Blessed Nicolas Barrè, 1621 – 1686
Bl. Nicolas Barré was born in Amiens, France, on 21 October 1621. Educated by the Jesuits, he joined the Minims of St Francis of Paola at the age of 19. While still a deacon he was asked to teach philosophy, and after ordination he became a theology teacher while continuing as preacher and as director of the famous library at the convent of Place Royale, Paris.
After falling ill, he was sent to the friary in Amiens and then to Rouen, where he carried out his apostolate mainly with the Third Order of Minims. Here he first met the young women who were to join him in the popular missions as teachers in the “Little Charitable Schools” for poor children. He had been praying and reflecting on this project for 15 years. In his view, the root cause of all social evils was the lack of education and training for young people.
He began a movement offering popular education. The little charitable schools multiplied in the parishes, where first women and then men were called upon by the parish priest or Bishop. The “trade schools” soon developed, enabling young people earn some income.
Gradually, he felt drawn by the Holy Spirit to suggest to both the men and women teachers that they form their own community, without vows or cloister, for the purpose of educating ordinary people. Called by Canon Roland to Rheims, then to Lisieux and later to other towns in France, “the Charitable Teachers” gave rise to several foundations inspired by the same apostolic spirit. Nicolas Barré was consulted several times by the young John Baptist de la Salle, thus playing a decisive role in the foundation of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
As the number of teachers increased, Nicolas Barré was also spiritual director to many people, especially those suffering interior trials. With extraordinary discernment, he taught them the way of abandonment in faith that he had learned from his own experience. His wisdom and holiness became so famous that it was often said that “hopeless cases must be sent to Fr Barré”.
Nicolas Barré tirelessly sought to lead both the people he directed and the charitable teachers to the prayer of the heart inspired by contemplation of the inexpressible mystery of God, who out of love became man and “even a little child”. Nicolas Barré, the spiritual master, was both an apostle and a mystic and expressed this magnificently in his Spiritual Canticle, a mystical poem of abandonment to God. His life was marked by the message and charism of St Francis of Paola: humility, charity and evangelical penance, which bore fruit in the education and formation of youth, fostering each individual’s growth in their journey of faith. He died in Paris on 31 May 1686.