Leo Dehon was born on March 14th 1843, in La Capelle, France. From adolescence onwards he felt called to be a priest although it was against his father’s will. Following the wishes of his father he went and studied Civil Law in Paris and accepted the offer (again by his father) to go on a journey, to several regions, including the Holy Land, in an attempt to help him to forget the idea of becoming a priest.
But on his return, Leo asked to begin at Santa Chiara Seminary in Rome where he did his studies in Theology and Canon Law.
On December 19th, 1868 he was ordained a priest, in the presence and with the agreement of his parents. Appointed as one of the parish curates in St. Quentin, he accepted his mission with enthusiasm and was able to take on pastoral initiatives connected with the most diverse types of work: oratory, college, youth ministry, and the working class.
He was a cultured priest, both spiritual and dynamic, yet something was disturbing him. So after a long period of discernment, he made the decision to found the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 28th, 1878, the day of his First Profession. The principle aim of the Congregation was to be devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to spread his Reign in the hearts of the faithful and in society.
His cultural formation and sensibility led him to work in the social and missionary fields, spreading the social doctrine of the Church through conferences, articles, magazines, newspapers and books. Of particular note is The Social Christian Manual. He has also the merit of opening the Congregation to missionary work by sending many religious to the Americas and Africa.