Vuibert, Father Jean

1926, September 15

Date of Birth: 1840, September 19


No Memorial Card is Available

January 16, 1927

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

Jean Baptiste Arsene Vuibert was born at Aussonce in the canton of Juniville (Ardennes) in the Diocese of Reims on September 19, 1840. From 1845 to 1853 he attended his town’s public schools, run by his father.

In January 1854, he began the study of Latin with the pastor of his parish. In October 1855, he entered the equivalent of third year high in the minor seminary of Reims, where he completed his classical course including Philosophy (1855-1860). At the opening of the next school year he went on to the major seminary of Reims to study Theology and did so for three years (1860-1863).

Having by that time been accepted as an aspirant to the Society, he went to make another year of Theology at St. Sulpice (1863-1864). Then he entered the Solitude. During Solitude, he received diaconate on December 17, 1864, and priesthood on June 10, 1865. About two months later (August 16, 1865) he left for America in the company of Fathers Bertin, Dumont, Martineau, and Vignon, all now dead for some time.

They sailed from Boulogne and went to London where their ignorance of the language caused them some embarrassment, amusing enough now but quite upsetting then. After a brief stay, they re-boarded the vessel at Liverpool and on August 31st arrived in Boston where they were happy to find a St. Sulpice alumnus, Father Williams, later Archbishop of that diocese and founder of St. John’s Seminary, which he entrusted to the Society. That same evening they left for Baltimore where they arrived on September 1st. The next day Father Vuibert went to St. Charles College where he was to spend thirty-one years (1865-1896) without hardly ever leaving except for five trips to France, one to Boston, and one to Montreal on business. The house at that time advanced only very limited funds. Partly for reasons of economy, several teachers spent nearly all their vacations on the site, seeking rest and recreation in manual labor – to improve the lawn and the gardens – and after meals in certain bowling matches enlivened by arguments, some of which were long remembered. The matches were of such intense interest, so it seems, that the game went on sometimes into the night with the help of lanterns.

Father Vuibert began his career under Father Jenkins, the first president of the college. From the beginning he showed himself to be what he was to remain all his life: a tireless worker, the slave of duty, a man of order and discipline, of burning zeal, a bit aggressive, punctilious, unbending. All in all, he was sometimes trying for those he lived with and for superiors.

On his arrival in Baltimore, the Superior of the seminary, Father Dubreuil, in a remark which those interested never forgot, expressed the thought that his small size would not stand in the way of his authority. Experience soon showed that with him force of will amply made up for lack of height.

Before his ordination the doctors said that he had bad lungs and predicted serious complications. He held himself forewarned, took all the precautions which prudence suggested, up to his last day very carefully avoided drafts, but let up in no wise in his appetite for work.

His volume of Ancient History appeared in 1886 with the warm recommendation of Cardinal Gibbons. It was a very thorough resume – very complete, perhaps a little dry – of the history of the world “from the creation of man to the fall of the Empire of the West in 476.” Many Catholic colleges adopted it as a textbook and continued to use it up to his last years. It was to be followed by a volume of Modern History which was never published, although partly done. Various involvements held up the completion of it – that the author’s health began to fail and, on top of that, it was rumored and was believable that his style of writing history no longer appealed.

It was especially as a teacher that Father Vuibert excelled. In nothing did he seem to be more at ease than in the chair of Rhetoric or History. After forty or fifty years, his former students still speak with admiration of his lessons, always so carefully prepared, so clear, so precise, so full of life, interest and enthusiasm.

During the vacation of 1896, Father Vuibert had to undergo an operation which obliged him to take a kind of semi-retirement. Father Captier, then on a visitation to the United States, sent him to the University seminary at Washington as Spiritual Director. He spent the school year there, after which he obtained permission to go to finish his convalescence with his family. He had already been named as future superior of St. Patrick’s. That house not yet ready, he counted on a prolonged vacation, and had even been authorized to fulfill a long-cherished dream – a visit to Rome and Italy. But at the opening of classes, the New York seminary found itself without a Professor of History. An appeal was made to his good will. Renouncing his travel plans, he shortly left to give the help asked for.

When the year was over, he took the road to California where he was definitively going to settle down and from which he would no longer return to Baltimore or to France to visit his family, although he would always remain very much attached to them.

At Menlo Park he found a house elegantly set up, on a superb site, and in an ideal climate. The minor seminary opened on September 20, 1898 with barely thirty students. The operation of that little community, as yet without established traditions, made up of distinct elements of quite unequal influence, was bound to offer certain difficulties. Perhaps better fitted for teaching than for administration, and more used to dealing with books than with men, Father Vuibert did not always get all the cooperation he desired. He suffered excruciatingly from some of the opposition he ran up against. Later, he spoke of the years when he had carried the burden of being superior as about the hardest of his life. His energy, his recognized professional competence, his devotion and his spirit of faith, allowed him finally to overcome the major obstacles. The work developed little by little although slowly and, at first, with hardship enough.

At the opening of the major seminary in 1904, he retained in part the running of the college. He retained it until 1910. At that time, he asked to retire and was allowed to, went back to his rank among the teachers, and for several years continued to take some always appreciated classes.

His priestly golden jubilee in 1915 brought to the seminary several bishops and a great number of priests, some of whom came from quite a distance to bring to their old teacher the tribute of their respect, their recognition, and their affection. Many of his students, really, remained very attached to him, and they were very interested in everything about him.

Shortly after celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination, Father Vuibert asked to be relieved from all teaching. The Archbishop having invited him to finish his days in the house he had founded, he agreed all the more willingly to take his retirement there since, used to the beautiful sunshine of California, he was afraid of not being able to withstand anywhere else the rigors of winter. From then on his time was divided between reading and prayer. These last years his faculties had dimmed. He had to give up saying Holy Mass and the breviary. He made up for that by numerous rosaries. He was seen reciting them morning and evening in his short walks across the corridors or in the garden. At the end he lived in a world more imaginary than real, confusing past and present, hardly aware of the time of day or the season of the year. But he never forgot that he must every morning be at Mass and receive Holy Communion. It was his first thought on rising. Often, he was met in the corridor during the night or at different hours of the day making his way in surplice to the chapel where he believed that Mass was about to begin. He always wanted to hear Mass with the community. When the time for Communion came, he went up to the altar first helped by a seminarian. One of them who saw him remarked on the day of his death that the example of that old man, to the end scrupulously faithful to his Communion every day in spite of age and infirmity, was by far the most eloquent sermon preached in the house.

On the night of December 6th, Father Vuibert experienced an unaccustomed illness. The doctor, called in the day, expressed the opinion that the end was near. Not believing himself ill, he persisted in trying to get up, but his strength was failing. On the 13th he received the last sacraments; and on the 15th he expired very quietly without excitement and without apparent suffering.

The Archbishop consented to preside at the funeral in the midst of about seventy priests from all parts of the diocese. There would have been more – and from greater distances – save for the need of being at their assignments for the next day’s Sunday Masses.

Father Vuibert now rests in the little cemetery of Menlo Park beside Father Keil, his pious and very devoted coworker of the first days of St. Patrick’s.

I recommend Father Vuibert to your prayers and I renew to you the expression of my very devoted sentiments in Our Lord.

H. Garriguet

Superior of St. Sulpice