Information about Benedict comes from his confessor, Marconi, who later wrote an account of his life. Benedict was born in France on March 26, 1748, the eldest of fifteen children. His mother's name was Anne-Barba Grandsire, and his father was Jean-Baptiste Labre. He attended school in his village and was taught by the vicar of the local parish. Benedict showed maturity beyond his years in his thoughts and demeanor. The amusements and pastimes of his childhood friends bored Benedict. He was also very pious and even the smallest venial sin caused him distress. Although Benedict was a mature and serious youth, he was also a very joyful person.
Benedict went to live with his uncle, Francois-Joseph Labre, curé of Erin when he was twelve years old and his uncle took over his education. For the next six years he made great progress in the study of Latin, history and other subjects, but he was in no way interested in any subject that did not enhance his spiritual growth. He only sought to be brought closer to God. He loved being alone and meditating on the Lord and so at the age of sixteen he decided to be a Trappist monk. His uncle, however, insisted that he first go to his parents and obtain their permission. His parents refused to allow Benedict to enter the monastery. Benedict resolved to do even more penance and exercises of piety to continue his quest for holiness.
In 1766 his uncle died and Benedict returned to Amettes. He still wanted more than anything to become a monk and when his parents saw that this was truly the call of God in his life, they relented. Another uncle, the Abbé Vincent suggested that Benedict apply to the Carthusians at Val-Sainte-Aldegonde rather than to LaTrappe. However, Benedict was turned down by the Carthusians at Val-Sainte, but referred to another of their order in Neuville. Then, at Neuville, he was told that since he was not yet even twenty years old, he should first learn plain chant and logic and apply again later.
Benedict tried twice in the next two years to enter La Trappe unsuccessfully. Finally he was admitted to the Cistercian Abbey of Sept-Fonts in November 1769. After only being there for a short while, however, his health began failing and he was told that his vocation might be elsewhere. Benedict spent some time in convalescence and then decided to go to Rome. From there he wrote his parents the last letter they would ever receive from him.
Benedict had decided through an internal illumination that God's will for him was not in a cloister, but rather just living his life as devoutly as possible in the world. Benedict set out as a pilgrim to visit as many famous places of Christian devotion as possible. He started his new mission in life wearing an old coat, a rosary around his neck, another in his hand, and clutching a crucifix to his chest. In a small wallet he carried a Testament, a breviary which he recited daily, a copy of the book The Imitation of Christ, and some other religious books. He took no additional clothes or items and slept on the ground. He was satisfied with any food that might be offered to him " many times nothing more than a piece of bread. He never asked for money and if any were given to him, he would give most of it to the poor, using only what was necessary for his own needs which were very scant.
He spent the next thirteen years traveling on foot to the more famous shrines of Europe. The last six years of his life were spent in Rome. He left Rome once a year to go on pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loreto. On April 16, 1783, while climbing the steps of the church of Santa Maria dei Monti in Rome, Benedict collapsed. He was carried to a nearby house where he died.
According to the writings of his confessor on the life of Benedict, 136 miraculous cures occurred that were attributed to Benedict's intercession. Some of these miracles had a great impact on the conversion of the celebrated American convert, Father John Thayer of Boston, who was visiting Rome at the time of Benedict's death. Benedict was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on December 8, 1881.
Heavenly Father, help us to be like Benedict, daily examining our consciences and striving always to be more holy. Through the intercession of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, we ask for the awareness of our faults, so that we may seek Your forgiveness. Amen.