Born: Vicq de Béarn (Basses-Pyrénées), August 12, 1815
Priestly ordination: Bayonne, December 19, 1840
Took the habit: N.-D. de l’Osier, August 20, 1854 (No.396)
Vows: N.-D. de l’Osier, August 22, 1855
Died: Jaffna, January 23, 1874.

Pierre Casenave was born in Vicq de Béarn, diocese of Bayonne, France, on August 12, 1815. His parents were Bernard Casenave, a shoemaker, and Jeanne-Marie Crouset. He did his studies in the minor seminary of Oloron and in the Bayonne major seminary and was ordained to the priesthood on December 19, 1840. He was assistant priest in Lacommande from 1840 to 1845 and was then received into the Society of Priest Auxiliaries of the Holy Cross of Oloron as a preacher. However, he wished to go to the foreign missions and he entered the novitiate in Notre-Dame de l’Osier on August 20, 1854 and took first vows on August 22, 1855. He had been admitted to vows in the general council meeting of the previous July 10. In the minutes of that meeting it is noted: “Casenave, from the diocese of Bayonne. This priest, before coming to us, had been a member of a diocesan corporation of preaching priests in his own country for fifteen years. It was his wish to go to the foreign missions that caused him to join our Congregation. He enjoys robust health, seems to have a capacity for great activity and is gifted with an energetic character but is somewhat original in his ideas and quite tenacious by nature. Nothing special by way of piety but he is faithful to the exercises of the Rule and conforms exactly to the duties of religious life.”

He was in the church of the Calvaire in Marseilles from 1855 to 1856 and received an obedience for Canada in August 1856. At first he was in the house of Saint-Sauveur in Quebec and he went to preach missions in places as far away as Gaspesia and Acadia. He then lived at Saint-Pierre-Apôtre, Montreal from 1858 to 1862. In the meeting of the general council on January 20, 1862, he was dispensed from his vows. The reasons are given as follows: “Caseneuve, from the house in Ottawa, was already known for his extreme originality which reached extreme limits. Far from improving, he tended to become increasingly outrageous. He is unable to put up with himself outside of the house and, within the house, others find him unbearable. Although madness might be an excuse, his insubordination is unbearable and even goes as far as to lack respect for his superiors. The opinion of Bishop Guigues is that this man this man can no longer be tolerated. Based on these facts, the council’s decision was to pronounce him dispensed from his vows.”

The priest showed such a spirit of repentance that he was admitted to recommence his novitiate under the direction of Father Prosper Boisramé in Glen Mary, Ireland. There he took vows once again on August 8, 1863. His case had been examined in the general council meeting of July 15, 1863. The secretary general noted in the minutes of the meeting: “Casenave, re-admitted to vows. Father General explained how, during his visit to Ireland, he was able to judge the sincerity of heart of this priest who was not so much guilty as victim of a certain exaggerated zeal … His previous place in the order of oblation will be preserved.”

Father Casenave was a preacher in Notre-Dame de Sion from 1863 to 1868, professor in Nancy from 1868 to 1872, and then received his obedience for Ceylon where he arrived at the beginning of 1872. He spent some time in Colombogam with Father Salaün where he studied the Tamil language and ministered in Point Pedro. There he suffered an attack of cerebral congestion and he died in Jaffna on January 23, 1874.

He had written thousands of pages on all kinds of topics, especially a lengthy treatise on the Blessed Virgin entitled Parthénologie. These manus have not been preserved, apart from a few hundred pages in verse on the life of Bishop de Mazenod. Each verse is followed by a brief footnote commentary. The text is in very small writing and is difficult to read.

In a letter dated January 31, 1874, announcing the death of Father Casenave, Bishop Bonjean showed considerable goodwill by writing: “His was a strong and energetic mind which God had clothed in a rough and harsh skin which hid his intimate beauty and caused him to show only to God the liveliness and ardour of his affection. For those who judged only from outward appearances, Father Casenave was an austere and difficult man; those who, as his superiors, knew him intimately and in absolute confidence, were the only ones to know of the charity and gentleness enclosed in his heart.”

Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.