Menu, Father Jean

1888, March 10

Date of Birth:  1821, November 28 

April 2, 1888

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

No Memorial Card is Available

You are aware, by a letter sent to you, of the great loss St. Charles has just suffered on account of Father Menu’s death.

This revered confrere had come to Baltimore to attend the funeral of Father McManus, to whom he was bound by ties of a mutual and deep respect. His health was as good as ever; but, I suppose, that on that day he took cold; in any event, that evening on his return to the college, he was very tired; he wanted, however, to preside at the recitation of the Rosary. But during the night he felt so ill that he insisted on being given the last sacraments; with some reluctance that was done; for his anxiety was not shared. That occurred on the night of March 2nd/3rd.

Father Menu continued ill all week, but no one perceived any danger in his condition. On Saturday, the 10th, about noon, he got up, and while his room was being taken care of, he went into a nearby suite; the employee on leaving told him that he was going to bring up his meal; less than five minutes later, on returning, he found Father Menu dead.

This was [like] a clap of thunder in the Community; the Fathers and the students were hardly able to believe it; but no one could imagine that this death could arouse the slightest apprehension in Father Menu. The death, though sudden, was not unforeseen; and anyhow, Father Menu’s whole life had been a preparation for death. That life had been simple, uneventful; in the eyes of many it must have seemed inconsequential, but at bottom it had been simply heroic.

Father Menu was born near Rheims on November 28, 1821; he was ordained priest in 1847 and in 1849 – after his Solitude – he was sent by Father de Courson to St. Charles College, where for thirty-nine years he constantly showed himself a perfect Sulpician, a man of rule, of duty, and of selflessness. Each day he rose very early in the-morning to make his meditation and to recite the little hours before the Community arose. In a moment of candor, he acknowledged to one of his confreres that he had never been able to get used to getting up so early and that even in the last period of his life it was still as hard as it had been in the beginning.

When he came, the college had been in existence only a year and counted only ten or twelve students. Father Menu saw it grow and gradually develop into the flourishing state that it enjoys today: and it can be said without exaggeration that it was he, along with Father Jenkins, who gave it its character and spirit. It is nearly impossible for those who did not witness it to imagine the amount of work Father Menu could and did do: classes, study periods, dormitory keeping, recreation supervising, liturgical ceremonies, chant – he was always available for everything and, especially in the earliest days, he did by himself alone the work of two or three teachers. His constitution was very strong; it had to be, to hold up so long under incessant toil. Even vacation periods were not for Father Menu times of relaxation; except for some rare exceptions he always stayed at the college devoting himself to whatever was asked of him and finding relief in doing review work with certain young men also spending their vacation days at St. Charles.

Father Menu was much liked as a teacher, and his gift for discipline and good order in the Community was such that for many years it seemed, in that regard, that everything depended on him. He knew how to be at once firm and kind; all the students who went through St. Charles – today spread throughout all the United States – had the most affectionate regard for him.

What seems to me especially to characterize Father Menu and to explain his life, so regular and so fruitful, was a great simplicity of faith and a great purity of intention. At the end of his Solitude, Father Renaudet said to him: “Go and tell the Superior [General] that you want to go to America, to the minor seminary of St. Charles.” But he answered: “I never gave it a thought.” “No matter,” added Father Renaudet, “Go see Father Superior and do as I have told you.” Father Menu, in all simplicity, obeyed, and he came to St. Charles where his ministry of thirty-nine years was blessed by God; for that disposition of blind obedience, of absolute disinterestedness, and of complete abandonment to Divine Providence always guided him in everything he did.

His funeral was celebrated on Tuesday, March 13th. In spite of the snow and the very bitter cold, a good number of priests gathered to join in and to witness their veneration for their old teacher. Bishop Keane, Ordinary of Richmond and Rector of the Catholic University spoke after the service in moving terms of his former teacher and director.  Bishop Grandin, Ordinary of St. Albert in Canada – actually in Baltimore in the interests of his missions – gave the absolution.

His Grace, the Archbishop Cardinal Gibbons being away from Baltimore, could not be present, but from Boston he expressed his regret to the Superior of Baltimore in a letter in which he told him: “Your telegram informing me of the death of Father Menu gave me a very painful surprise. I would like to have returned for the funeral; and I would not hesitate to break my various commitments, but the reception set for Monday – and for which there must be a thousand people expected – has been publicly announced; great preparations have been made for the event; my sudden departure would cause the clergy and faithful of Boston a very serious embarrassment. It pains me deeply not to be present at the funeral of Father Menu; in him I lose the last of my St. Charles teachers. In truth, one of the pillars of the college has been overturned…”

The Baltimore Superior, in sending me these details, adds: “Allow me to recommend to you in a very special way the work of St. Charles; that work does an immense good. This year the number of students has gone up to 240; the Fathers, already overburdened, have had to take over Father Menu’s jobs. I hope that next year you will send some help. If the Solitaires and our young confreres would carefully weigh the importance of our work in America, they might all offer themselves to participate in it.”

Accept, very dear Confreres, the assurance of my affectionate and devoted regards in Our Lord.

H. J. Icard, S.S.