These few lines are not a biography of Michel Guérin but an outline of the portrait of one of our local priests. His faith, his confidence in the power of prayer and his love of his fellow-men transformed the parish which he had created and which he carried within his heart until his dying day. His last words, spoken on 29th May 1872, were : “For your own benefit, strive to be good Christians. Oh yes, may the parish always stay as it is !”
After the turmoil of the Revolution, the parishes of France found themselves beset with numerous difficulties. The churches were in ruins, the interiors were destroyed or run down. This was the situation facing the small rural chapel of Pontmain which was later to become a church. The roof leaked, the altar and the pews were worm eaten, there was no linen, no ornaments nor sacred vases.
The priest’s enthusiasm
Father Michel Guérin, one of the priests of Saint-Ellier du Maine, arrived on the evening of 24th November 1836. He already knew of the miseries of Pontmain. He went to Le Mans to beg his Bishop to give him this hamlet in the middle of the countryside. As there was no presbytery he had a furnished room arranged in a small cottage. In a letter to his Bishop this is how he described one of the first Masses he gave : “Yes, Your Excellency, I celebrated Mass on a sacred stone laid on a pile of wooden planks. My fellow-priests and I preached from a workbench”. (Letter of 15th October 1844).
A dynamic man
He got to work soon after arriving in Pontmain. With the help of his new parishioners he repaired the roof and made new pews. The women made linen for the altar and ornaments. Then came other projects ; new roads, the raising of a chapel, which was later to become the church of the parish and the building of a school. He even opened a shop selling tobacco (doubtless he wanted to be able to buy snuff somewhere close by). He was a practical man. He gave of himself everywhere ; by attending to the material needs of his parishioners he won them over to Jesus Christ. It did not take long for him to turn Pontmain into a lively and devout parish.
A man of prayer
He attached great importance to prayer and devotion to the Virgin Mary and had her statuette placed in every household. From this time onwards in each home the rosary was said by the families of the parish. He had numerous crosses built and put up at the roadsides. He had the statue of Mary put in the bell-tower. As from 8th December 1854 (definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception) four candles were lit on the Virgin Mary’s altar at every parish service. In 1860, he had the church vault painted sky blue, with a sprinkling of stars.
Michel Guérin’s story is an unusual one. He was mischievously called by some people “the good Virgin’s priest”, the priest who made a present of the statue of the “good Virgin Mary” to each family in his parish. His actions left a lasting impression on this small corner of the Mayenne countryside which Mary, “the Madonna of the stars” would come to visit on 17th January 1871.
Le dernier livre du Père Bernard Dullier Recteur du Sanctuaire…