Fonteneau, Father August

1905, December 19

Date of Birth:  1841, April 21

January 18, 1906

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

No Memorial Card is Available

Two weeks after Father Coubin’s death, we learned suddenly of that of Father Fonteneau, treasurer of the minor seminary of St. Charles near Baltimore.

Father Auguste Stanislas Fonteneau was born on April 21, 1841, at Le Longeron in the Diocese of Angers. Of very pious parents, he was raised in the fear and love of God, and from childhood showed himself quite willing to learn. At the college of Combré, where he made his classical studies, he was in every way one of the best students in his class; and clearly attracted to the priesthood, he entered the Angers seminary of Philosophy, then that of Theology, and was ordained priest on December 23, 1865.

From then on he hoped to be a Sulpician, but his ordinary, the venerable and prudent Bishop Angebault, requested a trial in parochial ministry for which the young priest seemed to show marked talents. Named assistant at Durtal, Father Fonteneau justified that expectation, and from all sides won for himself much respect and sympathy. But as his attraction to the Society endured, at the end of the year he was given leave to pursue it, and he came to Paris in February 1867. “Life was very pleasant for me at Durtal,” he often recalled later; “on all sides I saw myself catered to, and I was afraid that these parish-life delights would only be an obstacle to my salvation. I was yearning for the moment when I could enter on a surer path, and that seemed to me to be the path of God’s providing.” 

As if to strengthen him in his vocation, the year of trial gave him the benefit of acquiring some experience of and better appreciation of the instructions of the Solitude, which he entered in October 1867. When his novitiate was over, he left for America. “To see that young man, so good-natured, so likeable, so delicate in health,” said the revered confrere who was his director at the Seminary of Angers, “no one at first glance would have seen into an apostolic soul; it was, however, such a soul which filled a body so frail.”  Moreover, nothing could hold Father Fonteneau back, not even the tears of a widowed mother whom her only son loved so tenderly.

Having arrived at Baltimore in August 1868, Father Fonteneau was at first assigned as a second-year-high-school teacher at St. Charles. There he soon won for himself a wide acceptance by reason of the qualities of his heart and character. From the point of view of English, his mastery was far from complete, and – candidly – it must be admitted that it always left something to be desired. That gap never interfered with his good relationships with his students; and from his little class as from his ministry at Durtal, he kept only pleasant memories. At the end of three years, however, he was obliged to give up teaching and to become treasurer; no one, in sizing him up, would have been impressed with his qualifications for that job. After doing the job for a year at St. Charles, he was transferred in the same capacity to Baltimore, where he stayed eight years and where he was also assigned to teach Physics. Very exact in his management, very careful to avoid the slightest unnecessary expense, he was nevertheless giving all possible satisfaction to the expectations and legitimate desires of the young men. His good will was so apparent that here again it won him general sympathy. His piety and his priestly virtues not being less, he found himself sought after as a director, not only by the seminarians, but also by many of the city’s priests.

In 1880, on the occasion of a visitation, it was determined to create a Junior Division at St. Charles College, all of whose students up to then had been treated as a single group. Father Fonteneau was chosen to be its prefect and at the same time to teach a number of classes. If he had courageously borne the burden of the treasurership, he knew its heaviness; and it was his fondest wish to lay it down. He experienced a few days’ illness. “I was too happy,” he exclaimed; “it took that little crisis to bring me back to my senses.”  The new division was still quite small, and Father Fonteneau’s fatherly attitude could show itself unabashedly in the midst of his young family; much beloved by the boys, he was thereby enabled to form them in piety, which he called the whole of life.

Thus, twelve years – the most cheerful of his career – went by, when in 1892 a new sacrifice was offered to him, that of taking up again the St. Charles’ treasurership which, as a matter of fact, he was going to keep for the rest of his life. Father Fonteneau’s superiors did not in any way lay this burden on him insensitively, but they left it up to him after explaining to him their reasons. Reflection and prayer persuaded him to give himself once again to what seemed to be the greater good and the good pleasure of God.

In the more than twenty years since he had left the treasurership of St. Charles, the house had developed in all aspects:  the number of students had grown, the property had been extended, the management had undergone improvement, and yet Father Fonteneau was obliged to carry out numerous repairs; but the job had not become less trying. On the other hand, our confrere’s health began to decline, and a serious heart condition was not long in making its appearance. This put him in constant danger of sudden death to be avoided while keeping himself – to whatever extent was possible – free of pronounced tiredness and unease of mind; a lay assistant was given him to do the bookkeeping and to free him from frequent trips to the city. This relief was good for him.

Since his mother’s death he had not gone back to France. In the last vacation he believed himself in shape to cross the ocean; and on his return from his native land, it was noticeable that he had regained some vitality and good spirits. However, a weak organ often reminded him that he was skirting an abyss that he could suddenly fall into. On December 19th, Father Fonteneau got up as usual about four o’clock and went to the chapel where he was due to say Mass, when all at once he began to suffocate. Father Haug, whose room was nearby, heard his groans and hastened to help him, and Father Viger soon joined him. Father Fonteneau remained conscious, saw death at hand, and faced it calmly. He asked for absolution, and, having received it, sank in the arms of his two confreres. He was carried to his room and died there almost right away.

The funeral was held in the St. Charles’ chapel on Thursday, the 21st, amid a great gathering of priests. One of them, an old penitent of Father Forteneau’s, consented to give the eulogy; and his words, alive with sincere feeling, went to the hearts of all who heard them. A cousin of Father Fonteneau’s, pastor in the diocese of Ogdensburg, on the news of his death, hurried from that distance; and it was he who conducted the casket to its burial place in the college cemetery.

Our confreres were touched by the number and the kindness of the expressions of sympathy which they received on the occasion of this loss, and which showed once more how much the work of St. Sulpice in the United States is appreciated by many priests and bishops, especially by those who owe their priestly training to it. The needs of this work remain great in spite of some help received this year. While praying then for our dear departed one, let us also ask God to still send to our seminaries some workers who will be like him in the generosity of their vocation, in their practical mindedness, and in the grace of their dedication.

I renew to you, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my sentiments entirely devoted in Our Lord.

H. Garriguet

Superior of St. Sulpice