Born at Agde (Hérault), June 26, 1813
Taking of the habit at Marseilles, October 31, 1839
Oblation at Marseilles, December 25, 1840 (no. 87)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, July 3, 1842
Died at Le Calvaire, January 16, 1869.
Jean Jacques Denis Rey was born at Agde, diocese of Montpellier, June 26, 1813. He studied at the college in that city and began his theological studies at the major seminary in Montpellier. After having received minor orders, he was appointed as professor at the minor seminary of Saint-Pons. It was here that he met the Oblates and entered the novitiate at Le Calvaire at Marseilles, October 31, 1839. He made his oblation on December 25, 1840. The minor seminary at Notre-Dame de Lumières had just opened its doors. Brother Rey was assigned to teach there, while he continued his study of theology. Father Jean Lagier, the superior of the house and director of the juniorate from July 1841 to September 1842, judged his young confrere harshly and pressured Bishop de Mazenod not to ordain him to the priesthood. Nevertheless, the Founder ordained Brother Rey on July 3, 1842. On November 1, 1843, the Founder wrote to Father Moreau, the superior of the major seminary at Ajaccio, not to let himself be influenced by Father Lagier. He admitted: “If I had believed him, Father Rey would no longer belong to the Congregation; the latter is the best person in the world, lends himself to everything with perfect docility is of excellent character.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1843-1849, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 820, p. 38)
After his ordination, Father Rey was sent to Aix in order to prepare himself to go preaching with Father Courtès. He did not seem to be very gifted for preaching and participated in only a few missions. From July to September of 1846, he took the “Practical Course for Eloquence” given by Father Ambrose Vincens at Parménie, near Notre-Dame de l’Osier. We find him at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in 1847 and 1848. On August 14, 1847, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Dassy: “You tell me good things about Father Rey. I am glad to hear that, but do not lose sight of the fact that he must be helped through particular care and supervision. Insist that he devote himself to the composition of his sermons…” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1843-1849, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 937, p. 171)
According to Father Fabre, Father Rey then worked at Notre-Dame de Lumières and in Aix. In 1854, he was appointed chaplain of the detention centre in Marseilles and of the courthouse prison. He held this position until his death while residing either at Notre-Dame de la Garde, or at Le Calvaire where he died suddenly on January 16, 1869 at fifty-six years of age.
“The ministry to which Father Rey dedicated the greatest part of his life,” wrote Father Fabre, “and in which he excelled was that of prison work. It was while engaged in the labours of this ministry that he died at an age when he had attained the full potential of his experience without having lost any of his physical vigour […] The most painful duty for a prison chaplain is certainly that of accompanying to the scaffold those unfortunate people condemned to death. Father Rey did this four times, not always because he was obliged to do so as chaplain, but rather because of a noble impulse of charity and zeal.”
At Father Rey’s funeral, Mr. Ménard, director of prisons for Bouches-du-Rhône made the eulogy of the dead priest. Among other things, he said: “Few men — and that is not only in my humble opinion, but rather that of the upper echelons of the most capable people in our administration — have possessed in such a high degree as worthy Father Rey the various qualities that make up a good prison chaplain. His honest, kindly and open countenance reflected the honesty, goodness and forthrightness of his soul. Plainspoken when there was need, filled with a sensitivity what was always cheerful, obliging to a fault, knowing all the dark corners of the human heart, Father Rey knew how to find his way through and often captivate them. Skilled in avoiding being used by manipulators, he was rarely mistaken in his mission where everything seems geared to take advantage of the trust of anyone not endowed with the greatest prudence…”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.