Francis Libermann

Francis Mary Paul Libermann (French: François-Marie-Paul Libermann; born Jacob Libermann; 14 April 1802 – 2 February 1852) was a 19th-century French Jewish convert to Catholicism, member of the Spiritan Congregation. He is best known for founding the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which later merged with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans). He is often referred to as "The Second Founder of the Spiritans". He was declared venerable in the Roman Catholic Church on 1 June 1876, by Pope Pius IX.

Ven. Francis Paul Libermann
Libermann portrait 1880.jpg
An 1880 lithograph of Francis Libermann (the image in the upper left corner is of the Immaculate Heart of Mary)
BornJacob Libermann
14 April 1804[1]
in Saverne, France
Died2 February 1852(1852-02-02) (aged 49)
in Paris, France
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Feast2 February

Early lifeEdit

Jacob Libermann was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Saverne, Alsace, France in 1802. As a young man, Libermann prepared to follow in the footsteps of his father, the Chief Rabbi of Saverne.[2]

He would later relate how he lost his faith in Judaism after entering a yeshiva. Treated with disdain by two of the professors there, he began to read French literature, especially Rousseau, with the result that he became an agnostic. Later during this period of agnosticism, another rabbinical student gave him a Hebrew translation of the Gospels. Being always a very moral person, Libermann was captivated by the high moral tone of Jesus' discourses, though he could not accept the supernatural elements in the Gospels. Then, however, he received three blows to his agnosticism when two of his brothers, to whom he was very attached, and an old friend and former fellow student, Knight Drach, converted to Roman Catholicism. He, too, began to find himself drawn toward the Catholic Church.

After arriving in Paris, where his father had sent him to pursue his studies, he made his decision and Jacob Libermann was baptized on 24 December 1826, taking the name François Marie Paul.[1] He entered the Saint-Sulpice seminary in Paris in the same year to study for the priesthood.[2] The knowledge of his conversion was long concealed from his father, who was horrified to learn of his favorite son's actions. When the news of his baptism reached Saverne, his father mourned him as dead.

François Libermann, 19th century.

"That moment for me was one of extreme pain. My complete loneliness, the gloom of the cell with its one sky-light, the thought of being so far from my family, my country, all this plunged my heart into the deepest sadness and weighed down my heart with oppresive melancholy. Then it was that, remembering the God of my fathers, I cast myself on my knees and implored Him to enlighten me regarding the True Religion. I conjured him to make it known to me that the belief of Christians was true, if it was so; but if it was false, to remove me instantly far from it. The Lord, who is near to those who invoke him with their inmost soul, heard my prayer. I was at once enlightened; I saw the truth; faith penetrated my mind and heart. Setting myself to read Lhomond, I assented easily to all that it recounted of the life and death of Jesus Christ. Even the mystery of the Eucharist, though rather imprudently presented to my consideration, in no way repelled me. I believed all without difficulty. From that moment my greatest desire was to see myself plunged into the sacred Font; and my happiness was not long delayed. I was at once prepared for this admirable Sacrament, and received it on Christmas Eve. Next morning I was allowed to approach the Holy Table."

— Francis Libermann, describing his conversion from Judaism to the Roman Catholic Church[3]:9
St. Maria Magdalena und St. Andreas des ehemaligen Prämonstratenser Church, Klosters Knechtsteden, Dormagen, Germany.

Priest and missionaryEdit

Libermann suffered from epileptic seizures, which prevented his ordination for nearly fifteen years. It was only when these seizures ceased in 1841 that he was able to become a priest. After his ordination, Libermann created the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary centered around missionary activity towards newly freed slaves in Réunion, Haiti, and Mauritius.[1]

As this group attracted more members, the Holy See merged his society with the older Congregation of the Holy Spirit, otherwise known as "Spiritans". Due to this event, Libermann is often referred to as the "Second Founder" of the Spiritans.

Although, Fr. Libermann himself never went overseas, he recruited and educated missionaries going to Africa, both lay and clerical. He exhausted himself in the process of leading his great enterprise, and died on 2 February 1852 before his 50th birthday.[4]


He was declared venerable by Pope Pius IX in 1876.

His letters, hundreds of which survive, are frequently used as a guide in the devotional life. Fr. Libermann was a pioneer of strategies now recognized as a blueprint for modern missionary activity. He urged the Spiritans to "become one with the people" so that each group received and understood the Gospel in the context of their own traditions.[4]

Francis Libermann Catholic High School in Toronto[2] and Collège Libermann in Douala (Cameroon) are named in his honor.



  1. ^ a b c Koren C.S.Sp, Henry J., The Spiritans, Duquesne University (Ad Press, Ltd., New York; 1958)
  2. ^ a b c "The Story of Francis Libermann", Francis Libermann Catholic School, Toronto
  3. ^ Lee, George, CSSp. (1911). The Life of the Venerable Francis Libermann. Reissued by Roger A. McCaffrey Publishing.
  4. ^ a b "Francis Libermann", Spiritans, USA


External linksEdit

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Alexandre Monnet
Superior General of the
Congregation of the Holy Spirit

Succeeded by
Ignace Schwindenhammer