On August 5, Franciscans and many Canadian Catholics remember Blessed Frédéric Janssoone (1838–1916), a Franciscan friar noted as “God’s pedlar (peddler),” a missionary evangelizer and pastoral organizer.
Frédéric was born in Ghyvelde, in French Flanders, the youngest child in a prosperous farming family. His father died when Frédéric was nine. As a teenager, he began studies to prepare for the priesthood but had to leave school in 1855 to help support his family. He worked as a traveling salesman for a textile merchant, discovering he had a natural talent for meeting people and selling a product. After his mother’s death in 1861, he was able to resume his studies and entered the Franciscan friars at Amiens in 1864. He was ordained in 1870 and served first as a military chaplain.
In 1876 Frédéric volunteered to serve in the Custody of the Holy Land. He was elected Vicar of the Custody in 1878. In this capacity he made major efforts to repair and organize the Catholic shrines in the Holy Places, to encourage and care for pilgrims and to obtain funds for poor Palestinian Christians. He also re-established the regular public celebration of the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem.
The cloister at St. Catherine Friary in Bethlehem was built by Fr. Frédéric.
After a Papal initiative asking for Christian support for the Holy Land, Frédéric traveled to French-speaking Canada in 1881 to raise funds. He preached widely to large crowds and had an enormous impact, igniting a major religious revival in Quebec.
Although he returned to the Holy Land for another six years of organizational activity, he returned to Canada in 1888 where he spent the rest of his life. He established a friary as a base in Trois-Rivières. From the beginning of his stay, he was also deeply involved with the shrine of Notre-Dame du Cap, shuttling by boat between Trois-Rivières and the Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
Old Chapel at the shrine at Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Quebec, where Fr. Frédéric ministered from 1888 to 1902.
“Good Father Frédéric” embarked on major preaching tours throughout Quebec, often traveling by foot, encouraging Marian devotion and inspiring enthusiasm for Franciscan ideals. He promoted Secular Franciscan fraternities and paved the way for the re-establishment of the Friars Minor in Canada, writing countless popular spiritual books. His warm and humble manner, his outreach to the poor, itself spoke volumes. As a friar who met Frédéric as a student in the early 1900s said: “He was the one who made God appear to people who could not see God.”
Chapel and Friary of St. Anthony in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, shrine and museum of Fr. Frédéric.
Interior of St. Anthony Shrine, Trois-Rivières.
This energetic worker for the Kingdom died in Montreal on August 4, 1916, after months of painful suffering from stomach cancer. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
Tomb of “Good Father Frédéric,” Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
Visit the site of the shrine to Fr. Frédéric in Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
Main image: Blessed Frédéric Janssoone, known as “Good Father Frédéric”
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.