St. Rogue?!

Okay, it’s still Blessed Rogue… but yep!

Blessed Pierre-Rene Rogue was a short guy (4’11), shortsighted, and sickly. He did have a good singing voice, though. He was from a merchant family in Brittany; his deceased father was a furrier, and his mom carried on the business. He became a priest in 1782, and joined the Vincentians as a priest after four years. After his training in his new order, he spent two and a half years teaching dogma at his old seminary, and then became a curate (associate pastor, we’d say today) on the side.

In 1791, Revolutionary officials persuaded or tricked the head of the seminary and some of the other priests to sign an oath that they would obey whatever the government ordered. Blessed Pierre-Rene heard about this (he hadn’t been at the meeting) and hurried to see the seminary head. He persuaded his boss to write out a letter taking back his oath, or rather, saying that he had never meant to swear to obey them in spiritual matters and wanted to clarify the language of the oath. Pierre-Rene then delivered the new letter to the officials. When the other priests heard about this, all but one of them also took back their oaths to the same extent. The seminarians were sent home to get them out of danger.

In retaliation, the Revolutionary government immediately put up the seminary for sale, along with all its contents. The seminary fought back by pointing out that they had also provided classes on theology to the general public, which meant they were exempted from the law about confiscating Church property, under the public education clause. They also pointed out that the seminary actually belonged by deed to a secular group called “the Congregation of the Mission,” (ie, the Vincentian Order) and thus was not Church property.

While this was being decided, the priests at the seminary pointed out that their stipends from various sources had been stopped, and that they were owed their money. The municipal government actually helped them get their money, so obviously somebody had a little shame. But matters worsened again when the Revolutionary government appointed their own bishop (illegitimately consecrated), the Congregation of the Mission was suppressed as a group, and the priests thrown out of the seminary. He was able to stay in town at his mom’s house, and he said Mass privately at faithful people’s houses.

More laws were passed and more oaths required. Priests were ordered to be deported. By September 8, 1792, Blessed Pierre-Rene was living underground, along with four other priests. Besides saying Mass and providing Sacraments, he also continued secretly to prepare seminarians for ordination. Those who had already been ordained as subdeacons were eventually to make their way to Paris and be ordained by a bishop there. Other priests were living underground in the Vannes area. But the Revolutionary government passed a new law in October of 1793: the penalty for being a non-government priest was now death. Fourteen Vannes-area priests were caught and guillotined from December 1793 through 1794.

On Christmas Eve, 1795, Blessed Pierre-Rene Rogue was bringing Communion to a sick parishioner. Two men recognized and captured him. One of them was a cobbler named Le Meut who had gotten his job through Father’s recommendation, and who was receiving financial help from Father’s mom. They brought him to the town hall, where the municipal authorities refused to take charge of him and tried to get him to escape. He refused their help, saying that he didn’t want them to get in trouble with the national Revolutionaries. (And get killed. They were guillotining a lot of government bureaucrats, too.) He refused the same offer from a jailer, and spent his time in prison ministering to the other prisoners. As was the custom at the time, his mom sent in meals. When she learned he was sharing them, she increased the servings. He also wrote poetry, including the song he sang on his way to the guillotine.

The public prosecutor recused himself from trying the case, because he was an old friend. The replacement prosecutor tried him quickly. Blessed Pierre-Rene readily admitted having refused to take any of the oaths and having broken all the Revolutionary laws against priests. He was sentenced to death the next day. He wrote a last letter to his mother, in which he asked her to be sure to continue giving money to Le Meut. His friends tried to set up an escape, but for the third time he refused their offer. His calmness in the face of death helped another priest, Fr. Alan Robin, who had also been condemned to die with him; and converted a young sergeant who had previously been known for his cruelty to prisoners. He gave his watch to Le Meut, sang his new song praising God, and comforted his executioner, who was one of his old lay pupils. He died on March 3, 1796.

The Revolution buried him and Fr. Robin in unmarked graves, but everyone in town knew the place. It became the object of pilgrimage. After the Revolution, his grave was marked, and his mother was eventually buried next to him. In 1934 at his beatification, his body was exhumed and translated to the cathedral. Healings and cures were soon reported there.

So that is the story of Blessed Pierre-Rene Rogue! His feastday is March 3. At Vannes’ cathedral (St. Pierre de Vannes), they also celebrate the approximate anniversary of his ordination, on the fourth Sunday in September. (You can have an outdoor parish festival in September. Not so much, in March.)

The French Wikipedia entry includes the new hymn he wrote for his day of martyrdom. The rhyme scheme is ABAB BCBC. It’s actually a bit of a last joke, because condemned criminals in Europe at the time often composed songs about their mistakes (or had them ghost-written) and publshed them on broadsides, for the moral benefit of the crowd or the posthumous benefit of their family’s coffers. This wasn’t permitted by the Revolutionary government, as far as I know. But yup, Father sang his song with a different moral, but did it just like he was a highwayman. (Comparable songs in the Anglosphere are “Sam Hill,” “Tom Dooley” [really Dula], etc.)

The 1824 book Recueil de Cantiques Spirituels includes a different version of this song, which is written from the viewpoint of a bad sinner returned to God. (Unfortunately, Air #294 doesn’t appear to be in the book, unless it’s printed as the first Air #295.) A different version of the same song appears in a songbook from Besancon from 1777, set to this Air #47.

So yes, Blessed Pierre-Rene Rogue was also a filker, and in the best Celtic folk tradition! Blessed Rogue, pray for us!

I’ve put in quotes the bit he took and adapted from the original version of the song.

“How charming is my lot!
My soul is thrilled.
At this moment I taste
An infinite” joy.
“For in me is made public
The Lord’s goodness!
My misery is done;
I feel my” happiness.

I have served God, my King,
By imitating His zeal.
I have kept the faith;
I am going to die for it.
How beautiful is this death,
And how worthy of a great heart!
Pray, faithful people,
That I am the victor.

O you whom my lot
Affects and interests —
Far from crying for my death,
Jump for gladness!
Turn your tenderness
On my persecutors.
Pray without cease
For the end of their errors.

Alas! They are no more
The children of light,
Because they do not listen anymore
To Peter’s successor.
But because they are our brothers,
Cherish them always,
Nor resist their war
Unless with meekness and love.

O Monarch of the heavens,
O God, full of clemency,
Deign to fix Your eyes
On the wrongs of France!
May my penance have power
Equal to these crimes
To disarm Your vengeance.
May You hold it back forever!

So at the end, he was a penitent Rogue who suffered a Rogue’s death. Heh!

 

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  1. Pingback: The Weekly TCC Field Intelligence Report | The Catholic Conspiracy

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