November 6, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Let us consider the death of our Lord. In the Gospel he says that no one would take away his life but that he would surrender it himself. He assures us also that the greatest proof of love one can give is to sacrifice his life for his friend. He died, therefore, in this living proof of love for us. As much as lies in our power, let us strive to obtain the great favor of dying for love of him.
All Christians deem it a duty to picture for themselves, from time to time, the terrors of death. Death is well calculated to inspire us with fear of the judgment of God. Yet, this fear must not diminish our love. Let us desire but one thing: to live out of love for the Sacred Heart and to die for love of him.
Our Lord does not ask each day for the sacrifice of our life; but he desires a free and loving offering for the glory of his Sacred Heart. Whether or not he accepts it, we nonetheless make the offering of our life out of love, and this offering will help to sanctify the hour of our death.
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Crowns of Love for the Sacred Heart, 4th Mystery, 6th Meditation
Oblation: the daily practice of offering oneself to God
For Priests of the Sacred Heart, who make a daily offering of themselves to God’s plans, death serves as the final act of oblation. Death in the Heart of Jesus is the culmination of a lifetime attitude of trusting love.
In response to a Western Canadian bishop’s plea for missionaries, Fr. Dehon sent Fr. Edmond Gaborit to Alberta in 1910. As the first SCJ in Canada, Fr. Gaborit ministered as a parish priest, a regional superior, and novice master. He never returned to his native France.
The son of a French peasant, Fr. Gaborit struggled with his studies, but completed them at the Sulpician Seminary in Paris. His great desire was to be a missionary, but he suffered from bronchitis. When Fr. Gaborit was ordained in 1899, Fr. Dehon suggested an assignment in Western Canada because the climate, although severe, was very dry in winter.
Despite his frail health, he accessed his many talents when needed. At his first assignment in Wainwright, the bishop entrusted him to found a parish and build a church. Fr. Gaborit not only assumed the roles of architect and contractor, but also with the men of the parish did carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work so that when the building was finished there was no debt. He also carved the altars and painted them to look like marble.
When Fr. Dehon visited his first mission in Canada, and noted the poverty of the situation, he asked Fr. Gaborit if he could do anything for him upon his return to France. Fr. Gaborit immediately replied, “Reinforcements, Father, reinforcements.” Soon after, SCJs Fr. George Cochet, Deacon Joseph Huet, and Br. Franҫois Berger joined the Canadian mission.
In 1920, the newly appointed Bishop O’Leary began systematically to weaken French-speaking parishes by assigning Irish pastors to them. He reassigned Fr. Gaborit to St. Vital Parish in the farming community of Beaumont. Although a great disappointment to him and his first parishioners, Fr. Gaborit brought all his pastoral and manual skills to his new parish.
Adding to his missionary tasks, he requested from the bishop and received permission to establish a novitiate. In the summer of 1926, he travelled to Montréal seeking vocations and within a year four men became novices, including Rudolph Hould and Damase Caron. A jovial man, Fr. Gaborit often told the novices that, “teasing is the seasoning that keeps a community in good health.”
After their first profession of vows, Rudolph and Damase travelled to Louvain, Belgium to pursue their studies in philosophy and theology. Fr. Gaborit’s last words to them were, “When you return as priests, find a house to begin our SCJ work in the east. We shall join you there; for our future is in the east.” By the summer of 1937, the SCJs established a house in Montréal. Fr. Cochet and Fr. Caron wrote to Fr. Gaborit to tell him the good news and invite him to join them. Before that was possible, however, he died in 1940 at the age of 67 and was buried in Beaumont, Alberta.
Fr. George Cochet, SCJ, one of Fr. Gaborit’s “reinforcements,” did his philosophical and theological studies in Louvain, Belgium, and was ordained a priest in 1913. His first assignment took him from his native France to Western Canada. Fluent in both French and English, Fr. Cochet ministered in various mission posts of small groups of French-, English-, and Irish-Canadian families.
Because he was an excellent preacher and administrator, the news of his next assignment saddened both Fr. Gaborit and the people whom he served. In 1918, Fr. Dehon transferred Fr. Cochet to the United States in order to collect funds for the construction of Christ the King Church in Rome.
The small SCJ community in Ste. Marie, Illinois, helped acclimate him to this new country and advised him to start his begging ministry in the New England States, where many French-Canadians had immigrated to work in the textile mills. In 1920, Fr. Cochet arrived in Rhode Island to preach parish missions and retreats in surrounding dioceses.
A few years later, the bishop of Providence, RI, requested that Fr. Cochet administer a parish to replace an ailing pastor. For four years, he was a well-loved pastor who often sat down on the front steps of the family home he was visiting. Of the candidates he sent to Ste. Marie, IL, Frs. John Dalbec and Vildac Giroux became Priests of the Sacred Heart.
Subsequently, he returned to Ste. Marie to teach for one year until the Superior General, Fr. Philippe, SCJ, appointed him regional superior of Eastern Canada, where several SCJs were already working. Fr. Cochet was instrumental in purchasing an SCJ residence in Montréal. With three other SCJs, he continued his pastoral ministry and retreat preaching.
Eventually, in poor health, Fr. Cochet left Montréal to return to Alexandra, Ontario, where he had first resided as regional superior. He died in 1949 at age 66 and was buried in the Cathedral cemetery of Alexandria.
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
As November knocks at our doors, the Universal Church takes this occasion to invite us to pray for all of our deceased family members, friends, and confreres who have passed away, whether recently or some years ago. And it is certainly also a wonderful time to recall precious and meaningful memories of particular men in our SCJ community who have meant so much to us and who in some way have influenced and even shaped our way of living our own spirituality.
When I take a quick look at the Canadian SCJ necrology, I realize how these men, who came from the Netherlands as missionaries, have had a profound and even permanent influence on me. There had been SCJs in Montréal since 1936, whom I did not know.
But the first ones that I personally met had arrived in Pointe-au-Chêne in 1953. Their mission was to open a minor seminary called École Apostolique Saint-Jean
. Some priests working in the new school would also serve occasionally in my parish in Grenville, about ten miles away. I remember well how one of those priests impressed me by his simplicity, his accessibility, his dedication, and his willingness to connect with us.
Even though he did not master the language, Fr. Guillaume Berkers would make the effort to listen to us and try to help us. Since I already held in my mind and heart the dream to become a priest, I thought that I should be a priest like him. It is mainly because of his good example as a priest and his positive influence that I begged my parents’ permission to come to Pointe-au-Chêne in 1958.
During my six years in Pointe-au-Chêne I found out, through the example of some other priests, the basic Dehonian values that characterized the true disciples of our Founder Léo Dehon. At the time we had Latin courses, and thus it was normal for our SCJ teachers to use some Latin sayings, which any disciple of Fr. Dehon considers key to SCJ Spirituality.
How often then was I told that the Ecce venio
had to become for us, as possible future Priests of the Sacred Heart, a real way of life—following Christ Jesus, who had lived it out in total abandonment to the will of his Father. More than words, I could perceive how for Frs. Jacques van Hoek, Antoine Ooms, Gérard Witkamp, Guillaume Jacobs, and Daniel Duuring, just as for Brs. Basile van der Post and Cornelis Dieemer, the Behold I come
had become a way of life and a path for happiness with and for the Lord. Although I realize how far I still stand from being faithful to this commitment, I think I can assume having basically been lead in my SCJ life by this leitmotif
If a were to talk about poverty, I also have to refer to those early days in Pointe-au-Chêne when the deceased confreres I mentioned above had to do all they could without having the proper means which are usually available. I know that we understand poverty more like a way of sharing what we have and what we are, and also as an option for the poor. But I also think it has to be a way of living that freely and consciously chooses la simplicité volontaire
, as we say in French. Those confreres had a great influence on me, especially because they showed me how to live with very little and still be men of true joy, solidarity, and compassion.
I remember coming into the Superior’s office, the day of my arrival at the school and hearing Fr. van Hoek say to my mother, “I know that you have a large family to look after and that it is not possible for you to pay the full fees. So, pay what you can, and we leave the rest in the hands of Providence.” I never forgot these simple and yet so meaningful words. This way of dealing with poor people always inspired me whenever I came across those in similar situations.
I will end this sharing of precious memories about Dutch SCJs from the early 1950s, who accepted to cross the sea and come to Canada in order not only to spread the Good News, but also to open up a school for future SCJ priests and brothers. Even though it was not necessarily their personal choice, they accepted coming because they believed it was the best way to follow God’s plans and to fulfil their own Ecce venio
I would like to say a special prayer of thanksgiving for each one of them who has helped me shape my vocation and chose to become an SCJ. Please allow me to paraphrase our dear Fr. Michael Noonan, who said something like, “After so many years, I realize that I could not have made a better choice.”
Seigneur, tu les avais choisis et appelés à te suivre. Voilà qu’ils ont tout quitté et qu’ils sont venus des lointains Pays-Bas d’alors afin de réaliser ce projet que la Congrégation leur confiait. Puissent-ils maintenant jouir auprès de toi de cette vie éternelle que tu as promis à ceux qui marcheraient à ta suite. Et en ce mois de novembre, où nous prions spécialement pour nos défunts, veille sur chacun de ces fidèles serviteurs et fais qu’ils continuent à être pour nous encore aujourd’hui une inspiration et des modèles d’engagement, de service, et de don de soi.
Richard Woodbury, SCJ
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the month of November, please remember in your prayer all deceased SCJs as well as their deceased relatives, friends, and benefactors. The following is a translation of Richard Woodbury’s prayer above.
you have chosen them
and called them to follow you.
See! They have left all
and have come from the distant Netherlands
so to fulfill the mission
that the Congregation entrusted to them.
May they now enjoy with you
the eternal life that you have promised
to those who would walk in your company.
And in this month of November,
when we pray particularly for our deceased,
watch over each of these faithful servants.
For us today,
may they continue to be an inspiration,
modeling commitment, service, and self-giving.
Each week reflections and prayers based in the Dehonian charism are published on the Dehonian Spirituality page of the U.S. Province website of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. This is an email version of that update.
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