He and his brothers made rapid progress in science under their father's direction. One, Adolphe Deschamps, entered on a political career. Victor pursued his ecclesiastical studies first at the seminary of Tournai and then in the Catholic University begun at Mechlin and afterwards transferred to Louvain.
Ordained priest 20 December 1834, he entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1835, and made his vows 13 June 1836. The next four years he spent at Wittem as prefect of students and lector in dogmatic theology. In 1840 he began his missionary life and in 1842 was nominated rector at Liège. He took an active part in the founding of the Confraternity of the Holy Family, which he considered his most salutary work. In the historic jubilee of Liège he had a large share both by his "Le plus beau souvenir de l'histoire de Liège", and by his preaching (1845-46).
He visited England and saw the effects of the Tractarian movement. In 1849 he was nominated consultor general of his congregation, and took up his residence at Pagani near Naples just when Pope Pius IX was in exile at Gaeta. He had several audiences with the pope and was instrumental in arranging the transfer of the superior general from Pagani to Rome. This was not effected till 1855, when Pius IX invited Father Dechamps to the first general chapter held in Rome. The question of his appointment to the See of Liège was considered in 1852, but the pope, touched by his personal appeal, did not insist. In 1865 Dechamps became Bishop of Namur, whence he was transferred in 1875 to the Archdiocese of Mechlin and made primate.
He took an active part in the formation of the Pontifical Zouaves, and persuaded General Lamoricière to offer his services to Pius IX. He battled for Catholic schools and defended papal infallibility before and during the Vatican Council. Cardinal Manning and Dechamps were indefatigable; and they became cardinals in the same consistory, 15 March 1875. Cardinal Deschamps was appointed Cardinal-Priest of San Bernardo alle Terme. Dechamps worked to the very end. He said Mass on 28 September 1883, and died the day following in the arms of a Redemptorist who happened to be present. He was buried, as he had desired, by the side of Joseph Passerat at Rumilliers.
The complete works of Dechamps, revised by himself, were published in seventeen volumes at Mechlin. In presenting fourteen of the seventeen volumes to Pope Leo XIII on 7 February 1879, the author writes: "There is one thing that consoles me, Holy Father, in sending you my poor works: they are all consecrated to the truths of our holy Faith... . Volume I is consecrated to the truths of faith; II to Our Lord Jesus Christ; V to the Blessed Virgin Mary; III and IV to the Church and St. Peter; VI to the pope and his infallibility; VII, VIII, and IX to the refutation of modern errors; X, XI, XII, XIII, and XIV to my preaching as bishop and to acts by which I governed my diocese." Of the remaining volumes, XV, "Mélanges", deals with many important questions; XVI and XVII contain letters on questions in philosophy, theology, and other subjects.
Cardinal Dechamps's brother, Adolphe, was made Prime Minister of Belgium, 4 April 1843. He was also minister of public works, and minister of foreign affairs from 30 July 1845, to 12 June 1847.
- Saintrain, Vie du Cardinal Dechamps, C. SS. R. Archevêque de Malines et Primat de Belgique (Tournai, 1884)
- Lejeune, L'Archiconfrérie de la Sainte Famille, son histoire et ses fruits (Bruges, 1894) Bibliographie catholique, XVII, 110; XX, 282; XXVI, 151; XXVII, 272
- Van Weddingen, Revue genérale (1881); XXXIV, 793.
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