Blanc, Father Philip

1948, October 18

Date of Birth: 1876, July 23

November 8, 1948

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

Divine Providence is testing, with love we may be sure, but very sadly, our American province. In the course of the last scholastic year, Fathers Hoey and Trainor of St. Edward’s Seminary, Kenmore, in the Diocese of Seattle, and Father Levatois of St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park in Baltimore, have been called to God.

The scholastic year, 1948-1949, has already been marked by the quite sudden death of our dear Provincial, Father Lardner. Now, close on his heels, another confrere, Father Blanc, follows him into the grave. We console ourselves by thinking that the Society regroups itself in God’s presence. So many confreres have already found their reward.

Philippe [Philip] Marie Claude Joseph Blanc was born at Villefranche sur Saône in the Diocese of Lyon on July 23, 1876. He was always proud of his birthplace, the old capital of Beaujolais. His father, Lawrence Blanc, and his mother, Marie Philomène France, were fine Catholics, who had at least two children: our future confrere and his brother who died in Africa – at Algiers – during the last World War.

The parents carefully reared, in piety and knowledge, the children God gave them. In 1882, they sent Philip to the Brothers’ school, St. Andrew’s, at Lyon. In 1885, for reasons unknown to us, he went to the School of the Infant Jesus, again at Lyon. At the beginning of the 1889 school year, Philip Blanc was making his secondary studies at the Externat St. Joseph, and he stayed there until 1894.

For some time Philip Blanc had been thinking of dedicating his life to God and to the Church. It was not then surprising to see him in 1894 enter the Seminary of Philosophy at Aix, from which he went on in 1896 to the Seminary of St. Irenaeus in Lyon. Then, in the light of the wish he had expressed of entering the Society of St. Sulpice, to the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, where he completed his priestly training, properly so called.

The following year, 1899-1900, he became a student at the Catholic Institute in Paris and earned his Licentiate in Theology. It was then that he was ordained priest by Cardinal Coullié on June 9, 1900.

At that time he was hesitant about the direction of his life in the priesthood. Would it be Sulpician, as he had thought?  Or rather, would he consecrate it to preaching?  He had a remarkable talent for speech. Some were advising him to remain in the Lyon clergy and to specialize little by little in the art of oratory – the better to serve the Church. He reflected, he prayed, and he made the decision to dedicate his life, not to the ministry of the pulpit, but to the training of the clergy in the seminaries entrusted to the Society of St. Sulpice. Therefore, he entered the Solitude in October, 1903, with Father Marcetteau, whom he was to encounter later in the United States.

With Solitude over, Father Lebas, Superior General, who knew and esteemed Father Philip Blanc at the Seminary of St. Irenaeus when he was its superior, named our confrere to teach Apologetics at the Seminary of Issy. Father Blanc was to remain there only a year. But that year mattered to his students and penitents. Already as a teacher he was well liked, and as a director he left his mark – discreet, perhaps a little too reserved, but very deep – on the seminarians who had put themselves into his hands. Others had no difficulty in building on the solid foundation that Father Blanc had laid.

After this single year at Issy, 1904-1905, a little unsettled by the persecution which M. Emile Combes was inflicting on the Society of Sulpice, he asked Father Garriguet to let him go to the United States. His request was granted.

From 1905 to 1908, we find him teaching at St. Mary’s Seminary, Paca Street. There he taught Philosophy to the newcomers, Liturgy, and Hebrew. Meanwhile, during the year, 1907-1908, he was a student or undergraduate at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, where, in the Department of Semitic Languages, he perfected himself in the study of the Bible and biblical languages. But already the Modernist crisis was raging. Prudently, he refrained from taking his doctorate in Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, where he had won the esteem of all his professors, even though they did not share his faith.

In 1908, at the request of Father Dyer, Father Blanc was changed to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, where he taught Fundamental Moral, Apologetics, and Patrology. He stayed at Brighton until 1911.

In view of his wonderful and varied intellectual gifts, Father Dyer named him that year as a teacher at the minor seminary in Catonsville, St. Charles. This was an entirely new field of action for Father Blanc. The novelty of the situation did not disconcert him. He agreed to teach Latin, Greek, and French, in several classes. He did so successfully. But in the course of the First World War, Father Blanc was called into the [French] military in 1915. He remained in the army up to 1917, when it was realized that he and others like him would be of more worth at their stations in the United States than at minor military posts.

He, therefore, returned to America. He took up his classes at St. Charles, and to them he added the History course. He was also asked to take on the teaching of Fundamental Moral Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street. But his stay at St. Charles was a short one. In September, 1917, he was at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, in California. There he took up the teaching of Holy Scripture, Latin, and Hebrew. He remained there only a year. In 1918 he was called back to Baltimore, where after a short stay at St. Charles, he joined to his duties of teaching, those of Librarian and Master of Ceremonies.

Father Blanc was indefatigable. Both at Paca Street and at Roland Park (when the Theology Department moved there in 1929) he was involved in all sorts of activities, and always very successfully. His was a success of esteem and respect for his very great intellectual and pedagogical worth. His energy was unbelievable. The resources of his spirit and his savoir faire seemed infinite. He played an important role in the conception, the construction, and the planning of the magnificent Roland Park seminary. During that time, Father Blanc was teaching, successively and simultaneously, nearly all the seminary courses: Fundamental Moral, Holy Scripture, Second and Third Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Hebrew, Biblical Greek, and French – he was into everything!  At the same time he was Librarian, as we have said. Besides, since 1926, he had been named Dean of Studies at the seminary. More yet!  Since the Pontificate of Pius VII and the Episcopate of Archbishop Maréchal, St. Mary’s Seminary had been also St. Mary’s University. Under that title, he had to discuss with the authorities of the Church and of the State of Maryland all the questions which were of importance to those authorities. Under that same title he was responsible for the teaching of special Theology courses for the candidates for the Licentiate.

Everything just said evidences what a prodigious worker Father Blanc was. As such, he was known to all the generations of priests stretching from Maine and Washington to Florida and Texas, from Massachusetts and Connecticut to California – into every corner of the United States. His reputation as a scholar and hard worker had long since flowed out beyond the confines of our houses. Johns Hopkins University had not forgotten its former student and held in high esteem the master he had become. At Maryland’s Board of Education, Father Blanc’s competence and authority in matters of classroom procedure and school administration were counted on.

Does that mean that Father Blanc was perfectly content?  It does not seem that he was. Willingly – and though it doubled his burden of spiritual direction at the seminary – our confrere agreed to add to his obligations two chaplaincies, [one] of which [was] that of the St. Francis Orphanage run by nuns and intended for young black girls. When one saw him, and especially when one could converse with him, one could sense in him an interior suffering which was causing him to twist in on himself and to seek in his compulsive work the medicine his soul needed. That soul, it seems, aspired to other sacrifices than those inherent in our Sulpician life in countries like the United States, Canada, and France. Thus twice, Father Blanc asked the writer of these lines to send him to China, to the major seminary at Kunming (Yunan) where he would have liked to finish his life. The first request was in April, 1938, when the Vice Superior was making his visitation to St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park. The second, even more pressing, took place in Anjou, in September, after the declaration of the Second World War. Father Blanc, who had come there during the vacation that year, was returning from Algiers, where he had been visiting his brother, now deceased. Not finding in Paris the Vice Superior, who was travelling, he followed after him, caught up with him at Savonnières, and begged to be appointed to Kunming. In consideration of Father Blanc’s age and of the role he was filling, a very important one, at the Baltimore seminary, his request could not be granted. Our confrere left to go back to the United States. It remains no less the evidence of his apostolic spirit and the sign of his generosity.

Father Blanc stayed therefore in the United States. He continued to perform all the functions we have mentioned, but they took their toll on his strength, which was weakening, and on his health, which was declining.

Last August he had to enter St. Agnes Hospital to undergo a gall bladder operation. He recovered without much trouble from the surgery. But some weeks later he fell sick again. The doctors made him return to the hospital. They operated again and found that he had cancer of the pancreas. Before the operation, seeing the condition of the patient, Father Raymond Meyer gave him Extreme Unction. Father Blanc received the sacrament gratefully. He himself answered the prayers of the Ritual. At the conclusion, he warmly thanked Father Meyer.

After the operation, Father Laubacher, Superior of the Roland Park seminary, was with Father Blanc. When Father Blanc regained consciousness, he talked with his superior and gave him precise details about the unfinished work which was on his desk at the seminary. His doctor was still hoping that Father Blanc would recover sufficiently to have two more years of life. But on the morning of Monday, October 18th, his condition became worse. Attended by Father Laubacher, the dear patient, after a long struggle with death, fell asleep in the Lord at seventy-two years of age.

Father Blanc’s funeral was held on Thursday, October 21st, in the chapel of the Roland Park seminary. His Grace, Archbishop Francis P. Keough of Baltimore, consented to sing the Pontifical Mass of Burial. The eulogy was preached by His Excellency, Bishop Lawrence J. Shehan, Auxiliary of Baltimore, a former student and former penitent of Father Blanc’s. The preacher recalled that Father Blanc had been a father to him, and a “friend more than a teacher.” He summed up in three words the picture he had traced of the deceased: “sparkling intelligence, warm heart, and generous soul.”

When the service was over, Father Blanc’s body was brought to the little Sulpician cemetery at St. Charles in Catonsville, and he was buried near to the still fresh grave of Father Lardner, his Provincial Superior and his friend.

In recommending Father Blanc’s soul to your prayers, I beg you, Fathers and dear confreres, to accept the expression of my fraternal sentiments in Our Lord.

P. Boisard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice