St. John Gabriel Perboyre Missionary to China, and Martyr
Childhood• Following the FrenchRevolution, Napoleon in 1801brought religious peace toFrance. The country was stillCatholic, especially rural France.• Pierre Perboyre and his wifeMarie on a small farm in Puechnear Cahors typiﬁed the Frenchpeasant’s faith. God blessedthem with eight children. Threesons became priests in theCongregation of the Mission(Vincentians), and twodaughters entered theDaughters of Charity of St.Vincent de Paul.
Childhood• John Gabriel was born onJanuary 6, 1802.• At 6 years of age, he was givencharge of a small ﬂock of sheep.According to the custom at thattime, all children worked athome or on farms for 6 monthsof the year in summer. For theother 6 colder months, theywent to the parish church,where the pastor taught themcatechism and usually had asmall school to teach othersubjects.Perboyre home
Childhood• Meanwhile, his piety wasnoticed by the pastor and all thepeople. He loved to visit theBlessed Sacrament and pray.They called him the little saintand said that when he waspraying "you could walk overhim and he wouldnt notice it".• He loved the poor and oftensaved his bread from meals togive to wandering beggars, ofwhom there were many becauseof the French Revolution.
Vocation• John Gabriel’s older brother,Louis, had expressed his desireto become a priest. His parentsdecided to send him toMontauban, where his uncle,Rev. Jacques Perboyre, C.M.,was conducting his ownseminary. Since Louis was only13 and quite sickly, the parentssent John Gabriel, then 15, withhim, to look after Louis healthfor a few months and help himin his studies. It was winter andthere was little farm work. Whenit was time for John Gabriel tocome home, he refused, sayingthat it was Gods will that hebecome a priest as well.
Director of Novices,1832-1835• John Gabriel wished to be aVincentian and also go to Chinato preach the Gospel. However,his superiors appointed him anovice director in the VincentianMotherhouse. He still had hismissionary longings but poorhealth stood in the way. Hisdoctor said after examining himthat the ocean voyage alonewould kill him. That night, thedoctor became agitated andcould not sleep-- the next dayhe changed his mind, sayingthat he saw the voyage to theOrient as a possible cure. JohnGabriel’s superiors took this asa sign of God’s will.
To China: March 1835• Five months at sea broughtJohn Gabriel to Macao where hestudied Chinese. At that time,Macao was a Portugese colonyand was considered the maingate to China. Here theVincentians had 2 houses.• In December, along with severalmissionaries, he set sail fromMacao in a junk. Since theChinese law forbade the entry ofChristian missionaries, thecaptain and crew disguisedthemselves as merchants andsmuggled John Gabriel on tothe mainland of China.
Trip to the Interior:1835• Fr. John Gabriel was appointedto the Honan mission in Hu-psi,which meant a long trip to theinterior of China in disguise. InFebruary 1836, he left Macaowith a Chinese guide. They hada 9-week boat trip along thecoast of South China to Tou-gan, then up the river to Fokien.Then 20 days on foot throughKien-chang-fou in Kiang-siProvince. Next in a small boatby river thru Nan-chang-fou, thecapital of Kiang-si. Another 18days by small boat up the Yang-tze River brought them to Wu-chang, the place of St. FrancisClets martyrdom.
Arrival at His NewHome• By June they had arrived atHonan where they rested 20days. The ﬁnal walk broughtthem to Nan-yang in August.This was Fr. Perboyresassignment-- the same house inwhich St. Francis Regis Clet hadbeen taken prisoner.• He was ﬁnally in his new home--his mission-- after 17 months oftraveling over some 24,000miles by every type of ship, boatand by foot.
Daunting Mission• Fr, Perboyre himself in his letterssupplied these interestingstatistics for all of China: about220,000 Catholics out of apopulation of 300 million or lessthan one tenth of 1 percentCatholic. For them, about 80Chinese priests and 40 foreignmissionaries.
Life in China• Father Perboyre suffered asevere attack of fever thatforced him to rest for threemonths. He lived with 2 ChineseVincentian priests who helpedhim to continue to learnChinese. They took turnsguiding him on short missiontrips of from 1 to 2 weeks,introducing him to the Catholics,showing him the safest backroads and lanes and how toconduct these missions. Hespent the years 1837 and 1838reanimating the faith in Catholicvillages by preaching,catechizing and administeringthe sacraments.
Life in China• According to Fr. Perboyre’sletters, most of the people werepoor and lived in straw houseswith dirt ﬂoors, as did themissionaries. The churcheswere the same. These missiontrips were usually very difﬁcultand quite dangerous. There wasalways the chance of beingrecognized or being betrayed,depending on the good or badwill of the local ofﬁcials.• Usually there were 1,000Catholics for Mass, inside andoutside the church, even in rainand snow.
Model of VincentianVirtues• Fr. Perboyre wrote of manymiracles among the devoutCatholics, especially inconnection with the use of theMiraculous Medal of Mary,which had just been manifested25 or so years earlier in 1830 toSt. Catherine Laboure.• Fr. Perboyre wore an iron chainaround his waist formortiﬁcation. To prepare hispeople for persecution, whichmight break out at any time, heconstantly preached onsuffering and persecution andthe glory of martyrdom.
Persecution BreaksOut• In 1839, a persecution broke outin Hu-pei. A young Christian ofNan-kiang had informed on theChristians and missionaries. Theofﬁcials sent troops to roundthem up. On Sept 15, 1839, fourVincentian priests had justﬁnished Mass, when they wereinformed that the persecutionhad broken out. Fr. Perboyremade sure that everyone elsewas safe, before he tooescaped to a nearby bambooforest. The soldiers were angryon seeing that all had gone andcompletely plundered themission and burned it down.
Betrayed andCaptured• At night he would leave theforest and go to a Christianshome where he had a little food,had his beard cut off and slept.But here he was betrayed whensoldiers threatened a man whothen led them to the exact spotwhere Fr. Perboyre and 3Christians were hiding.• When they saw they weresurrounded, his companionswanted to ﬁght their way outwith knives, but Fr. Perboyrerefused to let them use anyviolence.
As a Prisoner: Sept.1839 - Sept. 1840• They took Fr. Perboyre to thetop of the mountain, stripped offhis clothes and put rags on him;they beat him and marched himto the market place at Koang-yin-tang.• Frequently tortured in prison, Fr.Perboyre refused to betray hisfaith and his associates. Theguards would tread on the crossand beat him with bamboo rods.He was questioned, hung bythe thumbs and made to kneelon chains for 4 hours at a time.He lost a ﬁnger and part of onefoot from putrefaction.
As a Prisoner: Sept.1839 - Sept. 1840• There were other tortures toonumerous and cruel to mentionbut Fr. Perboyre never oncecried out. Usually, he had tocarried back and forth to thesetrials because he could nolonger walk a step.• One time, when they asked himto step on the cruciﬁx, thoughhe could barely move, he leanedover, picked up the cruciﬁx,kissed it and embraced it. Thesoldiers in anger tore it fromhim, smashed it, and gave him110 blows with a bamboo rod.
Condemned to Death• In April, 1840 Fr. Perboyre wascondemned to death bystrangulation for teaching afalse religion. This sentence hadto be approved by the emperor.By this point Fr. Perboyre wasunable to speak or walk, standup or even sit up.• After his condemnation, Fr.Yang, C.M. was able to visithim. When he ﬁrst saw Fr.Perboyres condition, hecouldnt say a word but juststood there weeping at thehorrible sight. Finally he wasable to hear his confession.
Death of St. JohnGabriel Perboyre• John Gabriel Perboyre wasexecuted on September 11,1840, in the Chinese custom ofbeing tied to a stake and triplestrangled. Andrew Fong, agenerous and valiant catechistwho had aided Father Perboyrein his imprisonment, retrievedhis body and buried it in theChristian cemetery where St.Francis Regis Clet, C.M., wasburied. Both their remains nowrepose in the chapel of theVincentian Motherhouse inParis, France.
Canonization• The heroic suffering and deathof John Gabriel led to hisbeatiﬁcation in 1889. And inrecent times, Pope John Paul IIcanonized him as Saint JohnGabriel Perboyre, C.M., on June2nd 1996.
Miracles• After a year of the mostbarbarous tortures, Fr.Perboyres body on the crosslooked beautiful, fresh andyoung with no marks or scars.Many pagans were convertedby this fact alone.• At his death, a large, distinct,bright, luminous cross appearedin heaven. This was seen bymany people, near and far,pagans and Christians, living indifferent communities. Thatsame luminous cross appearedagain months later over histomb.
Miracles• In France, there was in 1847 agirl in the Daughters of Charityhospital, dying of typhoid fever.She was annointed, and thedoctors gave her up as ahopeless case. This was in theneighborhood of Fr. Perboyresbirth and childhood, so therewas great devotion to him. Thefamily and Daughters of Charitystarted a novena to Fr. Perboyreand she was suddenlycompletely cured.
Miracles• In 1841 in another part ofFrance, there was a Daughter ofCharity who over severalmonths was dying of pleuro-pneumonia; the doctors toogave her case up. She could donothing-- eat, talk or move. TheSisters began a novena to thenew martyr and the Sister wasimmediately cured, sat up andate the equivalent of severalmeals.• These are only a few of thehundreds of miracles reportedfrom all over the world.
The Prayer of St. JohnGabriel PerboyreO my Divine Savior, transform me intoYourself. May my hands be the hands ofJesus. May my tongue be the tongue ofJesus. Grant that every faculty of mybody may serve only to glorify You.Above all, transform my soul and all itspowers so that my memory, will andaffections may be the memory, will andaffections of Jesus.I pray You to destroy in me all that is notof You. Grant that I may live but in You,by You and for You, so that I may trulysay, with St. Paul,"I live-- now not I-- but Christ lives inme."
Sources:http://jgperboyre.blogspot.comJohn Gabriel Perboyre, the Vincentian Center forChurch and Society at St. John’s University(http://vincenter.org/node/125)For further reading, try:John Gabriel Perboyre by Thomas Davitt, CM(http://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=vhj)