Saint of the Day – 5 December – Blessed Jean-Baptiste Fouque (1851-1926) Priest, Apostle of Charity known as “Saint Vincent de Paul of Marseilles,” Founder of numerous charitable organisations for the poor, the sick, the elderly, children and orphans. Born on 12 September 1851 in Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône, France and died on 5 December 1926 at the Saint John Hospital in Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône, France of natural causes. Patronage – Saint John’s Hospital.
He tended to the poor during his time as a parish priest in Marseilles and was noted for his desire to create a large and free hospital for them. He achieved this in 1921 and tended to the old and infirm in the hospital. Fouque also was known for his ministering to displaced peoples during World War I and for his commitment to evangelisation.
Jean-Baptiste Fouque was born on 19 September 1851 in Marseilles to Louis Fouque and Adèle Anne Remuzat. His parents married on 29 October 1850 and were devout in their faith.
He studied in the school that the Servant of God Joseph-Marie Timon-David had opened, both David and Jean-Joseph Allemand proved to be Fouque’s spiritual masters during his education and were also influences on his desire to enter the priesthood. Timon-David helped Jean-Baptiste discern his call to the priesthood which he had felt since the beginning of his adolescence. This event – his Ordination – took place in Marseilles on 10 June 1876.
His first assignment was to serve as a pastor in Auriol at the Sainte-Marguerite parish and then in La Major. His final assignment was to serve at the Sainte Trinité parish from 15 April 1888 until his death over three decades later.
Fr Jean-Baptiste opened the “Le Sainte Famille,” ” The Holy Family ” home for girls that he later entrusted to the nuns from the Presentation order from Tours. In December 1891 the archdiocesan vicar general asked him to tend to the abandoned and to orphans. He threw himself into this work and opened an orphanage “House of the Holy Guardian Angels” that was transferred to a new location in 1894 and entrusted to nuns.
In 1903 he helped to establish a house for girls and also a home for poor domestic workers both in Marseilles. In 1903 he also re-opened the former boarding school of the Ladies of the Christian Doctrine and in 1905 – in a former convent – created “L’oeuvre de Salette” for the old and infirm. Fouque later founded “Le travail de l’enfance” on 27 November 1913 in Saint-Tronc which he later entrusted to the direction of a group of priests.
Between 1914 and 1918 – upon the outbreak of World War I – he tended to the wounded and displaced peoples. He had no financial means following the war but decided to appeal to doctors to care for the poor who had no finances to pay for medical attention. There were some doctors who agreed and Fr Jean-Baptiste proceeded to open a small clinic and hospital which would ensure better treatment of the poor. He asked industrialists and merchants to help finance this venture which became the basis for his idea in 1919 to create a large and free hospital for the poor in Marseilles. The people rallied behind him in this project and offered financial aid which resulted in Fr Jean-Baptiste finally opening and dedicating the Saint John Hospital on 20 March 1921.
Fr Jean-Baptiste died on 5 December 1926 in the Saint John Hospital. The people revered him as a saint and even referred to him as the “Saint Vincent de Paul of Marseilles.” His remains were later transferred to the Saint Joseph’s chapel in his first hospital on 29 April 1993.
He was Beatified on 30 September 2018 by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu in the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure, Marseille on behalf of Pope Francis. Pope Francis said on that day at St Peter’s, Rome:
“The diocesan priest Jean-Baptiste Fouque, who was an assistant pastor throughout his life, is being proclaimed Blessed today in Marseilles. A fine example for social climbers! He lived in the 19th and 20th centuries and promoted numerous welfare and social works in favour of young people, the elderly, the poor and the sick. May the example and intercession of this Apostle of Charity, support us in the commitment to welcome and share with the weakest and most underprivileged people. A round of applause for the newly Blessed Jean-Baptiste!”