Born at Cassano (Corsica), August 13, 1820
Taking of the habit at Ajaccio, November 20, 1841
Oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, November 21, 1842 (no. 101)
Ordination to the priesthood in Marseilles, August 27, 1843
Died at Ajaccio, January 9, 1890.
Jacques Philippe Santoni was born at Cassano, diocese of Ajaccio, August 13, 1820, son of François Santoni, shoeing-smith and of Marie Antonini. He began his studies under the tutelage of one of the priests of his parish and continued them at the college of Calvi. He then taught school at Lunghignano, the village where his mother was born. Upon his return to Cassano in the evening, he used to ring the church bells and lead the recitation of the rosary. On the occasion of a visit to Cassano by Bishop Casanelli d’Istria and Father Hippolyte Guibert, superior of the major seminary, Father Guibert was struck with the young man’s religious fervour and invited him to become a seminarian.
While he was at the seminary, Jacques Philippe asked to join the Congregation. In November of 1841, Bishop de Mazenod gave him permission to do his novitiate at the major seminary in Ajaccio under the personal direction of Father Charles Bellon. The Registry of taking of the habit records that he began his novitiate November 20, 1841 and made his oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, November 21, 1842. He continued his theological studies at the major seminary of Marseilles and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop de Mazenod in Marseilles on August 27, 1843.
In July of 1843, before his ordination, Jacques Santoni was appointed assistant-treasurer at Notre-Dame de l’Osier and socius to Father Vincens, master of novices. In June of 1844, he was treasurer and spiritual director of the community, assistant master of novices and director of the coadjutor brothers. In 1845, he ceased being treasurer and became master of novices. On the 18th of March, the Founder wrote him and urged him to train the novices in every virtue while taking account of human weakness. He gave a long list of virtues that they were to be led to practice.
When a second novitiate was opened in Nancy in 1847, Father Santoni was the one sent there as master of novices. He spent only one year there because the 1848 revolution brought about its closure. When he left Nancy, he was called to the major seminary in Marseilles as spiritual director of the scholastic brothers. It seems he did not remain there long. We find him as master of novices at Notre-Dame de l’Osier until 1851.
By a July 2, 1851 letter, Bishop de Mazenod appointed him as the first provincial of Canada. This appointment was confirmed by Father Tempier on September 10, the canonical visitor to Canada, who appointed the provincial superior to be superior of the Oblate house in Montreal.
Father Santoni was endowed with a sound and sure judgment, an accomplished prudence, a good deal of practical good sense, a firmness of character that was rare, a great deal of poise and self-control. But he was lacking in one quality the Founder thought was very important, a warm heart. It seems he was cold and especially not fawning. Father Bartholomé Albertini wrote: “He was naturally endowed with an excellent heart. It is regrettable that he found it useful to conceal this heart of gold in a box of baser metal.”
Less than one year after his arrival in Canada, the provincial criticized Father Tempier, who, without much consultation, accepted a foundation in Buffalo. He likewise complained about the Founder and his disorganized, ineffective secretariat. This ruffled Bishop de Mazenod’s feathers. March 2, 1852, he wrote to Father Vincens: “I can tell you that I am deeply wounded by the insolence it [the letter I am forwarding to you] contains in my regard. I know that I have not the good fortune to earn the approval of this gentleman who cannot forgive me for not sharing his own high opinion of himself. I have always seen him as a pedant whom a premature confidence puffed up with pride to the point of making himself ridiculous in the eyes of those who have seen him close-up. Having acquired the custom prematurely of a paternal role that necessity obliged us to impart to him has turned his head to the point of elevating himself pretentiously above everyone without exception. You’ll see with what flippancy, while giving the impression all the while that he is merely passing on what others say, he passes judgment on the acts of my administration. He shows no more forbearance when it comes to the decisions of my subordinates. He bestows his approval, in short, only on those who have the good fortune of thinking as he does. I was well aware that, while he was in charge of the novitiate, he never took the least pains to inspire the least affection or the least respect for the Founder of the Congregation who would remain an unknown for those to whom Providence has given him as father. Clearly this was all of a piece with his own lack of these proper feelings. I can survive quite well without his personal good opinion of me, but this practical attitude was a major disorder that was followed far too long at the novitiate.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1099, p. 75)
In spite of this expression of pique which the Founder repeated in some other letters (December 5, 1853 to Father Casimir Aubert, June 26, 1854 to Father Santoni, January 20, 1857 to Bishop Bruno Guigues), he did put his trust in him, corresponded with him and allowed him to remain provincial in Canada until the chapter of 1856. Father Santoni came to the chapter and was appointed superior of the major seminary at Ajaccio. Bishop Casanelli d’Istria, who, after the departure of Father Guibert, always raised objections when it came to the appointment of superiors and professors at the major seminary, readily accepted Father Santoni. At the major seminary, Father Santoni truly found his niche. To everyone’s satisfaction, he remained superior of the seminary until his death thirty-five years later.
The seminarians who wrote a few pages of personal testimony about him as material to be used by Father Augier for an obituary all praised his recollection, his regularity, his simplicity and his close relationship to the seminarians since he took his recreation with them, etc. He exercised a strong influence on the bishops under whom he worked and on the clergy of Corsica who often came to visit him and consult him. As superior of the seminary, he also held the title of honorary canon and vicar general.
Towards the end of his life, Father Santoni suffered from rheumatism and gout. He died January 9, 1890 and was buried in the cemetery at Ajaccio.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.