Brulé, Father Réné

1941, April 29

Date of Birth: 1872, April 2 

No Memorial Card is Available

November 16, 1941

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

At the beginning of last May we learned of the death of Father Brulé, former Superior of the major seminary of Toulouse, who had graciously consented to take up again his old functions in order to fill in for his successor, who was drafted into the military. We have had no precise details on either his illness or his death. Nevertheless it is only fitting that the life of this fine confrere be gone over for the edification of the Society.

Réné Joseph Brulé was born at Beausse in the Diocese of Angers on April 2, 1872, in the heart of the Anjou-Vendée. His family, of modest means, was excellent in every way. In it the Christian spirit was paramount. So much so that from his tenderest infancy, our future confrere had his soul steeped in that spirit thanks to the example of his parents and the deeply religious education they gave him. Réné Brulé’s family was a working-class family. The boy learned straight from his parents the meaning, the regard, the taste, and the value of work. He always remembered that basic lesson. In large part, it accounted for the successes which he would have and which would be of the finest quality, like the very beneficent influence he would yield.

From his first years at primary school, Réné Brulé struck his teachers as a remarkably bright student. The liveliness of his mind, the seriousness of his character, his deep piety, caught the eye of the pastor of Beausse, who saw in his young parishioner a soul on whom God might well have cast his choice in view of the priesthood. He prepared and arranged the entrance of Réné Brulé to the minor seminary of Beaupréau. And on the day decided on, our future confrere became a student in the minor seminary where so many generations of priests have had their training. Without giving it a thought – and probably without being aware of it – he was making contact with an institution which had been run by St. Sulpice before the [French] Revolution, dependent as it was on the major seminary of Angers. He was beginning to live the life that would be his to his last days.

Very soon, Réné Brulé led his class in all subjects. His lucid and penetrating intelligence, his power of reflection, which at that period was already evident, and his appreciation, steady and imperturbable, to work assured him the most shining success. He was well thought of by his teachers and liked by his fellows, for he was an exemplary student and at the same time the simplest and most cordial of friends. So his time at the minor seminary went quickly by, and in a manner most interesting and pleasant. When he left there in 1891, he missed it very much. The Superior and the teachers hoped to see him come back as a teacher. Himself, he kept for the house of Beaupréau the deepest affection and the most faithful memory.

In 1891, like most of his fellow-students of the minor seminary, Réné Brulé entered the major seminary of Angers. Immediately he was at ease there, captivated by the new subjects to which his fine intelligence gave itself with success. He felt taken by the atmosphere of serious piety which he was breathing and by the life he was seeing led by his new teachers. One of them in particular exercised a deep and enlightening influence on him. That was Father Laroche, his director, who had a clear and deep mind, the soul of a poet, the heart of an apostle. On more than one score, Father Brulé, to the end of his life, would remain the disciple of that outstanding priest. Our confrere would wait on him like a son in Father Laroche’s last days at Issy.

Father Brulé’s seminary days ended before he could be ordained priest. He was too young for ordination. But since he had asked for, and had obtained, permission to be admitted later on into the Society of St. Sulpice, he left for Paris in the last days of September, 1895. He stayed there for two years at first, during which he was ordained to the priesthood. In the year 1897-1898, he made his Solitude at Issy. The following year he continued the studies which he had begun at the Catholic Institute, and he took his licentiate in Literature.

Meanwhile, and unknown to him, his immediate future was being set. That future was going to be one which Father Brulé had probably not foreseen.

Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco (in the United States) had decided to open a seminary in his diocese to train there his own clergy. His suffragans, if they wished, might send there the young men of their dioceses who were preparing for priesthood. He at once thought that the priests of St. Sulpice might effectively help him to carry out his plan. In order to get them interested in his project and to secure some of them from the Superior General of St. Sulpice, he did not hesitate to cross the American continent and the ocean to come to Europe to plead the cause of the seminary he wanted to open. At Paris the Superior General of St. Sulpice had little to say and was less than encouraging. The Archbishop was not discouraged. He had his plan and he was going to move heaven and earth to accomplish it. Archbishop Riordan first made a pilgrimage to Lourdes to recommend his cause to the Blessed Virgin. Then he left for Rome and there laid out his project before Leo XIII. The pope, who at that time was exhorting the American bishops to open seminaries in their dioceses, fully approved the Archbishop’s project and urged him to plead with the Superior General of St. Sulpice to give him some of his priests. Right from the start Archbishop Riordan was more than ready to take Leo XIII’s advice. He returned to Paris, saw Father Captier, told him what the pope had advised, and pleaded that satisfaction be given to the Sovereign Pontiff and to himself. The Superior General of St. Sulpice let himself be swayed, and he promised to send to San Francisco a Sulpician who would get things ready for the opening of a minor seminary to which later on – if it pleased God – would be added a major seminary of Philosophy and Theology.

So it was that Father Jean Baptiste Vuibert, Prefect of Studies at the minor seminary of St. Charles in Ellicott City in the Diocese of Baltimore, was sent to San Francisco by Father Captier. So it was that he opened at Menlo Park (to the south of San Francisco) a minor seminary. That seminary, today flourishing and transferred under the name of St. Joseph’s, stands at Mountain View, south of Menlo Park in California.

In 1898 there was still only one Sulpician at the minor seminary, the founder, Father Vuibert, who was helped in his duties by some dioscesan priests. In 1899 two American Sulpicians, Fathers Wakeham and Hogue, were appointed to San Francisco. To them Father Captier added two Frenchmen, Father Serieys, Treasurer of the major seminary of Montreal, and Father Brulé. Thus it was that our confrere was directed to the United States, where he was for some years to exercise a much appreciated ministry.

He himself has spoken of his early days at the minor seminary in Menlo Park when, overseeing the young Americans in the Study-Hall and knowing English only imperfectly, he had to display authority and perform his duty, particularly when he had to say something to an individual or the group in order to maintain discipline. But very soon he overcame the difficulties and became a very respected teacher of grammar and literature.

Father Brulé probably left San Francisco in 1902. In 1903 we find him teaching Church History at St. Mary’s, the major seminary in Baltimore. Father Brulé had the esteem of everyone, teachers and seminarians. He was esteemed for his great intellectual worth and for his discreet and delicate personality, his presence, and his goodness. The seminarians for whom he was Spiritual Director have kept a very vivid memory of him. Even today, his students pay tribute to him for his knowledge and for the care with which he prepared his various courses.

That reputation followed him wherever he went: at Issy, where he taught Apologetics; at Angers, where he was teacher of Dogmatic Theology, and where his students – the most distinguished and the most demanding – hailed the teacher and acknowledged the penetration, the depth, and the solidity of his teaching; at the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, where taught Moral Theology both before and after the War of 1914-1918.

A day came when Father Brulé was taken out of the classroom to be put in charge of administrative functions. When, at the request of Bishop Harnas, Father Cheminat was named Superior of the major seminary of Clermont at Chamalières, Father Guarriguet, Superior General, named in Father Cheminat’s place, Father Brulé as Superior of the seminary of the Catholic Institute of Toulouse.

He stayed there some years to everyone’s satisfaction, winning over the Archbishop and the Rector by his discretion and his dinstinction of mind, and earning the respect and approval of the students. His work at the Catholic Institute – at that time all the students were priests – did not keep him from being of service to parishes and religious communities, especially to the latter. In them he was highly regarded for his speaking, clear, rich, penetrating; and for his spiritual direction, which he gave to some God-favored souls who will not forget him.

For in a short while he left Toulouse. The Superior of the major seminary of Clermont, like his predecessor, Father Cheminat, was prematurely called to God. And it was Father Brulé whom Father Garriguet chose to replace him. This news was a surprise and a heartbreak for Father Brulé. He was very fond of Toulouse. His desire was to stay there. Although his health was robust, he had some apprehension about being the superior of a major seminary. But his spirit of obedience was stronger than all those considerations. He submitted to the will of the Superior General and went to Clermont.

There, again, he knew success, rooted in his goodness and kindness to everyone, in his intellectual worth, in his knowledge recognized by his confreres and students, in his services rendered to the Bishop and clergy with the best grace in the world and with utter simplicity. The Clermont seminary experienced for some years the thoroughly paternal and calm approach which Father Brulé used in dealing with men and communities. He was well-thought of; he was loved; no one would have willingly hurt him; his advice was followed. His wishes were anticipated because it was known that Father Brulé, very considerate, did not give orders but expressed hopes; and that he tried to do the best he could without hurting anyone.

In his new position it was not a change of pace, but illness, which caught up with him. He had to resign and take a long rest in the midst of his family before he could return to active work.

When he was able to resume an office, Cardinal Verdier, Superior General of St. Sulpice, named him Director of the Solitude at Issy. It made Father Brulé happy to be able thus to contribute to the spiritual and professional training of his future confreres. Besides, Issy remained one of the most cherished places through which he had passed and where he had worked. It was a pleasure for him to come back there. But we were all hoping that if his health continued to improve he would be able to take up again a post more in keeping with his talents and his tastes.

The occasion came in 1931. The superiorship of the major seminary of Toulouse was open. Father Brulé, who had left in that diocese only the best of memories, was named there by Cardinal Verdier. The Archbishop and the clergy welcomed him with joy. Immediately the new superior felt himself at ease with the priests of the diocese and the seminarians. For eight years, in spite of the infirmities which had again begun to make themselves felt, our confrere directed to everyone’s satisfaction the seminary entrusted to him. To say that he was not suffering there would be to trim the truth – one always suffers when he wills to accomplish Christ’s work at its true price: “pretioso sanguine quasi agni immaculate Christi” [in the Precious Blood of Christ, the immaculate lamb]. At times his impaired health caused him physical torment and brought to his soul a moral suffering which tried the good servant who was realizing that his strength was not equal to his task. But all the same, at Toulouse he was very happy. He knew that he had the understanding of the clergy, the love of the students, the backing of diocesan authority. Is not that the essential thing for a seminary superior?  His confreres gave him their regard and affection. They found ways to help him in his job, especially when his health began to fail. So much so that he had the impression – and it was the truth – that the seminary was not being hurt because of his own physical ailments, since he was being so well backed up.

However, his condition, instead of improving, was slowly but surely getting worse. So after unsuccessfully offering several times to resign, he begged Cardinal Verdier to agree to his retirement. This time his resignation was accepted. He was relieved in the middle of August, 1939. Father de Geoffre was named to replace him.

Father Brulé was happy on both scores. But then the question arose as to where he would retire. He expressed the wish of retiring at Issy. His wish was immediately granted. His plan would have been carried out if the Archbishop of Toulouse, learning of that decision, had not insisted that Father Brulé choose no other place than Toulouse for his retirement, and at Toulouse the diocesan seminary. Our confrere was very reluctant to accept this very well-intentioned offer. In his delicacy, he was fearful of embarrassing his successor. But for the sake of going along with the wishes of diocesan authority and – on the part of St. Sulpice – of keeping relations with that authority undisturbed, he decided to stay at Toulouse, where he had worked so hard and so well.

Happy decision!  Meanwhile, war was declared. His successor was called to military service, and Father Brulé became again more than ever necessary to the major seminary from which several teachers had had to leave for military duties.

He took up again his former functions, and, to make up for the missing, he perhaps added other functions to those he had exercised previously.

With that set-up, very hard on a sick man, he must have tired very quickly. The news reached us at the beginning of last spring. At the beginning of May we learned, sadder still, the news of his death. The Superior of Clermont only recently gave us the exact date of Father Brulé’s death – it occurred on April 29th. His funeral took place at the Cathedral of Toulouse. His Excellency, the Archbishop, presided. The absolution was given by His Excellency, Auxiliary Bishop Courrèges. Father Belmon said the Mass. Father B. Robert was present. The Rector of the Catholic Institute and several of the faculty joined with our confreres in accompanying the body of the deceased to the cemetery. He was buried in the plot reserved for St. Sulpice.

Please, Fathers and dear confreres, remember before God the soul of our dear deceased, and accept, I beg you, the expression of my fraternal respect in Our Lord.

P. Boisard

Vice-Superior General of St. Sulpice