Parent, Father Joseph

1912, April 8

Date of Birth: 1836, January 16

April 23, 1912

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord: 

No Memorial Card is Available

Father Joseph Theóphile Parent was born of a very good Montreal family on January 16, 1836, and was baptized the same day in the parish church of Notre Dame. In his boyhood he attended, as his father decided, the Irish school of the Christian Brothers, and was thereby to speak English as his mother tongue. He entered college [=high school] at the age of ten or twelve and followed the course of the “houses of the Mountain” from the “elements” up to the third year of Theology, which he finished even before he became a subdeacon. On leaving the Grand Seminary, he taught grammar at the college (in the third form), and that year received the subdiaconate. He was chosen to accompany an auxiliary bishop, Bishop Charles Larocque, on a pastoral visitation of the diocese; and it was, it seems, from the beginning of that time that his character changed profoundly. Without losing any of his gentility and courtesy, keeping even a fund of winning good nature, he assumed, from then on, a touch of melancholy which was his up to the end.

Having sought admission to St. Sulpice, Father Parent made at Paris the year of higher studies, after which he asked permission to use his vacation to visit Rome and “the Vicar of Jesus Christ.” He enjoyed telling how he received this permission from Father Carrière; how he learned in the Villefranche depot that the Cure of Ars, whom he also wanted to see, had just died (August 4, 1859); finally, how he had obtained a special audience with Pius IX and had received his blessing at the entrance of St. Mary Major. After his visit to Rome he made various pilgrimages, notably one to Loretto. During his Solitude of 1859/60 he received diaconate and priesthood, the latter on June 2, 1860. He remembered with joy saying his first Mass on June 3rd in the old chapel of the Issy community. All his life he remained bound in a pious agreement with the seminarian who had served him there, Father Pousset, Archpriest of Notre Dame of Paris.

On returning to America, Father Parent was sent first to St. Charles College in the Diocese of Baltimore. There for two years he taught “fifth Latin” [= second high]. On returning to Canada, he spent the year 1862/63 at Notre Dame, attending to the Hotel Dieu and taking care of an Irish school of the Brothers. We locate him at the college [of Montreal] for the next five years:  there he taught the class of versification [= fourth high], for two years perfected the study hall of the youngest students, and for two years taught literature [= Freshman college]. He counted these five years as the happiest of his life, and one of his greatest hurts was being recalled from that ministry. To that hurt was added dismay, for he was appointed to the Grand Seminary. This work, to which he was to give his whole heart for more than forty years, with which he is – so to speak – identified, at first filled him with real terror. The Superior did not want to compel him, and Father Parent went to perform parish ministry at St. Joseph’s.

For him that was a year of trial – his character was so different to that of Pellisier, who was then in charge of that chapel. Then he spent the following year at Notre Dame, in charge of an asylum and an orphanage. The trial had overcome his reluctance. He made no further objection when in 1870 he was asked to come to the theological seminary to take the place which was truly his, where he was to sanctify himself more and more, and to do good that only God knew about. He was named Master of Ceremonies, a role he filled for thirty-six years. For all who knew him, Father Parent was the ideal Master of Ceremonies. He neglected no detail, however small it might be in others’ eyes, and he learned by heart all the liturgical laws and diocesan customs. He drew up notes – fewer than Marinucci’s numbered rules – all with faultless exactness and precision, and, at the same time, perfect clarity. He himself performed ceremonies with a great deal of grace and piety, being very supple with his hands, careful, and giving life to all these rites with the deepest religious spirit. He was one of those “men, in the silent humility of their life, in their sincere respect for all holy things, show that they hold to those principles as real and substantial; and by the constant purity of their heart, by their serenity, give witness to their profound veneration for the sacraments and sacramental safeguards.” [attributed to Newman]

In teaching ceremonies to the students, he vividly illustrated them with his arms and hands; for he had “the eloquence of gesture so expressive” that it could, if need be, substitute for speech. He never tired of the inexperience and slowness of those less apt for sacred functions, rehearsed them over and over with no evident impatience until they could perform various ceremonies in a decent way. Several periods of the year were the occasion of great work for him:  ordinations, Holy Week, Forty Hours, Corpus Christi. Father Parent was an expert in arranging these celebrations.

In 1871, he was asked to take on a class of Holy Scripture, along with being Master of Ceremonies. He taught that class for seventeen years, up to 1888. His teaching was simple:  he stuck to the text. Without realizing it, and with no pretense, he was of the School of Antioch and the great Cappadocians: “inhaerens sententiae sacrorum librorum explanatio,” he is quoted on the Breviary, “sacrarum litterarum sententiam, non ex proprio ingenio sed ex majorum ratione et auctoritate, interpretabatur.” [The explanation inherent in a passage of the sacred books conveys the meaning of the sacred writing, not from one’s own cleverness, but from the reasoning and authority of the Fathers.]  The exposition was methodical, clear, and pious. Father Parent communicated his own love for the Bible, a love which he kept up to his last breath. The Bible did not let him down. It was difficult to cite a passage of the Holy Scriptures which he was not able immediately to identify.

He was loved and sought out as a spiritual director; he accommodated himself to all types. At a time when the seminary had a great number of German seminarians, it was noticed that they liked to take Father Parent as director, even though he did not speak their language. His charity inspired him to another means of serving the seminarians:  he had received from his family an inheritance which he made into two parts. He gave his property to the seminary with the exception of a modest life-annuity. The rest he made available for poor seminarians whom he had the Vice-Rector of the Grand Seminary choose in Theology and also in Philosophy. He thus provided for the necessities of those most in need with the care and delicacy of a mother.

In 1889 Father Parent had to give up the Scripture course. He was not yet ill, but his health was failing and required some attention. At the end of 1889, an epidemic of grippe afflicted our houses. Father Parent conducted the ceremonies for Christmas and Epiphany but had to take to bed thereafter. Grippe took hold of him periodically after that, weakening him quite a bit and causing him to spit blood – a matter which did not seem too alarming to the doctor. Moreover, it was easy to see that that quite frail body was resisting illness less and less, and it was a surprise to all that he was able to reach his seventy-seventh year.

A reason known to all was contributing a good deal to that creeping enfeeblement. It was scruples. Father Parent’s fearful conscience was not able to sidestep that stumbling block. One so prepared to make decisions when it came to organize a religious ceremony, one who gave seminarians no reason to suspect hesitation or hanging back in spiritual direction and deciding vocation, could not settle the simplest questions when they pertained to his own moral conduct. The spirit of faith and obedience had always been his guide, but at the price of sacrifice known only to God, sacrifice which sometimes reduced him to a sort of extremely anguished paralysis. When he saw his time of retirement coming, he rejoiced at the idea of spending his days between his spiritual exercises and his Bible. He was never completely able to enjoy that peace. In his moments of good humor, he compared himself to those old men at Issy whom the men of the [French] Revolution found “busy taking it easy.” Such also, he said, was the use of part of his time.

In 1905, on February 19th, Septuagesima Sunday, he celebrated his last Mass. Fatigue, nervous and mental, was too great. The very moving about had become too painful. The following year he had to give up [being in charge of] ceremonies and was no longer in charge of the archives – doubtless a light burden – to which he had brought the precision and order that was characteristic of him. He was thereafter for seven years in a state of advanced weakness caused by arteriosclerosis, always worsening. The day came, at the beginning of 1912, when the care available at the Grand Seminary was no longer sufficient. It was necessary to take the patient to the Hotel Dieu. His last days were very edifying.

The money he had left, Father Parent distributed as alms. He put his few papers and the little objects he was still making use of in a perfect order admired even by the religious whose tidiness he matched. He told a confrere, “I can appropriate to myself the word of the prophet – ‘The end is near, the end is near!’  He was surprised nevertheless when on the Monday of Holy Week, the last sacraments were suggested to him. At that time he was feeling better. He asked for a delay so that he could better get ready. But warned that the doctor advised not waiting, he made that preparation with no delay, received absolution, Holy Viaticum, Extreme Unction, and the Apostolic Blessing. Then he experienced a deep peace and a perfect calm: “That was a revelation to me,” he said.

On Easter Monday there was, as on the previous evening, some slight sign of delirium. About noon, it was seen that the end was near. A priest from St. Patrick’s, a former student of Father Parent’s, recited the last prayers for the teacher he venerated and loved. When those from Notre Dame came close to the dying man, he no longer recognized anyone. It was impossible to determine exactly when he drew his last breath. It was realized after some moments that life had quietly slipped away without agony.

On Easter Monday evening the body was carried from the Hotel Dieu to Notre Dame for the Office of the Dead and the next day’s Solemn Mass. From there it was carried to the Grand Seminary where the Office of the Dead was recited a second time on Easter Tuesday evening. The funeral Mass was sung on Wednesday morning with the college students attending and receiving Communion at it. Then the body was placed in the crypt. A trip prevented the Archbishop from being at the funeral Mass at which His Grace consented to have one of his canons represent him. The Bishop of Valleyfield, prevented from coming, wrote a letter of condolence in which he penned a beautiful eulogy of the deceased.

Now that earth hides the casket, one ponders why that very humble man left in all hearts so vivid a memory. Hearing about his alms to the seminarians, alms which he had always kept secret, one of our Fathers said:  “The best part of that life remains unknown.” What he meant was that that life, even in that community, was remarkable; indeed, more than that of anyone else, it was a hidden life. Father Parent was an old time Sulpician. He never went out. He did not leave even to visit his family. For certain, he was sociable, but he held himself apart by modesty, by humility, by love of solitude and silence. As for the rest, without wanting to, he had revealed to us the secret of his conduct:  up to the last day he held before his eyes a little page on which – after the text: Magister vester unus est, Christus [Your one Master is Christ] – he had written these words from the Imitation: Pete secretum tibi, ama solus habitare tecum, nullius reouire confabulationem, sed maris ad Deum devotam effunde precem. [Seek for thyself a secret place, love to dwell alone with thyself, be needful of no one’s conversation, but rather pour out devout prayer to God.]

Another trait which brought him general admiration was his mildness and invariable patience. Never was he seen angry. He felt things deeply, had strong convictions, settled outlooks. But he did not make them a matter of discussion. At the most, he expressed a word of disapproval when he could not avoid it, and then fell into silence.

He liked to speak well of everyone, especially the dead, of our old men whom he venerated. He carried out to the letter the rule of St. Francis de Sales, seeing something good in the conduct of others, excusing whatever might be excused. He had only friends. No criticism has been made in this regard and “his memory” is “a perfume made up of sweet smells.”

I recommend this dear confrere to your prayers, and I renew to you the expression of my very devoted sentiments in Our Lord.

H. Garriguet

Superior of St. Sulpice