Three important Marian events occurred in Paris in the beginning of the 19th century in which God spoke about the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The second event was the most explicit in reference to Mary’s Heart. The first was the apparition of the Virgin to St. Catherine Labouré in Rue du Bac, requesting the Miraculous Medal, and the third was the green scapular.
The second event occurred in 1836 in the Parish of Our Lady of Victories, Paris. Because of this the parish converted into a great center of Marian devotion for the French people.
History of Our Lady of Victories Church
It is important to understand the history for a better comprehension of the events of 1836.
In December of 1629 the first stone was placed to build the Convent Church for the Augustinian Priest, called “the little Fathers.” Louis XIII financed all the work for the Church and named it “Our Lady of Victories,” in appreciation to the Virgin for the recent victories won by the French guaranteeing the unity of his kingdom. One of the brothers of the Convent, brother Fiacre, prayed before the image of Our Lady of Victories for the birth of the future heir to the throne long awaited for 15 years: Louis Diedonne, the future Louis XIV.
God’s designs were greater and His victories are much more important and definite for all humanity, obtained through the intercession of His Mother. The Blessed Mother chose this place to bring to God her dispersed children separated because of sin and its consequences, wars and atheism. Brother Fiacre, returning from a pilgrimage to Savona (Italy), started invoking Our Lady of Victories under the title “Refuge of Sinners.”
During the French Revolution terror was extended through out France. The Augustinians were expelled from their Convent and the Church was established as a place for money exchange. Many things changed with Napoleon who due to political interests wanted to appear as a friend of the Church. Between 1800 and1809 the Church was re-erected as parish, but because it was located in a business neighborhood and lack of faith was fruit of the revolution, the Church had very little attendance. Human efforts did not help the situation. The Church was open but the hearts of men were away from God.
This was the state of things on August 27th, 1832, when Father Carlos Eleonor des Genettes was installed Pastor of Our Lady of Victories. The Church was abandoned and poor. The spiritual state of the parish was so decadent that the following Sunday the priest counted on only 4 persons with the choir and during the entire year of 1835 only 720 holy communions were distributed.
For four and half years the Pastor endured the spiritual sufferings of seeing no fruit in all his efforts and work. He started to get depressed because of the sterility of his ministry and the apparent desperate situation. This is how the priest was on December 3rd, 1836. While celebrating Holy Mass in the main altar of the Church of Our Lady, he pronounced the liturgical prayer of the day. Pronouncing the words “Judica me,” he sensed an interior awakening: “Judge me, O Lord!”
If the Lord was going to judge me today, how would he find me? Perhaps as a failure? Has there been a priest so sterile in his ministry like me? The priest asked himself interiorly all these questions.
This interior thought in his mind became a lance that pierced his heart. His mind was only on this to the point of not being able to concentrate on the rest of the Mass prayers. Finally, he concluded that presenting his resignation as Pastor would be best.
When he started praying the Eucharistic prayer, he made great effort to concentrate and recollect himself during this sublime moment of the Consecration. But he felt perturbed more than ever. He pleaded the Lord to deliver him of distractions to offer the Holy Sacrifice in a worthy state. At this moment he heard clearly these words: “Consecrate your parish to the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
These words resounded in his heart, and immediately he had great interior peace. The obsessive thoughts he had moments before disappeared. After concluding Mass and during the time of thanksgiving, he reviewed in his mind all that had happened, saying to himself: “perhaps all this is a fantasy produced by my imagination.” But when he got up from his chair to conclude the Mass celebration, he heard again the same words: “Consecrate your parish to the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.” He fell to his knees before these words, but was fearful of accepting them as authentic since he thought it was an illusion. He tried to ignore and forget them, but the words returned to his mind with more intensity. Finally, he decided to respond to the petition more so to acquire interior peace than think it will prove successful for his parish.
He resolved to fully obey the petition. It was evident that the purpose of the consecration of his parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was to motivate the parishioners to pray to the Immaculate Heart and frequently seek recourse to the protection and maternal care of the Blessed Virgin. He thought the best way to establish this was to form a religious association with specific prayers, meetings, and norms.
In only eight days Father Genettes had written and approved by the Archbishop of Paris the statues for the association. On Sunday, December 11th, he announced from the pulpit that beginning with that same afternoon special prayers and devotions will be said asking the Lord, through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the conversion of sinners.
Since only 10 men attended Mass that afternoon and heard the announcement, the priest did not think many people were going to attend. But the Blessed Virgin Mary started to reveal her plan. After Mass two men who had never attended Mass approached Father Genettes and requested the sacrament of confession. At 6:00 pm, the time announced for the prayers and devotions to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 400-500 people made their presence in the Church. Everyone was surprised and could not believe the amount of people present. No more than 10 people had been seen in the parish for many years.
At the beginning of prayer, some were indifferent, but as the prayers and devotions continued, their hearts gradually started to melt under the fire of the Maternal Heart of Mary. At the end, all united their voices singing the Litanies of Our Lady and the Divine Praises before the Blessed Sacrament. Everyone decided to return to the Church and participate in these devotions which animated their faith and brought back peace and joy to their hearts.
A sign from the Virgin
The Pastor, Father Genettes, was very emotional, but was not completely convinced that this way given by the Lord and directed towards the Heart of Mary had all the necessary results. The priests asked the Virgin for a sign, for the conversion of Mr. Joly who was the last minister of Louis XVI. In his youth this man accepted anti-clerical doctrine and was against the Church. He was then 80 years old, blind and very ill and for many years he had refused to practice any religion. Father Genettes had tried many times to get closer to Mr. Joly, but they were unsuccessful.
On December 12th, Father Genettes returned to Mr. Joly’s house. The servants did nott want to let him in the house, but the priest insisted again and was able to reach the elderly man. Only a few courteous words were spoken when Mr. Joly asked the priest for his blessing. Profoundly moved, the priest blessed him and at that moment the elderly man exclaimed: “Your visit has been so good for me, Father! I cannot see you but I feel your presence. The moment you entered my room I felt peace, interior calm, and a joy I have never experienced before.” The priest, seeing the good disposition of Mr. Joly, asked if he wanted to confess. The elderly man immediately agreed.
Father Genettes asked for a sign and received it clearly. Now he was convinced that he was doing the will of God and that he had a mission to accomplish. He encountered many obstacles, like all of God’s work, but the Association immediately flourished. In ten days, 214 people became members.
The Association continued growing gradually and extended throughout Paris, later throughout the rest of France and the entire world. By spring of 1838, the extraordinary history of the Association in obtaining great conversions, miracles and innumerable graces, reached the attention of the Holy Father. Impressed by the idea of the Association’s fruits, Pope Gregory XVI issued a report erecting perpetually in the Church of Our Lady of Victories, the Confraternity of the Blessed and Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the conversion of sinners.
This humble and small association which started in the midst of a poor parish has become a spiritual organization worldwide recognized officially with its See in Paris. Also, there are many affiliated members around the world.
Just as the Miraculous Medal, through Papal approval, Our Lady of Victories, with its official Association, became a global precursor of the Fatima apparitions; the main promoter of the devotion and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The success of this organization are its spiritual fruits, therefore it is difficult to count them. But the fruits seen in the parish are evident where the consecration and the Confraternity started. Only in two years did the distribution of communion grow from 720 in 1835 to 8,550 in 1837 and 12,500 in 1938. By this same year the Association had 7,892 members.
Because of the extraordinary conversions in the Parish of Our Lady of Victories through the consecration to the Immaculate Heart, and the rapid growth of the Association of the Blessed and Immaculate Heart of Mary for conversion of sinners, it became the second greatest Marian manifestation after Rue du Bac within the divine plan to promote devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that will continue to develop in years to come.
Numerous graces received by intercession of Mary can be seen throughout the Church.
Miraculous healing of St. Therese of Lisieux
In 1883 St. Therese of Lisieux was about to die when she was only 10 years old. Her father sent a donation to the Church of Our Lady of Victories for a novena of Masses for her health. To Our Lady of Victories, St. Therese attributed her healing, calling it the “miracle.”
The influence of the Parish in the life of St. Anthony Maria Claret
This Parish was in God’s providential plan, making a strong impression on the life of St. Anthony Maria Claret who decided to change the name of the institute he founded to: “Daughters of the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Later, he established a requirement for the Congregation of Missionaries: consecration to Mary as an essential part of the entrance ceremony to his congregation.
For St. Anthony Claret, consecration to Mary definitely had an apostolic character. “The mystery of Mary Immaculate, as it is seen by St. Anthony Claret, is not only a mystery of beauty, it is a mystery of power. As the devil tries to strike at Mary’s heel through evil and sin, the Blessed Virgin also uses her apostles, those whom she has chosen and formed to combat the devil.”
This notion of the Marian Consecration, as a way of equipping us as soldiers of Christ for the battle against the powers of evil is ever more evident in the 20th century. St. Maximilian Kolbe, founder of the Militia of the Immaculata, particularly stands out in this reality of Marian Consecration.
Among the many pilgrims to Our Lady of Victories there were: St. John Bosco, the Ratisbone brothers, and Ana Maria Javouhey.
Our Lady of Victories was erected as a Basilica in 1927 and continues to embrace all who come to the feet of the Virgin Mary to consecrate themselves to her Immaculate Heart. We have been witnesses of these graces in our previous pilgrimages of 100 people. Each person renewed their consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Daily Mass is celebrated, the divine office and the Holy Rosary are prayed. The Virgin continues granting many graces from heaven. She is our refuge and strength, our helper on our path to the conversion of heart.