Clapin, Father George

1929, December 4

Date of Birth: 1857, May 28


No Memorial Card is Available

March 6, 1930

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

Here are the notes which the Provincial Superior of Canada has graciously sent us on Father Clapin, our Canadian confrere recently deceased at Montreal.

Father Georges Camille Clapin was born at St. Hyacinthe on May 28, 1857. He made his classical studies at the minor seminary in that town. In all branches he did about equally well, that is, very well indeed. From then on there was noticeable in him a sort of natural dignity which shielded him from vulgarity in both conduct and language. He seemed polite in his dealings, absorbed in study, and very respectful of religious matters.

When it came time to choose his path in life, he showed no hesitation. Nothing in the life of the world appealed to him. It seemed very natural for him to dedicate himself to the education of the young in the house where he himself had been trained. Those who were his students in the seminary of St. Hyacinthe have kept the fondest memory of Father Clapin. In classes of oratory or literature, with fine discrimination he valued the works of the masters. At the same time, he was very good at rousing others to thought. When he preached in chapel, there was much admiration for the artful structuring of his speaking which used examples to bolster teaching. And the students were aware that it gave him pleasure to treat them with kindness and respect.

In the Grand Seminary of Montreal, where Father Clapin made part of his theological studies, he came to know St. Sulpice. One day he thought he heard God calling and asking him to enter our Society. He hoped to find in it a more thorough use of his talents. His confreres at the seminary of St. Hyacinthe were able from then on to plot his horoscope without much risk of mistake. They said: “Surely in taking Father Clapin from us, the Fathers of St. Sulpice are gaining a brilliant recruit. But Father Clapin will never be the man of the single and important work taking up his whole life and leaving behind a “big gap.” And, in fact, we are touching here on what has made up the richness, but also the peril, of the life of our confrere. He spread himself pretty thin. He had the fatal gift of the poets who idealize things and so weave pleasant illusions. With his mind always working, he felt himself attracted to all sorts of activity, and he did not know how to stay very long at the task which he took up. Let us be just, however. The constant flickering of that mind was able to create its illusions on a really solid base. His whole career as a teacher testified to its vigor.

The fabric of Father Clapin’s education had given him a spirit eminently French. When he came to St. Sulpice, he believed he had found the new country of which he had so often dreamt. For a time, he had the notion of staying in the work of the French seminaries, thus beginning that process of mutual exchanges sometimes spoken of. But we know that Father Clapin’s fancies seldom resulted in firm determination.

It was during the years that followed his return to America – from 1887 to 1896 – that Father Clapin had the most telling and useful of his career. After a short stay at the minor seminary of St. Charles at Baltimore, he taught some Philosophy and some Theology at Montreal, at Boston, and at Baltimore. The chief characteristic of his teaching was a sort of faithfulness in making a thesis fully clear without exaggerating the proofs and without making fun of contrary teachings. A lesson of Father Clapin’s always left in the mind a very neat outline. On this point, opinion is unanimous.

In the last stay of Father Clapin at Baltiore in 1896, Cardinal Gibbons wanted very much to keep him in his seminary. What impressed the eminent churchman in our confrere – besides his abilities as a teacher – was a certain churchly aura, perhaps quite rare for many years since.

Father Clapin knew Father Hogan in the United States, but not long enough to have become his follower. Nevertheless, there was perhaps some kinship between these two spirits otherwise of unequal worth. In the one and in the other it could be noticed that there was a certain tendency to be tolerant of all opinions so as to better understand them – a tendency which, as experience has demonstrated – is not without danger. Both, to tell the truth, were safe: Father Hogan by an exceptionally strong cast of mind and Father Clapin by a certain candor. If ever there was a heart that had its reasons that the reason did not know, it was the innocent heart of Father Clapin.

In 1900 our late confrere was asked to replace Father Guillaume Leclair as Superior of the Canadian College in Rome. Everything seemed to point to him for the job in this setting and this kind of life. On learning of the appointment, Archbishop Bruchesi of Montreal wrote: “There you will be like a fish in water.” He especially made reference to the tact and to that mindframe for certain accommodations necessary to get along in the Roman church-world. Let there be no doubt that Father Clapin from the very first gave his heart to the City of Rome and to the Canadian College. He never took it back. Very recently he decided to use his meagre savings to have some superb murals made to decorate the college’s refectory. And, again, some weeks ago, from his hospital bed, he dreamed of having the chapel restored.

When he returned to Montreal in 1911, Father Clapin took up duty as chaplain at the novitiate of the Congregation of Notre Dame and the Girl’s Normal School. The piety and the beautiful arrangement of his instructions were much admired.

For quite a while Father Clapin’s health had been poor. It was noticed that he was a little too concerned about himself, dwelling on ills he did not have, and always looking for some better diet. But these quirks were quite excusable in a man whose innards were upset. Father Clapin was shot through with tuberculosis. Last May an attack of pleurisy laid him low. He did not get over it. As soon as he was down, he renewed hope. He languished on his sick bed, first at Oka, then at Sacred Heart Hospital, and finally at the hotel Dieu, where he died.

From the religious point of view, his death was not without a certain grandeur. He desired to prepare himself for God’s call by a single thought – that nothing outside come to disturb him. This “grand silence” was piously respected. Only from time to time did he ask the Sister taking care of him to recite with him some “Hail Mary’s,” for he had placed all his trust in the Blessed Virgin.

On November 28th at the Hotel Dieu in Montreal, Father Clapin piously received for the second time the Sacrament of Extreme Unction; and, after the anointing, spontaneously recited the following invocations: “My Jesus, mercy!” and “Into Thy  hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” He expired quietly in the night of Wednesday, December 4th, about half past three. A little before he died, he asked to kiss the crucifix several times. The nun who was watching over him recited several articles of the Creed. The dying man associated himself with them by this single word in a fairly loud voice: “I believe!”

The funeral was held at the Church of Notre Dame. A great number of seminarians, priests, brothers, sisters, and laity attended. It was presided over by His Excellency, Bishop Deschamps, Auxiliary of Montreal.

The sweet dreaming that was Father Clapin’s appeared even in the arrangements he had made for his burial. The Montreal confreres are buried in the chapel of the Grand Seminary. Father Clapin wanted to be buried in the cemetery at Oka, our house out in the country. He wished, he said, to sleep his last sleep in a grave sometimes visited by the sun, and not hemmed in by stone walls. The Superior religiously respected his wish, at once innocent and touching. So, Father Clapin did not separate himself from us by going to rest among the humble parishioners of Oka. The confreres – always numerous there during vacations – will be able often to go to say a prayer at his grave. Father Tranchemontagne, pastor at Oka, has put up Stations of the Cross in the cemetery. Our dear, good Father Clapin, always so responsive to suffering, will lie there under the likeness of Veronica Wiping the Face of Jesus.

I recommend Father Clapin’s soul to your charitable prayers, and I ask you to accept the expression of my respectful affection in Our Lord.

P. Boisard

Vice-superior of St. Sulpice