There are few stories as fascinating as those that tell of the mysterious relationship between Creator and creature, especially when they manifest the sublime fatherliness of God, intent on saving His sinful child by any means.

Such accounts, however, are even more admirable when they feature, in a discreet but pervasive and insistent manner, the august figure of the Mother of God and of mankind: Mary Most Holy. A holy pursuit unfolds, in which the Lady of mercies is the pursuer, and the wayward child, no matter how far astray he has wandered, is the object of her boundless affection.

All of these elements are present in a story that begins on August 25, 1835.

The dawning of a vocation

The son of a devout family from the Auvergne region of France, Gabriel-Antoine Mossier was undoubtedly a beloved soul. At about twelve years old, he was enrolled at Billom, a renowned Jesuit school which dates back to the 15th century. There he met Victor Bosdure, a boy his age, with whom he established a fraternal relationship that would last until the end of their lives.

As was customary in the colleges of the Society of Jesus in those times, at the beginning of the school year, a retreat was preached to the students, always an occasion of many graces. At the end of the retreat, while the two friends were talking about the inspirations they had received, they decided to share a thought they could no longer keep to themselves: what they wanted to be when they grew up!

Compelled, however, by a typically childlike taste for secrecy, they both agreed not to reveal it to each other immediately, but to write their plans on slips of paper and place them in a hole in the wall for safe keeping. In this way, one day in the future, when they returned to Billom, they could retrieve the little papers and discover each other’s choice.

Now, as was to be expected with two young boys not yet used to long waits, they had no sooner stored the papers than they went back to get them, open them, and read their contents.

On Victor’s slip was written: “I shall be a missionary.” As for Gabriel’s, we will not reveal its contents quite yet; let time and history do that for us.

His military career

Without hesitation, young Gabriel decided to join the French army
A French dragoon with a Prussian flag captured in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt – Armed Forces Museum, Paris

The years passed and, with them, his school days. The time for a decision came, but this, Mossier had made long ago.

His drive, his equestrian passion, his ardent patriotism and high ambition invited him to follow a single path. Without hesitation, he informed his family of his decision to join the French army. Having received his parents’ consent, he left to enlist in the same corps that, years earlier, he had seen parade on the drill field of Clermont: the 3rd Regiment of Dragoons. His quick adaptation to military life, along with the great satisfaction it afforded him, seemed to indicate that he had found the right place and was heading for a promising future. However, before the first winds of success could swell the sails of that fragile vessel, the Blessed Virgin, with motherly love, prepared a storm for him.

Just when everything seemed to assure the young Gabriel of his certain promotion, he was suddenly bedridden and robbed of strength to continue his career. He had fallen victim to an epidemic of typhoid fever and was heading inexorably towards his grave. On hearing the news, his mother decided to go to her dying son’s bedside and pray to the Blessed Virgin to cure him. As soon as he heard the most holy name of Mary, the delirious Gabriel seemed to revive and, beginning to move his lips, joined his mother’s entreaties. The prayers of both were answered, and he rapidly regained his normal vitality. However, spiritually he found himself even more strengthened by the outstanding proof of the maternal care and support that the Queen of Heaven had shown him.

But despite this deepening of his relationship with Mary, Mossier’s main goal was far from what his heavenly Mother wished for him. His desire to ascend, to succeed and to be a great officer was a fixed idea which dominated his thoughts and to which he devoted all his efforts. In fact, it did not take long for him to rise in the ranks…

In 1854, seven months after entering the army, the nineteen-year-old was elevated to corporal, a humble rank in the army, but which, by granting him the longed-for stripes and command over a few men, was to him the beginning of a straight line towards his longed-for objective.

In 1861, we see him radiant with enthusiasm, his eyes shining with contentment, wearing his new second lieutenant’s uniform. At last, he was an officer! Would he not soon hold the title of the greatest general that France had ever known? Perhaps so, but the future still held many surprises for him.

A faithful friend

Mossier was soon promoted to corporal and later to lieutenant; however, the ideal of religious life began to grow in his soul…
At top, Gabriel Mossier as lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of Dragoons; below, French dragoon from the same regiment in the 1830s

After his appointment, Gabriel Mossier decided to spend some time with his family in order to replenish his strength and assuage his homesickness. One day he received a letter from his old, but very dear and faithful friend, Victor Bosdure, inviting him to the ceremony in which he was to make his religious profession and become a Carmelite. Evidently, the officer agreed to attend.

Mossier was offered lodging in the monastery itself. Arriving at his cell, he examined his surroundings attentively. How unfamiliar everything appeared to him! It was a poor room, almost bereft of furniture, with some religious images on its walls. At the head of the bed, a large Christ gazed at the guest with sad and sweet eyes. Below the crucifix, he saw a well-worn discipline which the good monk who inhabited the room must have inadvertently left behind. It was the panorama of religious life unfolding before his eyes: beautiful but harsh; elevated but demanding complete humility; admired by many, embraced by few… While he was immersed in these considerations, a discreet “who knows?” escaped Gabriel’s lips.

The next morning, the ceremony began. While Victor was making his profession, his sentiments got the better of the proud officer who, remembering that long-ago day in Billom and his friend’s faithfulness to grace, could not contain his emotion at the beautiful example he was witnessing. Unfortunately, he knew that the same could not be said of himself.

In any case, in 1867, Gabriel was appointed first lieutenant. More than ever, he was determined to continue his brilliant career.

The war

1870! It was a year that would mark the history of France forever and, with it, that of our officer, for the terrible Franco-Prussian War had begun. For him, the news of the conflict met his most ardent and passionate desires. This was what he was born for!

During the long journey that separated him from the battlefield, many thoughts assailed his mind. First and foremost, of course, were his eager hopes for the great feats he would accomplish during the war. Nevertheless, other cogitations – subtle but penetrating – also came to him and weighed on his conscience. Had the Blessed Virgin Mary not given him to sense her mysterious predilection? Had he not mapped out another destiny for his life when he wrote that note in Billom? Was Providence not waiting for him somewhere else?

A visit to Heaven

Like every Christian, Gabriel knew that death is no trifling matter. Accordingly, he prayed to Mary to give him the opportunity to be truly reconciled with God through the Sacrament of Confession before the moment of the battle arrived.

At a certain point during the exhausting march, his division had to pause, not only to recuperate its energy, but also to inquire as to what route to follow, a mission that was entrusted to Lieutenant Mossier. While he was consulting the inhabitants of the region, he heard comments about the existence of a Trappist monastery in the vicinity. This was precisely what he was looking for. After presenting the commander with the information he had gathered, Gabriel asked permission to spend the night in that monastery, the Trappe of Gethsemane, together with another soldier who was a friend and confidante. They both set out immediately.

After being received by the priest in charge of hospitality, they asked him to hear their Confession, after which they went into the cells assigned to them. Ah, what peace they found there! At two in the morning they awoke, not to the sound of the trumpets for a new march, but to the bells that invited them to praise Our Lord. Inside the church, they experienced the profound and vivid emotion of hearing those heavenly chants sung by men who looked more like Angels. It was the antechamber of Heaven!

As they left that “earthly paradise” to return to the valley of tears, recollected and silent, they seemed transformed. Breaking the silence, Gabriel confided to his friend: he had heard an inner voice calling him to that life. It was the same voice which had once spoken to his heart during his first retreat, the same voice which, at the age of twelve, had led him to write on his slip of paper: “I shall be a Trappist.” Time had passed, the child had grown, but the call remained. Things could not continue this way, concluded the thirty-five-year-old lieutenant.

However, the duty of fighting for France caused him to postpone his commitment for a while longer. But the vow had been made: if he returned from the war alive, he would be a Trappist.

The end of the war

The 3rd Regiment of Dragoons initiated its action, leaving behind it a trail of bravery and blood, despite the negative results gained by the campaign. Finally, on the morning of August 16 came the moment Mossier had been dreaming of: to lead a cavalry charge. At Gravelotte, the opposing armies met. Sabre in hand, there stood Gabriel; shouting “Long live France,” he launched himself against the Prussian ranks with all his fury.

After that night at the Trappe of Gethsemane, Gabriel promised: if he returned from the war alive, he would be a Trappist
Scene from the Battle of Gravelotte, by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville – Museum of Orsay, Paris

At the close of the battle many officers lay dead, others wounded – among them Lieutenant Mossier. It was not long before, from one capitulation to another, the French army was eventually forced to lay down its arms and be led captive to Prussia. How hard it was for our young man to see his dreams dashed!

Nevertheless, after many months as a prisoner, Gabriel returned to France and in 1872 he was raised to the rank of captain. Despite the failure in the war, his career still seemed very promising. But… what about the vow he had made?

The great decision

From Heaven, the patient Mother could wait no longer for her errant son. She would at last go out to meet him! One day, Captain Mossier was alone in his room when, suddenly, he seemed to hear the sweet, gentle and now familiar voice of the Blessed Virgin. In the depths of his soul, She said: “I let France pass before Me, but my turn has come. You made a promise to Me, you gave Me your word of honour that you wanted to be mine.” And She concluded: “All your hopes of vengeance, of glory, of advance, are but empty pretexts to hide your cowardice.”1

Cowardice… How that word resounded in the depths of his heart! Mossier and coward were two seemingly irreconcilable terms. Was he not the fearless warrior who had fought intrepidly at the Battle of Gravelotte? How could such a brave officer acknowledge himself as weak? Poor Gabriel… He had yet to learn how much harder it is to conquer oneself on the altar of holiness than to defeat one’s enemy on the battlefield! Now receiving this lesson, he accepted it lovingly, but also painfully.

He spent the entire night praying for strength. The next day, he changed his life! Undoing his ties with the world and its deceptive hopes, he searched out the humblest Trappist monastery in France, and soon found it: Chambarand.

On entering the Trappist vocation, he insisted on remaining a simple servant monk, far from the glories of the priesthood, wishing to live forgotten by all, but always remembering Her who had never forgotten him. Gabriel-Antoine Mossier was now dead and Brother Marie-Gabriel had been born. If he had once sunk through pride, through humility he would rise from the mire of sin. And to do this, he would now apply all his military training to the fight against the old man.

If Gabriel Mossier left the French army, it was because he knew he was called to join the incomparably more glorious phalanx of Mary’s soldiers
Views of the Trappe of Chambarand at the end of the 19th century

Finally, on April 10, 1897, the earthly pilgrimage of a soul who, pursued by the maternal love of Mary, knew how to say yes to grace, to abandon everything and to follow the call of God, reached its end. His reputation for holiness had by then spread not only within the monastery but throughout the whole Chambarand region.

If Gabriel Mossier left the French army, it was because he knew he was called to join the incomparably more glorious phalanx of Mary’s soldiers, heroes of virtue and conquerors of Heaven. 



1 DU BOURG, Antoine. Du champ de bataille à la Trappe: le Frère Gabriel. Paris: Perrin, 1939, p.72-73.