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Making Mischief

By Sarah B. Cahalan

Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, one of the founders of the Society of Mary, was no fool, but he was “creative at heart,” according to Father Joe Kozar, S.M., assistant rector of the University of Dayton. “During the time of the Reign of Terror (1793–1794) in the city of Bordeaux [France], Blessed Chaminade had to evade the authorities who were after him by name to continue a Gospel ministry.”

In order that Catholics could celebrate Mass, their young children were encouraged to make noise and mischief elsewhere in the neighborhood, thus distracting authorities from forbidden religious expression. On other occasions, according to Father Joseph Simler, S.M., Chaminade would disguise himself as a tinker: “An enormous pot strapped to his back, his face smudged, he walked along the walls and through the city streets crying, ‘Pots and pans! Pots and pans!’ He was accompanied by half a dozen urchins trained by their parents.” By this means, he would administer baptism, give last rites and hear confessions. 

The holy fool subverts societal expectations. Notably, Chaminade relied closely on lay people as well as his close collaborator, Marie Thérèse Charlotte de Lamourous (1754–1836), to outwit the police and maintain the faith life of his community.

— Sarah Burke Cahalan is an associate professor and the director of the Marian Library.

Image: Detail of Father Chaminade at Saragossa by Bob Cary, oil on canvas, 1962, from the Marian Library Art and Artifacts Collection

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