Part 3

“20th January is a light. And in this light, there is another light: Mary – Sion – Jerusalem”

-Fr. Alphonse Marie Ratisbonne -(1814-1884)
Notre Dame de Sion (Religious of Our Lady of Sion)

Alphonse Ratisbonne was a young Jew from a family of well-established bankers in Strasbourg, France. He also was socially prominent due to his wealth and blood-ties to the Rothchilds. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse, born in 1814. Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered, had already finished his law degree and was engaged to a young Jewess, his niece. He was twenty-seven years old and, before marrying, he wanted to travel on holiday to Italy and the East. Upon his return, he planned to marry and take on his responsibilities in his family’s banking business. God, however, had other plans for him in Rome.

Alphonse was not a practicing Jew. He nourished a profound hatred for the Catholic Church, especially because of the resentment his whole family had due to their first-born’s defection. Alphonse said he would never change religion. But if one day he were to change, he would become a Protestant, never a Catholic. While in Rome, Ratisbonne visited works of art, as well as some Catholic churches, out of cultural curiosity. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance. He also visited an old schoolmate and close friend named Gustave de Bussières. Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. In Gustave’s house, Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron Thèodore de Bussières, who had just recently converted to Catholicism. Baron Thèodore, in turn, was a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of these two circumstances, Alphonse greatly disliked him. Thus it was only on the eve of his departure that he reluctantly resolved to fulfill his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

*Texts in italics, taken from Congregational Journals and Writings, edited by Sr. Marie Carmelle, Nds




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