Philibert Vrau (1829-1908)
Philibert fell into sins of impurity when he was a teenager. He converted, fell into sin again, and then converted again. Then he lived like a saint, loving the Holy Eucharist and working to make Lille a holy "City of God"! Known in later life as the "Holy Man of Lille", he was born in the city of Lille, France, on November 19, 1829. His sister Sophie Nathalie, was the first born, and in 1839, ten years after Philibert's birth, Marie was born.
His father, Francois Vrau, owned and operated a factory for making thread. His mother Sophie also helped daily at the factory and eventually the Vraus became quite wealthy.
The Vraus were very close friends of the Feron family and Philibert was a good friend of their son Camille. The two boys went to the same boarding-school, but Camille was very unhappy there because he was very sensitive and the schoolmaster did not understand him. However, he had his friend Philibert, and his Aunt Catherine (a religious), to console and comfort him in his sadness.
In 1844, when Philibert was 15 and Camille was 13, they attended the local college. Phil was very intelligent in college, but he fell into sins of impurity. Later when he received his First Communion, he was converted and promised God that he would never sin again.
But a year had hardly passed and he fell again into his old sins of impurity, and with them, doubts about the Catholic Faith. He remained this way until he was 17 and then he decided to take Philosophy. For the next five years until 1851, Philibert and a few of his classmates would gather together and try to find out the truth about life.
Meanwhile, Camille had gone to Paris in 1849, to continue his studies so that he could become a Doctor. Even though he knew that Paris was a city of sin, he was determined to lead a good and pure, Catholic life.
During this time, Philibert was writing to his friend Camille, urging him to study Philosophy and to have conferences with his friends. He envied Camille's Faith and he was unhappy, but one good thing about Philibert was that he had a kind heart and was very generous to the poor. He even sacrificed a trip to see Camille in Paris, so that he could give this travel money to the poor. Perhaps it was his love for the poor that saved him in the end!
But the one who was really poor was Philibert himself; he had no Faith! He was going down hill fast, and he even stopped attending Mass. His mother was heartbroken to see her son struggling between his heart and his brain.
Camille wrote to Philibert encouraging him, "I find much strength in prayer and I think always about God. Now that your sister Sophie is married, put aside your dreaming. Stop thinking so much, and help your parents."
Philibert took Camille's advice and gave himself heart and soul to his parent's business. He helped the other employees and wanted to make as much money as possible so he could help people all over the place. He then started a society for the old people and became their secretary.
During the spring and summer of 1851, he made a long business trip, but the change brought him no happiness. When he came back to Lille, he went dancing and tried to forget about religion by mixing with other people.
Then one day Philibert got involved in the world of spirits by having séances, where he tried to speak to the souls of dead people. But this was the work of the devil and not a good thing to do. When strange things started happening at the séance, he was afraid and decided to become Catholic again. He began to pray and hope and finally on June 7, 1854, he returned to the Catholic Faith. He also wanted to become a priest, but later he realized that it was not his vocation. He went to Mass and Communion often and busied himself with the work of helping old people.
He 1854, he also tried to set up a "Society for Night Adoration" of the Blessed Sacrament in Lille, but most people were not interested in praying at night. Meanwhile, Philibert continued working for the family business, and in May 1856, his parents decided to open a bank. But before long the bank failed, and the Vraus became very poor. Now they had to work even harder to survive.
In September 1857, there were only five regular members for adoring the Blessed Sacrament at night. But they continued and before long they had 34 members, and had night adoration three times a month!
Camille Feron, now a Doctor, came to live at Lille and spent most of his time helping his poor patients. He wanted to marry Philibert's sister Marie, but her father refused. A few years later Mr. Vrau let his daughter go and she married Camille on July 29, 1861. In 1862, they had a son who died soon, and later in 1864, Paul was born.
In 1863, a man named Renan committed a horrible sin by writing a terrible book about the Life of Jesus. He wrote many lies about Jesus and shocked all of France by his book! Philibert knew that God was greatly offended by this terrible book, so he started up another group called the "Union of Prayer". These people prayed and did penance to make up for Renan's terrible sin, and they also prayed that Lille would become a holy "City of God"!
At that time Lille had only six churches. Since Lille was growing rapidly, Philibert took a map of the city and marked out twenty areas, which would be good for building a Cathedral and new churches. He gave much money toward the building of these churches, and also collected a great sum of money from other people for this work. It took twenty years to build the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame de Treille, (Our Lady of Treille); in the center of the "City of God", and this was the crown of all his works.
Philibert realized that the best way to promote Catholic action was to form a little Catholic circle of young men who were willing to speak to others about the Catholic Faith. He also formed Catholic Committees for the purpose of converting France into a truly Catholic nation.
When 1868 rolled around, Philibert realized that he needed help with the business. His father begged Camille to help them and after much praying and thinking, Camille took down his Doctor's sign and joined the Vraus. Camille and his wife also had Anne Marie, their last child, in this same year.
Also in 1868, there were as many as 50 persons who adored the Blessed Sacrament at night and in time there were 400 men in the "Society for Night Adoration" who adored in all the parishes of Lille! And from Lille, Night Adoration spread to other cities in France.
In 1869, when Philibert was 40, he became very ill but he got well again and pushed himself even harder, to do work for God. Then in 1870, Philibert's father died. During all these years, besides the family business, Philibert had been working on Night Adoration.
From 1871, Philibert founded 19 committees for every kind of work in behalf of the Catholic Church. The Second Congress of Catholics of the North of France was held in November 1874 and Phil helped to make this Congress a great success! Blessed Pope Pius IX sent a message to the Congress saying, "Act! Act!" and Philibert and his friends worked even harder.
The Vrau family was very generous and had a Catholic University built in the north of France. They also built a hospital for the sick that could not be cured and did many, many other good works in Lille. Philibert also did a very noble thing when he offered his life for Pope Pius IX during a time when the poor Holy Father was threatened by the wicked Free Masons.
Those who hated the Catholic Church tried to destroy religious teaching and they kicked the Jesuit Priests out of Lille! Philibert had Catholic Newspapers printed in order to fight against the wicked Free Masons. For 25 years Phil fought against the wicked Government rulers who hated Catholics and who tried to destroy Catholic Schools and Universities!
But in spite of all this work Philibert was doing, the soul of his life and work was Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He was the President of the Society for Night Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For ten years (1857-1867), Night Adoration was growing slowly but surely. Then from (1867-1877), Night Adoration extended to all the Churches and Religious Orders of Lille, and then to all the cities and towns and even the neighbouring dioceses! And in 1877, the Society of Night Adoration had 500 members!
The Congress of the Adorers of the North held a few meetings and decided to make pilgrimages to places where there had been a Eucharistic Miracle, or Eucharistic Revelation. In 1875, 100,000 people went on pilgrimage to Douai, France!
Monsignor De Segur tried to set up a Eucharistic Congress meeting in Belgium, but when he saw that things were not going well, he wrote to Philibert Vrau in Lille. Phil had only two months to prepare for the Congress He went to Rome to receive the blessing of Pope Leo XIII for this work, and the Eucharistic Congress opened on June 28, 1881. The Congress was a great success and had delegates from every country.
Philibert's mother died in 1888, and from 1889, Phil would depart from Lille for nine or ten months every year, in order to get away from his different works, so that others would learn to run them and know how to do so when he was dead.
Philibert traveled to different places, and talked with the different Bishops Catholic ideas. But Phil really loved to spend most of his time in front of the Tabernacle in some church, visiting Jesus and he would spend from Sunday night until Sunday morning, in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
Philibert did this for the last years of his life and later, on May 16, 1905, he died, leaving behind him the good works which he had started. He asked that his heart be placed as close to the Blessed Sacrament as possible and it was placed in the University Chapel. Camille Feron-Vrau died in 1908, and his heart was placed next to Philibert's heart. Camille's wife died in 1914, and the cause for beatification, for these three holy people, has been started. Let us all pray that we will love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, as these holy Catholics did, and let us also pray that these three people will soon be canonized.
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