Born at Bédarrides (Vaucluse), December 12, 1812
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, December 7, 1841
Oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, December 8, 1842 (no. 103)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, August 27, 1843
Died at Diano Marina, April 29, 1903.
Pierre Joseph Nicolas was born in Bédarrides, diocese of Avignon, December 12, 1812. He completed all his studies in the educational institutions of Avignon. Then, he was appointed to be a professor at the minor seminary of that city while awaiting to be ordained to the priesthood. During the school vacations one year, he made a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Lumières and decided to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He took the habit at Notre-Dame de l’Osier on December 7, 1841 at 29 years of age. He made his oblation on December 8, 1842 and was ordained to the priesthood at Marseilles by Bishop de Mazenod on August 27, 1843.
It seems that he spent the school year of 1842-1843 at l’Osier, studying theology while he was teaching dogma to a few of the scholastic brothers. During the summer of 1843, Bishop de Mazenod decided to send him to teach dogma at the major seminary of Ajaccio to replace Father Charles Bellon. He had to be coaxed to go and he accepted on the condition that he could come to spend summer vacation back in France. The Founder agreed to this, but on July 20, he wrote to Father Vincens: “If men were only what they should be, I would not have to take so many precautions…” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 805, p. 20)
Father Nicolas remained in Corsica from 1843 to 1847. He was esteemed by Father Moreau, but Father Magnan who was appointed superior of the seminary in 1846, asked the Founder to replace Father Nicolas with another professor “for health and other reasons…” During his stay at Ajaccio, Father Nicolas was subjected to some rebukes from the Founder. Initially, he rebuked him for not writing. In an April 30, 1844 letter to Father Moreau, he wrote: “Only this negligence gives me the measure of his affection. It is always good to know where one stands.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 838, p. 62) Bishop de Mazenod also found that as dogma professor, Father Nicolas was too stuck on his own ideas. Once again in a letter to Father Moreau, February 20, 1845, he wrote: “I should also like to see Father Nicolas more moderate and humble enough to convince himself that others can have opinions that are worth as much as his own. His manner of acting bears some stubbornness and leads him into error…”(Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 866, p. 96)
When he left Ajaccio, Father Nicolas was sent to the new house of missionary preachers at Limoges. The Founder’s heart was not in it when he sent Father Nicolas there at the request of Father Courtès, founder and superior of this house. In a February 7, 1848 letter, he wrote that Father Nicolas “is certainly a man of talent; but he is too little inclined for confessions and besides, don’t you know the fanaticism of his political principles? I am afraid that he may forget himself on this subject and cause you some unpleasantness. In addition he has his own ideas on moral theology, and I would say even on dogma which he explains in his own way even while remaining within the bounds of Catholicism but with his own slant, all of which caused the Archbishop of Reims to whom I spoke of him, to say that theology is no place to be poetical.”(Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 964, p. 206)
At Limoges, Father Nicolas lived under the same roof as some brilliant young preachers (Fathers Melchior Burfin, Charles Baret and Charles Ferdinand Gondrand) whom the Founder permitted to preach at special celebrations and Lenten series. In a March 25, 1850 letter, referring to their success, Bishop de Mazenod wrote: “You speak of priests who succeed in pleasing in their sermons, it remains to be seen if their sermons convert many sinners, that is what I would really like to be told.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1037, p. 6)
From 1850 to 1854, Father Nicolas was professor of Sacred Scripture at the major seminary of Marseilles and, from 1851 to 1852, he was as well the instructor of the young priests who were pursuing two years of “advanced studies” at Le Calvaire. In 1854-1855 he taught Sacred Scripture and eloquence at the major seminary of Romans. He then took up residence at Notre-Dame de la Garde at Marseilles up until the chapter of 1861, but he often went to Notre-Dame de Lumières, especially during the summer and during the year as well for preaching engagements in the diocese of Avignon. He was a member of the community of Notre-Dame de Lumières from 1862 to 1867. He acted as singing director or else accompanied the singing on the organ when he was at home, but he never gave up preaching. In 1868, he received his obedience for the house in Aix where he remained until 1903, a period of 35 years.
Father Nicolas was amply gifted as a preacher, teacher and musician. He did a lot of preaching until the end of his life. His obituary tells us: “His preaching was full of fire, spontaneity, poetic images of an original nature, while at the same time it was grounded in solid doctrine and the soundest theology. Moreover, in a short space of time, this won for him a well earned renown. It also won for him some warm and lasting friendships, notably that of Bishop Gay, auxiliary bishop of Poitiers… that of Bishop Berteaud, bishop of Tulle, a brilliant improviser, the heavenly poet of theology. This latter friendship was the great glory of Father Nicolas’ life. It gave him an excuse to travel often to Tulle, either as preacher or as friend, to accompany the worthy bishop in the rounds of his diocese and to be chosen by him as his theologian to accompany him to the Vatican Council.”
As professor, wrote Bishop Ricard, one of his students “he had the gift of getting a class going. He had the knack of giving explanations that could be understood by those of average intelligence, while at the same time throwing open vast and lofty horizons for those of more gifted intelligence.”
Father Nicolas was a musician as well. He taught singing to the minor seminarians of Notre-Dame de Lumières, used to conduct the singing during pilgrimages, played the organ and composed many hymns for parish missions. In 1885, he published a Recueil de cantiques rythmés (Paris, Lethielleux, 440 pages)
In 1903, at the age of 91, he was forced to leave Aix along with the priests and brothers of the community, expelled at the time of the expulsion of the religious. He was sent to Italy to the Oblate house of Diano Marina. On April 29, 1903, three days after his arrival, he died rather suddenly.
In 1902, on the occasion of his sixty years of oblation, celebrated in modest fashion at Aix because of the political circumstances, Missions OMI devoted to him these few lines that were published in a newspaper in Aix: “His life, one of prodigious activity, can be summed up as being the teaching of theology and apostolic preaching, especially the latter. But never did the professor of sound, profound and sublime ideas prejudice the role of the missionary, always as keen as he was eloquent and popular… He has been in Aix since 1867. A life of thirty-five years among us gives us the right to state what about him we are rightly proud of. In claiming this right, we hail in him the example of all the religious virtues: eloquence honed to a rare degree of perfection, musical skill in the magnificent blossoming of a continuous flow, poetry in song, ordered in a way that redoubled its charm and the range of its expression…”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.