Bl. Daniel Brottier, CSSp
Memorial: February 28
At times the Lord makes the road taken by some souls so difficult, that even though they are convinced they are doing His will, they are forced to depart from that path, despite their predisposition to stay the course. Later, however, they often become a giant in other fields.
So it was with the life of Bl. Daniel Alexis Brottier, CSSp, born September 7, 1876, in La Ferté-Saint-Cyr in the diocese of Blois.
From childhood he revealed a deep piety and a great devotion to Our Lady. Sometime as a young boy, he told his mother, “I won’t be either a general or a pastry chef—I will be the Pope!” His mom said that he had to first become a priest. So little Daniel retorted, “Well, then I’ll become a priest!”
And so he did. He entered the seminary in 1890, successfully passed the minor orders, spent a year in military service, and received Holy Orders on September 22, 1899, at age 23.
For his first assignment he was sent to teach at the ecclesiastical College of Pontlevoy, but he was a man of action and activity. He grew bored and sought to become a missionary. So on September 24, 1902, he entered the Congregation of the Holy Spirit as a novice at Orly near Paris, taking his religious vows the following year. Shortly thereafter he departed for the distant French colony of Senegal. His dad opposed this because of his poor health. His concerns turned out to be well-founded.
His sojourn in Africa was never idyllic. It was tough for this restless man, first because he did not go to the countryside, where he wanted to be. Instead, he was kept in the city, although he made the best of his time there. He taught high school and founded a kindergarten, a local child welfare center, and the choir, which is still active.
However he stayed there only three years or so due to the violent and constant migraine attacks that hit him. Thus it was that he returned to France in 1906. After convalescing and getting healthy, he went back to Senegal the following year but once again the same malady reappeared – violently so – and after some time he had to permanently return to his homeland in 1911.
He thought that maybe God was calling him to the contemplative life. So after returning to France, he spent some time at the monastery in Lérins. He soon realized he was not out to be a contemplative.
As he wrote his siblings, “I lived unforgettable hours in the recollection of the cloister in an atmosphere of sacrifice and immolation. But the lack of sleep, and especially of food, wore me down, and after a few days I had to yield to the evidence: I was not made for this kind of life.”
Back home in France, he founded a charity in order to fund the erection of the cathedral in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. This work was interrupted when the former soldier was called to serve as an army chaplain during World War I. From 1914 to 1917, he heroically strove to help soldiers on such bloody fields of battle as Verdun, Flanders, and Lorraine, often acting with no heed of the danger around him. Indeed despite 52 months in the heart of combat, he suffered not a single wound. He attributed his protection to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. His heroic service earned him five battlefield commendations and two medals, the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur.
After the war he founded the National Union of Servicemen, one of the first French veterans organizations.
He also served for nearly 13 years as director of a charity in the Parisian suburb of Auteuil, France. The organization took in abandoned children and orphans and trained them as apprentices. His goal was to give them the life they otherwise would not have had.
Such was his devotion to the Little Flower that he dedicated the chapel he built at Auteuil to her shortly after she was canonized. It was the first house of worship named in honor of St. Thérèse. Indeed, all of his work he dedicated to her.
And what work. Whereas Don Bosco had educated young men in traditional arts such as woodworking, typesetting, and metal fabrication, Fr. Brottier trained his charges in these skills but also running cinemas, photography, and film production.
Of the amazing work he accomplished, he wrote, “My secret is this: Help yourself and heaven will help you. … I have no other secret. If the good God worked miracles [at Auteuil], through Thérèse’s intercession, I think I can say in all justice that we did everything, humanly speaking, to be deserving, and that they were the divine reward of our work, prayers and trust in providence.”
When he arrived at Auteuil, the orphanage had 140 children. When he died on February 28, 1936, worn out by fatigue, there were 1,400. By 1960, there were more than 20 such institutes serving more than 2,000 orphans.
In 1962, his body was exhumed as part of his beatification process. He was found to be incorrupt. Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, he has had many miracles attributed to his intercession.