|By Rev. Fr J.T. Moran, C.SS.R.
Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B. (1858-1923), abbot and master of the spiritual life.
Dom Columba Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, died in January, 1923.
He left behind him many books which rank among the classics of Christian spirituality. Pope Benedict XV chose Bl. Columba’s Christ the Life of the Soul and Christ in His Mysteries as his personal present to his niece on her wedding day.
But it is not with the consummate theologian, the contemplative, the apostle of indefatigable zeal, that we are now to speak, but of the mother whose early training laid the foundation of the saintly Benedictine’s spirituality.
Herminie Cordier was the daughter of a royal bookseller in Paris. In 1846 she accompanied her married sister, Marie, to Dublin, where Marie’s husband was to establish a branch house of his London firm of importers. It was here, at a social gathering at the French Consulate, that Herminie met William Marmion.
The biographer of Dom Marmion tells us that William was immediately struck by Herminie’s “outstanding beauty, natural simplicity and great charm of manner.” He appears to have wasted no time in his determination to win her for his bride. They were married the next year, on 21 April, 1847.
Of old Lorraine stock, from a family known for its royalist tendencies, Herminie had received an excellent Christian education, on rather strict lines, which accorded well with William’s character. To the end of his life he retained for her a deep respect which had in it something almost sacred.
Nine children were born to them, four boys and five girls. Mary married, Elizabeth, Flora and Rose became Sisters of Mercy, Philip and Sebastian died in infancy, Joseph became Dom Columba, Frank went into business and Matthew became a doctor of medicine.
At the time when the two boys, Sebastian and Philip, died in infancy, there were only girls in the family. William and Herminie implored God for the favour of a son, and this intention was entrusted to St Joseph.
Their prayer was answered, but to test their faith, God gave them another girl first. Their happiness was complete when in April 1858 a son was born on Holy Thursday. Out of gratitude to St Joseph the little one was called after him, and on the day of his birth the parents consecrated him to God’s service.
From his mother Dom Marmion received as a heritage a deep love of France and a great reverence towards God and all that concerns God’s service. Herminie insisted that the whole family assist at Mass every day. She held that God had not been duly honoured unless the first fruits of the day were consecrated to Him by the sublimest act of religion.
The Marmion family: Joseph(centre) and Herminie(far right).
In such an atmosphere of piety Joseph formed the habit of seeing everything from the standpoint of Faith, a characteristic very marked in his later writings.
In spite of her strict ideas, Herminie was no kill-joy. Under her guidance her seven children grew up healthy, active and brimming over with life and mirth. In Herminie were contrasted a merry temperament and a reflective mind, characteristics which came down to Joseph. Later many people were to find it difficult to understand how the humorous sallies of Dom Marmion’s spontaneous gaiety could be combined with his intense spiritual life and deep spirit of recollection.
When, in 1875, Joseph announced to his parents that he felt drawn to the priesthood, Herminie was a very happy woman. Although she and William cherished the hope that Joseph would be a priest, they brought no foolish pressure to bear on him. Example and salutary advice were the only pressure in the Marmion household. Had they not consecrated their son to God on the day of his birth? God then would know best how to make use of the gift they had made.
Herminie lived to see her son ordained and receive his first priestly blessing. William had not this pleasure as he died in 1878 while Joseph was still a seminarian.
Ordained in Rome in 1881 for the secular priesthood, Joseph spent five years as a priest in Ireland. After his ordination, Herminie had the pleasure of frequent visits from her son.
The parting came in 1886 when Fr Marmion told her that he was leaving his native Ireland to join the Benedictines. He would become Dom Columba and one day be beatified.
Herminie experienced a mother’s grief, but she took back no part of the sacrifice she had made twenty-eight years before. She was not to see her son again in this life. Seven years later, happy in the consolation of having a son and three daughters in religion, Herminie passed from this life to receive her reward from Him Who cannot be outdone in generosity. †
Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B.
abbot and master of the spiritual life
|The Marmion family: Joseph(centre) and Herminie(far right).|