Bl. Hyacinth M. Cormier (1832-1916)

A master general of recent times who did much to restore the primitive fervor of the Order was Father Hyacinth M. Cormier. Henry Cormier was born in Orleans on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1832. All his life he treasured the thought that he had been born on Our Lady’s day, and therefore he should be especially devoted to her. His father died while he was still a small child, so Henry and his only brother, Eugene, went with their mother to live near his uncle, who was a priest in Orleans. The two boys entered the new preparatory seminary at Orleans. The following year Eugene died, leaving Henry alone °and grief stricken.

Henry continued his studies for the priesthood at the major seminary of Orleans, and was ordained in 1856. At this time he fulfilled a desire that had been growing on him for some time; he went to Flavigny, where Father Lacordaire had opened a novitiate of the Order, and begged to be admitted. `He was accepted, a little dubiously as he looked so delicate, and given the name Hyacinth.

When it was time for Brother Hyacinth’s profession, the doubt had grown into a certainty; he had had several hemorrhages, and the community, which had already lost some of its most promising members from tuberculosis, was afraid to profess him. The master general, Father Jandel, took him to Rome as secretary and asked the pope for a special dispensation to allow him to make profession. The pope responded that if he went for thirty days without a hemorrhage he could make his vows. Young Brother Hyacinth tried hard once he got as far as 29 days and did not quite make it, but he fell seriously ill and was anointed. In the belief that he was going to die in a few days, he was finally allowed to make his profession. But at this point he recovered, and he served the Order vigorously for fifty years.

In 1865 the old Province of Toulouse was to be re established, and Father Cormier was sent as the first provincial to build up the Order there. His ability for administration was so marked that the pope wanted to make him a cardinal; only the hostility of France towards religious kept him from doing so.

When Father Cormier was elected master general in 1904, it became necessary to replace him in some of the work he had been doing so that he could devote more time to affairs of the Order in general. It was then that his brethren found out what a load he had been carrying. Teaching and writing should have kept him busy; but he also was regular confessor to eight large convents and extraordinary confessor to several more. In spite of all the activity, he spent hours of every day in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He had a universal reputation for the soundness of his spiritual direction.

As master general, Father Cormier turned his attention first to the novices. Many of his writings had been for young people, and he always loved the novices on whom the future of the Order depends. As gentle as a child in his manner, but as inflexible as a Gibraltar in a matter of principle, he quietly demonstrated the policies that he wanted followed in the Order. He founded the Angelicum, the international house of studies at Rome, and supported other educational projects of the Order.

Father Cormier wrote incessantly, mostly devotional works or instructions for novices. Some of his works have been translated into English, but not by any means all of them. He wrote biographies of many eminent Dominicans, including Blessed Raymond of Capua and Father Jandel. His pen helped to make permanent the work done by Father Lacordaire and his companions in re establishing the Order in France and in the world. Father Cormier died in Rome in 1916 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

(Source : Dorcy, Marie Jean. St. Dominic’s Family. Tan Books and Publishers, 1983)