Saint Ivo “Yves” Helory

Saint Ivo “Yves” Helory

St. Ivo Helory (“Yves” in French) was born in 1253 to a wealthy Breton family in northwest France. At age 14 he was sent to study at the University of Paris where he maintained a rigorous study schedule, and devoted himself to prayer, Bible study and visiting the sick. He would achieve scholastic honors in philosophy, theology and law. Law was his favorite subject and that is where he concentrated his professional studies.

After finishing his legal education, Yves was named judge in the church court of the Diocese of Rennes. In those days church law covered many fields that are now under civil law, such as the probate of wills. The new judge paid special attention to the protection of widows, orphans and the defense of the poor. The bishop of the Diocese of Treguier called him back to the diocese of his youth to assume the same position. Yves was not yet 30 years old.

Although it was common at the time for litigants to give judges “gifts,” the young jurist refused bribes and even helped disputing parties avoid legal fees and court costs by negotiating out-of-court settlements. But he wasn’t content to be a jurist in the ecclesiastical court. He would also represent the poor in the French civil courts. If his clients couldn’t afford court costs, he would pay them out of his own pocket. If his clients were jailed, he visited them in prison. He became known as the “Advocate of the Poor.”

Even as a judge, Yves felt called to parish ministry. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1284 at age 31 and became pastor of a parish. The poor continued to be a concern of his, however, and he established free legal aid clinics to assist the poor. These legal aid societies eventually spread throughout France and Belgium, and even reached Rome.

Yves was a popular confessor and preacher until at age 50, his health began to decline. He died in May 1303 and was canonized a saint in 1347. He is the patron saint of lawyers and many European law schools and associations of Catholic lawyers have taken his name. The Society of St. Yves in Jerusalem, a Catholic Center for Human Rights and Legal Aid, and the Conférence St. Yves in Luxembourg, a Catholic lawyers association, are examples. His feast day is May 19.

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