Saint of the Day – 27 April – Blessed Nicolas Roland (1642-1678) Priest, Canon, Mystic, Apostle of the prayer, the poor, especially children, teacher and Founder of the Congregation of the “Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus” – born on 8 December 1642 in Rheims, Marne, France and died on 27 April 1678 in Rheims, Marne, France of natural causes, aged 35. He was a friend, contemporary and Spiritual Director of Saint John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719). (Biography here: https://anastpaul.com/2018/04/07/saint-of-the-day-7-april-st-john-baptiste-de-la-salle-1651-1719-the-father-of-modern-education/).
Nicolas Roland was born on the small town of Baslieux-les-Reims in the ancient province of Champagne, 9 kilometers away from Reims, son of Jean-Baptist Roland (1611–1673), Commissioner of the Government and antique merchant. He was Baptised on 23 July 1643. His Godfather was his uncle, Fr Matthieu Beuvelet.
In 1650 he joined the Jesuit College at Reims, where he showed an active intelligence and the wish to become a Priest. In 1653 he obtained the tonsure from Bishop Pouy at the Abbey of Saint Pierre les Dames. Completing his preliminary studies, he travelled around France for while.
The young student then moved to Paris in 1660 to continue his studies in Philosophy and Theology, staying at the college of Bons Amis. He joined several pious associations such as the “Friends Association” of the Jesuit Jean Bagot and one of Vincent de Paul. He considered joining the Jesuits and was also interested in the work of the Missionaries for a time and considered going to Siam after finishing his doctorate on theology. But he was appointed to a well-endowed Canonry at Reims Cathedral, before being ordained a Deacon and was highly regarded as a Preacher but realised that his elegant style reached few of the faithful. On 3 March 1665 he was Ordained a Priest.
In 1666 he left his parents house, moving to a house on Barbâtre Street, in Reims, where he began a life of poverty dedicated to charity. He established contacts with the Saint Nicolas-du-Chardonnet Seminary where his uncle worked and there he was exposed to the ideas of Adrian Bourdoise, Fr Jean-Jacques Olier (the Founder of the Sulpicians) and the movement for the renewal of the French clergy. Of all his apostolic activities, education of the poor, was the apostolate to which he was most attracted.
In Rouen he met yet another clergyman passionate about education of the poor, the Minim Blessed Father Nicolas Barre, who arrived in the city in 1659. Barre had organised a group of men and women who worked in free schools located in several neighbourhoods of the city. Roland returned to Reims with the intention of starting similar projects there. On 15 October 1670 a Reims’ orphanage founded by Marie Varlet was entrusted to him and he gradually transformed it into a real school. He asked Fr Barre to send two teachers from the Sisters of Providence to help. On 27 December 1670, the teachers, Francoise Duval and Anne Le Coeur, arrived. Fr Nicolas would later found with them, the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, dedicated to the education of poor and abandoned girls.
In 1672 he met a young Canon, John Baptist de la Salle and became his Spiritual Advisor. They stayed in touch while La Salle studied at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Roland influenced La Salle to learn a type of spiritual detachment that he later demonstrated when he founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
After the death of his father in 1673, Roland became more involved in encouraging the growing community of the “Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus.” On 13 July 1673 he opened the first school of the sisters, at his own expense. The Order received Diocesan approval and confirmation in 1675.
He wrote many spiritual works and published the “Notices for the regular people”. One of the notices left for the sisters reads:
“The sacred fire must embrace the sisters, it makes them inflame the others and above all the teachers, the students and all the people they come in contact with. That way with their example and edifying words, they will do good as the divine providence wishes. With this fire they will love their neighbour. God does not wish to divide the charity with which we love Him, we must give this one equally to all humanity. This is the principle on which we must encourage the teaching of girls in the schools, not making any distinction of their human and natural qualities.”
The following year he gave all his inheritance to consolidate the young congregation and increased his activities in favour of the poor and all those in any need, gathering a group of Priests around him who assisted in all these endeavours.
On 30 March 1678 he assisted, with great joy, in the first Holy Mass of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. He encouraged De La Salle to trade his Canonry for a small parish but the Archbishop opposed this move and so the matter remained unsettled for the time being.
On 19 April 1678, he had to stay in bed due to a severe headache. On the 23rd of the same month he prepared his Last Will and Testament, leaving the administration and care of his Order and their works in the hands of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. On the 27th he died peacefully at Reims and was buried in the Sisters’ Chapel on the 29th. Below is his Shrine, relics and the Chapel. He was only 35 years old and yet he left behind a huge apostolic project, an infirmary, a hostel and four schools.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle then continued with the final approval of his work and later on followed in his footsteps, founding the Congregation of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools for the Christian education of the poor.
He was Beatified on 16 October 1994 by St Pope John Paul II, who, at the Beatification of Blessed Nicolas said:
“This young Priest, Canon and Theologian of Reims’ Cathedral,
friend and counsellor of Saint John Baptist de La Salle
and Founder of the Sisters of the Child Jesus…
This young man from a middle-class family,
well educated, able to see various sides of a question,
could have become rich and powerful and a man of distinction.
But he was called to follow another course,
another route to which he became passionately devoted.
He lived in the world of his day,
with its poverty and wretchedness, uncertainty and fear,
where the rich dominated and the poor never had a say,
he found the road shown him by God,
a road shown him by and in prayer.
And he invited everyone, the young, adults, children,
priests to follow the same road and he trained them how to do so.
He discovered that “God has so loved the world,
that he has given his Son” to teach us how to pray to Him as a son,
and how to speak to one another as brothers and sisters.
This prayer is given to us in Jesus, by Jesus and with Jesus ……… ..
This road is “the life we live”, in which “we converse” ,
and have ‘relationships.'”
Be our guide Blessed Nicolas Roland
With the heart of a poor man, you gave up position and honour,
you gave away your wealth and your health,
to come to the help of poor and abandoned children.
With a gentle and humble heart, you,
a young man with a vivacious character,
managed to unite strength and patience,
in order to take on the gentleness of the Child Jesus.
Your heart was often sad to see God so little known,
so little loved and to see mankind disfigured.
To repeat to everyone that God is love,
and His greatness as a son of God,
you founded a religious family
completely devoted to Jesus in His Incarnation.
Enamoured for justice, you worked endlessly
to that the child would be recognised in his dignity
To achieve that, you have raised up loving and attentive teachers.
Priest moved by all human wretchedness,
enlightened by the merciful love of the Father,
you trained your brother priests to show God’s gentleness
and to forgive others in God’s name.
Enlightened by the presence of God,
your pure heart discovered Him in all kinds of work
and in his suffering members.
As a spiritual guide, you knew how to calm anguished souls
and taught them how to abandon themselves to God with confidence.
You yourself kept calm in spite of trials.
As an apostle with a passionate heart,
you suffered because of His name
and until the hour of your death,
you suffered misunderstandings
but all in peace and joy, for the glory of His Kingdom.