March 31, 2017

Saint Hugh of Grenoble, Bishop and Reformer

Saint Hugh of Grenoble

April 1st, is the feast of Saint Hugh of Grenoble (1053 – 1132), the 12th century French bishop who faithfully carried out the Gregorian reform preserving the sanctity of the clergy and fidelity to doctrine. He stanchly defended the Church against incursions by the state. He is remembered for his great personal piety, allegiance to the papacy and dedication to monasticism. St. Hugh is also noted for mentoring Saint Bruno, and encouraging him to found the Carthusian Order.

He was born in southeastern France at Châteauneuf-sur-Isère, near Grenoble in the foothills of the Alps. From his devout parents, he learned the truths of the Faith, developing an abiding devotion to God and the Church. He excelled in his studies, winning a reputation for brilliance. Such was his holiness and theological knowledge that, at the age of 27, he was named Bishop of Grenoble, despite not yet being ordained. Pope Gregory VII consecrated him in Rome and charged him with implementing the Gregorian reform in his home diocese. Upon his return to Grenoble, Hugh started the arduous task of revitalizing the Church in France.

The job of reforming the clergy and laity in his diocese was a massive endeavor. Corruption was rampant and included the buying and selling of Church offices, violations of clerical celibacy, lay control of Church property, and widespread religious indifference and/or ignorance. After two years with little success, he resolved to resign as bishop and retired to the austere abbey of Chaise-Dieu, in Auvergne where he became a Benedictine monk and excelled in every virtue.

There Hugh lived for a year, until Pope Gregory commanded him to resume his pastoral duties, saying: “Go to your flock; they need you.” This time his efforts accomplished much as his forceful preaching touched hearts. After a few years, the diocese was a wellspring of faith and fidelity. Bishop Hugh became renowned for his charity for the poor, even selling his episcopal ring and his chalice to help them. He counseled the young St. Bruno of Cologne and greatly assisted him in establishing the first Carthusian Monastery high in the mountains of Grenoble.

Always filled with a profound awareness of his own unworthiness, he earnestly petitioned three Popes to leave his bishopric, that he might die in solitude, but his request was never granted. He died on April 1, 1132 after a lingering illness Many miracles attested to the sanctity of his death. He was canonized just two years later by Pope Innocent II, in 1134. Saint Hugh proved ultimately to be a most effective reformer due to his love for God's Church and his strength of character.

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