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Blessed Alexander Lanfant, SJ 1726 – 1792 & 8 Companions

After the dreadful massacre on September 2, 1792 of more than a hundred of the nonjuring priests imprisoned at the Abbey of Saint-Germaine-des-Pres and the Carmelite monastery, the blood-thirsty Parisian rebels were still on a rampage for more martyrs’ blood. So on the early morning of Sep 3, the mob went to the improvised prison in the Vincentian seminary of Saint-Firmin and there they ordered the priests, some ninety of them, on to the street where the unruly shouted “Death! Death!” thinking that this would frighten them into accepting the Civil Constitution. When the priests still refused to take the oath when they were asked to appear before a hastily set-up tribunal, they were either butchered, beheaded or thrown out of the windows to be clubbed to death by the waiting crowd. Then their bodies were stripped, mutilated, and piled on a carriage to be carted away. Of the seventy-two priests massacred at Saint-Firmin on September 3, 1792, seven were Jesuits.

The massacre continued during the early morning of Sep 4 when the blood-thirsty mob advanced to La Force, a prison for political and aristocratic undesirables, where a few nonjuring priests were also detained. After subjecting the prisoners to physical attacks, they forced the nonjuring priests to recite the oath and when they refused, they were killed on the spot and their bodies torn and thrown out on to the street. Among those killed at La Force on Sep 4, 1792, three are numbered among the Blessed, and of these three, one was a Jesuit, Fr Francis Le Livec.

The nine Jesuits who died between September 3 and 5 were:

Fr Alexander Charles Lanfant, born in Lyons on September 9, 1726 and entered the Society in Avignon on Sep 7, 1741. After his ordination, he taught at Aix, Besancon and Marseilles. He went to Lorraine in 1762 when the Society was suppressed in Paris and worked under the protection of the duke who refused to suppress the society in his territory. After the duke’s death and with the suppression still being imposed in Lorraine, Fr Lanfant went to Vienna and was the preacher at the court of Empress Maria Theresa for three years before returning to Paris. He then became preacher at Louis XVI’s court and also served as his confessor. As he was having a great influence on the king, the revolutionaries were keen to arrest him which they did on August 29, 1792. He was imprisoned at the Abbey of Saint-Germaine-des-Pres. Although Fr Lanfant escaped death on Sep 2 because a “constitutional” priest obtained his release from the Abbey, he was recaptured and killed on Sep 5 by the revolutionaries.

Fr Rene Andrieux wasborn in Rennes, northern France, on February 16, 1742. He was educated at the Jesuit school in Rennes and entered the Society in Paris on September 27, 1761, a year before the liberals voted the Society’s suppression. Intent on becoming a priest, he transferred to a seminary in Laon operated by a group of priests known as the Community of St Nicholas du Chardonet.He later became the superior general of the congregation.When Fr Andrieux and his priests refused to take the oath, they were arrested on August 13, 1792 and imprisoned at the seminary of Saint-Firmin before being killed on Sep 3. He was the youngest of the twenty-three Jesuits martyrs of the French Revolution.

Fr John Benoit-Vourlat was born in Lyons on March 26, 1731 and entered the Society in Lyons on September 7, 1746. He taught literature and philosophy at Lyons, Marseilles and Besancon after his ordination and was well known for his special gift in directing souls. During the suppression, he went to Paris and became the chaplain to the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He was in the house of the Eudists on his retirement when he was arrested on August 30, 1792 and imprisoned at Saint-Firmin where he was beheaded on Sep 3, 1792.

Fr Peter Guerin du Rocher was born at Sainte-Honorine-la-Guillaume on March 1, 1731. He studied at the Jesuit school at Caen and entered the Society in Paris on September 10, 1745. After his ordination in 1760, he taught philosophy at Bourges until the French Jesuits were suppressed in 1762. He then left for Italy and later Germany and Poland where he taught canon law and became interested in Oriental languages. He was appointed director of a house of new converts established by the archbishop of Paris and was chosen by Queen Marie-Antoinette as her confessor. As he was becoming too influential a priest, he was a prime target for the revolutionaries who arrested him on August 13, 1792 together with his Jesuit brother Robert. Both were taken to Saint-Firmin and martyred on September 3, 1792.

Fr Robert Guerin du Rocher was born at Repas on October 23, 1736 and entered the Society in Paris on September 25, 1752, six years after his brother Peter. He taught at Nevers and at Eu. He was still unordained when the Jesuit were suppressed in 1762. He traveled to work in the Near East mission, and until his expulsion, was pastor in Salonika which was under Turkish rule between 1769 and 1773. He returned to Paris and was chaplain to the Sisters of the Visitation on rue de bac. In 1790 he went to live with his brother Peter, the director of a house for new converts in Paris. He was arrested on August 13, 1792 and taken to Saint-Firmin where he was martyred on Sep 3.

Fr Elias Herque du Roule was born in Lyons on May 31, 1741 and entered the Society in Lyons on Sep 7, 1758. Very little is known about him except that he taught at Marseilles between 1761 and 1762 and at Dole until 1765 and that he studied at Avignon. He was arrested on August 13, 1792 whilst a chaplain at a home in Paris, imprisoned at Saint-Firmin and martyred on Sep 3.

Fr John Seconds was born in Rodez on September 3, 1734 and entered the Society in Toulouse on November 6, 1750. After his ordination in 1762, the same year the Society was suppressed, he became associated with the hospital of Our Lady of Mercy in Paris, preaching there and also before the king on many occasions. He was arrested at the hospital on August 10, 1792 for his refusal to take the oath. He was imprisoned at Saint-Firmin and martyred on Sep 3.

Fr Nicholas Verron was born on November 7, 1740 at Quimperle, in Brittany and joined the Society on September 15, 1757. He taught at Louis le Grand in Paris after his ordination but what he did immediately after the Society’s suppression in 1762 is not known but he was in the Netherlands between 1774 and 1778 and in 1779 was in Paris where he was chaplain to the Sisters of St Aura. On August 10, 1792, the nuns were forced from their convent by the revolutionaries and Fr Verron kept in touch with them until his arrest on August 18. He was imprisoned at Saint-Firmin and martyred on Sep 3.

Fr Francis Le Livec was born on May 5, 1726 at Quimper in Brittany. He entered the Society in Paris on September 29, 1741 and after his vows and philosophy, he taught for five years at Amiens. He did his theology at Rouen and after his ordination, was placed in charge of the sodality of Rouen. He was later transferred to Brittany where he taught philosophy at Vannes and was appointed treasurer of the Jesuit school at Brest. During the suppression of the Society in 1762, he went to northern Italy and Germany where he taught physics and mathematics before he returned to France where he became chaplain in a hospital in Tours. Later, he moved to Paris as chaplain to the Daughters of Calvary. He was arrested after August 10, 1792 and was imprisoned at La Force prison before being beheaded on September 4, 1792.

Fr Lanfant and his eight Companions were beatified by Pope Pius XI on October 17, 1926. They are among the 191 French priests who became martyrs of the French Revolution.