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Religious studies

Publication Details

Published in The Furrow, vol.70, no. 10 October 2019 (pp. 531-539)


The French priest writer Jean Sulivan (1913-1980), whose real name was Joseph Lemarchand, was born in the small village of Montauban-de-Bretagne. He lost his father in the trenches of the Great War, an event that led to the remarriage of his mother out of financial necessity and which came as a serious blow to her young son. He could never fully accept the presence of his step-father in the house even though he knew his mother had had no option other than to remarry if she wanted to hold on to the small farm she rented from a local doctor. Influenced by the simple piety ofhis mother, Sulivan entered the junior seminary at a young age and was ordained priest in 1938. He described his period in the seminary as a 'purgatory', a place where all concessions to individuality had to be sacrificed to the collective will. In his memoir, Anticipate Every Goodbye, he described how a young peasant like himself could quite easily have lost the run of himself after ordination: 'People told us too often in the seminary that we were the elect, the privileged, that we had a vocation to become saints. It was true.' I The natural deference towards clergy in rural Brittany at this time ensured that there was little or no challenge to the authority of priests, who were placed on a pedestal in a way that is very similar to the situation that prevailed in Ireland up until the last few decades.