Father Henri Caffarel

A Man of Prayer

When Father Caffarel stepped down from his leadership role in Teams Of Our Lady in 1973 he committed the rest of his life to prayer at the House of Prayer in Troussures, France. The house in this small village, north of Paris, is striking for its prayerful environment, its rural setting and its sense of peace.

In the nearby village Graveyard his mortal body was laid to rest marked by a simple headstone which simply gives his name and dates of birth, ordination and death and the quotation: “Come follow Me.” His request was to be buried in this remote graveyard looking out over the rolling hills in the quiet countryside.

Equipes Notre Dame

In 1938, a young married woman, Madeleine d’Heilly, approached Fr. Henri Caffarel to ask him for recommendations on how she and her husband, Gerard, an engineer, both in their 20’s, could live the Catholic faith in their marriage. At the request of Father Caffarel Madeleine and Gerard invited three other couples to join them. These four couples, together with Fr. Henri Caffarel, had their first meeting on February 25, 1939 and began the journey which has become The Teams of Our Lady.

Here we attempt to capture something of the person, the priest and the founder of this great Movement for Married Spirituality. Much is available on Father Caffarel in his native French and also in Portuguese and in Spanish but the information in English is limited. We try to correct this for; this Prophet for our Times.

A Prophet for our Times

1903 Born in Lyons, France July 30th.
1903 Baptised in Lyons, August 3rd.
1923 Recognised the calling to the Priesthood.
1930 Ordained Priest, April 19th.
1938 First known encounter around Married Spirituality.
1939 First Team Meeting – Caffarel Group, February 25th.
1947 Charter of Equipes Notre-Dame Promulgated December 8th.
1959 International Gathering in Rome; Vocation and Itinerary of Equipes Notre-Dame, May.
1960?? Vatican II
1970 International Gathering in Rome; Love, Marriage and the Church, May 8th.
1973 Retired as Spiritual Councillor to Equipes Notre-Dame and took up permanent residency at The House          of Prayer in Troussures. June.
1996 Died and was laid to Rest in Troussures graveyard.
2006 cause for his Beatification commenced.

Father Caffarel – The Early Years

Pope Francis in The Joy of Love speaks of ‘The Family as the first school of Human Values, where we learn the wise use of Freedom’. This is so true of the home where Father Caffarel was born into, grew up in and learned the human values which not alone formed his own character but also the many thousands if not millions whom he touched during his lifetime.

His ancestors were all rooted in Lyons in France where his parents grew up, married and brought up their family. Their respective families were employed in the silk trade and the financial world. Young Henri grew close to the Cathedral of St John in the Old Town of Lyons and from his window he could see the newly built Basilica of Fourviere (takes its name from the Roman ‘Old Forum’). The Caffarel family and his mother’s Voisin family all had close relationships with the local Community, Church and the Archbishops of Lyon.
Many family members served the Church through their work with St Vincent de Paul, the Catholic Institute of Lyon, in hospital visitation and helping with the finances. Not surprising numerous family members entered the priesthood and religious. Henri Caffarel’s home environment was closely-knit, they enjoyed family reunions, played music together and all generations maintained close contact.

This environment of love which the young Henri grew up in sowed the seeds for not just his future vocation but also his commitment and lifelong dedication to that vocation. In 1973 in a Radio interview he spoke of the importance of growing up in Lyons. He recalls a moment from his childhood being in the countryside and making friends with a joiner in a mountain village. Until then he thought making windows and doors was quite easy but then he saw a man who loved his work. He explained:

‘First I thought all types of wood were alike and this man taught me how to tell one from another, he taught me how to estimate the age of the trees that produce these woods; he made me discover the very soul (if I may call it so) of these different woods; and I was amazed by the care with which he treated those woods, the gentleness! He knew how to hold them, how to work with the grain; knowing that you couldn’t expect the same thing from all of them.
Since then, I’ve found that someone with a job, someone who knows his job is someone wonderful, and that is the reason why I like to say that being a priest is a real job and I love my job’.

Speaking later on honesty of commitment he sees himself as a craftsman, a skilled worker who doesn’t allow cheating:

‘The joiner cannot cheat with his wood, the gardener cannot cheat with the tulip; if my priesthood is a job I cannot cheat with the people I talk to, and what makes this job so great is that it deals with human beings’.

Fifty years before that interview in March 1923 Henri was in his words ‘conquered by God’

‘When I was twenty, Jesus Christ, in an instant, became
Someone for me. Oh, nothing too 
spectacular. Back then,
on that faraway day in March, I knew that I was loved and that I 
loved, and that henceforward between him and I, it would be for life.  That’s it.’

From that encounter with Christ, Henri had no other project in life but to become a priest. He thought of joining a Monastery and becoming a Monk but his spiritual Director encouraged him to begin in the Seminary for at least 2 or 3 years. During this time he was Spiritually influenced by the great Romanian prince Vladimir Ghika, who had been recently ordained for the Diocese of Paris. It was Ghika who introduced Henri the young seminarian to a Father Verdier soon to become Archbishop of Paris. He also introduced Henri to Jacques and Raissa Martains. They used to host lay discussion groups in their home in Meudon one Sunday evening each month where they would have philosophical and theological discussions together.

Vladimir Ghika was grandson of the last ruler of Moldovia, Prince Gregory V Ghika. His parents moved to Toulouse in France in order to give a good education to their children in 1878. There Vladimir who was brought up in the Orthodox religion attended the Protestant community as no Orthodox Church existed. He took a degree in Law and then to Paris and attended the Paris Faculty of Political Science and later took courses in Medicine, Botany, Art, Literature Philosophy and History. He continued his studies in Rome in Philosophy and Theology. In 1902 he converted to the Catholic Faith and in 1905 completed a Licentiate in Philosophy and a Doctorate in Theology. He wanted to become a priest or monk at that time but Pope Pius X advised him to give up the idea, at least for a while, and to dedicate himself to secular apostolate instead. He became one of the pioneers of the lay apostolate.

Vladimir returned to Romania where he dedicated himself to works of charity. Amongst his legacy were; the first free clinics in Bucharest, founded a Saint Vincent de Paul hospital and sanatorium, a free hospital and ambulance service. He became renowned for founding the first Catholic charity work in Romania and was dedicated to patient care and health services in the Balkan War 1913.

On the 7 th October 1923 Vladimir Ghika was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Paris at 50 years of age. He continued to serve the city until 1939. Shortly after he was ordained the Holy See authorized him to celebrate the Byzantine Rite. Prince Ghika thereby became the first bi-ritual Romanian priest. He worked worldwide including Bucharest, Rome, Paris, Congo, Tokyo, Sydney, Buenos Aires and others. Pope Pius XI referred to him as an‘Apostolic Vagabond’.

In August 1939 he returned to Romania to serve the poor and the sick during the Second World War in his native country during the communist regime. He was arrested in November 1952 and imprisoned for his support of the Catholic Church and communion with Rome. He was charged with ‘high treason’ and died a martyr on the 16 th May 1954.

Pope Francis declared the martyred Monsignor Vladimir Ghika Blessed on the 31st August 2013.


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