Blessed Pierre-René Rogue
|Death||March, 3 1796|
Pierre-René Rogue, the third beatified confrere of the Revolution, was a native of Vannes in Brittany. He did all his priestly ministry in that town and was guillotined there on 3 March 1796, three and a half years later than his confreres in Paris. Before the revision of the liturgical calendar Pierre-René had his own celebration on the anniversary of his death. For a very short period, after the first revisions, his memorial was on 8 May.
He was born in Vannes in 1758. He was an only child and perhaps he never saw his father, as he was born during his father’s absence on a business trip; his father died on that trip, away from home. When he finished his secondary schooling he spent a year in Bourges with relatives of his mother, and then returned home and entered the diocesan seminary in Vannes. This seminary was staffed by Vincentians. Apart from the two final years of his seminary studies he lived at home with his mother, commuting to the seminary each day for the lectures and classes. The reason for this is that his health was regarded as fragile. He was a small man, only four feet ten inches in height, which is one metre sixty. He was ordained in 1782 and appointed chaplain to a home for old women. Four years later he joined the Congregation of the Mission, but spent only three months in Saint-Lazare and returned to finish his canonical year of the intern seminary in Vannes. The reason for this was, once again, the fragile state of his health. He was appointed to teach theology in the seminary, and was also involved in courses of theology for lay people, a fact which was to be important for him later. A few years later he was given the added ministry of being a curate in the parish.
When the troubles of the Revolution came to Vannes the civil authorities estimated that only about six priests, out of more than four hundred, would be likely to take the oaths. In February 1791 some priests, including the Vincentian superior of the seminary, were summoned to a meeting with the civil authorities. A written summary of what took place at that meeting has survived. It shows that the priests agreed to take the oath. When Pierre-René heard this he went to the superior and pointed out the damage that would be done if the priests of the diocese heard that the superior of the seminary had agreed to take the oath. He dictated a letter for the superior to sign, in which the superior stated that he had changed his mind and would not take the oath. This letter was dated the same day as the meeting with the authorities, and still on the same day Pierre-René personally delivered it to the same authorities. When this became known all the other priests of the diocese who had indicated their willingness to take the oath withdrew their agreement. As a result of all this, only one priest in Vannes took the oath.
On 20 April 1791 the staff were expelled from the seminary and the contents of the building were put up for sale. The seminary staff challenged this decision, pointing out that because the staff had conducted courses for lay people the seminary was exempt from the new law. Also, it was exempt for a second reason, because the building was the property of the Congregation of the Mission, which at that date had not been suppressed by law. The authorities agreed to a partial financial settlement, including fixed salaries for the seminary staff. Pierre-René decided to put in a claim also for back payment as a parish curate, and was paid this as well. He then put in a claim for further payment because of income he was due from a benefice, which he had in Angers, which had been stopped; this was also paid up. These financial arrangements won by Pierre-René are very interesting because they are the exact opposite of what Louis-Joseph François had been advising in Paris some years earlier. He had advised priests to refuse any money offered by the state for priestly ministry. Pierre-René’s view was that he had done the work and therefore should be paid.
Pierre-René maintained good relations with the town’s civil authorities and he was not interfered with in his parish ministry. For prudence, though, he gradually introduced a practice of celebrating Mass in private houses. The fact that he was a native of the town, as were the members of the civil administration, was a help to him. He knew them personally and had been at school with them. His superior, though, was not from Vannes and Pierre-René advised him to leave the town, and he went to Spain.
As the situation in the town began to deteriorate Pierre-René had to go into hiding, and he started to move around frequently from one safe house to another, to lessen the risk of capture. His mother’s house was constantly watched in the hope that he would visit her. In March 1795 the authorities in Vannes granted an amnesty to all priests who were in hiding, and after a while Pierre-René resumed open ministry in the parish.
Later that year, though, things got much worse for the priests in the town, and former laws and oaths were brought back into full force. On Christmas Eve 1795, when he was bringing Viaticum to a sick person, he was betrayed by a man for whom his mother had procured work and who was still receiving financial help from her. This man and another man brought Pierre-René to the authorities and handed him over. They refused to accept him, because he had not been arrested by the police; they gave him the opportunity to escape. He refused to do so, saying that that would get them into trouble with their own superiors.
He was tried and convicted on the charge that he had not taken the various oaths and had engaged in priestly ministry. He was found guilty and sentenced to be guillotined within twenty-four hours. This took place on 3 March 1796, and his mother was apparently present.