Today is the feast day of Saint Hugh of Grenoble. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Hugh was born at Châteauneuf-d’Isère, near Valence in the Dauphiné, France, to the son of a military officer in his second marriage. Hugh’s father (Odilo) became well-known for his piety and religious nature, and despite his two marriages, later became a Cistercian monk. Hugh’s mother was also a well-respected member of the Christian community, known especially for her life of prayer and charity.
Hugh, from the cradle, appeared to be a child of benediction; in his youth he was recognized as such through his exceptional success in his studies. Having chosen to serve God in the ecclesiastical state, he accepted a canonry in the cathedral of Valence. His great sanctity and learning rendered him an ornament of that church, and at the age of twenty-seven he was chosen Bishop of Grenoble. Pope Gregory VII consecrated him in Rome, and inspired in him an ardent zeal for the Church’s liberty and the sanctification of the clergy.
He reluctantly accepted ordination into the priesthood, and was consecrated into the post which he served for over 50 years. Bishop Hugh was charged by Pope Gregory VII to address the rampant reforms necessary in the French clergy. Hugh, appalled by the disorders which confronted him, attacked this charge with vigor, working unceasingly to reform both the clergy and the laity. Corruption seemed to loom in every direction: the buying and selling of Church offices, violations of clerical celibacy, lay control of Church property, religious indifference and/or ignorance. After serving as bishop for two years, he’d had his fill. Despite the tremendous progress accomplished through his actions, although Saint Hugh frequently dwelled upon his failures, repeatedly seeking permission to retire from the bishopric and life a monastic life in contemplation. Withdrawing to the abbey of Chaise-Dieu, Hugh was certain that the pope would appoint some “more suitable” to the task of reform.
When summoned before Pope Saint Gregory VII, Hugh said to him:
“But I repeat to you that I can’t do anything that’s good and worthwhile!”
On more than one occasion, however, the pope insisted that he must take up the struggle again. “Very well, granted. You can’t do anything, my son,” Pope Saint Gregory VII said to him, “but you are bishop, and the sacrament can do everything.”
Ever obedient, Hugh obeyed each time, and continued to spread reform throughout the diocese of Grenoble. For fifty-two years, he toiled, preaching the Gospel, instructing and inspiring clergy and laity alike. During famine, Saint Hugh sold Church possessions to feed his people. Inspired by his actions, the rich and noble of the area followed suit, distributing their wealth to those most in need.
After a few years the face of his diocese had changed. His charity for the poor led him to sell even his episcopal ring and his chalice to assist them. During his episcopate the young Saint Bruno came to him for counsel, and it was Saint Hugh who assisted him in the foundation of the Carthusian Monastery in the mountains of the diocese of Grenoble, whose renown after a thousand years has not diminished.
Always filled with a profound sense of his own unworthiness, he earnestly solicited three Popes for leave to resign his bishopric, that he might die in solitude, but was never able to obtain his request. God was pleased to purify his soul by a lingering illness before He called him to Himself. He closed his penitential course on the 1st of April in 1132, two months before completing his eightieth year. Miracles attested the sanctity of his death, and he was canonized only two years afterwards, by Pope Innocent II. Sadly, during the War of Religion, the relics of Saint Hugh were burned by the Huguenots.
Image: St Hugh in the Refectory, artist: Francisco de Zurbaran, circa: 1655 (6)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff