It was in the chapel of the Salesian College of Passy-Buzenval, in Rueil-Malmaison, near Paris. Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle presided, from the stained glass window, over the very first bunch of (then) young men (twelve!) who would be the first Emmanuel guys on the way to the priesthood!
Cardinal Leo Suenens blessed us copiously, and Brother Albert-Marie de Montléon OP (may he rest in peace!) addressed us in prophetic visions…
I do remember that day! I was shaking with tremendous fright. No, I was certainly not going to take such a step! I did not want to become a seminarian!… After some forty-five years of a merry and full life in beautiful surroundings, by the seaside, what was I doing here, among those holy young men, eager to offer their lives to the Church! No, I was not as generous, and it was not my vocation! This was a dead end for me! I refused to be dressed in the white alb, neatly prepared, ready for our «Procession d’ entrée»!… How did I not run away, right there?… Only God knows!
Good Albert-Marie, a pious Dominican, listened religiously to my objections and fears. He simply said: «Do not be afraid, Dominique; you are not going to take perpetual vows. Just come, and if you are not called to the priesthood, the Lord will let you know!»
In a shudder, I dived into the white robe, and reluctantly joined the enthusiastic brothers, obviously thrilled at the perspective of becoming the new twelve apostles of our time, as they prepared to give themselves, body and soul, to the newborn «Fraternité Missionnaire du Cœur de Jesus».
As we progressed into the sunlit chapel, under the Saint-Jean Baptiste de la Salle windows, the crowd of the Emmanuel fans, exploded in loud gesticulations, as wet, adoring eyes, were swathing the dozen of «little brothers» in their fresh albs, in a loving bath of thanks and praise.
Advancing in the line, behind a white back and hood, and before the following brother, I painfully strove to muster my heart, pounding with anxiety. «Do not be afraid…» Albert-Marie had said… And from his window Jean-Baptiste de la Salle was looking at the twelve of us, kneeling in front of the altar… It was March 1983.
Years went by. Years of inner combats and struggles; years of the «ugly and gaunt cows» (Gen 41,1-36) as well as happy days and immense joys came in turns. In February 2019, a gathering of the first priests of the Emmanuel in Northern America (Canada included) brought TWELVE of us, before the altar at Dunrovin Center, Minnesota. Guess what?…
The Salesians Brothers’ chapel had Jean-Baptiste de la Salle watching us from the large window!… No way!
As my eyes gazed from the French saint to my TWELVE brothers in their vestments, the son of the «Moët & Chandon» champagne, (lady de la Salle, née Moët!) winked sparkling bubbles in my direction…
Indeed, here we were, twelve again, as were twelve the very first men to start on a new adventure, in the Emmanuel Community in France. Thirty-years later, we were twelve, for the beginnings of another adventure in Northern America.
From my eighty years of life, on this beautiful planet, I could not refrain from addressing the new generation standing round the altar, under Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle: «Dear brothers! In thirty years from now, some of us will certainly be away from this earth, but for those of you who might still be here, please, turn round and behold!»
What an Adventure the Lord is offering us!