Saint of the Day – 6 November – Saint Jean-Théophane Vénard, M.E.P. (1829-1861) Martyr, Missionary – born on 21 November1829 at Saint-Loup-sur-Thouet, Diocese of Poitiers, France – martyred on 2 February 1861 in Tonkin, Vietnam. St Théophane was a French Catholic missionary to Indo-China. He was a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. He was Beatified in company with thirty-three other Catholic martyrs, most of whom were natives of Tonkin, Cochin-China, or China. StPope John Paul II Canonised him, with nineteen other martyrs, in 1988 (their combined memorial is 24 November).
Théophane Vénard studied at the College of Doué-la-Fontaine, Montmorillon, Poitiers, and at the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions which he entered as a sub-deacon. Ordained a priest on 5 June 1852, he departed for the Far East on 19 Sept. After fifteen months at Hong Kong he arrived at his mission in West Tonkin (northern Vietnam). At the time, it was illegal to proselytise in Vietnam.
Shortly after Father Vénard’s arrival, a new royal edict was issued against Christians and bishops and priests were obliged to seek refuge in caves, dense woods and elsewhere. Father Vénard continued to exercise his ministry at night and, more boldly, in broad day. On 30 November 1860, he was betrayed and captured. Tried before a mandarin, he refused to apostatise and was sentenced to be beheaded. He remained a captive until 2 February and during this interval lived in a cage, from which he wrote to his family beautiful and consoling letters, joyful in anticipation of his crown. His bishop, Monsignor Retord, wrote of him at this time: “Though in chains, he is as gay as a little bird”.
He wrote these words in a farewell to his father:
“All those around me are civil and respectful and a good number love me.
From the great mandarin down to the last soldier, they all regret that the laws of the country condemn me to death.
I have not had to endure any torture, like so many of my brothers.
One light saber blow will separate my head from my body, like a spring flower that the master of the garden picks for his pleasure.
Let us all try to please our sovereign Lord and Master by the gift and the fragrance He has given us.
I wish you, dear father, a long, quiet and virtuous life. Carry gently the cross of this life, like Jesus did, until the day of the peaceful passing. Father and son will meet again in paradise. I, little ephemeral, I will go there first. Goodbye.
Your very devoted and respectful son
J Théophane Vénard”
On the way to martyrdom Father Vénard chanted psalms and hymns. To his executioner, who coveted his clothing and asked what he would give to be killed promptly, he answered: “The longer it lasts the better it will be”. His head, after exposure at the top of a pole, was secured by the Christians and is now venerated in Tonkin. The body rests in the crypt at the motherhouse of the Paris Foreign Mission Society in Paris, France.
The cause of his beatification was introduced at Rome in 1879 and he was declared Blessed, 2 May 1909. He was Canonised on 19 June 1988 by St Pope John Paul II.