The Early Years 1881 - 1899
Biographical information was compiled from several sources. Primary among these are: "A Short Biography" by John and Mary Evelyn Grim - "Teilhard de Chardin Album" by Jeanne Mortier and Marie-Louise Aboux, - "The Man and His Meaning" by Henri de Lubac S.J.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born on May 1st, 1881 at the family estate in Sarcenat, France, to a devout and land holding family. Sarcenat is near the twin cities of
Clermont-Ferrand in the ancient province of Auvergne. His parents were Emmanuel and Berthe-Adele Teilhard de Chardin. His mother was the great grandniece of Francois-Marie Arouet, popularly
known as Voltaire. Teilhard was the fourth of the couple's eleven children. The other children were:
Alberic, naval officer who died of TB in 1902 – Marielle, died in infancy – Francoise, Mother superior of Little Sisters of the Poor in China. Died at 32 in 1911 of smallpox. - Marguerite Marie (Gugite), contacted incurable illness in 1902 - Gabriel - Olivier (Yege), killed in action at the northern front in 1918 - Joseph - Marie Louise ( LouLou), died of Meningitis in 1904 Gonzague, killed in action in 1914 and Victor.
As a boy, Pierre Teilhard was already intensely interested in the stones and rocks found on his family's land and the surrounding regions. Drawn to the natural world, Teilhard developed his unusual powers of observation. This youthful skill was especially fostered by his father who maintained an avid interest in natural science. His sensitive nature was also nurtured by his mother's steadfast piety. Teilhard's reflections on his mother's influence is striking, he writes: "A spark had to fall upon me, to make the fire blaze out. And, without a doubt, it was through my mother that it came to me, sprung from the stream of Christian mysticism, to light up and kindle my childish soul. It was through that spark that `My universe,' still but half-personalized, was to become amorised, and so achieve its full centration."
This early piety was well established, so that when he entered the Jesuit high school of Notre Dame de Mongre near Villefranche-sur-Saone, thirty miles north of Lyons, at twelve years of age, his quiet, diligent nature was already well-formed. Near the time of his graduation he wrote his parents indicating that he wanted to become a Jesuit.
"As far as I can go back in my childhood, nothing seems to me more characteristic or familiar in my inner disposition than the taste or irresistible need for some 'one and only sufficiing and necessary' thing: in order to be fully at ease, to be completely happy, the knowledge that 'some essential thing' does really exist, to which everything else is no more than an accessory or, maybe, an embellishment. To know that, and unceasingly to rejoice in the consciousness of its existance . ..." From Teilhard's essays in The Heart of the Matter.
Life was often enlivened for the Teilhard de Chardin family by visits from their cousins, the Teillard-Chambons.
Cirice Teillard-Chambon's children around 1893 are from left: Jeanne, Marcel, Alice, Robert, and Marguerite.
Marguerite was a special friend of Pierre's and they exchanged many letters, especially during the war years. She saved many of the letters and they have been collected in the book - The Making of a Mind - Letters from a Soldier Priest (1914 - 1919)