André, Father Gabriel
1931 September 17
Date of Birth: 1848, February 24
No Memorial Card is Available
November 6, 1931
Fathers and Dear Confreres:
In 1922, then seriously ill, Father André, still Superior of the major seminary of Avignon, wrote these lines: “I want to die soon, in the purest sentiments of love of God and neighbor … and with a memory of and an affectionate farewell to all the places in whose regard I exercised my priesthood: Abbeville, Dijon, Baltimore, Boston, Lyon and Avignon.”
His prayer was certainly answered, but much later; for Father André died on last September 17th during the first pastoral retreat at the major seminary of Avignon where for nine years he has taken a well-earned semi-retirement; [I call it that because] he was always working.
Gabriel André was born in Pernes in the Diocese of Avignon on February 24, 1848, “of a trult patriarchal family of farmers where God’s service took precedence over every other work.” He was the eldest of five children. Two of his brothers, like himself, wanted to consecrate themselves to God. One of them, Felix, must have died in the minor seminary of St. Garde. The other, Fernand, became a priest and survives our confrere. Their sister, Marie, entered the Carmel of Carpentras and became prioress of it.
At twelve, Gabriel André entered the preparatory seminary in Pernes. Very well endowed, he was able to do four years of Latin in two years. Very early he showed an interest in music. Even before his entrance into the preparatory seminary, Carpentras and St. Didier had seen him, a little fellow, line up in their halls as a member of a musical group. And later he composed several pieces of music, in particular an “O Salutaris” and a “Tota pulchra es …” which the seminarians were happy to sing on the day of his priestly golden jubilee.
From the preparatory seminary of Pernes, Gabriel André went to the minor seminary of St. Garde, where he acquired a very enviable literary education and established friendships which lasted up to his last years.
His thoughts had turned toward priesthood. He entered the major seminary of St. Charles and was ordained subdeacon on November 21, 1869, “his day”, as he loved to say, in memory of his subdiaconate and because of devotion for the Mystery of the Presentation. Some months later Father André received diaconate. Then, very young, without receiving priesthood, he ended his seminary course.
For four years Father André acted as tutor in a noble Abbeville family whose names are written down in his private notes with this observation: “all these dear names bring back to me my priestly youth.” It was during the time that he was a tutor, in 1872, that Father André received priestly ordination at Beauvais.
As priest, he goes to England to become the chaplain of a fine Catholic family. The parents offer him the post of chaperon to their son for a two-year trip around the world. Father André asks for a little time to make up his mind. He reflects, he prays, he feels drawn to the foreign missions and to work in seminaries. He declines the offer, and on November 21, 1875, “his day,” he decides to enter St. Sulpice.
Father Icard, Superior General, (and from his part of France), welcomed him to the Solitude, where Father André finds two confreres who, like himself, are going to shed luster on the Society: Fathers Many and Tanquerey.
In 1876 Father André received his appointment to the seminary of Dijon. There he taught Philosophy for two years. And he was counting on staying there for many years when, in the 1878 vacation, he received a new appointment. Father Icard was sending him to the United States.
Heartbroken at leaving his family, his friends, and his country, Father André arrived at the major seminary of Baltimore for the opening of classes. Thanks to the knowledge he had of the English language, he was able to conduct classes right from the start. At first teacher of Philosophy, then of Dogma and Chant, he devoted himself whole-heartedly to the students, and by them was highly thought of and loved. His ardent nature, his fine spirit, serious as well as affable, and his apostolic soul, which sought to give others a high idea of the Catholic priesthood and its mission – all made him appreciated by the seminarians of Baltimore and its diocesan clergy. In that clergy he entered into some solid friendships. That which did him the most honor was that of Archbishop Gibbons, who became Cardinal in 1886.
At the end of the 1889 vacation, Father André received news of his transfer from Baltimore. Father Icard was appointing him teacher of Dogma and Church History at the major seminary of Boston. He was to spend six years there. The Sulpician who had once thought of the foreign missions and who, while at Baltimore, had been associated with the American branch of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, had the joy of finding at Boston among his penitents a seminarian with a very apostolic soul. Director and penitent understood each other wonderfully well. With this favorite son, Father André worked silently for the missions. He imbued him with the flame of apostleship, and his penitent reacted fully to the enthusiastic views and general projects of his spiritual father with enthusiasm for the missions, Father James Anthony Walsh (he is the one in question) became, along with Father Thomas Frederick Price, the founders of the Seminary of the Society of Foreign Missions, established in 1910 at Maryknoll (United States). He is now its Superior General.
Father André never gave any thought to leaving his ministry in the United States. After the vacation period of 1895, as he was getting ready to go back there, the Superior of St. Sulpice told him that he had been appointed teacher of Dogma in the major seminary of Dijon. This was for him both a joy and a disappointment. He was going to return to his first seminary. But he had to give up his second fatherland, he “who felt himself to some extent an American citizen.” From afar, however, he would still be working for the Church in the United States. Was he not the one who insisted, first with Archbishop Williams of Boston, then with Cardinal Gibbons, on a formal organizing in America of the Work of the Propagation of the Faith? The decision of the American episcopacy in October, 1896, had been prepared and pushed forward by some bishops under the prodding of Father André.
From 1895 to 1900, Father André stayed at Dijon. His mind, it seems, was being agitated by the thought of a life more austere than that of St. Sulpice. He dreamed of the Carthusians, then of the Trappists. By an exceptional privilege he had himself admitted simultaneously into the third orders of the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Carmelites. But his Sulpician vocation prevailed, and he plunged – more so than previously – into prayer, mortification, and contemplation. “His society”, wrote one who lived with him, “was edifying for his confreres and fascinating for his students. … They admired in him the idealization of their own aspirations, of their enthusiasm, of their zeal, of the yearnings of their prayers. …” What seemed most evident at that time in our confrere was a marked predilection for prayers and what it entailed of recollection, mortification, and detachment.
In 1900 Father Captier appointed Father André to the superiorship of the University seminary of Lyon. His task was a delicate one. At that time things were in turmoil; curiosity – especially in religious matters – was very active. Boldness of thought bordered on presumption. Pressure on the work was extreme. The community which he had to run demanded, along with firmness, a great deal of patience and flexibility. Father André “governed with gentleness. … The goodness of his heart made him patient with the impetuosity of these young men who in large part had come out of seminaries. His approach influenced them deep down. The spiritual life, as he taught it in his talks, regained a special character and took on a new attraction. This Superior, a mystic, offered … (to his students) … the occasion each evening of recreating for themselves a pious and renewed soul, the soul of a priest of Jesus Christ.”
It was at that time that Father André began to compose his Nouveaux Examens de Conscience et Sujets de Méditation à l’Usage du Clergé de Nos Jours, which he was later to dedicate to “the Beloved Alumni of Lyon.” Meanwhile our confrere went from Lyon to Avignon. Archbishop Latty had asked for him as Superior of his seminary. After long years, Father André was going back to him. He arrived there with the reputation of an author and a scholar. Had he not translated Cardinal Gibbons’ work The Ambassador of Christ, composed numerous articles for the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, the Revue de l’Université Catholique of Lyon, the Bulletin des Anciens Elèves de St. Sulpice? And had he not completed the Histoire de la Compagnie de St. Sulpice en Amérique, not to mention another history, that of cultural societies in the United States?
As Superior of the major seminary of Avignon, Father André had a delicate mission to fulfill. The seminary had only about twenty seminarians. At any cost that number had to be increased. That was the job for which Archbishop Latty had brought him there. Our confrere did not quail before the challenge. With the approval of his archbishop he worked with all his might to set up a minor seminary. He found for it a teaching personnel in Dom Grea’s canons regular. There was need of calling to the attention of the faithful the fundamental question of the priesthood and its augmentation. Father André turned himself into the apostle of priestly vocations. He preached this new crusade even in the remotest corners of the diocese. Since all the faithful did not come to hear his preaching, he was going to bring it to them by means of the Bulletin des Vocations, which he published and which he nourished with his writings. He felt that beyond the seminary, the clergy needed revitalization and reawakening to priestly idealism, and it needed to renew itself and to affirm its own worth, to go on from there. As a result, Father André was by his archbishop put in charge of conferences for priests. To help priests to keep up and develop intellectual pursuits, he established at the major seminary a course of study for the clergy of Avignon and its environs.
While doing this, our confrere did not neglect the work of spiritual and pastoral formation which devolves on every seminary superior. Filled with the spirit of Our Lord, nourished on St. Paul’s teaching, often carried away by mystical ecstasy into regions beyond, he left his imprint, a deep imprint, on the twelve generations of seminarians whom he trained. As much as he taught them (with due allowance for their age and temperament), as much as he loved them like a father, so much did he make an effort to elevate them to the sublimity of the priesthood, to the seriousness of its obligations, to the joys and satisfactions of its functioning, understood as the saints saw and loved these things.
Did he soar too high in his idealism? Was he a bit too extended in his involvements however vital and complementary to his duties which he had undertaken with an enthusiasm and a zeal that his age did not ease up on? Whatever, in 1922, gravely ill and physically incapable of effectively going on, he was replaced as Superior of the major seminary by Father Maury.
Father André submitted to this unexpected change. He recognized that through it Providence was being good and helpful to him. And if he was hurt by being replaced, he never complained.
Henceforth this hard worker would have some leisure. He used it, like a true Sulpician: in prayer, writing, and preaching. He was then seen to be prolonging his prayers, to be increasing his little talks with Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, to be giving everyone example of devotion to the Way of the Cross, to be reciting piously and at length his “priestly beads” and his rosary. So as to continue his work for the clergy he published in 1925 two large volumes on Priestly Education of the Apostles in the School of Jesus Christ, Sovereign Priest. This work was to be followed by two others. They were completely revised: Fruits of the Priestly Education of the Apostles in Their Labors and Writings, with an appendix on Priestly Education in the Church through the Pontificate; Priestly Education in St. Paul’s Labors and Writings. And finally, some observations on a rule of priestly living in Union with Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim.
The time that Father André did not use for prayer and writing, he consecrated to preaching. Without speaking of the spiritual readings he gave from time to time to the seminarians – when he was taking the place of his two successors in their illnesses or filling in for them – he preached easily, readily, and often. The Carmel of Avignon, that of Carpentras, the Community of the Blessed Sacrament and several other religious communities, benefitted from his zeal for the Word of God. His last two talks were on August 14th at the Carmel of Avignon and on the Feast of the Assumption at the Community of the Blessed Sacrament.
From August 15th on, Father André did not leave the seminary. On September 2nd, he stopped celebrating Mass and had to take to his bed, never to leave it. On the 6th, which was a Sunday, he himself asked for Extreme Unction and received it in the most edifying sentiments of trust and piety. He was to suffer for eleven more days. During this time of trial, the Archbishop was kind enough to visit him often. For the sick man this was a great consolation. The religious communities – and especially the two Carmels of which he was Superior – prayed for his intentions. Their prayers doubtless won for him the favor of dying in the midst of the pastoral retreat in the presence of the Archbishop, the Superior of the major seminary, one of his Sulpician confreres, and surrounded by a large part of the clergy.
On Thursday, September 17th, after sweetly uttering the three words: Adoro, credo, spero [I adore, I believe, I hope], at about half past eight in the morning, he gently gave his soul to God.
The funeral was held the next day with the Archbishop presiding. Canon Monier, The Vicar General, sang the funeral Mass at ten o’clock. The chapel was too small to hold the crowd that wanted to attend. After the Mass, a first absolution was given by His Excellency, Bishop de Llobet. At four in the afternoon, Vespers of the Dead was sung. This was followed by a second absolution which the Archbishop readily consented to give. And Canon Trouillet led the carrying of the body to the cemetery. He was followed by a long procession of priests, religious, and faithful.
Our Lord, we have no doubt, heard the prayer addressed to Him by our confrere as he was getting ready to die: “Sickness does its work of destruction, of immolation, of crucifixion. What does it matter if only it unites me more intimately with You in my priest’s heart as a son of Father Olier? … My soul, my body, my life, my death, are for Jesus my Savior, my hope, my joy, my reward, my God, my All!”
Please accept, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my fraternally devoted sentiments in Our Lord.
Vice-superior of St. Sulpice