The Revitalizing Master: Blessed Hyacinth-Marie Cormier’s Renaissance of Dominican Studies

The Revitalizing Master: Blessed Hyacinth-Marie Cormier’s Renaissance of Dominican Studies

Blessed Hyacinth Marie Cormier (1832-1916) was the 76th Master of the Order of Preachers who left an indelible mark on revitalizing the intellectual life and studies of the Dominican family in the early 20th century. 

Early Life and Formation

Hyacinth Cormier was born on April 28, 1832 in Orléans, France to a devout Catholic family. From a young age, he felt drawn to the Dominican spirituality and became a member of the Dominican Third Order while still living in the world. His spiritual director was the renowned Fr. Henri Lacordaire, the reestablisher of the Dominican Order in France. 

 

Feeling called to the religious life after becoming a third order Dominican, Cormier entered the Dominican novitiate in 1859 at the convent of Flavigny. He made his simple profession a year later in 1860, taking the name Hyacinth Marie. Three years after that, in 1863, he made his solemn final profession as a Dominican friar. 

 

After his formation, Fr. Hyacinth spent over 40 years as an esteemed preacher, giving spiritual conferences and retreats throughout France. His wisdom in spiritual direction and devotional writings, especially on Dominican saints and blessed like St. Dominic and Bl. Henry Suso, made him well-respected within the Dominican Order and beyond.

Master of the Order

In 1904, at the age of 72, Cormier was elected the 76th Master of the Order of Preachers at the General Chapter in Oudenburg, Belgium. When he assumed this highest leadership role, the Dominican Order had dwindled to only about 2,000 members due to revolutions, suppressions, and difficulties across Europe in the 19th century. 

 

Cormier made it his mission to revive and reinvigorate the Dominican tradition of studyand preaching the Word of God through a renaissance of the Order’s intellectual life. To accomplish this, he focused his efforts on strengthening three key Dominican institutions of studies.

 

The first was the Dominican Biblical School (L’École biblique) in Jerusalem, founded in 1890. Its president at the time was the renowned Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange, whose modern use of historical criticism and biblical scholarship had raised concerns from some at the Holy See who did not initially understand this pioneering approach. Cormier firmly defended Lagrange and his work.

 

The second institution was the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome. Cormier helped re-establish a strong Dominican presence and robust program of studies at the Angelicum after regaining control of the property from the Italian government. He is considered a re-founder of this prestigious institution of Dominican teaching and scholarship.

The third key center was the Dominican faculty at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Cormier supported the Dominicans at Fribourg and their influential role teaching philosophy and theology at the University.  

 

Drawing professors and students from these three institutional hubs in Jerusalem, Rome, and Fribourg, Cormier was able to seed a new generation of well-formed Dominican scholars, teachers, and preachers. With his support and vision, new Dominican houses of study (known as studium) were opened in many university cities across Europe and North America – including Washington D.C., Toulouse, Vaulx, Walberberg, Nijmegen, Warsaw, and others.

 

This renaissance produced a new generation of Dominicans who revived Thomism and engaged substantively with modern biblical, historical, and philosophical scholarship.  Cormier’s efforts laid the intellectual foundations for the Dominican Order’s 20th century comeback and reinvigoration of its core mission of study, contemplation, and preaching the Gospel.

Private Spiritual Life

While leading this widespread academic revival, Cormier remained a man of profound spiritual depth and devotion in his personal life. He spent many hours each day in contemplative prayer and was known for his great devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

In his writings, Cormier extolled the virtues, sanctity and profound insights of various Dominican saints, blesseds and mystics from the Order’s history – figures like St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. Henry Suso, and many others. He aimed to pass on the spiritual wisdom and example of these great Dominicans to new generations.  

Cormier practiced severe bodily penances and austerities, wearing a hair shirt and taking the discipline regularly. At night, he would rise two hours before matins to spend time in solitary night prayer, continuing a Dominican tradition.

 

Final Years and Beatification 

Cormier passed away on May 21, 1916 in Rome at the age of 84 after serving as Master for 12 years. He was initially buried beneath the floor of the church at the Angelicum, the institution he helped revitalize. Years later when he was beatified, his body was exhumed, re-vested in a new habit, and placed in a glass-topped reliquary above ground in the same church.

 

The miracle that led to Cormier’s beatification in 1994 by Pope John Paul II involved a miraculous healing through his intercession in the 1950s. A Czech Dominican priest named Fr. Basil Lacina had been imprisoned and tortured in a communist concentration camp, with guards digging his grave as he lay near death. After praying to Cormier, Fr. Lacina was miraculously and spontaneously healed. He lived several more decades until his 90s.

Legacy

Blessed Hyacinth Cormier’s legacy continues through the thousands of Dominican students, teachers, preachers and academics who passed through the robust institutions and studies programs he reinvigorated in the early 20th century. His vision of rigorous intellectual formation, faithful to St. Thomas yet engaged with modern developments, helped reshape the life of study and preaching at the heart of the Dominican charism and mission. 

 

The recently renewed Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the Angelicum) where Bl. Hyacinth’s remains rest continues to produce new generations of Dominican preachers and teachers thanks to the renaissance he launched over a century ago. Cormier’s life balanced intense spiritual devotion and practice with a zeal for intellectual renewal – a perfect embodiment of the Dominican vocation of contemplata aliis tradere, to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of that contemplation.