Léon Dehon

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Léon Dehon
Léon Dehon in 1908.
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Ordination18 December 1868
by Costantino Patrizi Naro
Personal details
Birth nameLéon-Gustave Dehon
Born(1843-03-14)14 March 1843
La Capelle, Soissons, French Kingdom
Died12 August 1925(1925-08-12) (aged 82)
Brussels, Belgium
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Title as SaintVenerable

Léon-Gustave Dehon (14 March 1843 – 12 August 1925) - in religious Jean of the Sacred Heart - was a French Roman Catholic priest and the founder of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.[1][2] Dehon's focus in his ecclesial life was to express his closeness with workers but above all wished to foster and promote a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.[3][4] It also became his mission to establish an order that would be dedicated to this task as well as to working in the foreign and diocesan missions in France and abroad. But impediments caused the order's dissolution though was later reformed and reestablished with Dehon assuming its leadership until his death.[5][1]

The process for his beatification started after his death but was halted in 2005 due to accusations that his published works were anti-Semitic in nature.[6][2][7] He had been named as Venerable on 8 March 1997.[3]



Léon-Gustave Dehon was born in La Capelle in Soissons on 14 March 1843 to Alexandre-Jules Dehon (1814-82) and Stephanie Vandelet. Dehon's mother fostered a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart and passed this devotion on to him.[2] His baptism was celebrated on 24 March. He received his First Communion on 4 June 1854 and his Confirmation later on 1 June 1857.[3]

In 1855 he was sent to Hazebrouck to the college there where he studied under the noted priest Jacques Dehaene before graduating from the college in August 1859. In his adolescence he felt called to the priesthood (which manifested at Christmas 1865) but his father sent him instead for his education at the Sorbonne in Paris.[1] He earned a degree in civil law on 2 April 1864 (with top honors) after his studies from 1860 to 1864 but had spent much of his free time in a local church.[4][5] His father sent him on a long tour of the East (including Palestine) but en route back home entered the Saint Claire institute in Rome on 25 October 1865 to begin his ecclesial studies.[2][3] Before he entered he met with Pope Pius IX who encouraged and blessed his vocation with Dehon referring to Pius IX as "goodness united with holiness".

Dehon obtained a bachelor of sciences on 16 August 1860 prior to commencing his studies for the priesthood. Upon pursuing that path he began his studies at the Pontifical Gregorian and at the Pontifical Roman Athenaeum S. Apollinare. It was there that he obtained a doctorate in philosophical studies on 27 June 1866 as well as in theological studies on 13 June 1871 and in canon law on 24 July 1871.[3]


He received his ordination to the priesthood on 19 December 1868 in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. His father came to terms with his son's vocation and returned to the Church himself after this. He celebrated his first Mass in Rome with his parents present.[1]

Dehon acted as stenographer at the First Vatican Council (he was one of four French priests acting as such; his record of the proceedings was published as the Diario del Concilio Vaticano I in 1962) and then served as a parish priest at Saint Quentin as a curate from 16 November 1871.[5] He began feeling drawn to communal religious life and on 28 June 1878 - following a pilgrimage to Loreto in 1877 with the Bishop of Soissons Odon Thibaudier - founded the Oblates of the Sacred Heart in which he assumed the religious name "Jean of the Sacred Heart" upon the profession of his vows at the moment of founding; he had begun his novitiate on 31 July 1877 prior to founding.[5][2][3]

His new order grew at a rapid pace but misunderstandings about their mission attracted undue opposition which later compelled the order to disband on 3 December 1883 with Dehon feeling (in his words) "torn to shreds".[1] But it was following a period of depression and serious reflection (as he undertook the Spiritual Exercises) that Dehon reformed the order as the Dehonians in March 1884 and making parish and foreign mission work as its focus. But it was the Bishop of Soissons Thibaudier who intervened to restore the order since he supported and appreciated Dehon's work. In 1886 he was elected as the order's Superior-General and held the position until his death. Dehon ensured that another focus of his order was to foster and promote a special devotion to Eucharistic adoration. The order received the decree of praise from Pope Leo XIII on 25 February 1888 who asked Dehon on 6 September in an audience to preach on the basis the pope's documents.[2][1] The pope later appointed him in 1897 as a consulter to the Congregation of the Index and said of his decision: "Let it be known that I approve his positions as I entrust him to the function of one who must judge the doctrine of others".[7][5]

In 1889 he started a magazine called Reign of the Sacred Heart. Though the Dehonians had secured Leo XIII's support and his successors until Pope Pius XI he and his priests continued to be accused of slander and various other charges for a great period. These charges included accusations regarding Dehon's behaviour and his relations with the diocese overall.[2] He participated in congresses and conferences and founded new houses but was noted for having heard confessions for long hours at a time. He began the construction of the Basilica del Sacro Cuore di Cristo Re in Rome (18.05.1920). Pius X had said of Dehon in 1906: "We are looking for saints. Here is one that is being born". Pius XI granted his order definitive papal approval in 1923.[5]

In 1906 the order's motherhouse relocated to Brussels after the Church-State separation in France in 1905 which caused great difficulties for religious congregations. He wrote numerous articles for newspapers and periodicals and published books on social matters and devotional topics.[5]


In December 1914 he drafted up his will and spiritual testament.[3] In 1925 he began suffering from gastroenteritis that caused great pain to his digestive tract. Dehon died in Brussels on 12 August 1925 at 12:10pm; he died pointing at a portrait of the Sacred Heart and his last words were: "For Him I lived; for Him I die. He is my everything, my life, my death, and my eternity".[2]

Controversial publications[edit]

Dehon became noted for being prolific in his writings. He often wrote for various newspapers and periodicals on a wide range of different social issues as well as devotional subjects such as the Sacred Heart. The latter became a predominant theme for several of his published works. But in 2005 serious allegations were made regarding Dehon's works in view of the approval of his beatification. The allegations specified that Dehon was anti-Semitic in which he expressed anti-Semitic views in his writings.[8] This caused the suspension of his beatification until a reexamination of his writings could be undertaken with his findings released upon its closure. On 5 February one French historian drew attention to seven controversial texts in which Dehon was accused of being anti-Semitic. The French paper La Croix published extracts in which Dehon has said:

  • Jews were "thirsty for gold"
  • Jews' "lust for money is a racial instinct in them"
  • The Talmud is "a manual for the bandit, the corrupter, and social destroyer"

Dehon's writings also suggested that the Jews wear special markings in which ghettos be established and Jews be excluded from land ownership and teaching positions.[6]

In his 1898 "Social Catechism" he said that Jewish people "favor enemies of the Church".[8][9]

Beatification process[edit]

Dehon on his deathbed.

The beatification process opened in the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese in 1952 and had to collect witness testimonies and other evidence related to Dehon's work and life before the informative process could close. The cause remained inactive until 21 October 1988 after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints validated this process and then received the Positio in 1990 for assessment. The theologians approved the cause on 30 January 1996 as did the C.C.S. members on 3 February 1997. Pope John Paul II titled Dehon as Venerable on 8 March 1997 after confirming that the late priest had lived a life of heroic virtue.

Dehon's beatification depended upon a miracle being approved. These miracles are most often healings of a miraculous nature in which medicine and science fail to explain the healing itself. The case chosen came from São João del Rei and was investigated from 1961 until some point later while another process was opened and closed in the same location in 1965. The miracle in question involved the healing of the electrician Geraldo Machado da Silva from a grave case of peritonitis on 1 June 1954.[6] The C.C.S. validated this process on 4 October 2002 and medical experts approved the healing as a miracle on 15 May 2003. Theologians approved it also on 21 November 2003 after confirming the miracle came after Dehon's intercession was invoked while the C.C.S. confirmed the findings of the two boards later on 20 January 2004. John Paul II confirmed the healing as a miracle on 19 April 2004 and confirmed that Dehon would be beatified.

The current postulator for this cause is the Dehonite priest José Briñón Domínguez.


His beatification cause still pends. It had been scheduled for 24 April 2005 but had been postponed due to John Paul II's death just three weeks prior. But it was later announced that the beatification itself has been placed on hold due to a re-examination of his writings in response to charges of anti-Semitism which several individuals and organizations had levied - both clerical and secular. Serious doubts were raised in 2005 before John Paul II's death in which the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris Jean-Marie Lustiger sent an urgent letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who became Benedict XVI not long after) expressing alarm at Dehon's writings and asking for an examination.[9] The French Episcopal Conference urged caution with the cause while the French government warned that it would not send a representative to the beatification if it went ahead. Benedict XVI therefore ordered an urgent reexamination of Dehon's writings with the first meeting scheduled for that 24 June.[6] The pope tasked Cardinal José Saraiva Martins in charge while also appointing Cardinals Paul Poupard and Roger Etchegaray.

Further developments[edit]

In a 5 June 2015 discourse to the Dehonians came comments from Pope Francis in which he expressed his desire for the cause to proceed while labelling their founder as "the almost beatified Dehon".[9] The pope said that attitudes must be viewed in its historical context and said that he wanted the cause to "end well". Francis added that "it's a hermeneutic problem" that warranted an evaluation of the "hermeneutic of the time" rather than evaluating his writings through a more modern lens.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Leo Dehon (1843-1925)". Holy See. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Venerable Leo Gustav Dehon". Saints SQPN. 6 April 2017. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Venerable Leo Dehon". Santi e Beati. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Learn About Our Founder". Priests of the Sacred Heart U.S.A. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "DEHON, LÉON GUSTAVE, VEN". New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2003. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d Alan Cooperman (16 June 2005). "Pope Halts Beatification of French Priest". Washington Post. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  7. ^ a b "In Defense of the Founder of the Dehonians". Zenit. 3 July 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  8. ^ a b c "Pope backs sainthood candidacy of allegedly anti-Semitic priest". The Times of Israel. 6 June 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  9. ^ a b c Lisa Palmieri-Billig (11 July 2015). "Founder of the Dehonians" Now only Francis can decide". La Stampa. Retrieved 13 December 2017.

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