Monsieur Guérin


Study on Isidore Guérin


Isidore Guérin (born January 2nd, 1841) and his two sisters, Marie-Louise and Zélie, were the children of one of the many French families affected by the rural exodus at the beginning of the 19th century. The Guérins were famers; they moved from generation to generation (their father was a French policeman who served the Emperor as a soldier) from the military campaigns in the Orne region to his police station in Alençon. Isidore benefited from the establishment of public instruction and its best; the lycée Napoleon (public secondary school established under the educational reforms of Napoleon). He obtained his degrees of bachelor of letters and science in 1860 and 1863. This training permitted him to join the École Supérieure de Pharmacie de Paris and then to become a pharmacist in 1966. By buying a pharmacy (as well as a hardware store in 1870, which burned in 1873), he joined the noteworthy members of society in Lisieux. His marriage on September 11th, 1866, considered by some as strategic, with Céline Fournet, descendant of a manufacturing family in Lisieux, strengthened his social position even more. The son of a policeman became a distinguished citizen as is seen in his nomination to the local Conseil d’hygiène (sanitary commission). Unquestionably, he was “the” most important person in the Martin and Guérin families during the life of Thérèse. 

The documents preserved in the Theresian collection of the archives of the convent of the Carmel of Lisieux show this notability:

- Like many other notables of his time period, he kept a family journal (livre de raison) to record in writing what he inherited from his ancestors and what he would bring to the posterity he hoped for. Outstanding events, acquisitions, phases of his private or public life were listed chronologically. As head of the family, he collated, with the same logic, everything that concerned members of the family, direct or by marriage. Paradoxically, this self-proclaimed head of the family (the creation of a family journal is a private work) would die without descendants. An only son still-born, Paul, a first daughter, Jeanne, married but without biological progeny, Marie, a Carmelite who died prematurely, would make him a patriarch without descendants.

- A photographic snapshot placed in the first pages of the family journal, holds the trace of another representation of this constructed notability. A family tree organizes the ancestors and the descendants of the pharmacist of Lisieux. The imaginary roots (an improbable alliance with a family named “de Guérin”) and an aborted summit (an inset of his daughter as Carmelite) synthesize the strength and fragility of Isidore’s path.

- Other snapshots revive for us the pleasures of vacation lived by the Martin and Guérin families. Elegant and dazzling silhouettes pose in front of the place par excellence of social distinction: a manor house. In fact, the Guérins inherited with joint tenancy the Château de la Musse, in the Eure, purchased 25 years earlier by a first cousin of Céline Fournet’s mother. But the same fleetingness would strike this symbolic possession. It would be sold to an aristocrat in 1899 before becoming a sanatorium in 1932. Currently it houses a detox center for alcoholics.

If Isidore Guérin knew success, he also suffered in his body (illness did not spare him), in his heart and his hopes. His personality would become richer for it. This notable was sentimental and mild-mannered. Committed and generous, his uncompromising convictions, marked by the seal of a narrow ideology, would cause him to engage in controversial battles with regards to our calm democratic opinions. The slow emergence of the Republic, on the ruins of the Monarchy and the Empire, at the hands of a wayward and clerical Catholic Church, helps to understand the nationalistic and anti-Semitic drifts of his journalistic activity.

Isidore Guérin received a Christian education but all of that faded away during the Parisian studies. His sister, Marie-Dosithée recommended from her Visitation convent in Mans, that he visit the sanctuary of Our Lady of Victories, Refuge of sinners. The correspondence between the Visitation nun and the med student retain the memory of spiritualism séances that Isidore seemed to prefer to churches in the Capital. After his marriage, Isidore didn’t go to Easter Mass anymore. Slowly he lapsed into the atheism of the elites of the 19th century. That said, he would later develop a real religion, very typical as well of these notables of the Republic being painfully birthed. Their nostalgia for the religious harmony of the Old Regime is obvious. All their efforts strove to restore what the Revolution had weakened. They created a Society of Combat and Defense to confront the Society of the Rights of Man and the republican Triad: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Isidore would increase his affiliations with societies of restoration and reparation. He would be in all the circles of Christian notables contributing to the creation of the Works giving access to culture and religions of the poorest. In 1874 he founded the Saint Vincent de Paul conference in Lisieux which brought together prayer and charitable action. That same year, he became a member of the parish fabrique (parish council). So, with other lay people, he managed the accounts of his faith community. When he founded the Catholic Circle it was to bring together friends who loved spiritual books. This Society of notables devoted themselves to the care of religious in the social and public sphere, threatened by secular thinking. Ad intra, these fervent Catholics propagated night adoration. Ad extra, they protected the Brothers of Christian Schools when they were persecuted. A Calvary, built at the expense of Isidore Guérin, still stands today at the entrance of the city of Lisieux. This urban sentry is the perfect summary of the devotion to the cause of religion in the republican arena. That being said, this zeal which was all exterior, found its roots in a true baptismal consecration: on September 5th, 1900, Isidore made a permanent commitment in the Third Carmelite order under the name of Brother Elijah of the Blessed Sacrament.

Lastly, the uncle of Saint Thérèse was also a publicist who spread his opinions and those of his sector. From 1891 to 1896 he became a journalist. Numerous articles appearing in Le Normande, which he relaunched financially and of which he was the editorialist, gave witness to his public commitment. His ideology revealed itself. He acted as a defender of the Church and of moral order, not without his own drifts of this agonistic public opinion. Nationalism and anti-Semitism defended at the same time the land, and the purest, blood against so many imaginary enemies: foreigners, those without citizenship, the Jews supposed deicide.

After a long illness, Isidore Guérin died in Lisieux on September 28th, 1909-shortly before the opening of the Ordinary Process for his niece…

Brother Marc Fontin ocd


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