Blesseds John Francis Burté, Apollinaris Morel, and Severin Girault: Franciscans Massacred During the French Revolution

Blesseds John Francis Burté, Apollinaris Morel, and Severin Girault: Franciscans Massacred During the French Revolution

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.

A violation of divine law

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.

Arrested as enemies of the state

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.

Church of Sainte Joseph des Carmes in Paris 700pxlsThe church of Sainte Joseph des Carmes in Paris today, scene of the 1792 massacre.

Fearful of support for a restored monarchy

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.

Executed with extreme barbarity

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.

door through which the condemned clergy were led from the church to be executed by the mob in the garden 700pxlsThe door through which the condemned clergy were led from the Carmelite church to be executed by the mob in the garden.

Martyrs represent 3 branches of Franciscans

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 John Francis Burte 800pxlsBlessed Jean-Baptiste François Burté, OFM Conv

Blessed Apollinaris Morel OFM Cap 700pxlsBlessed Apollinaris Morel, OFM Cap.

 Blessed Severin Girault TOR 700pxlsBlessed Severin Girault, TOR

 Wisdom from Saint Francis of Assisi

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).

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Main image: Massacre at the Carmelites, a painting by Marie-Marc-Antoine Bilcocq (1820)