Blessed Andre Grassett was the first Canadian to be beatified – not quite the first ‘saint’, which requires canonization, which honour belongs to the Jesuit martyrs (if we consider them Canadian, for they were all missionaries, born in France). The first Canadian born canonized saint is Marguerite d’Youville, whom we celebrate on October 16th.
But today’s Andre – sharing the name of the future canonized doorkeeper of Montreal’s Oratory – is in heaven, dying a martyr in France. His connection to this land is by birth and initial upbringing – he came into the world in Montreal, April 3, 1758, but his father, originally from France, decided to return to his own native country in 1763, after the Treaty of Paris, ending the Seven Years War (which included war between France and Britain) had been signed, giving England control over much of Canada, which included the imposition of their Anglican religion, and some loss of Catholic freedom – what is old is new again.
Hence, Andre spent most of his brief life in France, but the land of our birth does mark us, so is a Canadian at heart, even if back then this fair and future Dominion was mostly referred to as ‘New France’, before ‘Upper and Lower Canada’ came into vogue. He entered the seminary, was ordained in 1783, and six year later the French Revolution begins, with a violent reaction against he Church and the State, which spiraled out of control.
In 1792, the revolutionaries – who had taken control of the government, imposing arbitrary and ever-more chaotic ‘laws’ – imposed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which would have made the priests, bishops and the Church herself, subservient to the State, and to the anti-Catholic cause of la revolution. No ecclesiastic could sign the document in good conscience (although many did, and henceforth such ‘juror priests’ were avoided by faithful Catholics).
Father Andre refused to sign, declaring quite firmly that his ‘conscience forbade him do so so’. So he was condemned in hastily-convened trial in a courtyard, after which, along with many others, he was thrown to the guards, and hacked to death with swords, pikes and bayonets, one of the many victims of what we now know as the ‘September Massacres’.
We are facing our own fanatical, anti-Catholic – really, anti-everything – mobs, and one wonders how long it might be before they move from beheading and smashing statues to doing the same to flesh and blood. There are a number of schools and buildings named after Andre Grasset – they are the first things that come up if you search him on-line – but I wonder how many modern Quebecers know who he was, or what he stood for, as they form their own riotous mobs, just tearing down John A. MacDonald’s and Queen Victoria’s statues – and who knows who’s next.
But we must, like Blessed Andre, stand fast in the truth, not violate our own conscience, regardless of the rage directed against us, and so hold our heads high in expectation and hope upon Christ’s return.