Life of Teilhard de Chardin: The Early Years (1881-1899)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin at age 12

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin at age 12

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born on May 1st, 1881 at the family estate in Sarcenat, France, to an upper class, land holding family of devout Catholics. 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 Voltaire. Teilhard was the fourth of the couple’s eleven children.

It has been said that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin received his love of science from his father and his love of God from his mother.  Emmanuel Teilhard de Chardin was a tall and impressive figure who spoke seldom but was always to the point.  He was at once an antiquarian, an ornithologist, amateur geologist and a gentleman farmer.  He supervised the education of their children prior to entering school. His study on the first floor was his ultimate man-cave; no one was allowed to enter it uninvited.  Here he would sit writing for hours with the quill pens he insisted on making himself.

Berthe Teilhard de Chardin was a woman of deep Catholic piety.  She instilled in Teilhard a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was to be the radiating center of Teilhard’s own spirituality and theology.  Berthe rose early and walked to Mass every day before dawn so that she might be at home to breakfast with the family.  Berthe gave much of her time to charity.  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.”

Pierre and the other children of Emmanuel and Berthe rose at 7:30 for breakfast, had lunch at 11:00 and dinner at 6:00.  At 8:30 p.m., the household gathered for evening prayers.  Emmanuel would lead the Our Father, Hail Mary, Creed and the Litany of Our Lady.  On Sundays the family attended Mass in the morning, often followed by an extended family gathering with the cousins.  After Vespers, the children would play charades or roller-skating while the adults would visit in the salon.

Largely influenced by his mother, Pierre was called to the religious life at an early age.  He attended the Jesuit high school of Notre Dame de Mongre near Villefranche-sur-Saone, thirty miles north of Lyons, at twelve years of age.  Near the time of his graduation he wrote his parents indicating that he wanted to become a Jesuit in his pursuit of the Truth.

“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.

I have found contradictory information on the siblings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but here is the best information I could piece together from the books I have in my library and the internet.  Any updates or corrections would be greatly appreciated. 

Father: Alexandre-Victor Emmanuel Teilhard de Chardin (b. 1844, d. 1932)
Mother: Berthe-Adèle de Dompierre d’Hornoy (b. 1853, m. 18-May-1875, d. 1936)
Brother: Albéric (naval officer, b. 1875, d. 1902. died of TB)
Sister: Marielle (b. ????, d. ????, died in infancy).
Sister: Françoise (nun, b. 1879, d. 1911. Mother Superior of Little Sisters of the Poor in China, died of smallpox).
Sister: Marguerite Teillard-Chambon (b. 1880, d. 1959; contracted incurable illness in 1902).
Sister: Marie-Louise (b. 1891, d. 1904.  Died of meningitis).
Sister: Marguerite-Marie (b. 1883, d. 1936).
Brother: Gabriel (b. 1885, d. 1941).
Brother: Olivier (b. 1887, d. 1918. Killed in action during WWI).
Brother: Joseph (b. 1889, d. 1978).
Brother: Gonzague (b. 1893, d. 1914. Killed in action during WWI).
Brother: Victor (d. 1934)

Robert Speaight, “The Life of Teilhard de Chardin
JimDo public website
American Teilhard Association

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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