Dubreul, Father Joseph Paul Freydier

1878, April 20

Date of Birth:  1814, November 8

May 14, 1878

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

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In calling to Himself Father Dubreul, Superior of the Seminary of Baltimore, God has asked of us a new sacrifice. I was bound to this confrere by an old friendship; we had been united, during our days at the Seminary of St. Sulpice, by the most intimate ties; he rendered great service to Baltimore, where we all had complete confidence in the wisdom of his administration. It is enough to tell you the distress which the news of his death in itself has caused me; but here still, as always, whatever be our grief of soul, let us say to God that we are His – ourselves and what we hold most dear in the world.

Father Joseph Paul Freydier Dubreul was born at St. Etienne in the Diocese of Lyon on November 8, 1814. He had the inestimable happiness of being brought up in a respectable family wherein the traditions of Christian living were preserved, brought up by a pious mother, who with tender care watched over his young years and encouraged the attraction (which she was early aware of) in her child for the priesthood. He made his first studies at the minor seminary of Monistrol; he made his Philosophy course at Alix; and he began at St. Ireneé of Lyon - which he entered on October 15, 1833 – his Theological studies; and he continued them in Paris at the Seminary of St. Sulpice in 1836, 1837 and 1838. All his thoughts at the time centering on the Society of St. Sulpice, he asked (and was allowed) to make his novitiate at the house of the Solitude, where he was ordained priest on May 24, 1839.

His preparations over, the Superior General sent him to the Seminary of Orleans; there he spent nearly ten years teaching Dogmatic Theology. It was then that Father de Courson chose him for an important mission: there was a felt need for strengthening the personnel of the Directors of the Seminary of Baltimore, and of firming up that establishment by giving it a direction which corresponded fully with the outlook Father Emery had when, with the consent of diocesan authority, he opened it. Father de Courson, who had come to appreciate the uncommon talents and abilities of Father Dubreul, hoped that he would one day be able to accomplish quite handily the realization of the design which the Superiors who had succeeded Father Emery attached great importance to.

With the docility of a child Father Dubreul submitted to the will of his superiors and left for Baltimore in February 1850. To begin with, he was named Vice-president-of St. Mary’s College and given the Philosophy course. Later he was successively given the Treasurership of the major seminary (1851), Deacon training (1853) classes in Pastoral Theology and Canon Law (1856-1860). He was made Spiritual Director of the major seminary in 1860, and he became Superior toward the end of the same year after Father Lhomme’s death. He was the fifth Superior in Baltimore; his predecessors were Fathers Nagot, Tessier, Deluol, and Lhomme.

All those who up close saw Father Dubreul in these various positions recognized in him the traits which constitute the community man; the real Sulpician; the teacher obviously well-prepared and of sound doctrine; the alert and obliging confrere, deliberately and to the best of his ability avoiding causing pain in his dealings; a director vigilant and zealous for the keeping of the rule; the paternal and strict Superior. What was especially noticeable in his conduct as Superior was his self-discipline, the calm with which he viewed things, his perseverance in carrying out a project when he saw it as God’s will. He did not allow himself to be carried away by instant enthusiasm nor bogged down by apprehension; but before coming to a decision, he thought things over for quite a while; he sought enlightenment from wise counsel; he had recourse to prayer; and, as the nature of the thing might indicate, he did not hesitate to refer it to the Superior General.

In this regard, his correspondence with the Superior of St. Sulpice was very remarkable for the care he took in laying out all the facets of the matter on which he sought advice and for his willingness to be completely submissive to authority so as not to stray in the slightest from the path of obedience. The thought of duty was of first importance in Father Dubreul’s 1ife. Duty showed itself to him in his rules, in the working out of Providence, in his Superior’s decisions; thenceforth there was no hardship which could discourage him, no human consideration which could daunt him.

Every time we speak of these characteristics (outstanding in certain aspects) which made Father Dubreul a very good Superior, which gained for him the trust and affection of his students and a great influence over the clergy, we recall that he did not have them from the beginning in the degree to which they showed themselves in his last years. It took time and experience for him to acquire them. In the beginning, not yet understanding as he later did the American character, preoccupied moreover with the need of keeping good order, there was some rigidity in his approach to things; it might have been better if authority made itself more attractive. But as he had no other wish than to govern according to God's will those placed in his charge, and he was amenable to the advice he received from his Superior, he corrected little by little what was lacking in his mode of directing. Never did he hesitate to give up his own notions when obedience was called for.

With God blessing the pureness of his outlook and the efforts underlying his zeal, Father Dubreul rendered great service to the Church. He continued and enforced the work happily begun by Father Lhomme in disengaging the Seminary from the external works which circumstances had perhaps made necessary at the outset, but which were an obstacle to the essential and contemplated. Bishop-elect Keane of Richmond said on this subject in his eulogy delivered on the day of Father Dubreul’s funeral: “Under his administration, the Seminary of St. Sulpice not only kept the eminence which he had inherited, but he saw its well-being and its reputation grow, despite the opening in this country of similar new institutions; and at the present time, this house remains in the estimation of the clergy the first and best school in the United States for the formation of aspirants to the priesthood.”

Father Dubreul’s concern for the administration of the Seminary, for the formation of clerics in the virtue and knowledge the holy state requires did not influence him to neglect the material interests of the house. Under his watchful eye construction work was done – building made necessary by the health needs and the growing numbers of students at the minor seminary of St. Charles and at the major seminary. He had, this past year, the satisfaction of housing his community in the new buildings. The community happily found therein all it could reasonably want. The public acclaims its beauty and simplicity both within it and on its exterior. It can also be said that there has been given to the city and to the diocese of Baltimore an establishment which does honor to Religion.

Some other involvements - not welcome - came in these latter years to take up (along with the running of the Seminary) all of Father Dubreul’s time. Baltimore’s Archbishop Bayley, who had come to a high regard for the Superior of his seminary, wished to confer on him the title and the duties of Vicar General, convinced that he could simultaneously fill both offices. We did what we could to avoid that burden which we considered as morally incompatible with all the duties of a major seminary superior. On the death of the venerable archbishop, his very worthy successor, Archbishop Gibbons, determined to renew again his faculties in the office of Vicar General because he felt he had need of Father Dubreul’s guidance at the beginning of his episcopacy. Father Dubreul, out of love and affection for the worthy prelate who deigned to honor us with his esteem and affection, felt bound to accept temporarily and to wait for a better opportunity [to resign]. It is undoubtedly true that he repaid the trust of these two esteemed archbishops by his prodigious work, by his knowledge of men and affairs, by his cultured mien, but must we not think that his health was impaired under so heavy a burden?

Speaking of that, I felt some lively apprehension when on February 20th of this year he wrote me that he had been laid low by a very annoying tiredness in his eyes which for some weeks had made it completely impossible for him to write, to read, even to recite his breviary. He had just taken up his work again; but he felt the need of being careful for a while lest he bring on a relapse. I ordered him then to seek out the Archbishop and ask him, in these new circumstances, to relieve him from the office of Vicar General, which – I was convinced – he could no longer keep.

I wrote him on Holy Thursday; I had no idea that on that very day he was ready to receive the last sacraments and that my letter would arrive only after his death. No one expected his death; for that dear confrere had recovered from the illness which he had spoken about to me; his health, although delicate and less than perfect, seemed strong enough. On Friday, April 12th, the commemoration day of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin, he caught a cold which did not seem dangerous, and which, nonetheless, required medical attention and made him take serious precaution. Things were not very much different until the night of Wednesday/Holy Thursday. It was then that the patient had a hunch of his approaching death and prepared himself with a touching fervor and resignation which was highly edifying to our confreres and to all the community. He said to his director: “The doctor is taking care of my body; it’s up to you to take care of my soul.” On the suggestion that he receive Extreme Unction and Holy Viaticum he responded with perfect calm and very lively signs of knowing what was going on, asking only that he be allowed an hour by himself to better prepare himself. He evidenced great difficulty in speaking during the rites, but his alertness was plain to see in his eye-movements. The signs of devotion which he gave showed that his soul was piously occupied and was following the prayers of holy liturgy. For some hours of Good Friday there were some rather peaceful moments which once more raised some hope, but on-Holy Saturday morning the final symptoms became clear. He had just received, fully conscious, the indulgence in articulo mortis, and the prayers for the dying were being recited over him, when he gave his soul to God at quarter past seven in the morning.

The Archbishop, who had evinced the most tender interest in the state of the patient, was deeply moved and wept with emotion when he was told that the sacrifice had been completed. The students of the seminary had followed with filial anxiety the various developments in the illness of their esteemed Superior. They gave evidence of their deep sorrow, and the veneration they had for him worked in them a noticeable renewal in their spirit of docility and in the keeping of the rule. It was their wish to lay at his feet a beautiful bouquet accompanied by the inscription: “To our dearly beloved Father.”

In the presence of several bishops, Father Dubreul’s funeral was celebrated with a large crowd of priests and laity in attendance, by the Archbishop of Baltimore who wanted to sing the High Mass and to give the absolution. Bishop-elect Keane of Richmond said the funeral prayers. The esteemed Superior had left a will which breathed of a truly priestly piety. He had very strongly recommended that in his funeral arrangements a great simplicity be observed as to the casket and other appurtenances which in America are usually over ornate. The priests and the seminarians were edified by this caution which humility had dictated, and his wishes were carried out insofar as circumstances allowed.

God is trying us; he is testing us with some very painful losses. But let us put our trust in Him and not doubt His goodness. Let us ask the Blessed Virgin to bless St. Mary’s in Baltimore, a seminary especially dedicated to her.

I recommend Father Dubreul to the prayers of all our confreres.

Accept, Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord, the expression of my most affectionate regards.

H. J. Icard

Superior of St. Sulpice