Brother Mathurin

The portrait of Brother Mathurin shown here is to be found in the parish church of the village where he was born - Bouillé-Saint-Paul. The parishioners are very proud of their illustrious fellow-townsman. In fact the portrait bears the legend, Saint Mathurin! It is thought that this was written at the time of the French Revolution, in the hope that a portrait of a saint would be less likely to be vandalised by the Revolutionary soldiers who were roaming this countryside, sowing destruction.

Brother Mathurin Rangeard (1687-1760)

The first member of the Company of Mary

Mathurin Rangeard was born on 7 November 1687 in Bouillé-Laurent (or Bouillé-Saint-Paul), near the borders of Poitou and Anjou. At the age of 17 or 18, (i.e. in 1705), he was struck by a mission preached in his parish by the Capuchins, and went to Poitiers to try to become a Capuchin himself. While there, he was invited by St. Louis Marie to join him in his work, and he stayed with him for the rest of Montfort's life, and with his successors in the Company of Mary after the saint's death, until his own death on 22 July 1760. That is why he is considered to be the first Montfortian Brother, and indeed the first member of the Company of Mary.

Mathurin was of help to St. Louis Marie in many different ways. He used to take charge, for example, along with other "Brothers" who joined up with Montfort at various times, of the various pious objects which would be sold during the mission - Rosaries, holy pictures, etc. - and of the banners and flags which were used by the saint in the course of his missions. It appears also that he had a good voice - at the mission in Vallet in September/October 1708, it was Mathurin who summoned the people to the mission by ringing his bell and singing "Alerte, alerte, alerte, la mission est ouverte". And in the famous picture of the great procession at the end of the La Rochelle missions in 1711, we see Mathurin indicated by the letter "F", keeping order and directing the singing. He seems also to have helped with the catechism classes during the missions, as we shall see. Perhaps also he acted as a schoolmaster in Saint-Pompain - we are not so sure of this, but in the chronicles of Saint Pompain, where Fathers Mulot and Vatel and Brother Mathurin stayed from 1716 until 1722, there is a commendation by the bishop on the occasion of a visitation, of the excellent work done by the "school-masters and mistresses who carry out their duties very well, yet are in no way funded and who live on what Providence supplies to them." Some historians see in this an indication that Brother Mathurin did some teaching, but the proof is very tenuous!

We know that Mathurin was with Montfort at Saint-Lazare (outside Montfort-sur-Meu) in 1707, and accompanied him in all his travels around the various dioceses of Saint Malo, Saint Brieuc, Nantes, La Rochelle and Luçon - the faithful companion, par excellence!

It is true that Mathurin never made vows in the Company of Mary. This seems to have been because he suffered from severe scruples, and was afraid that he was completely unworthy to do so. Montfort himself seems to have been very sensitive to this scrupulosity of Mathurin: in his will he speaks slightly differently of Mathurin (to whom he leaves 10 crowns, "if he decides to leave and not renew the vows of poverty and obedience") and of the other "brothers", Jacques and Jean (to whom he also leaves 10 crowns if they decide to leave, but does not mention vows) - was he offering a last encouragement to Mathurin to make his vows? We are fairly sure that neither Jacques nor Jean ever made vows either. But, whatever the case, Mathurin certainly lived the spirit of poverty and obedience which were the object of the vows Montfort proposed for his missionaries, even if he never formally pronounced those vows.

It is known that Mathurin received the tonsure. This was after Montfort's death, during the time when Fathers Mulot and Vatel and he were living at Saint-Pompain. It was during the mission given at Jaunay-Clan, in the diocese of Poitiers in June 1722. The auxiliary bishop of the Poitiers diocese, Mgr Foudras, tonsured Mathurin with the intention of giving "more authority to the zeal of this good Brother who, since M. de Montfort called him to follow him, had always been concerned with exercising the office of catechist during the missions." Receiving the tonsure made one a cleric, and was usually the prelude to going on to the deaconate and priesthood, but Mathurin certainly never received orders of any kind. This statement of the Bishop certainly shows that Mathurin was involved in giving catechism classes.

We know that Mathurin was staying in Saint-Pompain with Fathers Mulot and Vatel after St Louis Marie's death, because several times his signature appears in the parish records - he acted as godfather to several children there.

We know also that Mathurin went with Father Mulot and Father Vatel to Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in 1722, to take up residence there in the Chêne-Vert initially, then later in the Maison Longue. It is probable that, as he had done with St Louis Marie himself, and with Fathers Mulot and Vatel when they were based in Saint-Pompain, he accompanied the Fathers on their missions in the various parishes, but we know little in detail of his life after 1722 - in fact the first biographers of St. Louis Marie (Blain and Grandet) do not mention Mathurin again after 1711 - but we do have other sources of knowledge regarding Mathurin.

As we have seen, Mathurin died, aged 73, in St-Laurent-sur-Sèvre on 22 July 1760 (the year after Blessed Marie-Louise's death there). He suffered a painful illness at the end, so perhaps he had not left St-Laurent-sur-Sèvre for some time previously. The author of the History of the Company of Mary, Father Michel Bertrand, has this to say of Mathurin: "It would be difficult to recount the numberless conversions brought about by his pious exhortations. He had an attentive, courteous and amiable manner; which is why, apart from the scruples which tormented him, he was the most submissive person, and the most obedient to his superiors, and even to his inferiors..."