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(1814-1856) 

Auguste was born in La Rochelle, on January 6, 1814, the eighth of nine children of Nicolas Chapdelaine and Madeleine Dodeman. The ancestral cradle of the Chapdelaines was located in Lower Normandy, near Mont Saint Michael, and the family could trace their Gallo-Roman and Viking ancestry back to the mid-thirteenth century.

After grammar school, Auguste worked on the family farm. Being physically strong, it is understandable that his parents, needing him at home, would object to his desire to become a priest. But, with the sudden death of two of his brothers including the youngest, they realized that God wanted their Auguste as a priest and acquiesced to his wish. On October 1, 1834, at the age of 20, he entered the minor seminary of Mortain, studying with boys only 12 and 13 years old.

His father died the following year. Making up for lost time by arduous study, Auguste entered the Seminary of Coutances and was ordained to the priesthood on June 10, 1843. He spent the next eight months with his family in La Rochelle before being appointed as associate pastor in Boucey, on February 23, 1844.

Saint Auguste ChapdelaineBefore his assignment in Boucey, Father Chapdelaine confided to his brother that he “had not become a priest for those who already know God, but for those who don’t.” He wished to enter the French Foreign Missions immediately after ordination but submitted humbly to the will of his superiors. For seven years, he would remain in Boucey, under the guidance of the elderly and infirm pastor, Father Oury. Despite his parish work, Father Auguste never wavered in his desire: to found a mission church, then die! Still, he was not getting any younger.

When Father Oury died in April, 1849, Father Chapdelaine was already 35 years old, the age limit to enter the French Foreign Missions. Yet, despite his ardent desire to enter, he would serve under the new pastor, Father Poupinet, for another two years. Then, in January, 1851, Bishop Robiou authorized him to leave the diocese for the Foreign Missions – if they would have a 37-year-old priest! Despite his age, Father Chapdelaine immediately reapplied for admission. In face of such zeal, he was accepted. Returning to La Rochelle he found his entire family assembled, not to bid him farewell but to his sister, Victoria, who had just died. After the funeral, Auguste announced his departure for Paris and let it be known he would never see his family again. Eight days later, he boarded the train for Paris. On March 15, 1851, the young man who had entered minor seminary at age 20 was now entering the French Foreign Missions two years over the age limit, not only was his a late vocation but one that would be forever delayed in the attainment of its goals.

The motherhouse of the French Foreign Missions on Rue du Bac had produced so many martyrs for the Faith in Indochina and China that it was termed the “Polytechnic Institute of Martyrs." Directed by veteran missionaries, the seminary would evaluate Father Chapdelaine for his zeal, devotion and stamina to withstand the rigors of missionary life. Upon the completion of his probationary year, on March 29, 1852, Father Chapdelaine met with his director. For a long time after this meeting, he knelt before the altar, lost in prayer, then he penned a letter to his mother.

“... I am being sent to China. You must make the sacrifice for God and He will reward you in eternity. You shall appear before Him in confidence, at your death, remembering your generosity, for His greatest glory, in sacrificing what is dearest to you. As a sign of your consent, please sign the letter you will send me as soon as possible, and as a sign of your forgiveness for all the sorrow I have caused you, and as sign of your blessing, please add a cross after your name.” He then wrote to his brother, Nicolas. “I thank God for the wonderful family He has given me, and for the conduct of all its members.... It has been my greatest happiness on earth to have had such an honorable family.” Still, he made a final trip to Normandy, meeting his brother, Nicolas, and sister-in-law, Marie, in Caen on April 22, to make arrangements for Masses to be offered for his parents, for himself and for all his family members. On April 29, the imposing departure ceremony was held in the chapel of Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs. The next day, accompanied by five other missionaries, Father Chapdelaine left Paris. Being the oldest, he was given charge of the group and control of its purse.

After a few days in Brussels, the six apostles boarded the Dutch ship, Henri-Joseph, at Anvers on May 5, 1852. Violent storms, seasickness, and unfavorable winds dogged and delayed their voyage. They were not to set foot on dry land for four months, landing in Singapore on September 5. While in Singapore, the aspiring and zealous missionary was delayed in his quest yet again, robbed by bandits who took everything he had. He spent the next two years trying to replenish his wardrobe and the necessary supplies for his mission in China.

On October 15, a Portuguese vessel offered them passage north towards Hong-Kong. However, the torrential rains and fierce winds of the monsoon forced them to return to Borneo and then head towards the Philippines in a voyage filled with storms and hurricanes. Their vessel finally anchored in the harbor of Macao on the evening of Christmas Day, 1852. Hong-Kong lay only sixty kilometers away in the estuary of the Canton River, but it too was a dangerous undertaking, the area being infested with naval pirates. It took them another twelve hours to reach Hong-Kong, the gateway of the Celestial Empire. Received at the house of the French Foreign Missions, Father Chapdelaine and his companions were to remain with his missionary confreres in Hong-Kong for ten and a half months while perfecting their command of the Chinese language.

Father Chapdelaine in adopted Chinese dress and appearanceOn October 12, 1853, accompanied by some Christians, he set out for the missionary territory assigned to him in the Chinese province of Guangxi. All the hardships of his journeys by sea were now replaced by those on land: fast-flowing rivers, high mountain ranges, and bandits. Encouraged by the small groups of Christians they encountered on their way, they reached the mission at Kouy-Yang in February, 1854 where they were received by three missionary confreres. While resting and awaiting the opportunity of penetrating into Guangxi, he was given the pastoral care of three villages. During this time, he adopted the dress and appearance of the Chinese: black suit, moustache and long thin beard, and his long hair bound in a queue down his back. He also wore the black hat common to Chinese scholars.

Finally, in 1854, Father Chapdelaine made the acquaintance of a young widow who was well versed in Sacred Scripture and knowledgeable of the Faith. Agnès Tsao-Kouy agreed to accompany him to Guangxi, located on the northeast border of Vietnam, and to catechize the 30-40 Christian families living there. In 1854, the authorities still held that no evangelizing by Christians was permitted. Father Auguste celebrated his first Mass in Guangxi on December 8, 1854. Nine days later, the authorities arrested him in Su-lik-hien. He spent the next 5 months in close confinement before his release was secretly obtained in April, 1855. His apostolic endeavors during the next 8 months bore abundant fruits, but were by no means uncontested.

A cage in the middle of a town square with soldiers guarding it and onlookers. Some onlookers look distressed or are weeping.

In December, 1855, Father Chapdelaine secretly returned to Guangxi, living in hiding among the Christian families of Su-lik-hien, ministering to their spiritual needs and converting hundreds of others. He was arrested on the night of February 25, 1856 and returned to the prison in Su-lik-hien where the Chinese magistrate had him sentenced to death. The French missionary had been denounced by Bai San, a relative of one of the new converts. He was subjected to excruciating tortures and indignities and then suspended in an iron cage outside the jail. He died from the severity of his sufferings; his head was decapitated and kept on public display for some time, his body was thrown to the dogs.

Two others accompanied him to his martyrdom: the widow-catechist, Agnès Tsao-Kouy, and another devout layman, Laurent Pe-man, an unassuming laborer. All three were beatified by Pope Leo XIII on May 27, 1900 and canonized together a century later. His feast day is February 29th.

 


 

 

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 20, 2019

The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because it...

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November 20

 

The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because
it has God as its object; it is the most profitable for salvation,
because It gives us the Author of Grace;
it is the sweetest, because the Lord is Sweetness Itself.

Pope St. Pius X


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Edmund the Martyr

The barbarian leader, Ingvar, offered to let the King live o...

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St. Edmund the Martyr

Though only about fifteen years old when crowned in 855, Edmund showed himself a model ruler from the first, anxious to treat all with equal justice, and closing his ears to flatterers and untrustworthy informers. In his eagerness for prayer he retired for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton and learned the whole Psalter by heart, in order that he might afterwards recite it regularly.

In 870 Edmund bravely repulsed the two Danish chiefs, Hinguar and Hubba, who had invaded his dominions. However, they soon returned with overwhelming numbers, and pressed terms upon him which as a Christian he felt bound to refuse. In his desire to avert a fruitless massacre, he disbanded his troops and himself retired towards Framlingham; on the way he fell into the hands of the invaders. Having loaded the king with chains, his captors conducted him to Hinguar, whose impious demands he again rejected, declaring his religion dearer to him than his very life.

His martyrdom took place in 870 at Hoxne in Suffolk. After beating him with cudgels, the Danes tied him to a tree, and cruelly tore his flesh with whips. Throughout these tortures Edmund continued to call upon the name of Jesus, until at last, exasperated by his constancy, his enemies began to discharge arrows at him. This cruel sport was continued until his body had the appearance of a porcupine, when Hinguar commanded his head to be struck off.

From his first burial-place at Hoxne his relics were removed in the tenth century to Beodricsworth, since called Bury St. Edmunds, where arose the famous abbey of that name. His feast is observed November 20, and he is represented in Christian art with sword and arrow, the instruments of his torture.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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