Gift of Fire



1813 + January 12 + Birth in Time

Louis Florent Gillet was born at 9 AM, [on January 12, 1813,] at 19 Rue de Navel in Anvers (Antwerp), diocese of Malines, in Deux-Nethe, French empirate of Napoleon I. Not until 1831 would this place be included in the new country of Belgium. Thus it is equally accurate to speak of Louis as "French" or "Belgian." Louis was baptized the same day at the Franciscan church of St. Anthony. The oldest of two children, his parents were Florent Joseph Gillet and Barbara Catherine Marche Mercier, both of Louvain. Former generations of the Gillet family had been affluent and influential. With the passage of time, however, and the political controversies which raged for a century, Catholic families and landholders suffered greatly. Joseph Gillet, consequently, was a respectable government clerk who could provide for his family, but the affluence of another time was lacking. Education, however, was as highly prized as ever in this Christian family. Louis would receive the best that the times could provide, both in the state schools, and in the clandestine Catholic system which flourished in spite of the strictures placed upon religious activity. Much of what is known about Gillet's early life has been traced through educational registries in one place or another. While little can be documented about the childhood of Louis Gillet, the framework is clear. This was a close knit family, with religious and cultural values that would generate the ideals and goals of the children. Almost nothing is known of Joseph Gillet other than his presence and benevolent support.

Barbe Marche Mercier Gillet
+ 1781 - 1879 +
Mother of Louis Florent Gillet

Between Barbara Mercier and her son, Louis, there is evidence of a strong relationship which would endure until her death at age 98. Religious values were very firm and from tiny bits of information we know that there was great faith and a deep devotion to Mary, Immaculate Mother of Jesus, long before the actual doctrine was promulgated.

1820 - 1821 + Family Changes

Sometime in 1820-1821, the Gillet family moved to Moresnet, about 20 miles northeast of Liege. In 1821, eight year old Louis became big brother to Marie Catherine. The brother and sister were closely bonded and their affectionate relationship would continue until Catherine's death in 1877.

1827 - 1832 + Early Studies

In 1827, the 14 year old Louis began his classical studies at the Royal College of Liege, then a state college because of the suppression of the Catholic religion. At the same time, he received religious education at the seminary then flourishing in the ancient Abbey of Rolduc nearby. It is safe to suppose that his own religious vocation was wakened sometime during these years. He would have been in contact at Rolduc with the Redemptorist missionaries who had recently opened their first house in what would become Belgium. Already fluent in his native French, Louis mastered Flemish, German and English with ease. This linguistic skill would be noted and much utilized in his lifetime.

1829 + Philosophy

In 1829, Louis registered for Philosophy studies at the State University of Louvain with 403 others. As before, his religious education would keep pace though continued contact with the Redemptorists and other Catholic scholars who were skilled at circumventing government restrictions.

In 1832, at age 19, Louis completed his Philosophy studies and was searching for his future. In December, Louis began the retreat novena for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. On December 8, 1832 [the feast day], he announced his determination to enter the Redemptorist congregation for whom Mary Immaculate was principal patron.


IHM Archives Staff (1992). Gift of Fire: Louis Florent Gillet -- 1813 - 1892: Christian, Redemptorist, Missionary, Cistercian. Monroe, MI: St. Mary Convent.

Copyright 1992 by Sisters of IHM, Monroe, MI. All rights reserved. Used with permission.