Tuesday, April 05, 2016

St. William of Paris, Abbot and Reformer

On April 6, we celebrate the feast of St. William of Paris (also known as St. William of Eskilsoe, Saint William of Æbelholt, and St. William of the Paraclete). Known for his holiness and austerity, he was the Abbot of Eskiloe (a city in Denmark which once housed an abbey) and one of the most venerated saints of Denmark.

William (1105 - 1203) was born in Paris of a noble French family. He was educated by the monks of Saint-Germain-des-Pres under the direction of his Uncle Hugh, the abbot. From there, he was received by the chapter of secular canons of St. Genevieve.  This was already a venerable college of canons, having been founded by King Clovis and St. Choltide in the 6th Century.  But it had grown decadent and in great need of reform. In fact, his fellow canons were so hostile to William and his disciplined way of life that he had to leave and relocate to Epinay, outside of Paris.

Pope Eugene III visited the abbey in 1148, discovering its poor state. The reform of St. Genevieve was entrusted to the Canons Regular of St. Victor, who were a relatively new canonical house on the outskirts of Paris, being founded only a few decades earlier.  The prior of St. Victor, Odo, came to St. Genevieve and William returned to the community as sub-prior.  Together they overcame their opposition and won the community over to the reform.

Shortly afterwards, Bishop Absalon of Roskild, who had been a student at St. Genevieve, called William to Denmark to reform the abbey of Ebbelholt.  William accepted this difficult task and became abbot.  There was great resistance to William, but he was prepared to meet it.  For thirty years, he overcame every obstacle in order to achieve his goal.  He relied on prayer and penance, as well as his experience to succeed, which he did brilliantly.  During the thirty years he served as an abbot, he slept on straw, fasted daily, and wore a hair shirt.  Filled with a deep sense of the greatness and sanctity of our mysteries, he never approached the altar without watering it with his tears, offering himself to God in the spirit of adoration and sacrifice.

Thanks to his efforts, Ebbelholt was reformed and another house of canons was founded.  He died in 1203, and was canonized by Pope Honorius III in 1224.

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