This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18 -- Feast of Saint Francis Regis Clet

I am overdue for the second installment of my post on Saint Jean Francois Regis.  Maybe I will remember to write about him next December 31.  In the meantime, here's a saint who was named in his honor. 

Born in 1748, Francis Clet, the tenth of fifteen children, studied with the Jesuits at the Royal College in Grenoble; he was ordained in 1773.  In those years, his colleagues called him "the walking library" because of his encyclopedic knowledge. 

FRC's first gig was as professor of moral theology in Annecy.  He stayed there sixteen years, but when he attended election of the superior-general in Paris, the new guy tapped him to be the director of the Paris motherhouse's internal seminary.  He had been asking to join the missions in China, but they preferred not to lend their walking library.  He stayed in Paris for about a year, but the Revolution made it a little hot for clergy.  On July 13, 1789 (the day before the Bastille was stormed), angry Parisians stormed the Abbey of Saint Lazare, the motherhouse of the Vincentians.  They didn't kill anyone, but they sacked the place, took fifty-two wagons of wheat (well, the people were starving, which suggests the Church was hoarding), released the prisoners (yeah, l'Etat kept a jail there), and trashed the buildings. 

Given the mood in Paris, China was looking better and better.  His bosses eventually agreed, sending him there in 1791.  He was forty-three years old and didn't speak a word of the language, but as a colleague noted, "He ha[d] everything you could ask for: holiness, learning, health and charm." He had a vast district (270,000 square miles) to administer with very few Christians to help him, but he had the energy for the job.  Even the deaths of his two chief assistants (one in prison, the other of exhaustion) didn't deter him. 

As the Chinese government grew less tolerant and more fearful of Christian missionaries, figuring they were agents of imperialist governments, things got hotter for St. FRC.  A $1,500 bounty was put on his head, which would be about the equivalent of $22,000 today.  That might not be a vast sum, but in the poverty-stricken Chinese hinterland, that would have been a fortune.  It was enough to induce a Christian schoolteacher who had once been upbraided by FRC to turn him in. 

The priest was chained up and forced to march for a couple hundred miles.  It took five weeks from arrest to imprisonment.  Once in prison, a Chinese Christian priest was able to offer him the sacraments before his trial.  He was found guilty of deceiving the Chinese people by preaching Christianity and sentenced to death on January 1, 1820.  The sentenced was executed on February 18, 1820.  FRC was marched to the execution grounds, where he was tied to a cross and then strangled.  Twice the executioner relaxed the rope around his neck so that he might recover enough to suffer some more before finally dying. 

The guillotine would have been a quicker death, but he would have lost more than twenty years service had he stuck around Paris instead of taking off to the Asian missions.

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