Palin, Father Clement François

1897, August 4

Date of Birth:  1838, May 8

November 8, 1897

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord: 

No Memorial Card is Available

We lost at Montreal on last August 4th the former Superior of the Canadian College in Rome, Father Palin. His death, after the long illness which preceded it, could not have been a surprise to anyone, but the illness and the death have been the occasion of deep edification for those who witnessed our dear confrere’s patience and the great piety which sanctified his sufferings.

Father Clement François Palin was born at St. Cyprien in the Diocese of Montreal on May 8, 1838. He belonged to one of those pious and simple families of the Canadian countryside whose whole aim is to serve God in raising their children in the way of Christianity. He always had a very vivid and tender memory of his pious mother under whose influence he came all the more since, as a delicate and sickly child, he was never very far away from the family hearth.

He entered the College of Montreal in 1852 to begin learning Latin. He soon reached the first rank in his class and he kept that rank for all the succeeding years in spite of absences of several months for reasons of health, months during which his studiousness never let him be idle. At the college his temperament and character kept him out of strenuous games and those little projects of students which begin the initial experiences of the give and take of life. He was a model student: intelligent, pious, reliable, enjoying the company of those who shared his sweet and calm outlook. His lack of sophistication, at the age of fifteen, was such that his holy director, Father Nercau, availed himself of the reading and explanation of the Song of Songs to enlighten his innocent mind.

To that innocence of life, that delicacy of conscience – always evident in him – were  added at the Grand Seminary (which he entered in 1860) the further disciplines of ecclesiastical living: all the exercises of piety – prayer, Scripture reading, breviary, spiritual reading – became from then on basic ingredients of his daily regimen; and they never again lost their importance in his estimation; all the rest of his life he was seen to carry each out at its designated time or at the first opportunity there-after.

On his leaving the Grand Seminary in 1863, Father Palin came to the Solitude where his health allowed him to spend only a few months; thirteen years later he obtained permission to return, but for the same reason he could not again last out the year.

Ordained priest at Montreal on May 8, 1864, he was first assigned for three years to Notre Dame parish. The venerable Superior, Father Granet, was then nearing the end of his career, and during the long months of his last illness it was Father Palin who acted as his secretary. He always considered it one of the signal graces of his life to be so intimately involved with Father Granet. The memory of that holy priest strengthened him in difficult moments.

As 1867 came to its close, Father Palin left – never to return – the parochial ministry. He became first, at the college, teacher of Prosidy for a year; then from 1868 to 1874, teacher of Literature; then he went to the Grand Seminary, where for two years he conducted the course of Fundamental Moral Theology; and in 1871 he returned to the Solitude.

It was the period when there was being built at Montreal the Seminary of Philosophy, the construction of which had been decided on in the visitation of the preceding year. A course of Philosophy had always been taught at the college and – up to 1880 – Father Palin, back from France, was placed in charge for the last three years. He was then appointed to take over at the opening of the Philosophy Department at the major seminary of Baltimore; he remained there for four years as Superior of that department; he then returned for four years to the Grand Seminary of Montreal as Professor of Canon Law: that hidden life, that little-known but fruitful ministry of seminary director corresponded well to the nature and grace of his inclinations.

In October 1888, the Canadian College in Rome was on the point of opening. It was designed to crown the work of the Montreal seminary by offering to the young priests of Canada the means of pursuing at the very center of the Church higher ecclesiastical studies. Father Palin was given the important task of being in charge at the opening of that beautiful building and of remaining there as Superior up to 1896. The impairment of his health at that time caused his return to Montreal where he did little more than hang on till the last days of his life.

The open-mindedness of Father Palin and his application to learning permitted him to enrich his spirit in various fields; thanks to that, he could efficiently fill so many different positions. The qualities of his heart, full of loving-kindness, did not contribute less to his success. But his deep religious spirit, with the zeal it inspired in him for the sanctification of priests, stamped on his life its dominant trait. It was as a confessor, by his piety, his prudence, and his pastoral caring, that he especially made himself appreciated and venerated by a great number of priests, of whom several have not ceased since their seminary days to keep up close relationships with him.

The spirit of St. Frances de Sales was his ideal; and the book which bore that name was his favorite reading at the time of his retreats. But far beyond all other books, he venerated and loved to a rare degree those of Holy Scripture, especially the New Testament. He had much of it by heart, and he made happy use of it in his Spiritual Readings and in his pious little talks. He often recommended the textual study of the holy books to those to whom he was director.

His delicate modesty – close to timidity – gave edification to those who lived near him. Learning from St. Francis de Sales, his innate kindness simply perfected itself while imbibing principles of a supernatural charity. That kindness did not, on the other hand, inhibit a remarkable firmness when principles of faith or the honor of the priesthood were in question; he was then seen to become inflexible, unyielding. Perhaps human respect may have sometimes mistakenly held him back from such vehemence in matters of slight moment.

The illness which hid or frequently veiled the splendor of even very solid virtue was the setting, in his finest hours, for the holy dispositions of our confrere. Soon after his return to Montreal at the end of 1896, the little strength he had brought back with him was all but used up. Incurably ill, nearly at death's door, he was brought to Notre Dame Hospital on May 17th to receive there the last delicate care which his condition called for. His stay there was the source of great edification for the hospital sisters who sometimes speak of having drawn as much profit from it as from a very good retreat. He was the one who most often suggested pious ejaculations to the sisters who were looking after him; and, when they asked for his blessing, he gave them that of the Most Blessed Virgin: Nos cum prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria.

When he came to understand some months before his death that all human resources had been exhausted, he experienced for some days a feeling of despondency and anguish; but one morning he said to a confrere: “Our Lord has just given me a great grace; I no longer fear death; all my trust is in the Good Master.”

The inner peace in which that trust was rooted seemed from then on to undergo only fleeting lapses as when one day he said to the Superior of the hospital: “Sister, I received Communion this morning and yet I am sad; I can’t understand that!” The sister responded: “Oh, Father! It is only that Our Lord is giving you a share of His bitter chalice, and He is letting fall from it some drops on your soul.” The explanation satisfied him and brought back his peace.

A sweet consolation for Father Palin, some weeks before his death, was to see elevated to the See of Montreal a priest still young for such an honor and whom he had always regarded as a son from the first days of his clerical life. The new archbishop has himself declared that some time previously Father Palin spoke to him of that promotion and advised him to get ready for it with an insistence which at this date would seem to smack of mystery. With a delicate and thoroughly filial attentiveness, Archbishop Bruchesi, on the day after he took possession of his See, deigned to say the first Mass he offered as a bishop in the room of the spiritual father and gave him Holy Communion. Father Palin was not to survive to the day of the consecration, but his memory was recalled in a touching manner in the public speeches and in private conversations. Some days later Archbishop Bruchesi, speaking to his priests assembled for the pastoral retreat and giving them the recommendation of not only having a confessor but also of having a director, cited himself as an example. “I want you,” he said, “to have one like the one who directed all my steps for thirty years. Three hundred letters from him which I have kept and regard as treasures by themselves tell the wisdom and prudence of that friend of my soul.”

On the evening of August 3rd Father Palin was again visited by the young archbishop and some of his confreres; and, though he seemed tired, no one thought that it was time to recite the prayers for the dying for him. During the following night, however, he breathed his last a little after midnight at the onset of the Feast of St. Dominic. That had been Father Granet’s feast day and Father Palin had venerated him as one of his heavenly patrons.

 The funeral was held on August 6th in the parish church of Notre Dame. It was memorable by reason of the throng of the clergy present and by the attendance of three bishops: the archbishops of St. Boniface and Montreal, and the Bishop of Valleyfield; all three of them regarded Father Palin as the Father of their priestly life. Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface deigned to pontificate at the Funeral Mass. Archbishop Bruchesi, having left for the occasion the retreat house where he was preparing himself for his consecration, gave the absolution and followed the mortal remains to the cemetery of the Grand Seminary. There the last prayers were said by Father Colin, Superior of the Montreal community.

All the gaps that the hand of God creates in our ranks remind us to pray that He will send to our work which always seems to be on the increase many more workers. May He inspire in more of Father Palin’s young countrymen a love like his own for that work of the seminaries where in a silent and hidden life the work is so fruitful for the highest interests of the Church.

I renew to you, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my affectionate regards in Our Lord.

A. Captier

Superior of St. Sulpice