St. Louis Bertrand (1526-1581)

Louis Bertrand was baptized at the same font where his famous relative, St. Vincent Ferrer, had been baptized some two centuries before, and he grew up with but one thought in his mind to imitate his saintly relative and become a Friar Preacher.

The father of Louis had at one time planned to become a Carthusian, and he was, as head of the family, undoubtedly an excellent Christian; but he bitterly opposed his eldest son’s desire of renouncing his inheritance and becoming a friar. He succeeded in keeping Louis from taking the step until his son was eighteen. Louis ran away when he was fifteen, planning to become a missionary, but he was recognized by a friend of the family and brought home. He busied himself with practices of devotion far beyond his years and strength, and he attached himself to the Dominican fathers, who allowed him to serve Mass and work in the garden until he should be old enough to join them. At last, when he was eighteen, he joyfully fled from his father’s house and donned the white habit he had so long desired. He was received in the convent of his native Valencia.

His troubles were not over, for his health was delicate; at every symptom of illness, his mother wept and his father entreated him to come home. He passed a troubled novitiate and thankfully made his vows. Two years later, he was raised to the priesthood, and, shortly after, he had the pleasure of seeing his two younger brothers start on their paths to the same goal. One of the brothers became a Dominican like himself, and they planned for the day when they could depart together for the missions. This dream was never to come true, for the younger brother died before he had finished his studies. It was left for Louis to become a missionary in the New World.

After several years as master of novices, where he proved himself prudent, kind, and firm, Louis volunteered for the foreign missions and was assigned to the territory of New Granada. In 1562, he left Valencia on foot, carrying staff and breviary and attended by two brothers. They set sail for the New World and arrived in their mission field. It was very unpromising. The people were devil worshippers. They lived in country almost impossible of access, and they spoke a medley of languages that seemed impossible for Europeans to understand. Louis prayed for the gift of tongues, and he received this favor. The Indians understood him and were converted.

Louis spent seven years in New Granada, in which time he is said to have baptized nearly 25,000 Indians. He traveled from place to place, teaching the Gospel and establishing the Rosary devotion. He fought through pathless jungles, braved the hostility of the natives and the danger of wild beasts, as well as the tropical diseases and the unfriendly Spanish gold seekers. Attempts were made on his life, and, at one time, he was threatened by a man with a gun; Louis made the Sign of the Cross and the gun was changed into a crucifix. By the Sign of the Cross and the Rosary, he marked out a path of miracles wherever he went.

Returning to Spain, Louis was once again appointed master of novices, and he inspired the young men with love of God and missionary zeal. He fell ill, and, though valiant attempts were made to save such a valuable member of the Order, he died on the day he had prophesied that he would die. In heaven he became the protector of the missions he had worked so hard to establish.

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