On Saturday morning, the 1st of September, a copy of the decree of transportation for refractory priests was handed to the Superior; it deceived everybody with a hope of deliverance from death. That afternoon, many prisoners were killed at the main Paris prison, and two hundred priests were slaughtered at the Carmelite Church. As excitement and disorder and danger became more intense in that neighbourhood, some friends made an effort to rescue Father Francois and his Procurator.
At eight o’clock in the evening, a butcher boy, sent by his employer, told of the massacre at the Carmelites, and urged the two Fathers to come with him or it would soon be too late. After hesitation and some speculation with his Superior, the Procurator returned to make further enquiries, when the butcher boy, now accompanied by two others, rushed him out into the street and spirited him away.
A few of the other priests made their escape over the walls and neighbouring roofs at the same time, taking advantage of the confusion and the night; one, however, James Rabe, went back to his room for his Breviary and did not return. Most of the priests spent this evening of the 2nd — 3rd September preparing for death. The inmates of half a dozen prisons had been given over to a popular tribunal and to the mob, with the resulting death of over four hundred. The local Section Committee was in session at a short distance from Saint Firmin’s, and knew that this prison would be raided, but took no measures to protect it.
At 5.30 in the morning of the 3rd September, its doors were broken open. A priest was seen hurrying to give warning, and the intruders charged after him; as he knew the run of the house he escaped to the roof, where two bullets were sent through his hat, but he landed safe in the courtyard of the College next door, after leaving some of his clothing on the points of the grille he had had to climb over.
Some of the cut-throats retired then to collect from the Section Administrators the salary of seventy five francs each for the seventy two prisoners they had already murdered. Meantime, others roamed about the Seminary to find some of the prisoners for whom orders of release had been given. Some of the other priests and brothers escaped or hid themselves, so that in all thirty one were deprived of their martyr’s crown. There was a lull in the disturbance, and the group of prisoners was allowed to scatter through the house again. Some few went to the refectory. A bunch of assassins followed them, when their leader called out: “These gentlemen are going to have their dinner; I will make them take their coffee,” and seizing one of them, aided by some of the band, he threw him out of the window. This was a signal for the rest to rush the prisoners, knocking them down with clubs.
Meantime, Father Francois, with two other priests, had hastened to the meeting of the Administrators to ask an explanation of this invasion of his Seminary. Embarrassed and powerless, the authorities offered him immediate escape. He insisted, and was begging for safety for all his guests, when the butchers rushed in-to the hall, and seizing him, threw him out of the window. On the street below, women beat out his life with clubs.
The massacre then became general in the house, and the other seventy one victims, four laymen among them, were bayonetted or stabbed or stunned and thrown to the rabble below, who mutilated and killed them. Their bodies were heaped together, and sand and vinegar used to remove the traces of blood from the building. Soon the tumbril drays came to cart away the precious relics for burial in the catacombs of Paris, where they were unidentifiable, awaiting their resurrection to glory. The murderers drew their pay of seventy five or twenty francs from the Section authorities, and went off to the nearest tavern to spend it. The authorities did their best to escape respons-ibility by blaming the excesses upon the unruly people, but history shows that the savage September massacres were organised by the persons in control of local government, under the direction of the leaders of the Assembly. Father John Henry Gruyer, the other Vincentian mentioned here, was a native of the diocese of Besancon. He had spent some time in giving missions, and was for eighteen years a pastor in the parish of Saint Louis at Versailles. When his church was given over in April to the Constitutional clergy, who had taken the oath, Father Gruyer asked to return to his home town. He returned to Paris in June to his Confrere, Father Francois, at Saint Firmin’s. He was fifty nine years of age. A third among these Blessed Martyrs was Father John Charles Caron, at the age of sixty two. He had been in charge of a little country parish of a hundred and fifty seven souls at Collegien, now in the diocese of Meaux, For a time he was under suspicion as a spy, but he was able to make his retreat to Paris in 1791, when he came to live at Saint Firmin’s.
Nicholas Colin was the fourth Vincentian among this group. After preliminary studies with the Jesuit Fathers, he joined the Congregation of the Mission, where he was ordained priest in 1754. After seventeen years of mission works as a renowned orator, he was in charge of a parish at Genevrieres for twenty years. In 1789, he became an elector of the States General, Mayor of the town and Administrator of the District. He took an oath to be faithful to the nation in the political sphere, repudiating the articles of the Constitution regarding spiritual authority. In 1791, he said farewell to his parishioners and came to join his Confreres at Saint Firmin’s to share their martyrdom.
The Process for the Beatification of the September Martyrs was begun in 1901, and the Cause of two hundred and sixteen of them was introduced in 1916. In 1926, the official list contained a hundred and eighty seven names, with the four Vincentians, and the Decree of their Martyrdom was given. On October 17th, 1920, Pope Pius XI declared them Martyrs of the Faith of the Holy Catholic Church. May their strength of Faith, their courage in sufferings of mind and body, be a pattern and model for all who love justice and hate iniquity.