Blessed André Grassett was the first Canadian to be beatified – not quite the first ‘saint’, which requires canonization, and that honour belongs to the heroic Jesuit martyrs (if we consider them Canadian, for they were all missionaries, born in France). The first canonized saint who was both born and died in Canada is Marguerite d’Youville, whom we celebrate on October 16th.
But today’s André – sharing the name of the future canonized doorkeeper of Montreal’s Oratory – is in heaven, dying a martyr not here, but in France, in parallel fashion to the Jesuits. 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 ended the Seven Years War (which included war between France and Britain) had been signed. This gave 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, André spent most of his brief life in France, but the land of our birth does mark us (see the last verse of the hymn Immaculate Mary, and my own devotion to Scotland) so he 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 years later the French Revolution erupted, with a violent reaction against he Church and the State, and which spiraled out of control into a demonic frenzy.
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 very 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, as the Pope delayed in his own condemnation; henceforth such ‘juror priests’ were avoided by faithful Catholics).
Father André refused to sign, declaring quite firmly that his ‘conscience forbade him do so so’. So he was condemned in a hastily-convened trial in a courtyard, after which, along with many others, thrown to the guards, and summarily 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 the beheading and smashing of statues (John A. MacDonald and Queen Victoria are gone) and the burning of churches (already more than a hundred, and counting… see Paula Adamick’s article today) to doing the same to flesh and blood. There are a number of schools and buildings named after André Grasset across this fair land – they are the first things that come up if you search him on-line – but I wonder how many modern Canadians know who he was, or what he stood for, as we forget our own history. Je me souviens, indeed.
But we must, like Blessed André, hold to all that is true and good in our past and our present, 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.
Blessed André Grasset, priez pour nous! +