Claude de la Colombière was born of French noble parents in 1641. He had a happy childhood, surrounded by a devoted family and very close friends. Although known for enjoying life to the full, Claude entered the Jesuit novitiate as a 17-year-old, where he spent several years studying for the priesthood and working as a teacher in various institutions. After his ordination he taught at the Jesuit college in Lyons, whilst also preaching retreats and serving as moderator for several Marian congregations.
In 1674, Claude de la Colombière took a personal vow, under penalty of sin, to observe the Rule and Constitutions of the Society of Jesus to the utmost perfection. This personal vow of his became a source of inner freedom and helped Claude attain an early sanctity and a renowned ability to be greatly compassionate and empathetic towards others.
Claude was appointed the Rector of the Jesuit college at Paray-le-Monial in 1675. It was during this time at Paray that he became St Margaret Mary Alacoque's spiritual director. He encouraged and supported her though a difficult period when her own community was highly suspicious of her supernatural visions and claims about the Sacred Heart. Colombière also strove to assure the anxious young nun that her visions were authentic. He instructed her to write down all that she had experienced and pledged himself to the mission of spreading the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 1676, after only a year and half in Paray, Claude de la Colombière was sent to London, as he had been appointed "Preacher to the Duchess of York" - Mary of Modena, wife of the then Duke of York and future King James II (England's last Catholic king). This role was fraught with difficulties because of the anti-Catholic sentiments that prevailed in England at the time. Despite this, Fr Claude de la Colombière took up residence at St James's Palace in October of that year. He ministered at the Queen's Chapel, which had been built as a Catholic chapel for King Charles I's wife, Henrietta Maria. This Royal chapel still exists, though has since been converted into an Anglican place of worship - the Queen's personal chaplain normally resides there to this day.
According to the Claude's official biography on the Vatican website: "In addition to sermons in the palace chapel and unremitting spiritual direction both oral and written, Claude dedicated his time to giving thorough instruction to the many who sought reconciliation with the Church they had abandoned. And even if there were great dangers, he had the consolation of seeing many reconciled to it, so that after a year he said: 'I could write a book about the mercy of God I've seen Him exercise since I arrived here!'"
The last two years of St Claude's life were spent at Lyon, where he acted as spiritual director to Jesuit novices. He also returned to Paray-le-Monial, where he sought to improve his health. Immediately after his death in 1682, St Margaret Mary received a special revelation from Heaven, confirming that Claude de la Colombière did not need prayers as his soul was already enjoying the Beatific Vision.
During this month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, may we through the merits and prayers of St Claude and St Margaret Mary, come to know and experience Our Lord's infinite mercy and compassion, and may we share this same love with all those whom God grants us to meet. Amen