Born at Valréas (Vaucluse), May 30, 1807
Ordination to the priesthood at Nîmes, June 16, 1832
Taking of the habit at Marseilles, June 28, 1839
Oblation at Marseilles June 29, 1840 (no. 84)
Died at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, September 9, 1888.
Jean Joseph Françon was born at Valréas, diocese of Avignon, May 30, 1807, the fourth of seven children born of Marie Ursule Françon and Michel Sébastien Françon, farmer. He was baptized the day after his birth. He studied at the college of Valréas and the minor seminary of Avignon. He entered the major seminary of Avignon in 1827 and was ordained to the priesthood at Nîmes by Bishop de Chaffoy, June 16, 1832.
He was assistant parish priest at Visan from 1832 to 1836, then parish priest at Gigondas from 1836 to 1839, villages in the diocese of Avignon, not far from Valréas. As a young priest he had already given signs of his attraction for the religious life and for preaching. He met the Oblates who were established in the diocese in 1834 at Notre-Dame de Lumières. He obtained from Bishop Célestin Dupont permission to leave his parish and to begin his novitiate in Marseilles, June 28, 1839. During his novitiate, he participated in some missions with Father Courtès. Father Courtès valued his contribution and informed Bishop de Mazenod of this. Bishop de Mazenod replied: “I am delighted with what you tell me about Father Françon.” He made his oblation at Marseilles, June 29, 1840.
Father Françon was almost always attached to the house at Notre-Dame de Lumières (1840-1847; 1849-1858; 1860-1879). However, we do find him at Aix in 1847-1848 and at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in 1859, then, from 1884 to 1888. Following an illness, in 1879 and during the expulsion of religious from their houses in 1880, he accepted to be parish priest of Beaumettes 1879-1880 and of Saint-Pantaléon from 1881 to 1884.
Few Oblates have done as much preaching as he did. According to the details gleaned from his correspondence with Abbé Vève, he preached at least 350 parish missions and retreats in 181 towns and villages of 9 dioceses. Father Peter Nicolas wrote about this: “Above all else, Father Françon was a missionary. He has been called the Brydaine of the rural areas. That is high praise, well deserved praise. Like Father Brydaine, Father Françon was terrible when he thundered against vice, when he preached on the great truths. But like Father Brydaine as well, his piety and unction in celebrating the mysteries of love was captivating. “
“It must be admitted that he took preferred subjects that inspired fear. He more readily preached on hell, judgment, death, final impenitence. His voice which was powerful, energetic, a little harsh lent itself to this kind of preaching. You should have heard him when he thundered against blasphemy and blasphemers. “Who has given you the right to spread poison in the air? Who has given you permission to pollute houses, streets, countrysides with your sulphurous breath, wretches who adopt the language of demons from hell and who draw thunder bolts down upon earth? Your mouths, sinks of hell, you would do better to stop them up… You unfortunate children who live with, who grow up amidst such cries, of such fits of anger, of these blasphemies, of such curses, what will become of you…?” When Father Françon spoke in this vein, his voice shook, his teeth chattered, he shivered and conveyed the shivers to his listeners […]”
“As I said, Father Françon, like Brydaine, knew how to address the most touching subjects, the most gentle, the most delicate. He then adopted melodious unctuous tones. He brought tenderness into his voice in dealing with sinners when he spoke of mercy, forgiveness, absolution! And when he called them to the heavenly banquet, he heaped invitation on invitation, pressing and tender…”
He was a popular preacher. but, according to the Founder ill-suited to preach priests’ retreats. Father Tempier wanted to invite him to Marseilles in 1852. On August 5, 1852 Bishop de Mazenod gave this answer: “I heard this Father here at the seminary in a retreat for the beginning of the school year which he gave some years ago to our ecclesiastics. There were good things in some of the instructions which were solid; besides the good, however, there were trivial things at times, mistaken style, original elements of very bad taste, as well as a heaviness in his presentation that was tiring, an unfitting manner and a sepulchral tone of voice. In short, he was seen as a virtuous man, austere, but not qualified for the kind that the whole group needed. What we had was a man accustomed to preaching in the villages, one who does not know how to respect his audience and who cannot achieve the loftiness of his mission when he has to speak to men of culture who have received a good education.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1111, p. 92-93) Nevertheless, after the Founder’s death, Father Françon preached to nuns, minor seminarians at Notre-Dame de Lumières and to the priests and novices of Notre-Dame de l’Osier in 1874-1875, to the Oblates of Notre-Dame de la Garde in 1876-1877.
Father Nicolas wrote: “Father Françon was especially a holy missionary, a man of oraison and of prayer. He drew his life from God and lived in God, for God. He never lost the presence of God. He was imbued to the very depths of his soul with the truths he preached. He did not preach what he read; his discourse was less the fruit of his study than that of his daily meditations and his retreats.”
He retired at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in 1884, but continued his preaching. September 4, 1888, when he had finished celebrating Mass, he had a stroke which paralysed him. He received the Sacrament of the Sick and died on September 9.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.