Blessed Andre Grasset: martyr of the French Revolution

Many of Canada’s saints were born in France and died or martyred here in Canada. Blessed Andre Grasset is a priest who was born in Canada and martyred in France during the French Revolution. In a time when our governments are exerting more control over their citizens, Blessed Andre Grasset stands as an example of one who choose his faith over politics. He was beatified in 1926 and his feast day is September 2.

Blessed Andre Grasset’s Childhood

Andre’s father, also named André Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, immigrated from France to eastern Canada (then called New France) in 1749. He served as the secretary of the governor general and also worked as a merchant, importing French goods and trading them with the local First Nations people. His first wife died in childbirth and he soon remarried. His second wife was the daughter of a rich merchant and also an accomplished businesswoman herself.

Andre was born in 1758, the second of their five children. He grew up in Montreal near the Chapel of Bon Secours, which had been built by St. Marguerite Bourgeoys.

Blessed Andre Grasset, martyr of the French Revolution.When Andre was six years old, his father decided to return to France. The Treaty of Paris had just ended the seven years’ war between England and France and gave England control over much of Canada. Andre’s father had also been accused of illicit activities while serving as power of attorney during the governor’s absence. He appeared in court in France, but the case was dismissed with not enough evidence to prove him guilty.

In Paris, Andre and his brothers attended the Collège Sainte-Barbe. When Andre was a teenager, his father was appointed the French consul in Trieste, Italy. However, as he lacked the means to support his family (despite the fortune he’d made in New France), he left his family in the care of a local religious community.

When Andre Grasset finished his studies, he went on to prepare for the priesthood. He served as canon of the cathedral for two years and then was ordained a priest in 1783.

The French Revolution and Martyrdom

Six years later, the French Revolution began. In 1791, the National Constituent Assembly required all priests to sign the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. This Constitution was condemned by the Vatican, as it placed all priests and religious under the authority and control of the state. Essentially, it nullified their allegiance to the Pope and made them servants of the state instead. Father Andre refused to sign, instead taking refuge with the Eudist Fathers in Tourettes, Paris.

A year later, he was captured here and put in prison in the Carmelite convent. On September 2, 1792, Father Andre, along with 92 priests and 3 bishops, was asked to answer the question: “Have you signed the Civil Constition of the Clergy?”

Blessed Andre Grasset, martyr of the French Revolution.Father Andre answered, “No, my conscience forbids me to do so.” He was then thrown into the garden where he was killed by guards with bayonets and spikes.

Along with his fellow priests who refused to sign the constitution, Andre Grasset was beatified on October 17, 1926 by Pope Pius XI. These 190 holy men and women are known together as the Martyrs of September. He is also one of twelve Canadian blesseds.

Today, the altar of the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal is dedicated to the martyrs of the revolution. The Basilica also has a stained-glass window bearing Blessed Andre Grasset’s picture. A post-secondary institution in Montreal, founded by the Sulpicians in 1927, is named after the martyr.

We must, like Blessed Andre Grasset, stand fast in the truth, not violate our own conscience, regardless of the rage directed against us, and so hold our heads high in expectation and hope upon Christ’s return. ~ John Paul Meenan, editor of The Catholic Insight

Blessed Andre Grasset, pray for us.

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