Godon, Father Eugene
1938, October 5
Date of Birth: Not Stated
No Memorial Card is Available
February 14, 1939
Fathers and Dear Confreres:
Before the last Sulpician retreat, one of us present received a letter from our confrere in Bourges, Father Godon. He was urgently asking that he be told the day and the hour when the retreat would be opening. He also expressed the lively hope that his infirmities would not keep him from attending. This twofold concern reflected the two main aspects of Father Godon’s life: zeal for personal sanctification and the desire to remain faithful to all the exercises of rule. This zeal and this desire underlay the unity and richness of the various ministries which Father Godon carried out in the Society’s houses.
Father Eugene Godon was born at Augy sur Aubois in the Department of the Cher. His family, of modest means, were small-time artisans who earned their living in a simple way. But in them was to be found a living faith and a solid religion – two blessings which are worth more than all riches. Early on, the boy caught his pastor’s eye by reason of his piety and his love of study. The priest gave him his first lessons in Latin and Greek. At the end of a year, Eugene Godon was ready to enter the equivalent of second year high in the minor seminary of St. Celestine at Bourges. He did well in his studies, and his success continued on into the major seminary. It was there that he first had the notion of entering the Society of St. Sulpice. The seminary faculty assented to his wish. In October, 1893, he was admitted to the Solitude.
Was [what followed] his doing? Or, on the contrary, was his first assignment thrust on him by the Superior General of the time? Anyway, his first assignment was to the major seminary of Boston in the United States. He was to remain there only a year. Did he have some trouble in getting used to things? In any event, he was recalled to France in 1895 and assigned to Rodez. There he found his fellow townsman and friend, Bishop Auvity, who was to be his future colleague at the major seminary in Bourges and who – after being Vicar General of that diocese and Auxiliary to his own Archbishop – became the Bishop of Mende. Both taught sciences. Their teaching the same matter must have brought them still closer together while ahead they would be in the seminary of their diocese of origin.
From Rodez Father Godon was sent to Bayeux. There he acted as Treasurer. It was in the same capacity that he was sent to Orléans.
He was, we believe, Treasurer of that seminary when he was obliged, in 1905, to leave, so as to comply like his confreres with the decisions of the then President of the Council of Ministers as regards St. Sulpice and teaching in major seminaries. It was on that occasion – and without doubt at his own request (for he had remained nostalgic about the United States) – that he was sent to America. He was named to the faculty of the Menlo Park seminary in the Diocese of San Francisco.
He was there in April, 1906, when the great earthquake destroyed a part of the city of San Francisco and partially knocked down the seminary. Of this catastrophe he kept an ineradicable memory. He kept all the details of it in his mind. He was willing to relate all those details, always in the same words, with the same facial looks and the same gestures, so impressed had he been by them. This relation, it should be said, was only the oral reproduction of a detailed account sent back by him to the major seminary of Bourges right after the event.
Father Godon came back from the United States in 1910. At that time the major seminary of Bourges was not a responsibility of the Society. But the chair of Moral and Canon Law had become vacant. Father Godon was appointed there by Archbishop Dubois.
In his teaching, Father Godon strove to be clear and precise. He discharged his duty as teacher of Moral with the carefulness that he brought to everything. But Canon Law and Liturgy better suited his cast of mind. So our confrere was delighted to treat questions which pertained to these two ecclesiastical sciences. After the promulgation of Pius X’s bull, Divino afflatu, and the new rubrics, Father Godon produced a new method for the recitation of the reformed breviary. And when Pope Benedict XV promulgated the Codex Juris Canonici, our confrere took delight, it is said, in explaining all the canons to his students.
Such an explanation could only be rapid and superficial. So, in spite of the undisputed knowledge of the teacher – which at Bourges showed itself in the revision of the diocesan proper and the preparation of the synod – his influence over the students of the major seminary did not have all the success it merited. Unfortunately he went away from there to St. Mary’s College in Bourges, where, during the war, Father Godon had readily consented to agree to teach English. The students (teenagers are without mercy) benefitted little from the original tack which Father Godon believed helpful in giving his explanatory lessons and his practice lessons. He himself did not feel at home with such young hearers.
But the teacher was also a priest and a Sulpician. And in both these capacities, Father Godon won the admiration and respect of all.
Faithful each day in making an entire hour of prayer, Father Godon preserved for Sulpician spirituality an attraction which never diminished. When he became a titular canon, he left the seminary so as to discharge his functions more conveniently. But he returned regularly each week to go to confession in the house out of which he had retired. And in his little bedchamber he carried out all the traditional exercises of piety.
A Sulpician faithfully attached to the rule, he strove, as though he were still at the seminary, to be present at all the common exercises and to carry out all the functions he was charged with. He never turned over to a younger man an exhausting duty from which age might have dispensed him. In his own way, and sometimes in a manner which brought a smile, he preached attachment and obedience to our traditions. How he loved the Society! And with what pride he proclaimed himself its servant and its son!
When his infirmities increased, it was necessary to think of sending Father Godon to the hospital. His Excellency, the Archbishop of Bourges, was kind enough to offer him hospitality in the retreat-house established at Issoudun for infirmed and aged priests. His condition required very careful attention. Father Godon looked forward to that eventuality with repugnance. But when he understood that it was the wish of our Superior General, His Eminence, Cardinal Verdier, that he accept the offer of the Archbishop, he complied with humility and simplicity. One of Father Godon’s confreres wrote: “It was edifying to see that sentiment of filial piety alone persist until nearly all the greater part of his faculties were gone.”
Father Godon stayed at the Issoudun retreat-house for two years. He was surrounded by all the care his condition required. This was lavished on him with a devotion that cannot be too highly praised and for which the Society remains very grateful.
In that house, after a sorrowful agony, our confrere, strengthened by the sacrament of the Church, died on October 5, 1938.
He was buried on October 8th in the large cemetery which overlooks the town of Issodun. The Archbishop of Bourges and his first Vicar General graciously consented to be present at the funeral of this good servant of the clergy. Father Defaye, Superior of the major seminary, and Father de Roffignac represented the Society of St. Sulpice. Several diocesan priests from Bourges, some Sacred Heart Fathers, some friends, and members of his family were at the funeral.
It was thus that, without drawing attention, in humility and silence, there returned to God this confrere who had loved the clergy so much and who had done his best for them.
I ask you, Fathers and dear confreres, to keep praying for the repose of Father Godon’s soul; and to accept the expression of my fraternal affection in Our Lord.
Vice-Superior General of St. Sulpice