On Sept. 2, Franciscans honor the memory of Blesseds John Francis Burté, Apollinaris Morel, and Severin Girault—Franciscan friars who were among the 116 priests and seminarians massacred on this date in 1792 at the Carmelite church and friary in Paris during the French Revolution.
The French National Assembly in 1790 had abolished religious orders and passed a law called the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that totally reorganized the Catholic Church in France under government control, with only a nominal relationship to the pope. When the pope condemned the Constitution as a violation of divine law, the government demanded that clergy take an oath to obey it; on the other hand, the pope threatened excommunication for priests who did.
In November 1791, the government declared that any “non-juring” clergy were subject to arrest as enemies of the state. These three Franciscans, maintaining their loyalty to the pope, were part of a large group of 150 clergy who had been rounded up and imprisoned in the large Discalced Carmelite church in Paris. They had been told they would be exiled to French Guiana.
The church of Sainte Joseph des Carmes in Paris today, scene of the 1792 massacre.
In the late summer of 1792, word reached Paris that foreign armies were invading France and advancing on the capital. The upstart revolutionary commune in control of the city feared these armies might conquer it and liberate these priests who would be supporters of a restored monarchy.
In the hysteria, mobs were incited to eliminate the priests, and on Sept. 2, the rushed to the Carmelites. There they subjected the inmates to a roll call, each man being briefly questioned and then sentenced to immediate death, carried out by the mob armed with a variety of weapons: swords, knives, axes, and guns. Although a few prisoners were acquitted, the vast majority were executed with extreme barbarity.
The door through which the condemned clergy were led from the Carmelite church to be executed by the mob in the garden.
These martyrs represent three different branches of Franciscans. John Francis Burté was a Conventual friar who had been a professor of theology and was the guardian of their large friary in Paris. Apollinaris Morel, a Capuchin who was a prominent preacher and confessor, was in Paris studying Oriental languages for missionary work when arrested. Severin Girault, a friar of the Third Order Regular was chaplain to a large convent of Franciscan sisters in the city.
Blessed Jean-Baptiste François Burté, OFM Conv
Blessed Apollinaris Morel, OFM Cap.
Blessed Severin Girault, TOR
Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose footprints we must follow, called his betrayer “friend,” and gave himself willingly to those who crucified him. Our friends, then, are all those who unjustly afflict upon us trials and ordeals, shame and injuries, sorrows and torments, martyrdom and death. We must love them greatly for we will possess eternal life because of what they bring upon us. (Francis, Earlier Rule, 22.2-4).
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.