Catholics in France mourn Fr. Maire, recall his generosity

Catholics across France are mourning the death of Fr. Olivier Maire, SMM, who was allegedly murdered by a Rwandan immigrant whom he had been assisting.

By Devin Watkins

The Catholic Bishops and religious of France have expressed their “immense sadness and horror” at the murder of Father Olivier Maire, Provincial Superior of the Montfort Missionaries.

The body of the French priest was found at his home in Saint-Laurent-Sur-Sevre, in the western Vendée region.

A 40-year-old Rwandan immigrant handed himself in to police, confessing to Fr. Maire’s murder. He is being treated as the prime suspect in the investigation.

The man, who had been refused political asylum, was already under investigation for setting fire to the Cathedral of Nantes last June. Fr. Maire had been offering the man assistance and housing him in the Montfortian community since the end of May.

Reactions to Fr. Maire’s murder

The French Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Conference of Religious released a statement on Monday in response to the killing.

They assure Fr. Maire’s “parents, family, Montfort Missionaries, community of the Basilica of St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort in Saint-Laurent-Sur-Sevre, and the entire Montfortian religious family of their prayers.”

French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter to pay tribute to the slain priest. He wrote that Fr. Maire’s “generosity and love for others were reflected in his facial features.”

‘Man of peace’

Speaking to Vatican News’ Olivier Bonnel, Sister Véronique Margron said the religious community of France feels great pain “to think that a man of peace was murdered in the name of hospitality.”

“In addition to the fear, there is also a feeling of incomprehension and powerlessness,” added the Dominican nun, who serves as the president of the Conference of Religious in France.

She said the Montfortians had offered the Rwandan man shelter out of evangelical concern.

“Now is not the time to add fuel to the fire with calls for his expulsion, since he was not deported because he was in the midst of a judicial process,” said Sr. Margron. “This situation was truly not the problem of the brothers who welcomed him.”

Hospitality and Paschal mystery

The late Fr. Maire took in the man who would allegedly become his murderer, an act which recalls the Paschal mystery, according to the nun.

“We must remember that the virtue of hospitality is the greatest and first of the biblical virtues,” she said. “There is no higher virtue in the whole of the Old Testament.”

Sr. Margron added that the Montfortians were not naïve in taking the man in. “They did this with full knowledge of the facts, welcoming advice; yet no one told them that this man could be so dangerous.”

‘Generosity in action’

Christians in France, concluded the Dominican nun, should gather spiritually round those connected with Fr. Maire, sharing their sorrow and recalling his generosity.

The Bishop of Luçon, François Jacolin, also expressed his appreciation for the work of the slain priest.

“He was a victim of his generosity,” said the Bishop. “We hope that this tragedy might not destroy the ideal of hospitality and sharing.”