Saint of the Day – 17 October – Saint Francois Isidore Gagelin (1799-1833) Priest and Martyr, Missionary, was a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society in Vietnam. Born on 10 May 1799 in Montperreux, Doubs, France and died by being strangled to death on 17 October 1833 in Bãi Dâu, Saigon, Vietnam. He was the first French martyr of the 19th century in Vietnam. Additional Memorial – 24 November as one of the Martyrs of Vietnam.
The young Gagelin was educated at the College of Pontarlier, at the minor seminary of Dole and finally at the Major Seminary of Besancon. In 1818, he joined the Society of Foreign Missions. While his family mourned his departure. He declared: “My mother, you are very dear to me. But the good God calls me to missions, you would not dare to oppose His will? “
On 28 November 1820, he embarked in Bordeaux on a ship that was to take him to Vietnam. He had arrived in Vietnam at the wrong time.
Emperor Gia Long had just died after a reign of twenty years during which he had achieved the union of the Vietnamese-speaking kingdoms – Cochin China and Tonkin. These regions had been evangelised in the early seventeenth century by Spanish and Portuguese clerics. During the second half of the century, French missionaries arrived with the first ” apostolic vicars ” for the establishment of a local church. The two kingdoms were frequently subject to political instability and the new Christianity had experienced several religious persecutions .
When François-Isidore arrived, Gia Long had just died. His heir, the new emperor Minh Mang and his Council, were unfavourable to the foreign contributions and did not wish a development of Christianity, particularly Minh Mang was enraged and horrified that according to Christian teaching, he, the Emperior, would be regarded as equal to the humblest of his subjects.
From year to year, Minh Mang’s hatred of Christianity only increased and it was in these circumstances that Father Gagelin was to be entrusted with a ministry.
The new missionary then wrote to his mother: “I am doing well enough, although I am not too robust, being so malnourished, sleeping so badly, experiencing besides the excessive heat of the sun to which the heat which one suffers in our country are not comparable, it is difficult to have a lot of strength, at least until I get well acclimatised. We have no bread, no wine but only rice and fish, all cooked in water. We sleep on boards, either in summer or in winter, in truth, winter is not very tough in this country, there is neither snow, nor ice, nor even frost. The houses are open on all sides and with a cotton canvas coat we can resist the cold. I have already begun to confess and to preach. This language is very difficult to learn. It’s a kind of song, the same word uttered with different notes has just as many different meanings; so when the Cochin Chinese people say their prayers, they make a melody sound so beautiful, so pleasant that I do not get tired of listening to them.”
And to add: “I have already begun to confess and to preach. This language is very difficult to learn. It’s a kind of song, the same word uttered with different notes has just as many different meanings; so when the Cochin Chinese people say their prayers, they make a melody sound so beautiful, so pleasant that I do not get tired of listening to them.”
Shortly after the arrival of Gagelin , co-adjutor Bishop Audemar died of dropsy. Then cholera killed the two missionaries of the seminary. Fr Gagelin recovered just in time to assist his colleague Fr Jarot in his last days. Finally, the bishop, Msgr. Labartette, the one who had just ordained him Priest succumbed to the cholera epidemic. In the end, three missionaries remained, Fr Thomassin became superior of the missionary group. The latter was 29 years old and four years of experience in the country, he died less than a year later. There remained Fathers Gagelin and Taberd. The second having been ordained four years before François-Isidore, he became superior of the mission.
Fr Gagelin wrote: “We have been threatened with persecution. However, as in the grand council assembled on this subject all the mandarins did not agree and that the mother Queen dissuaded her son, telling him that every king who persecutes religion loses his kindom …”
Fr Gagelin travelled to Mekong and visited the Christians of Bac Liêu, My Tho, Vinh Long and Châu Doc. He also tried to get in touch with tribes from the mountains of Cambodia. Then news arrived from Europe. Fr Taberd was appointed Bishop of Cochin China and Gagelin Provincial. A new missionary, Fr Cuenot, brought a letter – Gagelin’s mother had died three years earlier!
“I cried several times for our beloved mother and during the Mass I celebrated for the repose of her soul, I could hardly hold back my tears. ”
Marshal Le van Duyet , viceroy of Lower Cochin China, died in August 1832. The edict of general persecution against the Christians was launched on 6 January, 1833. Many Christians fled to the mountains, Fr Gagelin, having learned that a certain number of Christians had apostatised by agreeing to walk over the cross and fearing that the panic would spread, resolved to calm the situation and surrendered himself. On 23 August 1833 he made a second solemn entry into the capital – wearing the noose! Jaccard, who was then in forced residence in Huê could come to visit his colleague in prison. But after 11 October, visits were forbidden and the missionaries could communicate only by letters, thanks to the help of some guards.
On 12 October Jaccard wrote to Gagelin : “I think I must tell you bluntly, blessed brother, that we have learned that you are condemned to death for having left the Dông Na , where the king had allowed you to stay, in order to to go to various provinces to preach religion. From what we have heard, you are condemned to die by the rope.”
Answer dated 14 October, “The news that you announce to me fills me with joy to the bottom of my soul. Never has news so pleased me, the mandarins will never experience the same. The grace of martyrdom, of which I am very unworthy, has been, from my earliest childhood, the object of my most ardent wishes. I have specially requested it during the holy sacrifice of the Mass.” Such was Gagelin’s answer and Jaccard was not allowed to come and see him.
On 17 October 1833 , Gagelin was brought to the place of his execution in the presence of an agitated crowd. He could see the text of his sentencing sentence drawn in ink on a board planted in the ground. Thus it was read, “Guilty of having preached and spread the religion of Jesus in many parts of the empire, consequently is condemned to be strangled.”
After the execution of the sentence, a Christian asked permission to take the body to a nearby parish, where he was dressed in priestly garments and buried.
The Emperor also learned with satisfaction that another religious Father, a Vietnamese named Pierre Lê Tuy, had just been beheaded a week before.
However, a doubt remained in the mind of the Emperor, he had heard of Jesus’ Resurrection three days after His death. Minh Mang ordered the exhumation of Gagelin’s body to confirm his death, which was done.
Five years after the death of Minh Mang, Gagelin’s body was again exhumed, secretly this time and handed over by Bishop Cuenot to Mr Chamaison before being transferred to Paris, in January 1847.
Father Gagelin was declared Venerable by Pope Gregory XVI on 19 June 1840 and on 27 May 1900, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed Blessed, Isidore Gagelin and several other missionaries, including Jaccard and Pierre Lê Tuy. On 19 June 1988, St Pope John Paul II Canonised the Martyrs of Vietnam who had already been proclaimed Blessed.