Saupin, Father Eugene

1956, August 20

Date of Birth: 1872, September 15

January 6, 1957

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

I would like today to bring to life before you the personality of one of the most venerable confreres of our American province – Father Eugene Saupin.

Even though his appearance remains for me a very cherished memory from a short visit to St. Charles, I think it better to let Father White speak here. Father White is the Superior and founder of the young St. Thomas College of Louisville. He was asked to give the eulogy of our dear departed one after being his student and, for long years, his colleague at Catonsville.

“We who knew Father Saupin are inclined to think that he would have preferred to die in the summertime, when there would be fewer to assemble to pay him a final honor and when his funeral would have been simpler. He did express the wish that no panegyric be preached. In this matter he will have his way, for the few words that I am going to speak will be those of a newcomer sent by oldcomers to help Father ‘Soupy.’ The friendliness of his smile when I addressed him by that name has never left my soul, which I bared to him in all simplicity.

“We come here today, we American Sulpicians, together with you, our friends, to honor a great representative of a nearly bygone day. We surround the mortal remains of one of the old apostles whom France sent to our work in the United States. If we weep for the loss suffered, our tears are the evidence of our esteem for the worth of their labor. We do not weep alone; for across our country whose liberties and traditions come at least in part from France, hundreds – perhaps thousands – share our sorrow. Priests who owe so much to these French Sulpicians. In all our houses but those just opened, at least one of these priests has helped us. Thank God, some remain today to work with us, not only by their example and their labor, but also by their sacrifice of homeland, hearth, and family. In other seminaries the names of Redon, Boyer, Bruneau, Viéban, Levatois, Blanc, Brianceau – already called to God – are remembered. Remembered among the living are Fathers Baisnée and Arbez. We at St. Charles are proud of those who have worked with us, in particular, Fathers Marcetteau, Schrantz, and Saupin.

“We are gathered around his casket to offer our homage of respect and love. As I say, he belongs to us even though in our generosity we lent him for ten years to St. Joseph’s so that our confreres might not be ignorant of his kindness, and so that the West might get wind of the treasure possessed by the East for so many years.

“As for his soul, what a year of grace it is for St. Charles when two priests who loved it so much, who completely dedicated themselves to it, whose working together covered nearly a half–century, find themselves joined anew before the Throne of God to continue in Heaven to protect the college and the work to which they devoted themselves on earth.

“Eugene Saupin was born on September 15, 1872, at Remouille, in the Diocese of Nantes, into a very religious family. His early years were pretty much like our own. He entered the minor seminary of Notre Dame des Couets in 1884, the major seminary in 1890, and was ordained priest on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in 1896. He began his Solitude at Issy soon after and was admitted to the Society of St. Sulpice.

“There can be no doubt that Father Olier’s teaching made a deep impression on the young Sulpician. ‘Primarius et ultimus finis hujus institute est vivere summe Deo in Christo Jesu Domino nostro, [The first and last end of this foundation is to live wholly to God in Christ Jesus Our Lord] is the way our founder put it, and Father Saupin fixed his eyes on this first and essential end. Only a privileged few have sounded the depths of a soul so formed. We, the others, can nonetheless judge him by his life in our midst.

“We first of all find it in the very fact that Father Saupin came voluntarily to work here in America. In 1897, at the end of his Solitude, he came to St. Charles. Until his death, fifty-nine years later, (with the exception of two years he spent as a medic in the French army during the First World War) he taught Latin – and sometimes also Greek and French – at St. Charles and St. Joseph’s. In both places he held the office of Vice-rector: at Catonsville from 1905 to 1912, and in California from 1932 to 1936.

“From 1912 to 1914 and – on his return from the war – from 1916 to 1923, he was Prefect of the Junior Division. He said, and he meant it: ‘In 1923 I was freed from the Juniors.’ He was, however, to become Prefect of the Seniors two years later. In 1926 he was sent to St. Joseph’s, where he taught the same classes: Latin, Greek, and French. He was to stay there ten years.

“In 1936 Father Gleason asked for his return and paid him a beautiful tribute in response to a chance question, ‘What will he teach?’ ‘Teach,’ said Father Gleason, ‘teach – we’ll think about that later; the important thing is to have him back here!’ Of course, he taught, making many of us who were much younger ashamed by the teaching-load he took on.

“I can speak of him only as I knew him. Without being brilliant, his teaching, like everything else, was an act of religion. The prayers to the Holy Spirit and to the Blessed Virgin before and after class were recited with such care that they made us want to attain his spirit of piety. His conscientious preparation, the clarity of his explanations, his insistence on work, his meticulous correction of papers, seem to me to have been his outstanding traits. His Miseremini [Mercy!] and his Depêchez-vous [Hurry up!] over errors or over hesitations in recitation became by-words among us, the young. Although he was not himself brilliant, he had the knack of recognizing and bringing out the brilliant side of his students. He knew how to make the lazy ashamed to the point of tears – and he did not thereby lose them. On the other hand, face to face with a hard worker of rather limited intelligence, he showed untiring patience, a real teacher’s ability, and a kindness which helped many of them to become priests.

“In his educational work he strove to exercise the charity and justice of Christ. If Our Lord Himself had His favorite disciple, Father Saupin must have liked some more than others; but it was impossible to ascertain those who were his favorites. We knew well that he loved us with the very love of Christ; all the same we were aware that nothing would excuse us from a just punishment or preserve us from a strong reprimand for breaking the Rule. For him the Rule was sacred! Nevertheless, in recreation time he would see things in a different light, and we old Juniors remember, with lively pleasure, days when he came to our help against the Seniors, throwing snowballs with more might than we and shouting at the same time: “Go to it, Juniors!’

“He rarely showed his emotion, perhaps too deep to be visible. One time, however, he disclosed pity for the seminarians. He had fallen gravely ill and had been taken to the hospital. One of his confreres, ready to leave him, asked him, ‘Father, is there anything I can do for you?’ To his great surprise, Father Saupin whispered, ‘Tell the students how much I love them.’ Another time, the day during the last war that Paris fell to the Nazis, I met Father Saupin on the stairs, wiping tears from his eyes … and he spent the rest of the day all alone.

“Sometimes the Sulpicians are called ‘Gentlemen of St. Sulpice,’ and I think that that title – Gentlemen of St. Sulpice – very neatly sums up what Father Saupin was for his confreres. His faith, his priestly spirit, his high ideal of duty, added to his gifts of nature made of him a gentleman, like Our Lord, among us. His ideal was to live ‘summe Deo’ in the manner and in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Father Olier, explaining St. Paul, tells us that we must reproduce in our lives all that we find in that of Our Lord. That is what Father Saupin tried to do – not from time to time – but without ceasing: ‘Vivere summe Deo in Christo Jesu Domino Nostro.’ He was a true Sulpician. He realized the model that we, his brothers in religion, hoped to be, and to which we were endeavoring to come.

“Since his ordination he had so well imitated the Lord Whom he held each day in his hands, he had tried so to conform himself to the life and death of Him whose mysterious work he was carrying out daily at the altar, that for him ‘to live was Christ and to die gain.’

“There was in him a tender piety for the Divine Savior Whom he nearly always called ‘Our dear Lord’, and right after Our Lord a filial love for the Blessed Virgin. She was not only Father Saupin’s Mother; in the prayers he addressed to her and the way he spoke of her, we clearly felt that we ought to love her, as he did, still more – as Jesus Christ did Himself. His intense love for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, his attentiveness at Holy Mass – whether he was celebrating or was in attendance – the steadfastness of his gaze in his visits to the chapel, made us envy his self-discipline and his religion. How often we have witnessed it here before this altar! I have heard it said that in his last years (I did not believe it possible) his devotion became even more intense.

“To his superiors he gave obedience and total loyalty, although he frequently used his right to protect what he regarded as unjust for others or harmful to the common work. In discussions on a problem or on a student, not only did he listen to but he gladly welcomed the opinions of the youngest of his confreres as well as those of the older ones. He was not led to severity by prejudice, and he did not allow himself to be swayed to weakness by false sympathy. On the other hand, when the Superior made a decision or when the Council came to one, the matter was settled.

“Now he is no longer here. Soon we shall go to place him alongside those with whom he worked for the priests of America. Death did not take him by surprise. Last Sunday he said to his visitors, ‘I am going to leave for Heaven.’ The Dear Lord purified him in the crucible of suffering and, when all the impurities were burned away, found in him the gold of His own likeness. If God has not left him among us for a longer time, it is doubtless because He thought we had had him long enough to learn the lesson. Father Saupin’s role was not to erect buildings, nor to carry out administrative duties in the Society. His job was to lead among us, his confreres and seminarians, a life hidden in God. It is the life of the ordinary Sulpician, in some ways easier than that of the parish priest, in other ways more crucifying, more difficult. But without a life like that of Father Saupin’s, touching our hearts to a greater or less degree, we cannot be either good Sulpicians or the parish priests he wanted us to become.

“The Miseremini is gone, the Depêchez-vous is no longer heard, the jokes (which, behind our backs he was the first to enjoy) we played on him, the encouraging word, the welcoming smile – all have disappeared. It is perhaps a final gentle irony that the only one who ever had the audacity – at the urging of his classmates – to address in class a speech to Father Saupin (and was quickly put in his place) has today the responsibility to be speaking over him these words of farewell.

“But one thing is certain: it will be a matter of honor for us to remain faithful, to see to it that the memory, the love, the respect, and the example of Father Saupin shall not disappear as long as we live, we who had the privilege of knowing him here below.

“May these sentiments call from us the prayer that our dear departed one, who shared in the priesthood entrusted to the Apostles, may enjoy in eternity the company of the holy priests who have gone before him and find with them eternal rest in the peace of the Lord.”

Again, I recommend to your prayers the soul of this good servant of the Society, and I renew to you my faithful attachment in Our Lord and Our Lady.

Pierre Girard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice