The History of the Society of the Precious Blood
The roots of the General Oratory of the Society of the Precious Blood reach back to the earliest days of the Old Catholic missionary endeavors in North America and the work of Fr. Joseph René Vilatte. In this series, we will attempt to give a full picture. Much of the writing here is that of the late Bishop Donald Weeks and has been adapted and corrected as found necessary.
Fr. Vilatte’s Early Life
Joseph Rene Vilatte was a lapsed Catholic of the Latin Rite. He was the progenitor of more then twenty churches. His adventures in the ecclesiastical world of his time are worth reviewing, again and again. Vilatte was born in Paris, France, the son of a butcher, on January 24, 1854. His parents belonged to the region of La Maine, in northwest France, and belonged to "Petite Eglise" (this church had all but died out and he was baptized by a layman). His mother died shortly after his birth and his boyhood was spent in an orphanage at Paris, under the care of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He was rebaptized conditionally and confirmed at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, in 1867.
During the latter part of the Franco-Prussian War he enlisted in the Garde National. After the siege of Paris and the horrors of the Commune, he decided to leave France for Canada, having been attracted by the appeals for settlers in rural districts. Soon after landing on Canadian soil Vilatte found that a teacher was needed for a school near Ottawa at some distance from the nearest Catholic Church, he acted as catechist, and on Sunday, when there was no chance of getting to Mass, he conducted a simple service for the people. One of the priests that attended the region was impressed with Vilatte and taught him Latin, he returned to France after two years. He received his "calling-up" papers for the French Military service.
Upon returning to Paris, he was informed that there would be a seven-year requirement in the army. He decided to leave his native land. From there he went to Belgium and after a few months entered the Community of Christian Brothers, at that time, a lay teaching order at Namur. He was in danger of arrest as a conscientious objector. Vilatte did not find his vocation in this institute and left Belgium in 1876, feeling that he was called for the secular priesthood. He once again sailed for Canada.