July 12 – Aristocrat Missionary to the United States of America

July 9, 2018

Comte de Charles-Auguste-Marie-Joseph Forbin-Janson

A Bishop of Nancy and Toul, founder of the Association of the Holy Childhood, born in Paris, France, 3 Nov., 1785; died near Marseilles, 12 July, 1844. He was the second son of Count Michel Palamède de Forbin-Janson and of his wife Cornélie Henriette, princess of Galéan. He was a Knight of Malta from childhood, and a soldier at sixteen. Napoleon I made him Auditor of the Council of State in 1805. His family and the aristocracy looked forward to a most brilliant career as a statesman for him, but he surprised all by entering the seminary of St-Sulpice in the spring of 1808. He was ordained priest in Savoy in 1811, and was made Vicar-General of the Diocese of Chambéry, but eventually determined to become a missionary. Pius VII advised him to remain in France where missionary work was needed. He heeded the advice, and with his friend the Abbé de Rauzan, founded the Missionaires de France and preached with great success in all parts of his native land.

Abbé Jean-Baptiste Rauzan

In 1817 he was sent to Syria on a mission, returned to France in 1819, and again took up the work of a missionary until 1823 when he was appointed Bishop of Nancy and Toul, and was consecrated in Paris, 6 June, 1824, by the Archbishop of Rouen; Bishop Cheverus of Boston, U.S.A., was a consecrator and Bishop Fenwick of Cincinnati a witness. The French Government did not cease persecuting him for his refusal to sign the Gallican Declaration of 1682; finally, he was obliged to leave France in 1830, but succeeded in getting his own choice of a coadjutor bishop by threatening to return to Nancy. Every good cause appealed to his priestly heart, every good work to his purse. He aided Pauline Jaricot in the establishment of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. At the request of Bishop Flaget and Bishop Purcell, Gregory XVI sent him on a missionary tour through the United States of America in 1839.

Spring Hill College, Original Building

During his two years stay in that country, he travelled far and wide giving missions to the people and retreats to the clergy. Louisiana was the first conspicuous field of his zeal, and he brought its Catholic people to the sacraments in numbers which have hardly been equalled since. On his way thither, he contributed one-third of the money with which the Fathers of Mercy bought Spring Hill College (now a Jesuit College, near Mobile, Alabama). All the large cities of the country, from New York to Dubuque; from New Orleans to Quebec, were witnesses of his zeal. More at home in Canada where his mother-tongue was spoken, he did wonderful missionary work, and some events regarded as supernatural keep his memory alive to this day among the French-Canadian people. He attended the Fourth Provincial Council of Baltimore. His last visit in the United States was to Philadelphia, in November, 1841, when he assisted at the consecration of Dr. Kenrick as coadjutor Bishop of St. Louis.

Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick, Archbishop of St. Louis and the first Catholic Archbishop west of the Mississippi River.

He left New York for France in December, 1841, and the next year visited Rome to give an account of his mission in America. Gregory XVI named him a Roman Count and Assistant at the Pontifical Throne, “because of his wonderful zeal for the propagation and defence of the Catholic Faith in the United States of America”. On his return to France he founded (1843) the Society of the Holy Childhood, and spent that, and a part of the following year in spreading this good work through France, Belgium, and England. Death came to him unexpectedly at his family castle of Aygalades near Marselles.

This castle, that the Bishop died in, is unfortunately abandoned and currently for sale. In 2009, the French state suggested turning the empty castle into temporary housing for Romani people, but the idea was rejected due to protests. Photo by Fr.Latreille.

DE RIVIÈRE, Vie de Mgr de Forbin-Janson, Missionnaire, évêque de Nancy et de Toul, primat de Lorraine, fondateur de la Ste Enfance (Paris, 1892); MAES, Life of Bishop de Forbin-Janson in America, Manuscripts; SHEA, Hist. of Cath. Ch. in U. S. (New York, 1904).

Camillus P. Maes (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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