Rouxel, Father Hyacinthe Francois Désiré

1899, May 5

Date of Birth:  1830, June 22

June 26, 1899

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

No Memorial Card is Available

On hearing of the death of Father Rouxel – for forty years director at the Grand Seminary of Montreal – His Grace, the Archbishop of Toronto, wrote to Father Colin: “Your community is not alone in bearing this loss; the clergy of all the provinces of Canada bear it too.” The same sentiment has been voiced by hundreds, not only in Canada but also in the United States, where Father Rouxel counted so many former students, spiritual sons, regular or occasional recipients of his vast correspondence. Bishops, priests of every age, have spoken of what an irreparable loss they felt themselves struck by in the person of our confrere. Beyond that, so impressive was his funeral that perhaps never before has Montreal seen its like for a simple priest. Nine bishops were there, three from the United States; many others expressed their regret at not being able to come.

On the young men of the Grand Seminary, Father Rouxel made an extraordinary impression. Moved by affection and faith, they quickly took up a collection and arranged for nearly two hundred Masses for the repose of his soul; they organized themselves for nocturnal prayer his bier around which a score of them were always in attendance; they also contended – as for relics – for woolen threads from his legendary muffler which, winter and summer, Father Rouxel always sported.

So many signs of affection and veneration are all the more remarkable in that they must be attributed to causes having little to do with attractiveness of personality. Holy as was the serious Father Rouxel, he was never a crowd-pleaser. Seminary tradition, it seems, set up a long time ago a harmless word-play according to which his air of dignity was considered as being a bit frosty. In his attitude as in his bearing there was some stiffness. Nevertheless, if with Americans he was popular (in the best sense of that word), was it not a tribute paid by men of straight and practical thinking to the timeless principle: to form and direct priests, nothing is of more value or importance than a mind, a life, a spirit strictly priestly?

Father Hyacinthe Francois Désiré Rouxel was born on June 22, 1830 at Volognes in the Diocese of Coutances. Early orphaned and penniless, he had, however, the advantage of being accepted in the college of his native town and did well there in classical studies. Feeling himself called to the priesthood, he arranged to go for Philosophy to the minor seminary of Mortain.

When he reached the major seminary of Coutances at the age of eighteen, his height gave him the appearance of a grown man and that impression was strengthened by the seriousness of his make-up. Along with an open mind, he possessed a phenomenal memory – a talent which would one day provide for him an immense fund of ecclesiastical knowledge and contribute to some measure to the kind of excellence he was equipped to reach. At Coutances, his Dogma professor, astounded by the serious and clearly presented objections which the young man proposed to him in class, asked him what source he was getting them from. Father Rouxel replied that he had come across them in Feller’s Dictionary, in the reading of which he had spent his trimester break.

In 1851, at age twenty, he finished Theology. He was sent to teach the equivalent of second year high at the college of Redon, conducted by the Eudists. In truth, he was not successful there. As capable, conscientious, hard-working as he was, he did not know how to control a class of boys. If that experience was the reason for turning his thoughts to St. Sulpice as his true vocation, it was really Providential.

It was only after a year of advanced study in Paris and a year of novitiate at the Solitude that Father Rouxel was ordained priest on June 10, 1854. Some weeks later he left for America where his first appointment was at St. Charles College [corrected in someone’s hand to “St. Mary’s Seminary”]. For a year he taught Philosophy and Natural Science there, and at the same time he picked up the English which was to be so useful to him for the rest of his life.

With his health affected, he came to Montreal in November 1855, and for two years convalesced at Notre Dame, engaged – when his strength allowed – in parochial ministry. September 1858, dates his coming to the Grand Seminary as Professor of Holy Scripture and Liturgy; but up to 1865 his teaching (which several times underwent a change of subject) was, too, interrupted by several stays of a year at Notre Dame, again caused by his need for rest. From 1866 to 1888 he had his longest stretch as Professor of Moral. Then he came to spend a year in France, and, on his return stayed one last time at Notre Dame before going back to the Grand Seminary with a very easy assignment. But, when in 1986 I had to ask of Montreal some heavy sacrifices, in order to supply personnel to the New York seminary, Father Rouxel generously agreed to take up again his daily class of Moral Theology; and he regarded as a blest reward for obedience the better health which permitted him from then on to match up to that burden.

During his long career as Professor of Moral, Father Rouxel acquired a well-deserved reputation for knowledge and clarity. He adhered closely to his author [i.e.: his textbook], explained it very methodically, insisted on word-for word definitions, illustrated his explanations by examples and cases of conscience, always showed himself to be up on the latest decisions from Rome. He was known to be equally expert on Canon Law and Liturgy. Moreover, his penitents – after they became priests – came to him for advice on all sorts of things; and when he had given his clear and precise answers on those matters, to nearly everyone’s satisfaction, the case was closed.

Priests and bishops were not the only ones who had recourse to his expertise. In the world of the laity also, important people came to him with some frequency. It was the same with his correspondence; constantly increasing as he became more known, it could have taken up his life; only too often he was forced to spend his nights in taking care of it.

Such involvement makes all the more remarkable the attentive and detailed care which he always managed to expend on his duties as spiritual director. Young men and priests who sought him out in this capacity were always sure of getting a good hearing. He listened earnestly with as much attention as patience, weighed everything carefully, gave the best possible answer. His direction encouraged trust, piety, and practices of devotion. He treated the question of vocation with particularly extreme care, waiting to let souls reveal themselves to their depths and showing himself to the end as being of immeasurable prudence.

As a community man, Father Rouxel was a great example in the judgment of the seminarians and his confreres. He esteemed rule, loved tradition, and to an especially high degree loved the Church and the Holy See and all its directives which he took to himself in order to benefit from their wisdom.

Reared in the school of the Old Masters of Coutances, of Paris, and of Montreal, he carried on in their traditions of seriousness, of reserve, of distance, of pronounced aloofness. In regard to seminary exercises his sole attitude was a continual speaking out against – and if need be, a muted but eloquent objection to – the slightest relaxing.

The spirit of obedience which he connected in a special way to devotion to the Holy Infancy impressed on his community-living one of its essential stamps, and helped particularly to curb two tendencies, a bit disturbing, of his mind: an incessant preoccupation with zeal and a certain morbid concern about his health needs.

With his analytical mind which dissected everything, with his memory which forgot nothing, with his desire for perfection in everything and everybody, with his knack of giving in all sorts of matters decisions which became law, Father Rouxe1 never lacked ideas about reform and progress, ideas to suggest to the zeal of his confreres and to the authority of his superiors; but a word from the latter was more than sufficient reason to induce him to patience.

He made concern for his health a duty; its delicacy he too readily recognized as an obstacle to the full exercise of his zeal; he could deceive himself about the means necessary in his estimation for lightening his work-load; but he did not stop working before stopping had been sanctioned by the two-fold authority of doctor and Superior. “He is a saint in his own way,” said Father Icard one day in this regard. He really was a saint, and nothing shows it better than the beauty of his last days.

Extremely susceptible to the slightest chill, he displayed a reaction of this type on Thursday, April 27th; the grippe, which he had suffered from in the winter, made this episode rather serious, and from Saturday on, the doctor advised taking Father Rouxel to the Hotel-Dieu. On Tuesday, May 2nd, he seemed in good shape, and the doctor announced that he could resume his duties in a few days. But the next day a serious worsening of the sickness manifested itself all at once; and Father Colin, summoned by telephone, found the dear sick man in danger of death; both his lungs had suddenly become quite congested. “I told him of his danger,” wrote the Reverend Superior of Montreal. “He accepted the news with a smile full of sweetness and a serenity I shall never forget.” That evidence of serenity deeply impressed the many confreres who visited Father Rouxel during the two days that he remained alive and during which Father Colin never left him. The Consul-General of France, on being allowed to see the patient briefly, was so struck by this glow of peace that he could not keep from exclaiming: “I never saw such a sight in my life!”

After receiving on Wednesday evening with the greatest piety all the sacraments; after giving Father Colin on the following night detailed instructions on the slightest business of his; after asking for – and receiving from Quebec by wire – the blessing of His Grace, the Archbishop of Montreal; also after receiving on Tuesday evening a visit from the Archbishop along with two other prelates; having – since receiving the Holy Viaticum – several times asked for the grace of another absolution and twice asked for Holy Communion (which he received again on Friday morning between five and six o’clock), Father Rouxel breathed his last two hours later on that Friday, May 5th , the first Friday of the Month of Mary: a coincidence which a great number of those who knew of his very great devotion to the Very Blessed Virgin and to the Sacred Heart regarded as a special favor.

The funeral was held at Notre Dame with all the observances used for our confreres.

Archbishop Bruchesi, before giving the absolution, spelled out in a touching talk the great services rendered by Father Rouxel and the great benefit they meant to the Church and to the world in the hidden away little room of a seminary director. The Bishop of Springfield, former penitent of Father Rouxel, gave the last blessing at the grave.

And now, Fathers and very dear confreres, may I exclaim, as someone at Montreal has already exclaimed: “Who will take his place?” Rogate Dominum missis ut mittat operarios.

A. Captier

Superior of St. Sulpice