to have been tested in France by the actual establishment of a successful seminary. At this point, Solminihac turned to his old friend Vincent de Paul and the priests of the Congregation of the Mission. The bishop proved to be a difficult task-master as the first Lazarists founded the seminary in 1643. It was rare for Vincent de Paul to work with a bishop whom he did not respect and trust, and in cases where such a bishop was found, Vincent always treated the prelate with great respect and deference. He found that this approach enabled him with time to negotiate even the tensest areas of disagreement in service of a greater good.
Vincent’s eulogy of Solminihac is telling: “A great prelate of these times followed this same maxim,” (to do the more perfect thing like Saint Theresa, and to do all for the greater glory of God, like Saint Ignatius) “of animating all his actions and all his works with the intention of always seeking the greater good. It was the Bishop of Cahors, who always went after the more perfect thing and achieved it.”3
1 Perez-Flores, Miguel, C.M. (1985) “Old Saint and New Beatus: Saint Vincent de Paul and Blessed Alain de Solminihac,” Vincentian Heritage Journal: Vol. 6: Iss 1, Article 5.
2 Vincent de Paul. Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. Vol. 1. Brooklyn, NY: New City, 1985, p. 210.
3 Vincent de Paul. Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. Vol. 12. Brooklyn, NY: New City, 2010, p. 123.