New Edition of the Classic by M. Charles de LANTAGES, pss

A new edition of the famous biography of the Dominican mystic, Blessed Agnès de Jésus, written by Sulpician Father Charles de LANTAGES, pss and published originally in 1665, has just appeared.

This new edition, titled Vie de la bienheureuse Agnès de Langeac: La première biographie (Paris: Cerf, 2011), was edited by the late Dominican friar, Jean-Claude SAGNE, op, who unfortunately died only months before the book was published. Sulpician Father Irenée NOYE, pss assisted in the project. As Father Sagne writes in his introduction to the new edition, this first biography of Mother Agnès is particularly noted for the exacting quality of its information, its theological insight, especially into the spirituality of Mother Agnès, and its elegant style. The present Superior General of the Sulpicians, M. Ronald D. WITHERUP, pss wrote a brief afterward for the book.

Fr Witherup with the Dominican Sisters of Langeac

This new edition preserves the original text of Father de LANTAGES without any additions or serious emendations, other than to modernize the orthography and assure uniformity in punctuation and references. Alongside the memoirs of Mother Agnès (pictured below)

It provides a superb resource for the life, spirituality, and times of this remarkable woman.

Born on 17 November 1602 in Puy-en-Velay, France, Mother Agnès was already attracted to the spiritual life at a young age. She entered the newly established Dominican monastery at nearby Langeac at the age of 21, and was elected Prioress only four years later. For Sulpicians, Mother Agnès and the Dominican Sisters at Langeac have always been an important spiritual resource and comfort. Mother Agnès was instrumental in promoting the spiritual depth and apostolic spirit of Father Jean-Jacques OLIER, who became the founder of the Sulpicians in 1641.

As the story is told, Mother Agnès received a vision from the Virgin Mary in 1631 which advised her: “Pray for the abbot of Pébrac.” At the time, Olier was personally unfamiliar with either Pébrac or Mother Agnès, although he had received the abbey of Pébrac as one of his benefices as a young priest. In 1633 he resolved to go to preach a mission in Auvergne and especially to get acquainted with his abbey. During a preparatory retreat for the mission, Olier had a vision of a religious woman, unknown to him until months later, who was praying for the abbot of Pébrac. He would soon discover it was Mother Agnès.

The Abbey of Pébrac

During his visit to Pébrac, Father Olier heard of the great prioress at the nearby monastery in Langeac and resolved to meet her. He recognized her as the young woman in his vision. Thus began a remarkable and intense, though short, spiritual relationship until the death of Mother Agnès in 1634. She exhorted the recently ordained priest to grow closer to the Lord Jesus, to embrace the cross of Christ, and to develop a close relationship with the Virgin Mary. The parlor in which they first met, and at least two more times thereafter, has now been preserved as part of a museum at the old monastery. Some fragments of letters the two wrote have also been preserved.

The Parlor at the Old Monastery

The influence of Mother Agnès de Langeac, as she has become known, on Father Olier was profound. She greatly encouraged him in his priestly vocation. He considered her his “spiritual mother,” and their correspondence gives testimony to their close relationship, brief though it was.

She encouraged Olier in his apostolic zeal but she also reminded him of the suffering that comes with discipleship. She gave him a beautiful crucifix (pictured), which was later lost or stolen but replaced by the Dominican Sisters with an exact copy, and she wished Father Olier “many crosses” to bear in his life. Her words were prophetic, for Olier did endure many trials and tribulations during his own life and ministry.

Mother Agnès died on 19 October 1634 at the young age of 31. Her legacy of promoting priestly vocations, however, continues in the same Dominican Monastery of St. Catherine where she had lived and which now devotes its life to prayer for priests, and in particular, for Sulpicians and their ministry of initial and ongoing formation. The current prioress is Sister CHRISTIANE-DOMINIQUE, op., and the Sulpicians remain eternally grateful to all the Sisters of the monastery for their prayers and support.

Sr Christiane-Dominique, op, Prioress

Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Agnès on 20 November 1994, and she has become known in France as “the spiritual mother of seminaries.” In the Sulpician liturgical calendar, her feast day is celebrated on October 19th. The collect for the day reads:

[*Gracious and all-powerful God, you bestowed on Mother Agnès de Jésus a great love of the poor and a concern for the formation of priests; through her intercession help us welcome a lively faith in Christ crucified and the desire to make Him known to all peoples. Grant this through that same Christ, Our Lord.*]

Other published resources on Mother Agnès include :

S. Marie DE LA TRINITÉ, op. Agnès de Langeac: moniale dominicaine, mere spirituelle de J.-J. Olier 1602-1634. 2d ed.; Langeac, 2001.

Arnaud BOYRE. Grand Mémoire sur Agnès de Langeac. Arfuyen, 2004.

Agnès de Langeac: Le souci de la vie et ses commencements. Actes du colloque de Langeac du 15 au 17 octobre 2004. Paris : Cerf, 2006.