Born at Lunel-Viel (Hérault), July 4, 1791.
Ordination to the priesthood at Montpellier, May 20, 1815.
Taking of the habit at St-Just, July 22, 1828.
Oblation at St-Just, July 22, 1829 (no. 37.)
Died at Le Calvaire in Marseilles, January 10, 1831.
Joseph Théodore Martial Capmas was born in Lunel-Viel, Montpellier diocese, July 4, 1791. He was ordained to the priesthood at Montpellier on May 20, 1815 at the hands of Bishop M. N. Fournier and, at the advanced aged of 37, began his novitiate at Saint-Just near Marseilles. During his novitiate, in November-December of 1828, he took part in a parish mission preached at Bourg d’Oisans in the diocese of Grenoble along with Fathers Mie, Guibert and Jeancard. On July 16, 1829, Father de Mazenod wrote to Father Tempier that Father Capmas “who has been appointed master of novices” could take a half day off from his work at the novitiate each week to go and hear the confessions of the Sisters of St. Charles. It does seem to have been the case that this priest was master of novices at St-Just from July to November of 1829 as successor to Father Guigues and predecessor to Father Honorat. It is probable that he was appointed, not before the 16 of July but from the time of his oblation which took place July 22, 1829. Otherwise, for a few days, he would have been his own master of novices.
In 1830, he was at Notre-Dame du Laus and worked with Father Guibert preaching missions. On April 7, 1830 Father Guibert wrote the Founder that “Father Capmas has achieved a complete grasp of the nature of these missions. His preaching is appropriate for the general population and for the learned as well. His zeal is untiring. He sticks at nothing. I have often been obliged to temper his enthusiasm and to take some palliatives.”
In the spring of 1830, he was the unwitting and unwilling accessory to a dreadful accident. On his way back from a retreat preached at the minor seminary of Embrun, his horse took the bit in his teeth descending a steep hill. The missionary lost control of his mount. As they dashed by a group of travelers whom repeated shouts of warning had warned off and scattered, one of the men was struck and bowled over. A few days later, he died. According to one physician, it was due to a pre-existing medical condition; according to another physician, it was due to the fall he sustained when he was run down by the horse. The public prosecutor had Father Capmas put in the custody of the court of summary jurisdiction. As a result, he was sentenced to three months in prison with a 50 franc fine and 1200 francs damages awarded to the injured party. Father Guibert appealed to the court at Gap. The case was tried again at Gap on appeal with the result that Father Capmas was fully acquitted.
It was judged that this death could not be attributed to lack of prudence, or negligence or to any bungling on Father Capmas’ part.
Father Capmas was then called to Calvaire at Marseilles and worked at the Lazaret, a huge hospital in Marseilles where there were also patients with contagious diseases. Father Capmas was struck down by illness and died January 10, 1831. At the time, the Founder was in Nice, visiting his uncle. In reply to Father Tempier who relayed to him this sad news, he wrote in a January 14 letter: “So now we are left without one of our best members, a man capable of every form of ministry, while remaining simple and obedient, ever ready to do his duty and to do it well, and having no more pretensions than a child. Praise the Lord! It will be our refrain in times of adversity and of the worst afflictions as in times of prosperity and consolations. My grief is redoubled in that our dear friend died without receiving holy viaticum. I ask God every day, in the holy sacrifice, not to let me be deprived of that blessing at my death. The doctors ought to have foreseen the danger sooner; they do not have to wait for a man to be in a state of delirium before giving warning of the danger; this will be a lesson to us to be a little more on our guard another time. However, the communion you gave him during the night of New Year’s Day will have made up for the lack of holy viaticum, and our poor patient (I place my hopes in God’s goodness) will have received all the supernatural and extraordinary graces he needed in that final moment. The Lord will have looked kindly on the charity that spurred him to ask for the favour of enclosing himself in the isolation hospital to lavish the graces of his ministry on the many soldiers stricken with the epidemic from Africa. Finally, he died in the bosom of the Society, and this is a sign of predestination. It only remains for us to apply in his favour the suffrages to which he has a right and by whose means his soul will enter all the sooner into the full possession of that God who is so good, so faithful to his promises, who was the lot chosen for him and who must be his reward.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1831-1836, Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 381, p. 6 and 7)
As for Father Guibert, on January 17, he wrote to Father Tempier: “You can imagine the depth of my grief at being deprived of this worthy priest. Our friendship sprang up during our ministry together. It is impossible to tell you the full extent of the good he did in the diocese of Gap. As well, I consider him a genuine martyr of charity. It was his overwhelming mercy which led him to the grave.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
His dossier in the General Archives contains nothing other than his oblation formula.
His name appears occasionally in Oblate Writings, vol. 7, pp. 154, 170, 185, 197, 230; vol. 8, pp. 3-7; 10 and in Rey, Mgr de Mazenod I, pp. 453, 481-482, 493, 501-502.