Sunday, 28 June 2009

Very Rev Fr Bernard Hafkenscheid, C.SS.R. (1807 – 1865) — Chapter II

Doctor of Theology
and One of the Greatest
Redemptorist Missioners of All Time


Written by Rev Fr M.J.A. Lans
Professor at the Minor Seminary of Haarlem, Hollan
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CHAPTER II
Summary in English
King William I of the Netherlands in order to further the interests of political unity over religious differences interfered in Catholic priestly education and closed the institute at Hageveld in favour of his own Philosophical College. This would indeed one day result in the Belgian revolution as Mgr Van Bommel personally indicated to the Sovereign.

Even though the students, including Fr Bernard, left the institute, they always retained a special place for it in their hearts, Hageveld having been more of a family to them than an institute. Two of his companions at the school must be mentioned. Mgr Jean-Theodore Beelen, who would later become camerlengo to His Holiness Blessed Pope Pius IX, member of the Congregation of the Index, Doctor of Theology, Canon of Liege, Professor of Holy Scripture and Oriental languages and a prolific writer. And, Fr Cornelius Broere, later professor at Harlem Seminary and a master in Dogmatic Theology, Apologetics, History, Philosophy, Political Theory, Poetry, Literature and Fine Arts - and most of all a priest in the fullest sense of the word.

After the closure of the school Broere remained with Mgr Van Bommel while Fr Bernard and Jean Theodore returned to Amsterdam where they remained on the closest terms. If their parents sought either youngster they were always to be found at the house of one or the other. Here they began the study of Hebrew together. In the mean time their priestly vocations grew more and more certain.

But as they had not attended the Philosophical College they could not enter a seminary in the Netherlands. They had the idea to travel to Rome as had many of their former fellow students. At the time it was a journey of six to seven weeks. Also at this time the government decreed that anybody persuing Theological studies abroad would not be admitted to any public employemnt of ecclesiastical position. While negotiations with the Holy See were in process still the road to the seminary in reality remained closed.

At last after prayer and consultation they left Holland in 1828, bound for the Eternal City. After an interesting journey they arrived at their destination to the very great delight of their Catholic hearts, as is witnessed by a letter home from Fr Bernard: "Is it really true, and not an illusion? Am I really in Rome? Rome, this great capital of the Christian world, this city so full of science and of great historical memories? Yes, it is so, I am in Rome! Thanks be to God, I am in Rome! ..... Can you imagine entering Rome? Nothing could give you an idea of our joy...." It would be here that Fr Bernard would begin his studies, launch his Missionary career and most importantly lay the foundations of his perfection so solidly as to be the edification of all his companions.


CHAPITRE II
ETUDES DE BERNARD A AMSTERDAM


Bernard avait passé cinq ans à Hageveld, quand un évènement imprévu vint tout à coup affliger profondément le coeur de tous les catholiques sincères des Pays-Bas. Le roi Guillaume Ier s'était laissé tromper, et on avait pu réussir d'autant plus aisément à le tromper, qu'il était plus sincèrement attaché au Protestantisme. Désireux d'établir une unité parfaite dans ses Etats, il se préoccupa de pénétrer du même esprit national les provinces longtemps séparées de la Néerlande.

Pour cela, il fallait, croyait-il, tendre à diminuer les divergences religieuses qui étaient la principale source de division. C'était vouloir faire disparaître le catholicisme, car le catholicisme ne souffre aucune diminution.

Dans ce but, le gouvernement devait, selon lui, prendre en main l'éducation de la jeunesse catholique qui se destinait à l'état ecclésiastique. Un pas décisif vers ce but fut fait en 1825, au moyen de plusieurs décrets royaux, ceux entre autres du 14 juin et du 11 juillet. On créait une maison générale d'éducation pour le clergé catholique; l'Etat se réservait la nomination des professeurs et l'entière direction des études. Outre plusieurs branches préparatoires, on y enseignait les sciences qui ont pour objet la doctrine de la religion, ou celles qui y sont liées intimement. Qui n'a entendu parler du Collège philosophique de Louvain ? (car c'est de ce nom qu'on appela cette maison, nom fort singulier et peu propre à dissimuler le but que l'on avait en vue)(1)

En vertu des décrets royaux, les sections inférieurs des séminaires devaient être fermées; tous ceux qui voulaient faire leurs études théologiques dans les sections supérieures, étaient obligés de recevoir leur première éducation au Collège philosophique. Les catholiques protestèrent unanimement. En effet, l'Eglise possède le droit de former elle-même ses ministres; ce droit lui est cher, et elle ne le cède à personne. Elle sait que l'ordre et la discipline, la vertu et la foi auraient bientôt fait naufrage chez des prêtres qui devraient recevoir leur éducation sacerdotale tantôt d'un roi anti-catholique, tantôt d'un roi incrédule, aujourd'hui d'un tyran, demain d'un prince immoral.

La première nouvelle de l'apparition des décrets royaux parvint au régent de Hageveld le jour même où l'on célébrait la fête de saint Louis de Gonzague, patron de la jeunesse studieuse. C'était juste au moment où il se voyait environné de ses jeunes élèves, joyeusement assis à une table un peu mieux servie que de coutume. Il y avait là, nous semble-t-il, un contraste digne d'attention... C'était un présage que l'injustice et la violence ne prévaudraient pas toujours contre la faiblesse; c'était un indice qu'elles ne tiendraient pas devant la prière que les enfants fidèles de l'Eglise allaient faire monter vers ces saints que l'on injuriait et qui ont tant de pouvoir auprès de Dieu. Pour Hageveld en particulier, ce fut un pronostic que ce bel établissement ne périrait pas définitivement, mais qu'il revivrait un jour avec une gloire nouvelle, grâce à l'intercession de saint Louis, le puissant protecteur de ses enfants. Telles furent, nous n'en doutons pas, les pensées et les réflexions de M. Van Bommel en ce moment d'affliction.

Bien qu'il eût mesuré du premier coup la gravité des circonstances, ce digne supérieur ne perdit pas un moment courage. Longtemps même il continua d'espérer que ces mesures vexatoires seraient complètement modifiées ou ne seraient jamais mises à exécution. Dans une audience que lui accorda le Souverain, il prit à tâche de démontrer avec clarté et vigueur que les décrets ne portaient pas seulement préjudice aux droits des sujets catholiques de Sa Majesté, mais qu'ils pourraient encore avoir un jour les suites les plus funestes pour la paix du royaume. "Sire, dit-il, si l'on en vient une fois aux mains, il sera trop tard pour revenir en arrière." Ces paroles étaient une prédiction de la révolution belge.

Le roi parut convaincu ou du moins fortement ébranlé. Malheureusement des influences contraires prévalurent. A la vérité, en ce qui concerne Hageveld, l'exécution des décrets se fit d'une manière indulgente. Le gouverneur, Tets Van Goudriaan, vint en personne annoncer la décision irrévocable du roi. Lui-même la notifia aux élèves en pleurs, en ajoutant que l'on pouvait être assuré de la sympathie affectueuse de Sa Majesté. Quoi qu'il en soit, M. Van Bommel eut la douleur de voir périr d'un seul coup, avec son établissemnt, le fruit de tant de soins et de travaux, et de perdre ainsi ses plus belles, ses plus chères espérances." (2)

C'est Mgr. Van Bommel, qui, dans sa lettre contre Siegenbeek, va raconter lui-même comment se fit cette notification du Gouverneur de la Hollande septentrionale. "Dans un allocution courte, mais substantielle, M. le Gouverneur déclara sans détour le but de son arrivée. Il venait exécuter un décret général, qu'il respectait sans en approfondir les motifs. Ce décret, il regrettait vivement d'être dans la nécessité de l'appliquer à un établissement de sa province qui s'était concilié l'estime et la confiance universelles. M. le Gouverneur fut sensiblement ému en voyant la douleur profonde et générale que sa déclaration venait de produire chez ses auditeurs. Tandis que tous, ou presque tous quittaient la salle en pleurant, il me dit en me serrant la main : "Je suis touché, je suis extrêmement peiné. Ce n'était pas une école, c'était une famille. Je ferai encore mon possible pour détourner ce coup ou pour l'adoucir; et si jamais il arrive des temps plus favorables, je ne négligerai rien pour rouvrir cette maison que je dois fermer aujourd'hui."

Cependant, comme pour faciliter aux jeunes catholiques leur passage au collège de l'Etat, on offrit à M. le régent Van Bommel, la direction du Collège philosophique. Mais cet homme respectable ne se méprit point sur le but de cette offre généreuse en appararence. Aussi, ni le Gouverneurde la province, ni le Ministre de l'Intérieur, ni le directeur général des affaires concernant le culte catholique, qui déjà lui avait envoyé sa nomination, ni le roi lui-même, ne purent le décider à entrer dans les vues du gouvernement. C'est assurément grâce à cet exemple que les élèves de M. Van Bommel, fidèles aux principes de l'Eglise catholique, préférèrent aller poursuivre leurs études à l'étranger, plutôt que d'exposer dans une institution équivoque leur foi et leur vertu.

Ainsi, malgré les protestations des catholiques sincères, malgré les énergiques réclamations de Sa Sainteté, le Pape Léon XII, auprès du gouvernement hollandais, les décrets du roi furent maintenus. La triste nouvelle de la suppression du séminaire fut communiquée aux parents des élèves par une circulaire; les termes dans lesquels elle était conçue, attestent clairement combien le coeur du régent de Hageveld était péniblement affecté.

"J'ai le regret, disait-il, d'avoir à vous apprendre par cette lettre que Son Excellence le Conseiller d'Etat, Gouverneur de la Hollande septentrionale, s'est rendu le 1er de ce mois (septembre) à Hageveld, et que, sur l'ordre de Sa Majesté, le roi, il a annoncé tant à nous qu'à nos élèves la suppression de ce séminaire. Cette suppression doit avoir lieu avant le 1er octobre prochain, sous ma responsabilité personnelle.

"Le jour de départ sera ultérieurement fixé par nous. Nous aimons à croire que vous ne voudrez pas le devancer, vu que nous nous proposons d'employer ces derniers jours à inculquer encore plus profondément chez tous et chacun de nos élèves, les principes qu'avec tant de soin et de tendresse nous avons tâché de leur donner, et qui doivent être la règle de leur conduite future en même temps que la source de leur bonheur.


"Recevez nos remerciements affectueux de la confiance si entière et si honorable pour nous, avec laquelle vous nous avez confié le précieux dépôt de vos enfants. Nous ressentons la plus profonde tristesse de ne pouvoir désormais y répondre que par les voeux les plus ardents; ces voeux, nous les offrons au Seigneur pour leur bonheur et pour le vôtre. Une soumission silencieuse aux décrets impénétrables de la divine Providence, qui dirige ou permet tous les évènements, voilà ce qui est, dans les circonstances présentes, notre plus saint devoir. Nous tâchons de vous précéder, vous et vos enfants, dans cette voie, et nous nous recommandons pour toujours à votre honorable amitié.

"Au nom de tous les directeurs,

"(Signé) C. Van Bommel."


Ce fut un jour bien triste que celui de la dispersion des membres de cette "famille". M. Van Bommel, les larmes aux yeux, fit ses adieux à "ses chers élèves", après les avoir préparés à leur nouvelle situation, par un exercice de piété spécial et tout-à-fait approprié à la circonstance.(3)

Tous emportèrent les plus doux souvenirs de leur séjour à Hageveld. Ils quittèrent le séminaire, le coeur plein de reconnaissance et d'amour envers leurs maîtres, et surtout envers ce respectable régent, dont une plume éloquente devait plus tard tracer le portrait que voici :

"C'était un maître, un guide, un ami, un père. Il fut éminent entre beaucoup d'autres, personne ne le surpassa. Ces connaissances variées, fruit d'un beau talent, cette bienséance délicate, ce goût exquis, cette vraie manière de traiter avec les hommes, et, qui plus est, ce caractère noble, ce zèle ardent pour la religion, cette fidélité inébranlable à la vertu et au devoir, cet amour de l'Eglise du Christ joint au respect de ses droits et de ses préceptes, cette piété tendre, cette foi vive, tout cela faisait de M. Van Bommel un maître accompli. Il faut ajouter que tout cela il avait le don de le faire passer de son âme dans l'âme des jeunes lévites, ses élèves ... Aussi lorsque plus tard cet illustre maître, qui attachait un si haut prix à l'éducation de la jeunesse, dut aller prendre la direction d'un immense diocèse, la direction de la vieille "Sancta Legia", il laissa un souvenir impérissable dans sa patrie, dans son cher Hageveld ... où l'esprit du grand fondateur ... s'est si bien conservé !(4)

Dans la suite, chaque fois que l'occasion s'en présentait, le P. Bernard visitait avec un amour de prédilection le lieu où fut jadis "l'Ancien-Hageveld", comme on l'appelle aujourd'hui. Plus d'une fois nous lui avons ouï dire ces paroles : "Il y a dans mon coeur une place que personne ne peut conquérir : cette place est pour Hageveld."

Il nous faut ici faire la connaissance des deux meilleurs amis de Bernard; car nous rencontrerons souvent leurs noms dans cette histoire. L'un, jeune amsterdamois, Jean-Theodore Beelen, entra avec lui à Hageveld. Du même âge que Bernard, il avait, comme lui, des parents sincèrement catholiques; tout en suivant une autre carrière, il devint, lui aussi, une des gloires de la sainte Eglise. Pendant près de quarante ans qu'il passa à l'Université de Louvain, M. Beelen s'acquit par son immense érudition, dont de nombreux ouvrages furent les fruits, une vaste renommée et dans son pays et à l'étranger.(5)

L'autre, Corneille Broere, un peu plus avancé en âge que Bernard Hafkenscheid, l'avait devancé aussi dans la carrière des études. Né pareillement à Amsterdam de parents très vertueux, il fut un de ces hommes que la divine Providence donne rarement au monde. La même bouche éloquente qui nous a tracé le portrait de Mgr. Van Bommel, s'est exprimée comme il suit en présence des dépouilles mortelles de Broere : "Comme écrivain en matière de théologie dogmatique, d'apologétique, d'histoire, de philosophie, de politique, de poésie, de belles-letttres, de beaux-arts, M. Broere était d'un mérite incomparable. Dans quelque branche que ce fût de la science sacrée ou profane, tout sujet traité par lui acquérait une importance nouvelle. On peut dire de ce grand écrivain ce qui a été dit d'un autre génie : "Quidquid tetigit, ornavit". Tout écrit de Broere était empreint du sceau caractéristique de son génie, et ce génie brillait à chaque page en traits parfaitement reconnaissables ... Mais quelques riches, quelques éminents que fûssent en cet homme unique les dons d'intelligence et de science, les dons et les qualités du coeur n'étaient nullement inférieurs. Le plus grand mérite de Broere, le principe de sa gloire immortelle et de sa couronne, c'est d'avoir été et n'avoir jamais cessé d'être, avant tout et en tout, un prêtre dans toute l'acceptation du terme.(6)

Il mourut en 1860, le jour de la fête des Saints Innocents. Son nom est resté gravé en caractères ineffaçables dans la mémoire de tous ceux qui l'ont connu, surtout de ceux qui furent ses élèves au séminaire de Harlem, où il a passé les trente années de sa vie sacerdotale comme professeur de philosophie et d'histoire ecclésiastique.

Hageveld étant fermé, les trois amis rentrèrent au sein de leurs familles, et goûtèrent dans leur mutuelle amitié les plus suaves délices du jeune âge. Cependant Broere retourna bientôt à Hageveld. Il fut du petit nombre des élèves qui obtinrent la permission spéciale de demeurer quelque temps auprès du régent Van Bommel. Il l'accompagna ensuite à Liège, et Hageveld ayant pu s'ouvrir de nouveau, il y revint, en 1830, occuper la chaire de philosophie. Les deux autres amis demeurèrent à Amsterdam; ils contractèrent ensemble une liaison si étroite, que leurs parents étaient toujours sûrs de trouver Beelen chez Hafkenscheid ou Hafkenscheid chez Beelen.

Egalement avides de science, nos deux jeunes gens eurent l'idée de l'étude de la langue hébraïque. Avec non moins d'ardeur, ils continuèrent à Amsterdam la lutte scientifique qui s'était engagée entre eux à Hageveld. Là encore, comme au séminaire, ils s'appliquèrent, sous la conduite vigilante de leurs parents, à l'acquisition des vertus dont ils prévoyaient qu'ils auraient besoin un jour comme prêtres. Leur piété, leur fidélité scrupuleuse à chacun de leurs devoirs étaient pour les membres de leurs familles et pour leurs amis, un sujet de bien consolante édification. C'est ainsi qu'il passèrent trois années sous le toit paternel.

La vocation des deux amis à l'état sacerdotal s'était de plus en plus accentuée. Ils voulurent donc poursuivre jusqu'au bout l'étude de la théologie. Mais, comme ils n'avaient pas fait leurs études préparatoires au "Collège philosophique", ils se virent refuser l'entrée du séminaire de Warmond. Dès lors, quel parti prendre, sinon de s'en aller, à l'exemple de plusieurs de leurs amis, suivre les cours de théologie dans un autre pays ? Rome fut la ville de leur choix, Rome où déjà beaucoup d'étudiants hageveldois les avaient précédés. Mais leurs parents allaient-ils se montrer favorables à leurs désirs ? Permettre à des jeunes gens de vingt ans de faire un voyage de cinq à six semaines, se séparer d'eux pour un laps de plusieurs années consécutives, ce n'était certes pas une perspective bien rassurante. D'ailleurs, le 14 août 1825, parut un décret royal promulgant la décision suivante : "Il y a lieu de craindre que des jeunes gens, qui vont faire leurs études à l'étranger, ne soient imbus de principes contraires aux institutions de la patrie et aux sentiments qui doivent animer les enfants de la Néerlande. En conséquence, nous décrétons que les jeunes gens d'origine hollandaise, qui, à partir du 1er octobre prochain, auront fait leurs études théologiques hors du pays, ne seront promus par Nous à aucun emploi public, ni admis à exercer aucune fonction ecclésiastique."

A la vérité, il y eut un moment où les affaires des Catholiques semblèrent prendre une tournure plus favorable; ce fut lorsque, après bien des retards calculés dans les négociations entamées avec Rome,(7) après de grandes difficultés surmontées, le Concordat du 18 juin 1827 fut conclu entre le Pape Léon XII et le roi Guillaume Ier. Il y était stipulé que chaque diocèse aurait son chapitre et son séminaire. Mais en fait, la pacification religieuse n'eut pas encore lieu; l'exécution du concordat fut remise d'un jour à l'autre, et les séminaires restèrent fermés.

Dans cet état de choses, les parents de Bernard et de Beelen consultèrent plusieurs hommes d'intelligence, et prièrent ardemment le Seigneur de leur faire connaître sa volonté dans une affaire de telle importance. Encouragés par ceux qu'ils avaient consultés, animés par l'esprit de Dieu, alléchés par la douce espérance de pouvoir un jour contempler leurs fils au saint autel, les parents se sentirent moins effrayés à la vue des grandes difficultés que présentait un semblable projet; ils finirent donc par accéder au désir de nos deux jeunes gens. En conséquence, ceux-ci se hâtèrent de fixer le jour du départ; et le 28 septembre 1828, tout baignés des larmes de leurs parents et de leurs proches, fortifiés par la bénédiction de leurs vénérables pasteurs, se confiant aux soins de la divine Providence, ils prirent le chemin de la Ville éternelle.

Il serait sans doute intéressant pour nos lecteurs de prendre connaissasnce des relations détaillées de voyage que Bernard envoya à ses parents. Elles trahissent souvent une grande vivacité d'imagination, une grande justesse de jugement, un goût exquis des beautés artistiques, et toujours une piété sincère. Mais la crainte d'être trop long nous engage à nous restreindre.

A La Haye, nos deux voyageurs firent la rencontre, à leur grande joie, de leur bien-aimé régent, M. Van Bommel. Ce digne prêtre gémissait encore sous le poids du décret royal; sans aucun doute il ne put se défendre d'un sentiment de tristesse, au moment où il leva la main pour bénir le long et pénible voyage de ces jeunes gens qu'il eût tant aimé conserver auprès de lui. C'était avec un enthousiasme tout juvénile que Beelen et Bernard s'extasiaient devant les monuments des grandes villes qu'ils traversaient; mais c'était avec la piété la plus vive qu'ils recommandaient à Dieu et leur voyage et leur avenir dans chaque église qu'ils visitaient. L'aspect des montagnes de la Savoie les frappa singulièrement; le spectacle de cette nature sévère et grandiose leur communiqua un mâle courage. Ils mettaient souvent leur plaisir à descendre de la diligence pour faire une partie de la route à pied. Voici ce que Bernard écrivit à ses parents à propos du passage du mont Cenis :

"Cette montagne, nous l'avons gravie à pied, bâton à la main et pipe à la bouche. (8)Tous les autres voyageurs dormaient dans la diligence; mais moi, j'avais trop entendu parler du mont Cenis, pour ne pas sacrifier quelques misérables heures de repos au plaisir de le contempler. Nous arrivâmes à nous deux jusqu'au sommet de la montagne en devançant toujours la voiture, et cependant elle était tirée par six chevaux. Autour de nous, tout dans la nature était revêtu d'un habit d'hiver, toutes les cîmes des montagnes et même notre chemin en certains endroits étaient couverts de neige et de glace; mais l'idée que nous voyagions sur le mont Cenis faisait que nous ne songions pas même au froid. Vous ne manquerez pas de dire que c'était bien téméraire à nous d'entreprendre de nuit un tel voyage; mais vous eussiez dû voir quel beau clair de lune il faisait, et comment nous pouvions tout distinguer à merveille !

Je ne puis comprendre que l'on préfère de passer une nuit agitée dans une diligence plutôt que de jouir des beautés d'une telle contrée. Bien que nous eussions fait une marche de trois à quatre heures, nous arrivâmes encore trop tôt à la descente de la montagne. Mais la diligence ne tarda pas à nous rejoindre, et l'on nous pria d'y monter."

Le 1er novembre, les voyageurs arrivèrent de grand matin à Suse, la première petite ville de l'Italie. "Nous voilà en Italie ! écrivait Bernard, nous voilà devenus de vrais ultramontains ! Croyez-le, chers parents, notre arrivée dans ce pays nous a fait éprouver une bien douce émotion. Combien nous nous félicitons du voyage heureux que nous avons fait jusqu'ici ! Néanmoins, nous sentons croître de plus en plus en nous le désir d'arriver enfin à Rome. Nous avons franchi toute la montagne, et cependant il nous reste une longue route à parcourir."

Il fallut encore vingt jours pour arriver au terme du voyage. Enfin à Florence, les deux amis montèrent dans la voiture qui devait les conduire jusqu'à Rome. Leur impatience ne faisait qu'augmenter à mesure qu'ils approchaient de la Ville éternelle ! Le feu de la jeunesse qui les enflammait ne leur permit plus de supporter les retards de la voiture publique. A Lastorte, où devait se faire une petite halte, ils laissèrent la diligence et se dirigèrent à pied vers Rome. Le sentiment dont ils furent pénétrés au moment où ils venaient d'atteindre le terme de leur voyage, Bernard l'exprime dans une lettre à ses parents : "Est-ce donc vrai, dit-il, et ne suis-je pas dans l'illusion ? Suis-je réellement à Rome ? à Rome, cette grande capitale du monde chrétien, cette ville si pleine de science et de grands souvenirs ? Oui, il en est ainsi, je suis à Rome ! Grâce à Dieu, je suis à Rome ! C'est le 20 de ce mois (novembre) à deux heures après-midi, que j'y suis entré. - En diligence ? - Non, j'y suis entré en courant. De Lastorte, qui est à trois lieues de Rome, nous sommes allés à pied. La voiture s'y arrêta et l'on y restaura les chevaux. Pour nous, nous n'avions pas besoin de nous restaurer. Nous nous mimes en route, ayant toujours devant les yeux la coupole de Saint-Pierre. Impossible de dire notre allégresse, quand après un voyage de sept semaines, nous vîmes apparaître à nos yeux le lieu de notre destination. Vraiment ces trois heures s'évanouirent comme une ombre. Nous étions arrivés aux portes de la cité, alors que nous pensions en être encore bien éloignés. Nous ne cessions de nous répéter : Peux-tu t'imaginer que tu vas entrer à Rome ? Rien ne saurait donner une idée de notre joie; et, j'ose le dire, cette joie était innocente. La pensée que je trouverais à Rome ce que la Hollande me refuse, m'impressionnait vivement, et rendait mon bonheur si pur, que je crus pouvoir m'y abandonner sans réserve."

Ainsi Bernard, le coeur débordant de joie et de reconnaissance, venait d'arriver à la capitale du monde chrétien. C'est là qu'il va jeter le fondement de cet apostolat si fécond et si riche en mérites, qui plus tard lui vaudra l'admiration universelle; c'est là que son éducation scientifique s'achèvera et sera couronnée; là que sa vertu atteindra à une telle hauteur, qu'au jugement unanime de tous ceux qui l'on connu, sa conduite pouvait être proposée comme modèle à tous ses condisciples.
....To be continued...

(Typed by Mr Aime Dupont of Flanders)

(1) De Katholiek. Tom XXI, p. 280.
(2) De Katholiek. Ibid.
(3) De Katholiek. Ibid.
(4) De Katholiek. Tom. XXXIX, p. 28.
(5) Mgr Beelen est aujourd'hui (1877) camérier de Sa Sainteté Pie IX, de sainte mémoire, membre de la congrégation de l'Index, docteur en théologie, chanoine de Liège, professeur d'Ecriture Sainte et des langues orientales.
(6) De Katholiek. Ibid.
(7) Dès 1815, le gouvernement des Pays-Bas avait manifesté par son chargé d'affaires à Rome, J.G. Reinhald, le désir de régler, de concert avec le Saint-Siège, les affaires des Catholiques romains en Néerlande. Les négociations commencées à Rome, furent poursuivies en Hollande en 1823, selon le désir du roi. L'ambassadeur du Pape à La Haye était l'archevêque de Cyr, Ignace Naralli. Ces conférences s'ouvrirent le 13 novembre, mais elles restèrent suspendues depuis le 6 décembre 1823 jusqu'au 13 avril 1824. Reprises une troisième fois à Rome, elles aboutirent à la signature du Concordat de 1827.
(8) On sait que l'habitude de fumer est générale en Hollande; le clergé même ne fait point exception.

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Saturday, 20 June 2009

Rev Fr John Stevens, C.SS.R. (1829-1899)

John Stevens was born at Dudley, on the 14th of April, 1829 the day of Catholic Emancipation. His parents were religious Anglicans. When thirteen he was sent to school in France, and later to Munich, in Germany, where, when still only a boy, he became a Catholic in 1845. After this he studied at St. Edmund’s College, until 1850, when he entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He was professed at St. Trond, in Belgium, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1851. He had as fellow-student Father Bridgett, and both were ordained Priests, at Liege, on the 4th of August, 1856.

Father Stevens was Father Furniss’ first and greatest helper in children’s Missions. It was a great disappointment to him when, in 1860, he was taken from the Missions and made Novice Master. He discharged all the duties of this most important office for two long periods, so that he formed several generations of Redemptorists. He was Rector at Clapham and Bishop Eton (England), but he was best known in Limerick (Ireland) as Director of the Holy Family. He gave himself, heart and soul, to the men from 1871 to 1874, and his success was very great. All through his priestly life he was most devoted to men, and he would leave nothing undone to help them in their difficulties and temptations. He never lost courage, and persevered in his endeavours until he had made those under his care good-living Christians. He gave a great number of Missions and retreats to all classes. When age began to tell upon him, he went less on Missions, but to the very end he laboured much at home.

In 1899 there was an evident decline in his health and strength. Still he worked on. In September he went to a small place in the north of Scotland, called Chapeltown, to give the renewal of a Mission. It was there he was called away to his reward. We give a short extract from an account of his illness and death, written by the confrere who was with him.

“After Father Stevens had received the last Sacraments he told me that there was nothing troubling him. Then his feelings overcame him and in a few short touching words, with tears flowing from his eyes, he said that he was resigned to die far away from his brethren; that he was in the keeping of Divine Providence; that he had always been devoted to God’s Providence, and now trusted that Divine Providence would not abandon him in his last moments. ‘I think,’ he added, ‘my father, Alphonsus, will intercede for me at the last. He is my father and I have worked hard and long in the Congregation.’ Truly Divine Providence did not abandon him at the end, and when the last moments came and he was in his agony a look of intense delight was in his face to see me at his bedside ready to give him the last absolution and to pray with him. His agony was short and his death most peaceful.

“Before he died he renewed aloud the Religious Vows which well nigh fifty years before he had made kneeling before the altar of the little Novitiate Chapel at St. Trond. Now, at the age of seventy, he goes to receive his reward.”

Father Stevens was remembered by the people for whom he worked as a most priestly and zealous man, and amongst Redemptorists as a most sympathetic confrere. With those especially whose first days in the Congregation brought them into such intimate relations with him as their Novice Master, the memory of him will remain as that of a saintly and affectionate father. †

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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Br Sebastian Engel, C.SS.R. (1859-1929)

In one of Europe’s most beautiful regions, where the Rhine is forced foaming through the steep mountain sides, there lies the village of Kestert, with its 800 inhabitants. It is located on a small plain, roughly seven kilometres from St Goarshausen, between the raging mighty river and the mountainside vineyards. In this village of Kestert, on the 20th January 1859, a son was born to Johann Engel and his wife Regina. He was baptised Jacob Sebastian Engel and was the eldest of seven children. His mother was to die young, and his father, who was in poor health, remarried.

Young Jacob's great love for his father gave him strength and courage; and he was his father’s pride and joy. He worked for his keep in the fields and vineyards. His efforts were always tireless and conscientious, willing and obedient - no one ever needed to ask Jacob twice. It was his habit to rise secretly between two and three in the morning to go and work for his father, in order to lessen the burden on him. On one occasion he bumped into an acquaintance. “So, Jacob, and who woke you so early?” The young man merely remarked with an astonished expression, “Who needs to be awoken?”

The consensus of opinion amongst his contemporaries was that Jacob was always exemplary and friendly in everything he did. He maintained a cheerful, even amusing disposition, in spite of the fact that he found little of interest in the secular world. The early death of his mother, the illness of his father, and an accident which befell his brother that resulted in serious injury, had caused him to understand that this life could be a serious and difficult business. He once said in his inimitable way that it “almost annoyed him that he could not enjoy music and dance as much as his friends.”

It was no wonder then that the local priest was moved to give the unworldly fourteen-year-old lessons which he hoped would lay the foundations of a future priestly vocation. However, Jacob knew he would have to be patient; for he would have to wait until he had reached the age of twenty-seven, so that his younger sister could complete her education. By then, however, it was decided that it was too late for him to study for the priesthood.

Yet he did not slacken his prayers to be allowed the grace of a religious vocation, so as to leave the world. When he revealed to his father that he wanted to enter a monastery, the good man promptly agreed, but the question remained of which one he ought to enter. The only religious with whom Jacob was acquainted were two brothers of the Brothers of Mercy, who were at that time helping the Rector of the church at Bornhofen-am-Rheine (which the Redemptorists themselves had inhabited between 1850 and 1873.) This pilgrimage church was just forty-five minutes away from Kestert, and Jacob had himself been a volunteer worker in its garden, so it seemed to him natural to seek help there in his quest to become a religious.

As it happened, about this time Brother Xavier, a Redemptorist from the Lower German province, visited Kestert. Jacob’s father thought that it would surely be better for Jacob’s soul to apply to the Redemptorists, as their order also contained priests. When Br Xavier was approached, he was noncommittal in his response; but he did promise that he would take the matter to his provincial. The eventual reply from Reverend Provincial Fr Sposz was discouraging. It said there were enough brothers in the lower province, but if it would be acceptable to Jacob, he could perhaps apply for admission to another province of the Congregation. Jacob replied in his succinct way, that it was all the same to him where he found himself; he just wanted to escape this world. Eight days later came a reply from Dongen in Holland, where, because of being banned from their homelands, the French-Swiss seminary was located. It was from Fr Mathias Raus, later to be Rector Major of the order, and Jacob was invited to present himself at the seminary, and was requested to advise the date of his arrival.

The postulant now undertook the first long journey of his life. He passed through Cologne and Venloo, and in the evening reached Breda in Holland. He was greatly perturbed because he spoke only German, yet heavenly providence was at hand, and caused him to meet a local who spoke German. This kindly man not only advised him, but ensured that Jacob had accommodation for the night. The next morning he also took him to the station and made sure he was on the right train.

For the first time in his life, Jacob had spent a night away from home. His appearance must have been such that he could only be a religious or a religious postulant, as people, even though complete strangers, were inclined to be solicitous towards him. When his train reached a station with a name which included Dongen, he made as if to alight. However a stolid Hollander took out his watch and using gestures informed Jacob that his destination would not be reached for half an hour.

When Jacob eventually arrived at the monastery door, he was met by the housekeeper who directed him into the reception room, where he was soon greeted by the good Fr Raus. Jacob proffered his documents; but they were politely declined by Fr Raus, who was convinced that all the papers in the world would not be needed to endorse the young man who stood before him, his appearance and demeanour being quite sufficient.

Jacob remained in Dongen for twenty-two months, being first put to work in the garden, and then after four weeks in the kitchen. He was also being instructed in French by Frs Bohn and Wilz. He found the atmosphere in Holland much to his liking, and now it was time to take the first step towards his vows.

On the 15th October 1889, Br Sebastian (as he was now named) began his Noviciate, and on the 9th November he was clothed. Fr Gaget was his novice master. Br Sebastian was instructed in the religious life by the conferences held from time to time for the novices by the holy blind Father, Fr Victor Humarque, C.SS.R. On 26th April 1890, on the feast of our Lady of Good Council, Br Sebastian’s first vows were made, and he then returned to Dongen. In October 1893 he was sent from the seminary to Uvrier in Switzerland, and finally he found himself in Antony near Paris in June, 1895, for his second noviciate He began to prepare for his final vows under the guidance of Fr Lemette, who was later replaced by Fr Riblier.

Meanwhile a joyful event took place. The Redemptorists, who had been banned from Germany during the "kulturkampf", were to be allowed back into Alsace-Lorraine. Br Sebastian was directed to the newly founded Vice Province (later Strasburg Province) and he came to Teterchen on 4th October. There on Christmas Day, before the altar of Our Blessed Mother, he made his final vows, vows to which he would adhere with total fidelity, and which would be his great joy into eternity.

The Redemptorist Brother
From the beginning Brother Sebastian took his vocation extremely seriously; he wanted to help in the salvation of souls through prayer, sacrifice and work. The kitchen was his domain. We still possess the book in which all kinds of recipes, notes, and reminders were industriously saved. His eagerness to be practical and efficient was obvious; he concerned himself with anything and everything to do with the kitchen, the cellar and the house. Beyond all this he endeavoured, whenever it was possible, to be useful elsewhere.

Yet soon he was to say farewell to Teterchen, and on the 30th October, 1900, Br Sebastian set out for Echternach in Luxemburg, arriving the next day. Echternach was the location of the Vice-Provincial Seminary which was undergoing refurbishment, and enlargement. For the next few years, Br Sebastian was to be kept busy not only in the kitchen, but also in various rebuilding projects. During this time he established himself not only as a reliable member of the community, but also as a beloved companion, especially to the students, who appreciated his short, laconic humour, and also his tireless enthusiasm, and helpfulness.

It was 1912 when Br Sebastian learned that his help was required elsewhere. The 9th July found Br Sebastian en route to the well known pilgrimage Church of Drei Aehren in the Bogesen. The church was situated in the most beautiful setting, surrounded by perfumed pine forests. Unfortunately there were only two Fathers and two Brothers available, even in the height of summer, to care for the continuous stream of pilgrims. The kitchen and portery were Br Sebastian’s responsibilities, and so he had to deal with all the enquiries, petitions, and complaints of the pilgrims. Indeed on Sundays, Br Sebastian was frequently to be seen running back and forth to fulfil his duties as thurifer at High Mass, and also to function as porter. It was also usual for him to keep an eye on what was cooking in his pots and pans, whilst simultaneously acting as sacristan. The distance from the front door to the kitchen and the chapel was considerable, so all told his duties were frequently exacting and wearisome, yet all were performed tirelessly by the customarily affable, laconic Br Sebastian. Then came the war.

For two long years, the community of Drei Aehren would endure terror just eight kilometres behind the front line. Br Sebastian kept a diary in which he graphically describes the sufferings and dangers undergone by the Redemptorist community and those in their care. We will relate some pages taken from the diary.

“Our quiet place of pilgrimage would soon resound to the wild sounds of fighting. On August 9th one could hear the thunder of cannon fire from Mullhouse; on the 10th the Bavarians turned back to Drei Aehren; a French advance on 20th August reached Colmar, and French troops held Drei Aehren until the 29th. The Bavarian counter attack came from their position in the mountains above our village, and on 1st September there was hand to hand fighting in the streets. Our house was commandeered by the Bavarians and Baden-Wuertemburgers.” Br Sebastian was no longer in control of the house. “Our workshop is completely under the control of the soldiers from morning to evening. They take the key, and keep it to themselves; the garden is also exclusively their domain, and as far as I’m concerned so are the plants and vegetables”. Alterations and additions were made, stables were erected. There were now, also, many wounded.

However on 29th August things were to get much worse “for a day and night we came under heavy bombardment (the German troops, erroneously, were of the opinion Drei Aehren was still occupied by the French).The grenades were falling left and right but fortunately no buildings were hit, although many windows were broken from the blast. The first exploded over the monastery, and the splinters clattered over the roof while Br Michael and I were in the garden picking beans. We beat a hasty retreat, as did also the entire population of our village, to the monastery, where the walls are thicker. The villagers had assembled in our cellar, which resembled a beehive. We prayed the rosary, and the Protestants joined us.

There was much fighting in the house, which had been overwhelmed by those seeking shelter, as well as the troops. The whole turmoil was caused by the need to drive the French Troops from Drei Aehren; but there had been none there for some time. All this simply resulted in terrifying the locals. That nothing awful had happened here can only be attributed to Our Blessed Mother, because there was certainly the intention to kill us. Soon after this we were again fired upon, this time from the nearby Honack, but the battery there was destroyed by the Bavarians. About this time even more troops were billeted with the monastery, their number now reaching 300”.

Br Sebastian was accustomed to peace and quiet and especially order which he greatly valued. He poured out his heart in his diary to describe his dismay at the circumstances in the house: “It is impossible to move, or do anything without one’s passport and papers being demanded. The house smells terrible ... the firewood keeps disappearing from the shed ... and there is constant rushing about, day and night, and slamming of doors. On 10th April 1915 the monastery was required to accommodate a 150 strong medical corps. After every attack at the front at Baerenstall and Lingekopf we bury the dead, now over 200, in our terrace. The wounded are also cared for here; these were soon to number 2000. Oh blessed monastic silence!”

On June 22nd Br Sebastian wrote: “Not only in the house, but outside, one is always in the company of soldiers, and there is always trouble and fighting ...” On 21st July: “All the corridors are full of soldiers, as are the garden and barn”. “A thunder without end! Half the soldiers never return.”

On 30th July: “The whole house is full of murder and is permeated by the smells of death. We are regularly bombarded by the French artillery; there is intense fighting at the front, so intense it is impossible to count the shots, just a constant roar. And that applies to the streets of Drei Aehren too, because of the number of troops and munitions reinforcements that are here. The villagers are beginning to flee; several houses have been badly damaged. Our treasure of the pilgrimage, the miraculous image, was rescued on 6th August by our Provincial, Fr Herold, who escaped with it to Ammerschweier hidden in a pram.

In the same month our altars were damaged. On 22nd August an artillery depot containing 600 grenades was hit causing a tremendous explosion. On 23rd several grenades exploded very near the church, in the street outside, and in the square. August was a very bad month.” An astonished Br Sebastian wrote on August 29th “no grenades today”. And on the 30th “it seems the French have forgotten us...” “It would be enough” he added on the 4th September “they have already bombarded us with 300 grenades”. What especially tormented Br Sebastian was the constant uproar in the house: “From the cellar to the attic the soldiers are lords and masters of the house, one is never alone. Also since 20th July the greater boiler has been at full blast, never once has it been allowed to cool, it has burned so much coal we have a hellish fire. Once the pipes were so hot the water evaporated in them, they glowed red, it was a good thing I noticed it. It was a dangerous situation. Also we have a water shortage as every day our well is pumped dry in order to supply all those who are now in the house.” On 7th September we made a pious wish: “Please Lord give us peace soon in order that we may once again be a monastery."

A wounded soldier told Br Sebastian a story of Our Lady’s power. This unfortunate man had been badly injured. He could not move, and was trapped in a trench barely 15 meters from the French lines, his calls for help were not heard, his desperate situation was made even worse by the fact that he had only rain water and stale bread for sustenance. He prayed the Rosary constantly when awake and conscious. After 19 days in this awful predicament he was discovered. He owed his survival to Our Queen and Mother in Heaven.

On 4th February: “We are having beautiful weather, it is a shame it is being misused for murder”, and on 21st: “One is so used to the sound of gun-fire it is barely noticeable.” On 6th March he complained again about the stealing in the house “Oh how sad is this war! Nothing remains our property, even the most mundane, yet essential things are taken, and one can never find those things that are necessary to carry out even simple tasks. Every soldier is the owner of all he finds. When will this ever end?” On 10th March the entry strikes a chilling note “for eight days we have been hearing a different sound; a dull almost subterranean rumbling, it is said it is the cannons at Verdun, it must be terrible there”.

Yet the longing of the community for a return to the ways of religious life was about to be granted. In the Drei Aehren house, where soldiers everywhere were to be found loafing about “as though in a market place,” the life of the Fathers and Brothers had become impossible. Fr Rector Kieser and Br Charles would from now on repair to a hotel for their meals. On the 20th March Br Sebastian travelled to Ammerschweier in order to obtain a pass for the monastery of Bischenberg in Lower Alsace, but it was not until 26th April that he was able to make the move, and view the war from a quieter location. For five years until 1st April 1921, Br Sebastian took care of the kitchen at the house of Our Beloved Mother of the Seven Sorrows in Bischenberg. Then he was directed under obedience back to Echternach and the seminary, where he would find his final resting place.

Here with so many permanently hungry students there was always much to do. Already there had been concern for him, as his age was making itself apparent, and he waited positively for an opportunity to die. Early in 1922 he suffered an acute attack of whooping cough, an epidemic of which was slowly making its way across the country. Br Sebastian was quickly exhausted by his illness; his heart was seriously weakened as a result. There was concern for the beloved brother, so much so that he was being cared for by two doctors, who feared for his survival. Br Sebastian Then received the sacrament of Extreme Unction. The next morning, when asked how he was, he exclaimed in his graphic way “No it would not happen! The whole night long I thought that at any moment it would come, but no, it was not to be.” He smiled when he thought about Fr Rector Estermann, who had cared for him, and who himself in the autumn of the same year had died. That is the way it goes, thought Br Sebastian.

He had been noticeably weakened by his illness, and had been instructed to avoid becoming breathless. He was transferred to the portery where he looked after the book sales, and also all outgoing mail. As he was a punctual person, Br Sebastian was always to be found at 3pm waiting outside the Rector’s office, in order to deliver the mail to the post office. He bustled nimbly through the streets, solely intent upon his task. And if it should ever be necessary Br Sebastian was prepared at any time to run an errand, or deliver a late letter.

Home to Beloved Jesus
The thought of death was such a consolation to Br Sebastian that it could be said he waited with some impatience to fly from this world. But he wanted a good death, in God’s hands, in the familiar surroundings of his cell, the true fulfilling of his vocation. We read in his diary of his longing for a perfect death in God’s good time. Hanging over his bed was a certificate of admittance into the pious “Society of St Joseph for the Dying” from St Trudpert in Bavaria which he had joined on 12th January 1922.

It is probable he had a premonition of his death. Br Sebastian began a new novena every month. The brother who nursed him during his last illness noticed that two novenas had been marked for January, and four in the margin for March. “What is that harmonica sign you have drawn?” joked his nurse. “I bet they are novenas for a good death.” “You might be right!” replied Br Sebastian. In April he had already completed a novena to St Theresa of the Child Jesus. He also prayed at the onset of his illness on a finger rosary, his suffering rosary, but this prayer he was convinced, was unworthy.

Already, during March, he had caught a cold, and was ordered to bed. However Br Sebastian still felt strong enough to fulfil his tasks, and requested permission to rise and continue his duties. “I have sweated too much”, he remarked to a confrere; “next time I will remain in bed”. But his fellow brothers were of the opinion that Br Sebastian would only consider himself ill if he were totally incapacitated. On Friday 5th April, in Easter week, he was running his errands as usual to the post office in Echternachbruck. As he was returning across the bridge he was suddenly attacked by the first terrible pains that would cause him such distress, and result in his death.

Two days previously it had been reported by a man in the town that Br Sebastian had, when exiting a building, suddenly fallen to the ground. The man hastened to assist, but, thanking him, Br Sebastian remarked: “It is nothing”. He had mentioned nothing of this in the house. The pain in his breast was angina pectoris, a condition which affects the arteries of the heart. The stabbing pains were so dreadful that he expected them at any moment to kill him. He stopped and rested against the balustrade of the bridge near the statue of the holy monk Bertels, in order not to be sick. Then he slowly made his way back to the house. Alone, he rested a short while in the kitchen, and then because he had one more errand to run, he made to leave.

He got as far as the porter’s lodge, where he collapsed in a chair saying: “I feel bad”. He was deathly pale; he said to the brother infirmarian “Now I am ill,” It was as if the indefatigable one had finally conceded something that many knew already. Fr Rector X. Hartmann was just nearby; he hurried to telephone the doctor. The doctor examined his patient in the porter’s lodge; he immediately recognized the deadly illness. This illness sometimes called ‘heart cramps’ made itself apparent to its hapless victims with suddenly terrible pains, enough to drain the strength of young, strong people, but for those already weakened by age or infirmity, absolutely devastating. The resolve to withstand is quickly demolished and sudden death is often the result. Medicines to alleviate the pain of this condition were not yet available.

Yet Br Sebastian declined assistance when being returned to his sick bed. Unfortunately there was another and worse crisis that robbed him of any chance of sleep or even rest. He wanted very much to be allowed to return to his cell and his beloved straw mattress, which he claimed would help him to be more comfortable and sleep better. He was watched over through the night and was unhappy at the thought of any inconvenience this might cause. Soon Br Sebastian could not endure the pain, the dreadful pain of the pressure in his chest. He was transferred to a ‘Lehnstuhle’ a chair in which the occupant reclined at an angle, neither upright nor flat. He would spend many hours so. He prayed, and when the pain was particularly bad he would exclaim with a deep sigh: “Holy Mother, help! Holy Mother, help!” During the night of Saturday / Sunday 7th April he was cared for by a weekend student who heard him say in his frustration at least twenty times, as though in a litany, “I have always done my duty my whole life long, but I do not suffer gladly.” Br Sebastian thought: “Through Jesus’ love for me He has given me the opportunity to offer my suffering to Him,” and yet he had always happily done his duty through difficulty, hardship and sacrifice.

On Sunday morning his condition appeared so serious that Fr Rector decided to administer Extreme Unction, and all the consolations of Holy Church for a holy death. At 11am, the congregation gathered in the chapel to recommend the beloved brother to the Holy Redeemer; meanwhile a few fathers and brothers had gathered around Br Sebastian in his cell where he piously and patiently received the last consolations of Holy Mother Church. He had that morning communicated, as he would until his last day. A slight swelling of his feet was noticed, a sign his heart was weakening.

Br Sebastian hoped on 7th April, the Monday after Whit Sunday to be delivered. The pain had in fact increased, and was at its worst during the night of Monday / Tuesday; poor Br Sebastian was deathly white and trembling as he reclined there, as if destroyed by pain and calling over and over to Jesus and Mary. He was constantly supported with words of encouragement and consolation. He said once during these agonising days: “Lord, Thy Will be done, but do not be slow. Somewhat disappointed he said on Monday evening to the Prefect of students: "Our Blessed Lady has not fetched me”. He was consoled with the remark, “But it is not yet midnight.”

On Tuesday he was quieter, more rested, however he remarked: “I never believed a mortal could suffer so.” The terrible pain was decreasing. It had presumably weakened the resistance of his heart. It was replaced by a feeling of heavy apprehension, and constant pressure on his chest. Moreover the pressure on his legs and feet also increased. As much as one hoped that these were somehow encouraging signs, they were in fact ominous, and were consistent with worsening angina. Br Sebastian’s breathing was heavy and accompanied by groaning. Yet he remained fully conscious.

So came Sunday 14th April. In the morning Br Sebastian who assisted at Holy Mass every day did not notice Mass had begun in the clinic chapel. He met a nursing brother in the corridor and said “It was already the consecration when I got there, so there was not a consecrated host for me.” Br Sebastian went therefore to the choir stalls. This succeeded in consoling him for missing Holy Communion, a communion which would have been his last. That evening after five o’clock a priest had spoken with him, and found him to be his usual self, apart from tiredness. Father had remarked on this and Br Sebastian had agreed that he was very tired.

Yet his humour survived in defiance of his suffering. He pointed to his swollen legs and said: “Perhaps now my heart will call it a day!” Then came the night. Br Mathias was his carer for the first half. At 8:30 Br Sebastian went unaccompanied from his room. At 11:30 he wanted some fresh air, the air outside was too cold for him so he merely walked up and down the corridor. His nurse prepared his ‘lehnstuhl’ with especial care, his pillow and blankets were made as comfortable as possible “now you can rest comfortably.” “It is a long night until morning." replied Br Sebastian.

He remained peaceful until 12:40 am. Suddenly he gripped the armrests as though to rise. “Where do you want to go?” Br Sebastian suddenly and violently threw up his arms, then ashen faced and groaning fell back into his chair. With prayers imploring Jesus and Mary to help, Br Sebastian’s carer rushed to and hammered on the door of the cell of the Prefect of the Brothers. "Brother Sebastian is dead!" Fr Prefect declared: “we cannot be sure of that.” He lost no time in administering the last rites. Poor Br Sebastian was now breathing only five times a minute. At 1:00 Brother Sebastian departed this world for the world of peace and his reward; to Our Saviour in whose vineyard he had toiled conscientiously for so long.

He had honoured his vows for 33 years, and almost 4 months He was 70 years, 2 months and 25days of age. On this morning seventeen Masses were offered for him in the monastery of Echternach. His coffin was taken into the chapel. On the 17th April a solemn Requiem was celebrated by Fr Rector Xavier Hartmann. His sister Frau Regina Lauer attended with her husband, the Mayor of Kestert. Herr Matias Schaffer MP, and the Mayor of Echternach was also present at both Requiem and burial, as were Count Lamoral de Villiers with his son, Baron von Schorlemer. The burial was imposing; with beautiful weather - "a longing for spring" was in the air. It was as though the sun wished to say goodbye to the beloved brother.

The school children of Echternach all took part. The esteemed Sisters of the Poor Infant Jesus and the Sisters of St Charles from Nancy (the hospital and boarding school of St Anne) were both represented. Many friends and benefactors of the monastery were also present. Not far from the cemetery the small children of the Froebel school stood and prayed for Br Sebastian. Amongst the clergy were Dean Ewerhart from Irrel and from the neighbouring monasteries in Luxemburg and Trier, a Father and Brother each. Dean Msgr Hostert from Echternach presided at the burial, assisted by his chaplains.

So the body of Br Sebastian was laid to rest near the good Fr Gestermann, who in 1922 against expectation passed away. “In morte quoque non sunt divisi.” Even death could not separate them. It was as if they were saying: “Yes we want to stay together in order to do the beautiful work of the Lord and the holy ones, the work of redemption. We shall not be parted; we will rise together from the grave and celebrate together the wonderful day of the resurrection."

Even in his inner life Br Sebastian had a predilection for the original and humorous. He posted up the following kitchen recipe:

..........Recipe for Spiritual You
.Mix together:
..100 pints of Humility
....through reflection on the Holy Infant in the crib
..10 ounces of Mortification
....through reflection on Jesus in the desert
..3 drops of Silence
....during which one contemplates one’s failings
....without making excuses for them.

To patiently posses one’s soul through the living Jesus,
Add:
..1 ounce of Gentleness of Spirit
....while reading the Lives of the Saints.
..3 pounds of Courage
....to be found by Contemplating the Cross.

Leave to cook, then slice with scissors of Obedience.

In order that the recipe is effective,
Add the following:
..1 large corn of Cheerfulness
..10 pounds of Charity that one finds in the example
....of Jesus who prayed for his executioners.

Then leave to cook on the Fire of Holy Love,
Pour in the cup of Faith, and cover with Faith.

Everyday take 3 ounces. Do not stop.

If need be, call the Great Doctor.
Address: In the City of the Much Desired Happiness
................On the Street of Obedience
................House of Spiritual Recollection
................On the first floor of Faith.
Name: ...Piety and Love.

Such serenity and cheerfulness of individuals testifies to real virtue, and makes them loveable. All the more so as Br Sebastian always remained in the background, and fled from any honour or recognition. Humility grew in his heart. He wrote the following:

"Lower and humble yourself before God,
Awaken with a perfect repentance,
Repeat the principle, and
Ask again for the grace of complete trust,
And renew your faith in Jesus,
So that even your (repented of) sins
Will aid your progress."

In observing the poverty and simplicity of the monastic life he was exemplary, for he was unconcerned about worldly life. He certainly did not forget his family in his prayers. But, in his deep and practical piety, he was extremely sparing in his correspondence. A couple of lines, an admonition, and that was all. Only twice did he ever visit his home. But towards the end of his years he wrote, humorously, in reply to his sister who had requested a visit, questioning her as to whether she had also caught the fashionable tourist bug?

When nevertheless his sister called with her husband Herr Lauer the following comical exchange took place. Herr Lauer explained that it was now time for him to return to Kestert, as he had much to do there. “So,” said Br Sebastian to his brother-in-law: “what is so pressing, what is so urgent? Have you a meeting to attend? Perhaps you have other responsibilities, no? Then you must be the mayor” And that is how Br Sebastian found out that his sister was married to the mayor of Kestert.

This separation from worldliness allowed him to despise every comfort. He never went walking. He never pampered himself, nor spared himself the hardest work. His body had to remain silent and just follow. Once a Father found him in the midday July heat praying in his cell, his back unprotected from the roasting sun.

During his last illness, when sisters and well-wishers brought pastries and fruit to him, he was grateful, but never voiced or showed any preference. Yet he expressed pleasure during his last days when Father administered a powder which eased the pain in his breast and consequently his feelings of dread. When here and there he was occupied with heavy or unpleasant work, he would console himself by saying: “It will not be like this in heaven.”

Br Sebastian never showed any interest in the outside world. Especially in later years, he had only a detached smile when such things were mentioned. He had however an almost childlike fascination with numbers, it was fun to him to speculate on how long it would take to count to a billion, or how long it would take to pray a Rosary for every grain of corn that grew - nine million billion years! He wanted most of all just to make himself helpful wherever he could, and had consequently over the years picked up many skills. In 1908 he had humorously, half sighingly, listed his various occupations: post man, commissioner, gardener, delivery and order clerk, pig feeder, coal and ash fetcher and carrier, laundry man, woodman, waker-upper, central heating mechanic, chimney sweep, barber, waiter, altar server, interior designer. He then added playfully “What a show for angels and men.”

Oh beloved solitude! Oh Echternach! Here he betrayed a deep inner characteristic - a longing to be solitary, the solitude essential for an inner dialogue. How edifying it is to research his prayer life, his prayer book with its lovely annotations, sayings and indulgences. A large part is filled with general night prayers and prayers for when falling asleep. He recommends himself to Holy Pascal for help at the hour of death. Then: “O Holy Barbara, Holy Bride, my body and soul is entrusted to you!” Then an Our Father and Hail Mary to honour the pain that Jesus endured on the Cross. Then prayers for his parents, brothers and sisters. After these are prayers for the conversion of sinners, the needs of the church and the poor souls. Then: “My heart is a small house, small, so that no one can live within except for Jesus, Mary and Joseph”. Then various other prayers, and to end with, his hands crossed over his breast: “I must die, I know not when, and know not how, and know not where, but I do know that in the hour of death I will be about to enter eternity. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen.” Finally the Litany of Loreto for those going to sleep. These excerpts from the prayer life of the beloved brother are just a few of the many "rays of sunshine," which witness to the presence of God in his soul.

Br Sebastian also spent time on Sundays and feast days when not busy in the dining hall, either in the choir or chapel, or in his cell, praying and meditating. He prayed fervently for the courage and grace to perform his duties worthily, to be obedient, humble, gentle, and industrious. In his last years his favourite reading was: "The Bitter Suffering of Jesus Christ and the Pity of His Holy Mother," by Martin von Kochem. He never tired of this book, in its original edition, written as it was in his dearly beloved German. During his last days he was asked how he maintained his contemplation: “I offer them and all the sacrifices, prayers, and contemplations of my fellow brothers who I find in choir, I unite with them, for I am sure that my efforts alone would be insufficient to penetrate the clouds, and would therefore not succeed in reaching heaven; however united, they will reach Our Beloved Jesus.”

He had an extraordinary longing for death. His yearning was not the result of any desire to avoid the physical effort, the strain of so many of the tasks that comprised his duties, rather it was the anticipation of the Beatific Vision, for as we have already seen Br Sebastian’s body was the obedient servant always of his soul. But right until the end he awaited the moment when the call would come. “Ecce sponsus venit” “See here comes the Heavenly Bridegroom.”

During 1910 when he was struck on the forehead by a falling beam and was badly injured, his only comment was; “What a pity it wasn’t fatal.” Fearless until the last moment, he looked death in the eye, and if, perhaps, with the recognition that this time it was serious, there was apprehension, he quickly dismissed it. If a longing for worldly joys is the mark of the worldly, then a yearning for all that is heavenly is the sign of the spiritual, a striving for heavenly consolations marks the core of the souls of those dedicated to God.

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself." (Phillipians 3, 20, 21.)

We could not finish this account better than to record the words of Rector Fr Provincial A. Herold: “He was quiet, a silent sufferer, a quiet worker, but also a secret prayer, and is now in heaven, a silent protector of the Echternach Monastery, and the whole province.” †

Translated from German by Mr David Brady

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Sunday, 7 June 2009

Rev Fr Jan Van Rooy C.SS.R. (1830-1871)

He was born in Orele; Holland, August 17th, 1830. He made his vows on 24th May, 1854. Having completed his studies at Wittem, he was ordained priest on the 7th of September, 1859. After a short stay in the Wittem community he was sent to Limerick, Ireland. There he laboured assiduously in the confessional, and it was thought no exaggeration to say that his appearance in the church, so great was his modesty, was that of an angel. Some six years after his arrival in Limerick he was sent to Sarnam, Dutch Guiana, South America, where he laboured with indescribable charity among the lepers. He died at a station called Coronic in that difficult mission on the 6th of November, 1871, young in years, but rich in merit. †

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Saturday, 6 June 2009

Rev Fr Henry Harbison C.SS.R. (1820-1889)

The founding of the Redemptorist Monastery of St. Joseph’s, Dundalk, Ireland, is one of Father Harbison’s chief works - the noble pile of buildings which he erected will ever be a monument to his energy and zeal.

As God has, at all times, trained great men for the service of His Church, under the guidance of others remarkable for learning and holiness, so He ordained that Father Harbison should fit himself for the work of the Missions under the guidance of that most zealous and successful missionary, Father Bernard. What his guide and master had done in Holland and America, Father Harbison did with equal success in Ireland. His piety, his learning, his appearance, his voice, his character, his quickness to understand the needs of his audience, and the power he exercised over the multitude, fitted him to the head of the bands of missionaries which he led in his fight against sin and the strongholds of satan both in town and in country.

One proof of his power must suffice. People still living have never forgotten Father Harbison’s first sermon at the great Mission of 1868. They say men crowded every part of the church, so that the preacher passed with difficulty to the pulpit. At last Father Harbison stood before his audience and gazing upon the sea of upturned faces, he paused. Every eye was fixed on him, and he felt how much depended on his sermon. Then his voice broke upon the stillness, and his text rang through the sacred building: “There is faith still in Garryowen.” For an hour he kept the men spell-bound, with the result that the success of the Mission was secured.

Henry Harbison was born in 1820, in Moneymore, Co. Derry, in the Archdiocese of Armagh. In 1837, he entered Maynooth. Having finished his studies with great distinction, he was ordained priest on 7th March, 1847. In leaving Maynooth, his Archbishop proposed to place him at the head of the Diocesan Seminary, but this, as well as other positions of importance, he humbly declined, preferring, as he did, missionary work. He was, therefore, appointed curate of Dungannon where he spent six years.

He felt, however, a call to religion, and having prayed and taken advice he offered himself as a candidate for the Congregation. He was accepted and sent to St. Trond, in Belgium, to make his Novitiate. This was in 1854, and the following year he made his Profession. He began his missionary work in England, but after a short time was attached to Limerick, Ireland, where he remained until 1876, when he was named Superior of the new foundation in Dundalk. He was at all times considered an unrivalled popular preacher, but it should be remembered that he was not less successful as a confessor.

Father Harbison was successful not only in his Missions, but also in the Spiritual Exercises which he gave to the clergy, to religious, to seminarists, and to the laity. After a retreat which he gave to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and at which Cardinal Manning himself assisted, his Eminence said to him full of emotion: “O my Father, you have made me and my clergy so happy in our vocation!” He instructed, he moved, he made his hearers happy in serving God in the state to which they were called.

He had, at the desire of the Most Rev. Father General, the consolation of accompanying Father Coffin to Rome. His lively faith made every stone of the Eternal City dear to him, and the letters he wrote on his return show how deeply he was impressed, and how greatly he appreciated his privilege.

After twenty-one years in Limerick, Father Harbison left for Dundalk; but while occupied in founding a house there, he continued his apostolic work until the year 1887. His great frame gradually gave way under the pressure of his continual labours, and absolute necessity obliged him to take rest. It was a preparation for his eternal rest. He understood this and thanked God for it every day.

On Missions he was often, so to say, forced to neglect himself, that is, to reduce his own spiritual exercises to the minimum, that he might have the maximum of time to devote to the saving and sanctifying of souls. But now that was all changed. He had the whole day to himself, and during the last he was practically relieved of the burden of office while still remaining Superior. His days were a series of spiritual exercises, and each of them a preparation for the end. He had his Director, Rev. Father Doherty, near him, and he was obedient to him as if he were a little child. Sickness proves what a man is, and the sickness of Father Harbison proved him to be a man of great faith, of unbounded confidence in God, of deep humility and overflowing with brotherly love. It was then one saw how intense was his love for Our Blessed Lord and His Most Holy Mother.

He practised during that last year, with perfection, what he had taught others, and it was thus the Prince of Pastors found this edifying religious, and holy Priest watching when He came to take an account of his stewardship, on the 8th of October, 1889. Well may we hope that he was greeted with the sweet words: “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.”

But while full of that hope his brothers in religion, his friends in Dundalk, Limerick, and all over Ireland, did not fail to send up fervent prayers for the repose of his soul, that cleansed, if need be, from all stain he might quickly enter into his eternal repose. †

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Friday, 5 June 2009

Br Felician Dubucquoi, C.SS.R. (1816-1897)

For nearly half a century this venerable and modest Brother was familiar to all who frequented St Alphonsus Church in Limerick, Ireland. Many a stranger too, who saw Brother Felician but once, either passing through the church, or genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, has carried away an ineffaceable image of him impressed upon his mind.

Felician Dubucquoi was born at Dottinges, Belgium , on the 1st of September, 1816. He was professed when twenty five, on the eve of St Alphonsus’ Feast, 1841. In 1843 he accompanied Fr De Buggenoms to England. They left Ostend on the 9th of June, the Feast of our Lady of Grace, and arrived in Falmouth, their destination, on the 17th. There, until 1848, Brother Felician turned his hand to every kind of office as a coadjutor brother. In that year Falmouth was abandoned to enable the Fathers to form a regular community at Clapham. From Clapham he went to Bishop Eton, and thence to Limerick. This was in November, 1855. In his humility this excellent brother used to say, that if he did not sanctify himself by work, he would never sanctify himself by any other means.

There was, one might say, nothing that his hands could not do. If the walls of the temporary church in Limerick were still standing and could speak, what would they not say of Brother Felician’s skill and decoration, and in all that adds lustre to the Feasts of the Church? But it was especially in the new church that he showed his taste and talent. Carving, painting, gilding - all came easy to him. And who will ever forget Brother Felician’s Christmas Crib? His whole soul went out to the decorative work, when young and robust no labour was too hard or rough for him.

There are fathers of families in Limerick and elsewhere, there are priests and religious, who all remember with joy and gratitude the days when they were Brother Felician’s servers. They loved him and respected him. They felt how great was his joy when the Rector gave them a feast; but they knew how exacting he was as to their conduct before, during, and after the services in the church. Good Acolytes proved the excellence of the Sacristan.

In 1891, he had the happiness of celebrating his golden jubilee of Profession. He prepared himself by recollection and prayer for the renewal of his vows. When the time came for doing so, he presented himself before Father Rector at the altar in the private oratory with the formula in his hand. He began to read it, but the tears coursed abundantly down his cheeks, and his emotions at the thought of God’s goodness to him, and his own unworthiness, was so great that he could not continue. The Father Rector took the formula to suggest the words to the happy Jubilarian, but seeing the old man so affected, he too well nigh broke down.

Brother Felician continued in the office of Sacristan, which he filled so well, up to the end of his life. His part in the processions would require a chapter to itself. As he grew old, other hands had to do the heavy work, but he was on the spot to direct the work, and his hands too, were always busy.

He saw the crib completed in 1896, as he had seen it in former years. He prepared the figures as usual, and had the consolation, as he had had on so many former Christmas Days, of seeing thousands come to do honour to Jesus Mary, and Joseph.

When January the 5th, the eve of the “coming of the kings,” had arrived; on this day, almost suddenly, God called Brother Felician to himself. On the 7th, the people of Limerick showed their reverent respect for the remains of Brother Felician. His body was borne to the crypt and placed under his own Crib. He was in his 81st year. †

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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Rev Fr John Gibson C.SS.R. (1822-1902)

There exists a biographical sketch of Father Gibson, written by a Father who had been in the Novitiate with him, and who knew him well for over fifty years. Extracts will be taken from this manuscript, as being the best means of conveying an idea, as adequate as can be given within a short space, of the subject of this notice.

“The death of the Rev. John Gibson has been felt as a personal loss by all his brethren, for he had endeared himself to all by his simple piety, his perfect religious spirit, and the amiable cheerfulness of his conversation. He was born in Salford, on the 16th May, 1822 and baptized on the following day, in St. Mary’s, Mulberry-street. His father, Michael Gibson, was born in 1781, at York, but settled down in Manchester and engaged in the cotton trade, and was very prosperous.”
It is then related that John was first educated at a private school, and afterwards, for three years at Ushaw, and that at the age of fourteen years he was placed in the office of a Liverpool cotton-broker, where he spent five years.
“At last, having no taste for commercial pursuits, and disgusted with this kind of life, he induced his father to take him out of the office and allow him to complete his education in some college … At the beginning of 1844 he felt a great change in his soul and became anxious about his vocation. By the advice of a holy Priest he made a ten days’ retreat, at the close of which he resolved to leave the world and study for the priesthood.”
He was ordained in 1849 at Ushaw, and remained at the college as Professor. His entrance into the Congregation of the Most Holy redeemer is thus recorded: “His position, however, at the college, and his occupation, were not congenial to him, and the conviction gradually formed itself in his mind that he was not yet in the state to which God called him. After taking advice he went, in the month of October, to make a retreat at St. Mary’s, Clapham, and at the close of it he made up his mind to join the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. In the month of July following he took his final departure from college, and after a visit to Bishop Eton, went on to Clapham, and thence, in the month of August, proceeded to the Novitiate at St. Trond, in Belgium.” Of his year in St. Trond we read: “He went through his novitiate with great edification, esteemed and loved by all, and was professed on the Feast of St. Teresa, 1852.”
Soon after this, Father Gibson entered upon the active work of the sacred ministry. He was Rector for three years at Bishop Eton, England, for a few years he became Vice-Rector at Perth, Scotland, and again for some months in the House of Studies at Teignmouth. But it was as Minister in the various communities that a great part of his fifty years as a Redemptorist was spent – for this office he was singularly qualified.
Father Gibson was in Limerick, Ireland, from 1862 to 1868. There, too, he filled the post of Minister. Of this period it is written: “In June, 1868, his six years of labour in Limerick terminated. He had given during that time thirty-six Missions, besides many retreats in convents and colleges. His health had been greatly improved by his stay in Ireland; he was hardly recognised at first by some of his old friends.” His Mission work continued until the year 1890, when he was attached to St. Joseph’s, Teignmouth. He had now become worn out and unfit for hard work. The change was of great benefit to him.
In 1899 the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood was solemnised. But this year was the beginning of a complete failure of health and strength. At last, full of years and good works, he was called to his reward. He died at Clapham on the 11th February, 1902.
In conclusion may be quoted the following extract from ‘Notes on the Character and Virtues of Father Gibson’ appended to the sketch of his life: “For those who lived with our dear confrere, all description of his character or praise of his virtues would be superfluous; but to those who shall come after us it will be interesting and certainly edifying to learn what manner of man he was amongst us. The eulogy of Holy Job, given by the inspired writer, seems to sum up most accurately the character of our deceased brother. He was indeed conspicuously ‘vir simplex et rectus’; simple-minded and single-hearted; upright and truth-loving; amiable, pleasant, and cheerful; fond of innocent mirth, to which he contributed greatly in recreation. His piety was great but not demonstrative, and was most seen in his perfect exactness at all religious duties, so that he was a model of regular observance and obedience to rule and to Superiors. †

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Monday, 1 June 2009

Rev Fr Franciscus Theunis, C.SS.R. (1821-1882)

Father was a Belgian, born on the 17th of February, 1821. He entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer when eighteen. He made his religious Profession on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1840, and having completed his studies was ordained priest on the 7th November 1847. In the earlier years of his priesthood he was sent to Ireland and contributed much to the success of the first Missions in that country, which made such an indelible impression on the people.
A boy who had assisted at the great Mission given in Fermoy in 1855, many years afterwards described to a companion the effect produced by a sermon on Hell, preached by Father Theunis. "His English," he said, "was very imperfect, but the way in which he exposed the eternal misery of the dammed made such an impression on the congregation that when leaving the church no one spoke, but all went in silence to their homes full of the fear of the judgements of God."
Father Theunis was recalled to the Belgian province, and died at Roulers, in Flanders, on the 4th of March, 1882. †

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