Father Charles Besnard

Father Charles Besnard (1717-1788)

Superior General, and Biographer of St Louis Marie

Charles Besnard was born in Rennes on 5 August 1717, and, having studied at the Seminary of the Holy Spirit in Paris, he joined the Missionaries of the Company of Mary in 1743, and took part in the missions for the first time at Saint-Jean de Courcoué: 8 September - 6 October 1743. During the generalates of Fathers Mulot and Audubon, he participated in about sixty missions.

On 9 December 1755, Father Besnard, while chaplain at the Saint-Louis Hospital in La Rochelle, went to visit the missionaries who were giving a mission in Poiré. He was surprised to find Father Audubon, the superior general, gravely ill. Father Audubon died on 15 December. We know the details of his illness and death from a letter that Father Besnard wrote to Father Croissant, dated 16 December 1755: cf. Chronicles of Sr Florence, pg. 38, n. 35. In this letter—a copy of which is kept in the SMM General Archives in Rome—the author notes that the dying man had designated Father Besnard to succeed him. A little later the missionaries, meeting in chapter, confirmed the choice made by the dying superior. Father Besnard was then 38 years old.

After working on it for a long time, Father Besnard finally obtained the Letters Patent for the Company of Mary in 1773, but at a price: in 1759, Mother Marie-Louise and the faithful Brother John had both died, and the following year so did Brother Mathurin.

Father Besnard's work for both the communities that existed at that time (the Company of Mary and the Daughters of Wisdom) continued right up to his death. In 1782 the chapel of the Sisters was blessed (the present Chapel of the Founders). At the insistence of the Bishop of La Rochelle, the Fathers obtained some land to build a house and a Church, and so be able to leave the Maison Longue. Before his death in Saint-Laurent in 1788, Fr. Besnard was able to see this completed. We can still see it today: the house of the Saint-Esprit.

Despite the absorbing tasks of his time as superior, he continued to take part in a certain number of missions, and to write the life of our founders, Father de Montfort and Marie Louise of Jesus. He was a great admirer of St Louis Marie. He had heard of him while in the seminary of the Holy Spirit, and he knew that the only biography in existence at that time, that written by the Sulpician, Joseph Grandet, left something to be desired. His own direct contact with people who had known M. Grignion well, notably Brother Mathurin, Sr Marie Louise of Jesus and the first Daughters of Wisdom..., put him in a unique situation regarding information. He therefore collected the material necessary for a new biography, on which he was still working in 1770. It remained unpublished, however. Fifteen years later, in 1785, Father J. Picot de Clorivière, the rector of Paramé, published La Vie de M. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, missionnnaire apostolique, instituteur des missionnaires du Saint-Esprit et des Filles de la Sagesse. This was just a re-working, with very few additions, of the work of Besnard. Father Besnard's own work was finally published by the Centre Internationale Montfortaine in 2 volumes: the first in 1981, the second in 1985.

Father Besnard died on 22 April 1788 in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, aged 70, having served as Superior General of both Congregations for 33 years.