Born: Lixheim (Moselle), January 24, 1803.
Priestly ordination: Nancy, November 8, 1827.
Took the habit: N.-D. de l’Osier, January 22, 1847.
Vows: N.-D. de l’Osier, September 8, 1847 (N. 175).
Expulsion: September 20, 1853.
Died: Borville, January 8, 1862.
Honoré Timothée Lempfrit was born in Lixheim, diocese of Nancy, France, on January 24, 1803. His parents were Joseph Lempfrit, a notary, and Josephine Lacombe. He studied at the major seminary in Nancy and was ordained priest on November 8, 1827.
He ministered as assistant priest in Badonviller in 1827-1829, pastor in Lesménils in 1820-1830, as a military chaplain in 1830-1831, then pastor of Bernécourt (1831-1832). He then entered the Cistercians where he took the name Dom Bruno. On January 22, 1947 he entered the Oblate novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier with the aim of going on the missions. The general council in its meeting of August 10, 1847, considered that, since he was already formed in the religious life a dispensation should be requested from Rome to reduce his novitiate period by six months. He took his vows on September 8, 1847 and, on the 14th he received his obedience for Canada. Writing to Bishop Guigues on September 27, Bishop de Mazenod recommends that he “make use of the missionary in Montreal while awaiting his continuing his journey to his destination.” He lived in Longueuil in 1847-1848 and then left for Oregon.
He ministered in Victoria and Cowitchan, British Colombia in 1849-1852. On May 22, 1849, Bishop de Mazenod informed Father Ricard, superior of the Oregon mission, that he had received a letter from Father Lempfrit. “That letter” he said, “gave me all the more pleasure because I see that he is content… nothing can be more depressing than to hear missionaries who have been called to faraway missions by the will of God, and by their own personal attraction and zeal, giving in to trials and looking backwards when they have reached their goal”. On January 26, 1851, Father Lempfrit sent an important report to Cardinal Fransoni, Prefect of Propaganda, on his apostolate among the Amerindians and the Whites on Vancouver Island.
At beginning of 1853, news reached Marseille that Father Lempfrit had left his mission without consultation. He had gone to the Santa Iñez mission in California, it seems, with the permission of Father Ricard. However, he no longer gave any news of his whereabouts. In 1853 Father Ricard did not know where he was. On May 12, the Founder wrote to Father Ricard: “If you think Father Lempfrit has written to me you are mistaken. I do not know any more what he is doing or what has become of him. You must, however, recall him to his duties, having found out his address. In what religious order can this sort thing happen? I can understand that he felt humiliated that he had been deceived by the natives about whose docility he had boasted so much and about whom he had written such wonderful things, but this misadventure does not dispense him from obedience to his superiors, to yourself first of all whom he should have consulted before abandoning the mission you had given him and whose decision he should have awaited with regard to the mission he desired so much. Try to regularise his position and, if he has apostatized, let us know so that we may act in consequence. If this good Father had any common sense he could, by walking the straight and narrow, have prepared our entry to California.”
In the course of the summer, Father Ricard did provide precise details on the situation of Father Lempfrit. We know that from the report on the general council meeting of September 20: “According to a letter from Father Ricard which arrived in the most recent mail delivery from America, and which was read during the session, we know most certainly that this miserable priest has behaved in a most unworthy manner in his mission in Vancouver. Having given in to his criminal passions, he abandoned himself to the lowest excess, much to the scandal of the native peoples and the Canadian colonials who have heard everything from the unfortunate victims of seduction. It is Bishop Demers of Vancouver who gives these harrowing details in a letter written to Father Ricard in Latin and he adds that, as a result of this atrocious scandal, any progress of religion will remain paralysed in this poor country, and that the missions have become an almost impossible task. Having heard this miserable narrative all the members of the council were filled with consternation and they were unanimous in demanding that this unworthy subject receive on the spot the punishment he so richly deserves, that is, expulsion from the Congregation that he has so horribly compromised. “
This decision seems to have been taken with some haste and without having heard the person in question. Father Ricard and the Founder trusted the word of Bishop Demers who had condemned Father Lempfrit on the basis of rumours. Besides, he found that the priest had made too many conversions without sufficient instruction for the neophytes before their Baptism. Letters from Father Accolti, S.J., and Bishop Joseph Alemany of San Francisco confirm, nevertheless, the accusations of Bishop Demers.
It was Bishop de Mazenod who personally informed Father Lempfrit of the council’s decision. We have no more than a part of the letter in Yenveux. The Founder said, among other things: “There is nothing more to add to this painful communication except to recommend that you take pity upon your soul. Poor priest, go back to the solitude of the Cistercian monastery, which you should never have left…”
In Fact Father Lempfrit did return to the monastery and later he became pastor of Véheen in 1856-1860 and of Borville in 1860-1862. He died in Borville on January 8, 1862.
and Gaston Carrière, o.m.i.