Tanquerey, Father Adolph

1932, February 21

Date of Birth: 1854, May 1

March 16, 1932

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

Since 1927 Father Tanquerey’s life was divided among his family home in Blainville, the seminary at Aix, where he spent the greater part of the school year, and the seminary at Issy. There, each year he attended the retreat in order, as he said, “to prepare himself for the last visit which Our Lord would pay him on earth.”

For our venerated confrere the Master’s visit occurred on last February 21st. And there were nearly seventy-eight years that the good servant had labored.

Adolphe Alfred Tanquerey was born at Blainville in the Diocese of Coutances on May 1, 1854. He was baptized the same day. “I rejoice,” he wrote to me with the delightful simplicity he never lost, “at beginning my first Month of Mary in that year when the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was to be proclaimed.” His very pious mother raised him in the love of God and imbued him with a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He hardly knew his father, the captain of a schooner, who spent his life as a cod-fisherman off the Newfoundland banks. When he died at St. Pierre and Miquelon, our confrere was still a little child.

From the age of six, Adolphe Tanquerey wanted to be a priest, missionary and martyr. He asked to go to the minor seminary. His widowed mother would not have been able to afford his education. Thanks to the generosity of a benefactress, and also to his elder brother (already at the Oratory), our future confrere was enabled to get ready to pursue his budding vocation. In 1867 he entered the diocesan college of St. Lo, run by the Oratorians. With one of his townsmen, Henri Boivin (like him to become a Sulpician and dead at Issy in 1905), Adolphe Tanquerey rose to the head of a class in which good students were not scarce. Those good students, on the day the prizes where handed out, found themselves reduced to sharing the “honorable mentions.” The two from Blainville took the awards.

In 1872 Father Tanquerey entered the major seminary at Coutances. For him that was enchantment of heart and spirit. His soul, already so deeply religious, fell in love with the seminary and its life. He was carried away in the study of Theology. His devotion to the Blessed Virgin grew and deepened. He was already living intensely in a very tender worship of the Heart of Our Lord. In that worship he had reason to see a luminous and deepening of devotion to the Interior Life of Jesus. Preparation for priesthood – of which from his youth he had discerned the most important aspects: consuming zeal and sacrifice – seemed to him the work of works. And he revealed to the Superior of the seminary his desire to live and work in our Society. “That was without doubt,” he noted with his customary humility, “why, under the protection of Mary, my prayers were answered, and I have always been thankful to that good Mother for it.”

In October 1875, Father Tanquerey finished his course of Theology at the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris. He spent the next two years in Rome. For the first time the Procure of St. Sulpice was accepting students. Two aspirants were named by Father Icard to finish their formation in the shadow of St. Peter’s.  One of the happy beneficiaries of the fortunate beginning was Father Many, who was to shed lustre on the Society as Professor of Canon Law at St. Sulpice and at the Catholic Institute of Paris before he became auditor at the Rota and Dean of that Roman tribunal. The other was Father Tanquerey, destined also for a brilliant and well-fulfilled intellectual career. They both studied Theology at the Minerva and Canon Law at the Apollinaris. In his second year in the Eternal City, Father Tanquerey received priesthood. He was ordained priest at St. John Lateran on April 20, 1878. That year he returned to France with his confrere after gaining with him the twofold doctorate in Theology and Canon Law.

Toward the end of his Solitude in 1879, Father Tanquerey taught Philosophy for a few months at the seminary in Nantes. But his first appointment, properly so called, was for Rodez, where he taught Dogmatic Theology for eight years. His influence there was profound and his teaching brilliant. The priests who were then his students remember the liveliness of his classes and the light he threw into their minds on the most delicate questions of Theology. They also remember the influence he exercised on all by his great supernatural spirit and his attractive good nature. All – confreres, penitents, students – were thinking he would always remain at Rodez when, in the vacation period of 1887, Father Icard announced to Father Tanquerey that he was sending him to Baltimore.

We do not know what – deep down inside – our confrere thought on learning of that appointment. But his customary attitude in such eventualities assure us that he accepted his new destination joyfully and in the spirit of obedience. For him, Baltimore was a whole new world. He was very quickly at home there. He came to an understanding of his new students and he loved them. He taught Dogma from 1887 to 1896 and at the same time was responsible for Canon Law. From 1897 to 1902 he taught Moral. In 1903 he became Vice-rector of the Baltimore seminary.

He became attached to his adopted country, and announced to anyone caring to listen his admiration for the Church in the United States, for which he did his best in preparing for it priests who were learned, zealous, and filled with the supernatural spirit which poured out of his soul. To him esteem and affection were given without measure. Bishops, priests, and seminarians loved and prized this very benefolent Sulpician with whom relations were so pleasant. This teacher so rich in his use of authorities and so clear in his explanations, whose lessons were, all at the same time, appealing, charming, and easily remembered. In proof, [let me call atentionto] this testimony of the Reverend Father James M. Gillis – testimony rendered last November 19th on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Baltimore seminary. Speaking of Sulpicians whom he had know, the orator cited “the extraordinary teaching talents of a Tanquerey or an Ayrinhac.”

At the end of the scholastic year, 1902-1903, Father Tanquerey was recalled to France by Father Lebas and was named teacher of Moral at St. Sulpice. One of his former students has described, with the enthusiasm and the regard which always was paid to him as a teacher as well as a priest, what his teaching and his Sulpician influence meant in this choice spot.

“His course was an enchantment. The teacher strained to be one with his students, to set up with them a kind of partnership. The amazed and happy students accepted with enthusiasm a method so new and so profitable. There was discussion in class, there was further discussion after class in those little “quarter-hours” which sometimes went on for an hour. And very often the recreation periods resounded with echoes of these discussions, especially when a group had the good luck to corner Father Tanquerey and to have him – no longer as teacher – but almost as a comrade. The new wine would have burst the old bottles to the great harm of souls if Father Tanquerey had not been there to stop us at the critical moment and to show us the common sense which we were so prone to lose. Freely he let us go on. Then, with a word (always kindly), he blew on the flame to extinguish what had become too hot. Thanks to him we were sometimes able to go beyond the limits in our speech, so sure were we of being immediately brought back – not to think, for we never ceased doing that – but to speak according to the traditional norm.”

No one could better interpret the effect that Father Tanquerey had at St. Sulpice nor the influence he exercised there. The students benefitted from his teaching (properly so called) and from his direction up to the time of his appointment as Vice-rector of the seminary in 1907. This new office was providential. Without his realizing it, it was preparing him for the last ministry he would exercise and with which he crowned his career. For it obliged him to perfect his knowledge of Christian spirituality, and it was going to help him to complete the series of his theological works, already well-known and prized.

In truth, Father Garriguet was happy to give him this new responsibility because, doubtless, Father Tanquerey was quite ready to undertake it, but also in the light of the relative freedom it was going to leave him to assure the continuing publication of his works.

Since his years in Baltimore, the three volumes of the Synopsis Theolgiae Dogmaticae were known to the whole world. After his arrival in Paris, Father Tanquerey had finished his Synopsis Theologiae Moralis et Pastoralis. Seminaries and universities gave high rank to this theological work and adopted it. The author, always on the lookout for improvement and adaptation, had in mind to enhance the first editions by a more extensive positive documentation, by a more compact sensible binding, and also – for he kept himself always completely up to date – by a constantly revised bibliography. It was a vast undertaking, and one which required even more privacy than being a teacher in the seminary could guarantee its author. Our confrere, with alacrity and full awareness, accepted the proposal that Father Garriguet made him in naming him Vice-rector at Issy without responsibility for any teaching.

It was then that Father Tanquerey gave himself, even more fully than in the past, to the theological work which he had begun. “He was not one of those who, satisfied with an early success, rest on their laurels. He never stopped, either personally or through his helpers, revising, correcting, completing, adapting. Each new edition of the Synopsis differed from those preceding it, and the smallest details were as carefully revised as the important matters.” With the aid of very competent confreres who lent him the benefit of their teaching experiences as well as their expertise, he revised, amplified, changed, enriched his six volumes of theology, always heedful of the suggestions made to him. Always, too, his own man in the skill he took in making use of them. He was on the watch for the lacks that men of good will discreetly hinted at or sometimes openly pointed out. “Very receptive,” wrote one of ours, “to all the nuances of contemporary thought, he knew how … to cull out the truth contained in the sociological theories, philosophies, and influential teachings. He presented the practical problem of religion as a kind of tableland apologetics, capable of being used by certain minds, for pathways to traditional apologetics …”

In his courses of Dogmatic and Moral Theology (which, with the help of Fathers Quévastre and Hebert, he condensed into two little volumes, Brevior Synopsis Dogmatica, Brevior Synopsis Moralis), he knew how to utilize – as he did with all enlightened theology – the positive method and the speculative without raising between them an airtight partition. In fact, Father Tanquerey was not one of those who, calling into doubt the competence of reason, limit themselves to seeing in theology, by calling on revealed truth, nothing other than a pedagogical filing system, or, beyond that, an explanation within the limits of common sense. For a long while as guide according to the scholastic method, he utilized speculation properly so called, the use of reasoning indefinitely deductive. But he avoided erecting reasoning on an inadequate scriptural basis – textual or traditional – as a means of shoring up his theses. He wanted to set out from “givens” as concrete as possible, and it was after that that he called on everything that the positive offered him of greater precision.”

Father Tanquerey was named Superior of the Solitude in 1915. In this new arena his activity was going to be doubled. He did not stop keeping up to date his eight volumes of theology. But the ascetical and the mystical inflamed him. He dreamt of publishing a treatise on those two sciences as the crowning of his work. The beautiful dream was not to be soon realized. It was the War; and Father Tanquerey agreed to be Father Berrué’s assistant in running Military Hospital #24, set up at the seminary. It was the War; the theologians of Issy joined those of Paris in 1917; and Father Tanquerey, anxious to help Father Montagny, organized at the Solitude – with the help of some demobilized confreres – a seminary of Philosophy which, with the seminary of Paris, made it possible, when peace came, to rekindle “the flame.”

After the opening of the 1919 school year, Father Tanquerey resumed at the Solitude his regular functions as Superior. He learned then, like his predecessors, as a Sulpician deeply convinced that, to form priests, it was necessary to be himself one of the highest degree.

“It was,” he wrote, “a very great consolation to me to be called to form young Sulpicians at the Solitude. I very much loved the work which made me a conduit to some who would carry it on. Which allowed me to know better and to relish that beautiful teaching of Olier which had always seemed so apt for forming good priests and interior souls. Father Olier’s teaching on the Holy Trinity, the Incarnate Word, The Blessed Virgin, delighted me. The practical conclusions which he drew from them on absolute renouncement, on the sloughing off of the old man, on habitual and intimate union with Jesus, Grand Religious of the Father, along with the practice of the virtues described in his Introduction, seemed to me to constitute a magnificent spiritual synthesis.”

Father Tanquerey was not completely taken up only with the spirituality of Olier. It seemed to him that the time had come for realizing the “dream” already mentioned. He put himself to work, mined the works of the principal masters of the spiritual life,  methodically organized their teaching, took care to be both doctrinal and practical, tied everything in with the teaching of St. Paul and St. John as presented by the masters of the French School, and published his Prećis de Theologie Ascétique et Mystique which certainly filled a need for souls striving for perfection, and achieved an unprecedented success. Within a few years a hundred thousand copies were in the hands of the clergy and faithful. It was translated into several languages. It was a complete success but it did not put a stop to Father Tanquerey’s activity. He published a new work, Les Dogmes Geńeŕateurs de la Piété. He contributed to several dictionaries. He wrote some very noteworthy articles in magazines of spirituality, and he did all this without in any way – quite the contrary – neglecting his duties as Superior of the Solitude at Issy.

Such activity could not fail to sap the strength of our confrere.

It all caught up with him in 1927. He asked, very simply, to be relieved of his duties so as to be able to give himself completely and with less fatigue to the work which his publishing demanded.

His resignation was accepted. He was named Honorary Superior. Externally, as well as in the privacy of his soul, he made his sacrifice with joy. But it was a somber joy and one which had attached to it a heavy cross. He was going to have to leave Issy and Paris and abandon, at least officially, the ministry of the Society which he so much loved. No matter!  Father Tanquerey (those who were close to him knew how things were) stepped on his heart and expressed the wish to retire far from Paris, to the major seminary of Aix, where our confreres gave him the heartiest of welcomes.

Once there, the great worker that was Father Tanquerey did not at all take things easy, no more than he did at Blainville where he loved to go each year to be with his family. Without speaking of his earlier works, of which – in collaboration with Father Cimetier – he was preparing new editions, Father Tanquerey published a whole series of brochures for the formation of advanced souls: Notre Incorporation au Christ, Notre Participation à la Vie Divine, La Participation des Fidèles au Sacerdoce Chrétien, La Divinisation de la Souffrance, etc., etc. The writer seemed untiring and the man of action did not rest.

At Aix he strove to follow completely, in as much as he could, the seminary exercises. He was very faithful in mixing with his confreres in the recreations after meals. His conversation was lively and light. The sun charmed him. He enjoyed it hugely, and he loved to gaze at the beautiful Provençal countryside.

Although he was neither a teacher nor – properly so called – one of the directors of the seminary, Father Tanquerey was glad to be of help to everyone. He did not involve himself in the running of the house, but agreed, very simply and with pleasure, sometimes to give spiritual readings; to chair social meetings; to help seminarians in their studies, to be visited by them, to answer their questions; and to preach the monthly retreat to the priests. At bottom, he was still a director of souls. Although his activity lessened as he aged, he found a thousand ways to keep busy.

Nevertheless, from the time of his retirement, Father Tanquerey had thought about death. On October 23, 1927, he wrote: “I cannot deceive myself; my death is drawing near and I am already experiencing the first symptoms of its early arrival. I must then calmly prepare myself for it.” At the end of September, 1930, he noted again: “A new attack occurred in August just when I believed myself better. It brought back to me the nearness of my death. Along with my weakness, it emphasized the realization of my complete dependence on God. [It also emphasized the necessity of my] will’s using, by His grace, the last moments of my life better.” As a result, our dear confrere got busy: “To raise my courage I recall that Jesus, not having been able to suffer in his own person the infirmities of age, willed to endure them in the person of Christians, especially priests, members of His Mystical Body. Since those infirmities have touched me, and since they can only increase as time goes on, I will to accept them bravely, joyfully, heartfully.” On the Day of the Presentation in 1930 he still felt the same way and wrote to the Superior, the Directors, the seminarians, and the priests of Aix, a farewell letter found after his death.

At the very end, doubtless because he was so active, he seemed to be renewing his grip on life just as it was about to slip away from him.

On Sunday, February 14th, Father Tanquerey gave to the Sisters of the Seminary of Aix the first instruction for the “Little Lent,” as he called it, which he had prepared for them. As someone smilingly offered him a fee, he said he would gladly accept it. During the following night he suffered some weakness – probably a weakness of the heart which he could not account for to his confreres. On the 16th, though helped by Father Mazars, he had great difficulty celebrating Mass. He said Mass again on Wednesday, the 17th, but with so much effort that the Superior of Aix was obliged to forbid his celebrating thereafter. Wednesday evening it was suggested that he receive Extreme Unction the next morning. Thursday, the 18th, he received Holy Communion at seven o’clock and Extreme Unction at half past seven, while following the ceremonies in his Ritual, he tried to get up. The doctor, who diagnosed lung congestion, told him that he must take a vow of obedience and use the prescriptions recommended. On Friday, Father Tanquerey was still attempting to recite his breviary. On Saturday, February 20th, the dear patient felt a little better. He followed Vespers and Compline as a confrere recited them at his bedside. The Archbishop of Aix, the Dean of the Chapter, and several priests came to visit him. He recognized them and thanked them. But by evening of that day, the patient’s condition worsened. And on Sunday, February 21st, towards late afternoon, Father Tanquerey gave his soul to God in the presence of three of our confreres: Fathers Mallet, Laugé, and de Valicourt.

The funeral was held on Tuesday, February 23rd, in the seminary chapel. Father Cimetier, Superior of the seminary university of Lyon and very close collaborator of the deceased, officiated. The Dean of the Chapter of Aix, the Vicars General, a great number of canons, of pastors of the City of Aix, and of [other] priests, were present. The Society was represented by the Vice-superior of St. Sulpice and the Superiors of the major seminaries of Lyon, Viviers, Avignon, and Nîmes, the Vice-rector of the seminary of Rodez, and several other confreres. Before the absolution, Vicar General Monnier read a magnificent letter from the Archbishop of Aix, who had to be in Paris for a meeting of the Cardinals and Archbishops of France. Speaking in the name of his fellow priests, the Vicar General added: “The whole clergy of Aix, priests and seminarians, share the feeling of His Excellency. He fully associates himself with the tribute of high esteem and profound gratitude, the tribute just placed on this casket.

“For several years we have benefitted from the exquisite nourishment of a substantial teaching which, month by month, this vir doctus, robustus, validus [learned, strong, orthodox man] did not stop feeding us.

“And so, in the name of all, O Venerable Old Man, I give to the loved ones whom you have left behind, the flower of our faithful and thankful remembrance. May it please God to help us to walk in the path that your knowledge, your faith, and your virtue have marked out for us. May we one day find you again more alive than ever in God and in Christ, Whom you have taught us to serve better.”

Father Tanquerey’s body remained laid out in the seminary chapel on Tuesday, February 23rd. On Wednesday, the 24th, with Vicar General Monnier – at the head of the Cathedral clergy – presiding, the burial took place. It is in the cemetery of Aix, in the tomb of the diocesan priests, that at his own wish our late confrere sleeps his last sleep near some whom he edified and prepared for the supreme sacrifice.

When his death became known, condolences were sent either to His Eminence, Cardinal Verdier or to St. Sulpice. Among them were those of His Eminence, Cardinal Lepicier, Archbishop Le Roy of Caria, the Archbishop of Aix, the Bishops of Coutances, Le Mans, Monaco, Blois, Marsailles, etc. All expressed to the Society their respectful sympathy, told anew of their deep esteem for the Sulpician who had honored and made bright the spirit and the name of St. Sulpice.

We, who knew and loved him, shall long keep alive in our memory “this old man with the drawn face who seemed to have but a veil like an earthly envelope for his soul; this priest so scrupulously careful in performing his exercises of piety. This teacher so vigilant to utilize his slightest opportunities in an unceasing labor to keep abreast and to update his early books and ready them anew. This apostle of souls with a heart on fire who willed, in spite of age and infirmity, to give seminarians and priests the last warmth of his soul brimming with zeal. …”

These lines from the Archbishop of Aix re-echo those of His Eminence, Cardinal Lepicier, who most vividly put into words what we are certain of: “He has not brought empty hands to God’s tribunal. Quite the contrary. He will have heard himself called the faithful servant who has increased a hundredfold the talents entrusted to him.”

Please accept, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my respectful and very fraternal affection in Our Lord.

P. Boissard

Vice-superior of St. Sulpice