Born at Pont-de-Beauvoisin (Isère), December 10, 1816
Taking of the habit, Notre-Dame de l’Osier, [November 1, 1841?]
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, July 17, 1842.
Oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, October 15, 1842 (no. 98)
Expulsion from the Congregation, August 19, 1852.
Joseph Henri Lavigne was born at Pont-de-Beauvoisin, diocese of Grenoble, December 10, 1816. After his theological studies when he was already a deacon, he entered the novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier. The date, it seems, was November 1, 1841. He made his oblation on October 15, 1842, after being ordained to the priesthood by Bishop de Mazenod in the chapel of the Carmelites at Marseilles on July 17, 1842.
For ten years, he remained in residence at Notre-Dame de l’Osier and preached with success in several dioceses, but especially in the diocese of Grenoble. Early on, we find that complaints were lodged against him. In 1847, the Founder took him to task for administering his own personal goods and for using the revenue to do with it whatever he liked. In 1848, 1850 and 1851, Father Lavigne criticized his superiors and formally refused to obey. In this regard, in an April 12, 1850 letter, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Vincens: “God forbid that anyone should touch Father Lavigne as he simply cannot leave the realm that his genius and zeal for the Dauphine inspire him.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1040, p. 9)
In 1852, Father Lavigne’s conduct became ever more reprehensible. He preached in a way that scandalized the faithful and was denounced to the bishops of Viviers and Valence. In addition to that, apparently in agreement with his superior, Father Burfin, but without the authorization of the General Administration, he began work on the construction of a basilica at Notre-Dame de l’Osier. Father Tempier was the one who reacted, taking a strong stand against this initiative. In a July 13, 1852 letter to Father Burfin, he wrote: “Father Vincens has just received a letter from Father Lavigne. It deals with the question of building a new church to replace the one that now exists at l’Osier. The stones are being brought in, the stone-masons will soon be there, sand, lime, everything will be at hand; things are so far advanced that the Superior General will be compelled to give his consent to all that. Well! I must tell you: No! When someone acts in such a dirty and unacceptable way that is against every principle and subversive of all order, he puts the superior in a position wherein he cannot possibly give his authorization, even though he might have considered giving it, if a more religious and canonical manner had been followed. Before putting himself so much in the limelight, Father Lavigne, before proceeding, should have been thinking of answering the canonical complaints concerning his teaching that two Bishops have lodged against him. My Lord the Bishop has asked him to come here to explain and, if possible, to clear up the complaints against him. That is his first duty; after that, we can think of other things. The essential point is to show that we teach and preach the holy Gospel without changing or deforming it.” (François de Paule, Henry Tempier. Second Father of the O.M.I. (1788-1870), Oblate Writings II, vol. 2, no. 105, p. 153)
The Founder summoned his council and they met on August 9, 1852. The decision was taken to issue a serious warning to Father Lavigne: He was required to no longer preach his month of Mary until he had had the content approved by two theologians appointed by Bishop de Mazenod. He must no longer go preaching alone and must live in stricter subordination to his superiors and in the integral observance of the Rules. He must also call off the work that had been started at Notre-Dame de l’Osier.
A second session was held on August 19. Summoned by the Superior General, Father Lavigne came to Marseilles. He reacted badly in terms of a conduct that “showed little restraint” and by “scandalous assertions” and had asked to be dispensed from his vows. In a letter he left to the Founder on this subject, he wrote: “Whereas I hold in contempt your advisory of August 9, I still maintain a sincere affection and profound respect for you. In ceasing to obey you, My Lord, I do not cease to love you.” The dispensation from his vows was granted forthwith. We read in the report: “In refusing to submit to the council’s decision, he constituted himself in a state of genuine rebellion and, adding insult to his insubordination, he did not have any qualms in calling down upon himself the most severe measures.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.