Blessed Louis Joseph Francois. Part III

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoLouis Joseph FrançoisLeave a Comment

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On April 6th, 1792, the Legislative Assembly sup-pressed all secular Congregations of men or women, even those devoted to hospitals and schools. Then it forbade the ‘wearing of religious or ecclesiastical, dress, and in May, it decreed the deportation of the clergy who would not swear. The King refused to sign the decrees, and the agitators took occasion to rouse a mob
by spreading reports of the King’s invitation to foreign powers to interfere in the country’s government.

The Royal Palace of the Tuileries was invaded on the 20th January by a host of some thousands of brigands and foreigners and the riff-raff of Paris, with threats on the King’s life; but with his calmness and courage the rising was turned into an occasion for his applause.
On August 10th, another crowd of irrosponsibles, in rags and red caps, was led to the Tuileries, and to avoid bloodshed and disturbance, the royal family transferred to the Assembly Hall, to be then taken to the Temple, virtually the their prison. The Legislative Assembly pronounced the suspension of the royal authority, and convoked a National Convention with full powers. It was the overthrow of the throne. The rabble probably only one tenth of the city’s population – was now feeling that it had power, under the urge of its opportunist leaders.

In the meantime, the Seminary of Saint Firmin was practically empty, the students having been dispersed. Father Francois had directed his zeal outside of Paris to the neighbouring diocese of Chartres, to aid the clergy there and to try and stem the spread of unrest. Before leaving Paris and because of his financial straits, he had rented one vacant wing of the College to the administrators of that part of the city, the Section of the Botanical Gardens, as a guardhouse and meeting rooms. These administrators were loyalists and there seemed nothing to fear from their presence, as they were expected to maintain order in that Section.

In the remainder of the house, Father Francois now had the pleasure of giving hospitality to five of his Confreres and thirteen other secular priests, driven from their homes for refusing the oath. The names of sixteen of these are on the list of Martyrs, one of them being Blessed John Henry Gruver, C.M., whilst two escaped at the moment of the attack on their house. Father Francois was happy to show this fraternal charity to these confessors of the Faith. He welcomed them eagerly, being honoured to assist them, and- though urged by his mother and father at this stage to come home from the dangers of the city to the safety of Cambrai, he refused to leave his post of charity. He shared their life as they prayed and talked together, strengthening one another against the evil they saw threatening them, for now the leaders of the rising had a free hand, and their hired assassins were in a state of fury.

After August 10th, the leglslative authority was in the hands of the Jacobis; executive power was given to the Ministers, with Danton as Minister of Justice. Paris was administered by the Council of the Commune, elected by the forty eight Sections of the city; each Section also had a committee of sixteen administrators. A central office was set up at the Town Hall of Paris, as the place of communication between the different Sections, each of which had a deputy there* This body, with no authority and no charter, took over all municipal power as the Revolutionary Commune, and began the “era of liberty,” changing the term of address to “citizen.” This Commune rivalled the Assembly in its hostility to the non juring priests.

The Assembly urged the people to take measures themselves to put down what they thought were infractions of the law; it declared that its decrees would have the form of law without any royal sanction; it voted the “Police Law” entrusting to the municipal bodies the detection of illegal activities, and inviting the citizens to betray their fellows. However, the large majority of the people seemed uninterested, so it was planned to rouse them by a reign of terror and a wholesale massacre of nobles and priests who were in prison or who would at once be sought out and gaoled. Numbers of Southerners, Marseillaise, the rabble of Paris and liberated prisoners were enlisted on the plea of taking revenge on the prisoners said to be in conspiracy with foreign powers, who were now attacking Verdun, and of intending to slaughter the people.
At once, on August 11th, domiciliary visits began, to arrest and bring the non-swearing clergy to the Carmelite Church or the Seminary of Saint Firmin. The leader of the Section who had rented the building and who was friendly to Father Francois had had to flee the country, being a loyalist, so the Seminary had now be-come a prison, and its eighteen residents were enclosed.
Thirty five priests were added to their number on the 13th August, arrested and gathered from the Colleges, Hospitals and Seminaries in the neighbourhood.

Father Francois prepared their lodgings, and armed guards were installed. By the end of the month, thirty five more Professors, Chaplains, Canons and pastors had been brought to the same prison. These ninety captives had some little knowledge of the state of affairs out-side, but were buoyed up by hope of release.

One of the eighteen who were released through influential friends or who escaped, related the circumstances of their lives in prison. They were in charge of six gaolers; visitors were allowed under supervision; all letters were censored by the guard, and a newspaper was given them for reading in common. Father Francois made what provision he could for their material needs. The guard did nothing towards their maintenance; those who had anything shared it with the others, and friends brought parcels of food when they heard the state of affairs.

Moral support was equally necessary. Some priests came in disguise to see their Confreres, but Father Francois was the greatest strength. He had made a retreat and general confession since his detention, in readiness for any event, and now he organised the spiritual welfare of the others. He heard many confessions, giving a picture of the Sacred Heart to all as a reminder of their source of strength. Mass was said daily by a number, and much time was spent in, prayer in their own rooms. The library was at their disposal, and meals were taken in common. Some who were offered freedom delayed their exit because they were so happy to be together with such faithful and holy company.

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