Taking of the habit at Saint-Just, May 17, 1829
Oblation at Marseilles, May 17, 1830 (no. 42)
Ordained to the priesthood, March 14, 1835
Dispensed from his vows in 1840.
Calixte Kotterer began his novitiate at Saint-Just May 17, 1829. In the Registry of the taking of the habit, the place and the date of birth of the novices is always indicated. There is no such date for Brother Kotterer. Was this an oversight on the part of Father Guigues, the master of novices at time or ignorance on the part of the brother as to where he was born? Bishop de Mazenod wrote in the April 23, 1837 entry of his diary that Calixte’ father was a military man and that “in his time,” Brother Calixte had been “excardinated from the diocese of Saint-Jean de Maurienne to be incardinated into the diocese of Marseilles” and that, in 1837, Mrs. Kotterer was living in Pontcharre (Isère). Brother Calixte made his oblation in Marseilles on May 17, 1830. He studied theology at Billens, Switzerland, from 1830 to 1832 and in Marseilles from 1833 to 1835. During his scholasticate, Father Casimir Aubert, superior of the Oblates at Le Calvaire, wrote on April 20, 1834: “Among all the others, Brother Kotterer is the one who has the most work to do on his character. But, to be fair to him, it must be said that he has made efforts to better himself and he has made progress in a number of areas. Consequently, I believe he has sufficiently recovered, especially most recently, from his futile illusions. He has taken to heart the task of forming himself to living the religious life. He is appreciative enough of silence and solitude because he does have a love of work, but this is not based on anything supernatural. He has a tendency to waste his time, to be critical and is still very little trained up in genuine piety.”
At the beginning of the month of March 1835, because of an epidemic of cholera in Marseilles, the Founder sent Brother Kotterer to make his ordination to the priesthood retreat in Aix where the novitiate was at the time. On March 10, he asked Father Aubert to instil in the retreat candidate: “the great principles of religious life: detachment especially, death to self, cheerful obedience, total dedication to the Church and to the family, support of his confreres, etc.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1831-1836, Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 508, p. 151) Bishop de Mazenod ordained him to the priesthood in Marseilles on March 14, 1835 and then gave him his obedience for Notre-Dame de l’Osier. On June 9, he presented him to Father Guigues with these words: Father Kotterer “who is going to put himself under obedience to you. I assure you he didn’t have to make a big effort to submit himself to that destination, so much was it to his taste. He is leaving in an excellent spirit. I have every reason to believe that it is genuine. Father Kotterer is full of esteem and affection for you, he esteems his confreres highly and it is my hope that he will behave in such away as to attract your friendship and that of the other Fathers of the house. I persist in the view that he is the man best suited to your house. I’m relying on you to look after him well. While he has some negative traits, he does respond to kindness. He is of good heart, and open to reason. In my opinion he has matured. I have to tell you that he didn’t completely satisfy his theology teachers, not at all because he couldn’t get through his work when he put his mind to it but because he had a way of doing things that was not, whatever he may say, that of a good student. My conclusion is that he ought to continue his theological studies. His bent would be more for other sciences.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1931-1836, Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 518, p. 163)
He took part in a few missions and ministered to pilgrims who came to the shrine, but in 1837, his father died. Consequently, he requested that, in order to help his mother, he be allowed to accept a post as parish priest in the diocese of Grenoble, but he still wanted to remain an Oblate. This suggestion irritated the Founder who wrote to Father Guigues on March 29: “Kotterer informs me that his father is dead, and he gives me a lengthy argument proving that his mother could not do without his assistance. Is he showing me his needs as a way of asking me to provide for them? No, it is quite simply to infer that there is no other means to take than to authorize him to entreat his Lordship the Bishop of Grenoble for a parish, that he would reap benefit from as long as his mother lived, and when the good Lord has taken her away he would return to our houses. This means that after having been brought up, nourished, maintained, etc., for ten years at the expense of the Congregation, now that he could render her some service by exercising the ministry in his charge, he wants to get out of it by spending his youth in the idleness of a parish, warming himself under his mother’s apron, who may live for yet another 25 years. After that, when he would be good for nothing, he would like to honour the Congregation by coming back to be taken care of by her and die in peace in her bosom. At a time when he is aware of all our troubles, he has the courage to make me such a proposal: this reveals his lack of refinement, his ingratitude and a complete absence of love for his state. Had he disclosed to me his mother’s situation, and the suffering he has to endure thereat, so that I could think of some means to alleviate it, I would have found the matter very simple, and immediately I would have replied that I gladly consented to help his mother by allowing him to keep the Mass stipends and something more if necessary.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1937-18342, Oblate Writings I, vol. 9, no. 610, p. 21-22)
Father Guigues was in agreement that the Congregation should help Father Kotterer’s mother, but was of the opinion that Father Kotterer should remain at l’Osier. However, he asked the Founder “not to quench the smouldering wick and to spare the lack of virtue” of this young priest. Father Kotterer did not back off from his decision. He travelled to Marseilles without permission and insisted on living outside the community. Permission to do this was refused and, in May, he asked for a dispensation from his vows. “What an unworthy subject!!” wrote the Founder in his May 20, 1837 Diary entry. “Ah, if I would only give him the answer my indignation inspires me to give, what hard truths I would make him hear.”
Nevertheless, in August of that year, Father Kotterer was given permission to go home “without creating a fuss.” It was, in fact, Father Guigues who suggested this solution to avoid incidents of “what will people say” in the diocese. The bishop of Grenoble did not want to have Father Kotterer working in his diocese. In a gesture of kindness, Bishop de Mazenod recommended him to Bishop Sausin, Bishop of Blois: “I can say of him,” he wrote, “that his morals have always been upright and that he is not lacking in talent. The affidavits he bears show that he has preached with some success. Consequently, I have no doubt you can make use of him in your diocese where the knowledge that the superior of the major seminary has of him leads him to hope that he might be kindly received.”
Man proposes, but God disposes. Mrs. Kotterer died in September 1837. The following year, Father Kotterer asked to be readmitted to the Congregation. Father Dassy interceded for him with the Founder. The Founder rejoiced at his return. August 9, 1838 he wrote to Father Dassy: “If Kotterer truly repents his fault, if he realizes the need to make amends for it… his return and rehabilitation will be easy. Since sentence properly so called has never been pronounced against him, even though the Devil had instigated him to ask for it as a favour which was granted to others, he will not have to redo his novitiate, he will not have lost his position. But he has lost grace and will have to regain it. For that I shall give him every facility by calling him to my side. He will come and make a retreat of 10, 12, or 15 days, as I will deem it necessary. Therein he will strengthen himself in tears of repentance and the fire of love and once he is renewed in the spirit of his vocation, he will come forth full of fervour and be an example and model for his brothers.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1937-1842, Oblate Writings I, vol. 9, no. 671, p. 99)
We know that Father Kotterer was still at l’Osier in September of 1839, but he left thereafter. His name no longer appears in the writings of the Founder and of fellow Oblates. In the Registry of expulsions and dispensations we simply find a few words without an accompanying date: “Kotterer, Calixtus, expelled.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.