Gift of Fire


Cistercian Contemplative


1858 - 1892 + Fire in Stone: Cistercian Call

In 1857, his health restored, Father Louis requested permission from the Bishop to return to the American missions, this time in South America. Permission was granted and the 44 year old missionary priest boarded a ship for South America by way of Africa, a normal pattern for the time. Meanwhile, in Senanque, near Avignon in France, a community of religious men on November 20, 1857, received a papal indult establishing them as the Cistercians of the Immaculate Conception.

Since Father Gillet was well acquainted with the Bishop of Avignon, and since the Bishop was instrumental in bringing about the new Cistercian foundation in Senanque, it seems likely that Gillet was aware of the effort, though this cannot be determined with certainty.

What is known, however, is that sometime during the long sea voyage Louis Gillet realized a new call to the contemplative life. No sooner had the ship reached its destination than Gillet made arrangements to return immediately to France. He disembarked in Lorient, France and traveled in haste to Avignon to pursue his goal. Was the missionary fire extinguished? Not so, from what is known of his last 34 years.

1858 + Cistercian Beginnings at Senanque and Fontfroide

Father Louis Gillet became a Cistercian candidate on August 3, 1858, in the pioneer community of Senanque, France. Three weeks later, on August 22, Feast of the Holy Heart of Mary, he received the habit of the Cistercians of the Immaculate Conception, with the name Pere Marie Celestin. During his year of novitiate, the Cistercians outgrew Senanque and established another monastery at Notre Dame of Fontfroide, France. Soon after pronouncing his solemn vows on September 8, 1859, Pere Celestin was sent to join the pioneer band. With his broad experience and skill, he must have been a valuable member of that community. His own notes in the annals of Fontfroide provide a vivid picture of the rugged farm life of the community.

1864 + May 25 + The Royal Abbey of Hautecombe-Savoy, France

The Royal Abbey of Hautecombe-Savoy was given into the care of the Cistercians in 1864, after an existence of 730 years, many marked by turmoil and suffering, from the time of its founding by the Order of Citeaux. The Royal House of Savoy was patron to the Abbey and the tombs of the Savoy royal families were at Hautecombe. During the French Revolution, the tombs were plundered and the abbey closed. Charles Felix had been King of Sardinia for three years when he visited Hautecombe in 1824. Because he knew that 39 of his ancestors were buried in the rubble there, he purchased the abbey lands and began the restoration which culminated with the return of the Cistercians to Hautecombe in 1864. He himself would be buried in the Abbey grounds. Again, Pere Celestin was one of the pioneer band at Hautecome.

1864 - 1889 + Teacher + Novice Master + Chaplain + Prior

Pere Celestin spent the last 28 years of his life at Hautecombe, with only three known excursions to the outside world. From 1864 to 1875 he would be teacher of Philosophy and Theology.

1866 was a significant year. In July, Pere Celestin paid a visit to his elderly mother, then living with a community of sisters in Nouen, Belgium, near Louvain. While in Louvain, he met a Monsignor Edward Joos from Monroe, who was then in Belgium for his own health. In their conversation, Father Joos told Pere Celestin that he had "succeeded" him as director of the Immaculate Heart Sisters in Monroe. From Gillet's own writing, later, it appears that he did not understand at that time that the IHM sisters were the same community founded in 1845. The fact that Monsignor Joos apparently made no mention of his meeting with the former Redemptorist missionary kept communication closed for another 24 years.

Sister Marie Celestine, Cistercienne
+ 1821 - 1877 +
Catherine Marie Gillet
Sister of Louis Florent Gillet

From April 1875 through October 1876, at age 62, Pere Celestin was sent as chaplain to the Cisterciennes at Notre Dame du Pres, in Reillanne, France. Not remarkable in itself, this experience must have been a great joy to him, since his sister Catherine was then Sister Marie Celestine and Mistress of Novices at the same convent. Catherine's journey in religious life, from the Sisters of Charity in Ter Hagen to the Cistercian monastery at Reillanne parallels that of her brother.

Also at Reillanne was a Sister Stephanie, long time friend of Sister Clotilde of the IHM Sisters at West Chester. It would be her remark in a letter to Sister Clotilde that would begin the reunification of Pere Celestin with the community he founded in Monroe.

October 1876 found Pere Celestin recalled to the Abbey, this time as Novice Master, a post he would hold for two years until his appointment as Sub-Prior in January 1878. This was a brief preparation for his election as Prior on July 10, 1878. Somewhere along the line from Monroe to Hautecombe, evidently, Pere Celestin developed administrative skill. For five years he was the much beloved superior of the Hautecombe community.

Completing his term as Prior, Pere Celestin was again called to be Choir Novice Master. He remained in this capacity from July, 1883 to1889 when his health became uncertain. For a little time, 18 months, he was persuaded to return to the Cisterciennes at Notre Dame du Pres but increasing health problems necessitated his return to the Abbey.

1891 + February 8 + Reunion with IHM Sisters

Sister Clotilde, an IHM sister at West Chester, Pennsylvania, had been writing to her friend Sister Stephanie, then a Cistercienne at Reillanne, France. Stephanie and Clotilde had both been members of a community in Paris. When the community dissolved, the two went their separate religious ways but kept up a lifetime correspondence. A chance comment of Sister Stephanie, about their wonderful chaplain, "Pere Celestin Gillet," aroused Sister Clotilde's curiosity. The story of the joyful reunion between Father Gillet and the Immaculate Heart Sisters is told powerfully by Sister Maria Alma in The Reverend
Louis Florent Gillet: His Life, Letters and Conferences.

1892 + November 14 + The Final Point in Time

In spite of many infirmities of which Pere Celestin wrote matter of factly, he maintained a happy communication with his rediscovered American sisters until 10 days before his death on November 14, 1892. On the morning of November 4th, he felt well enough to be lifted from his bed to his writing table where he penned the farewell and blessing which are part of our IHM heritage today. When he finished, "the pen fell from his hands" and he turned from his mission in the world to the loving mystery of eternity with a peaceful, joy filled heart -- missionary to the last.

Epilogue . . .

1929 + March 10 + Return to Monroe

March 10, 1929, was the final point in time recorded for Father Gillet. On that day, after three years of effort galvanized by Sister Rosalita Kelly of Monroe, Father Gillet's remains were returned to the IHM cemetery in Monroe, there to await the final resurrection. The Gift of Fire has been passed to the sisters with whom he labored for so brief a time. His prayer for them is filled still with the fire of the young missionary, tempered and tended to a consuming blaze within the abbey walls.


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.