Born: Cassence (Haute-Loire), January 1, 1819.
Took the habit: N.-D. de l’Osier, May 28, 1846.
Vows: Nancy, February 25, 1848, (No.183) .
Died: Kamloops, British Colombia, September 6, 1908.

Philippe Surel was born in Cassence, diocese of Le Puy, France, on January 19, 1819. His parents were Claude Surel and Agnès Guérin. He began his novitiate in Notre-Dame de l’Osier on May 28, 1846, and made his final vows in Nancy on February 25, 1848. He was assigned to the Oregon mission, but spent one year in Nancy as cook and gardener. On September 30, 1849, Bishop de Mazenod wrote: “I am obliged to take Brother Surel away from Nancy because he is, from among our Brothers, the one who will be able to do best in a country where everything remains to be done.” The superior in Nancy, Father Dassy, wrote the praises of this Brother many times. On October 3, 1849, he sent him to Marseilles saying: “Brother Surel, whom I am sending to you as you ordered, is a very good Brother both in matters of activity and of intelligence. There is only one thing on which he may be reproached in his work; he does not like being guided by his superiors and tends to follow his own ideas… He still needs instruction on the vows of obedience and poverty. With certain precautions he can be very useful. He wants to do religious exercises and never steps back from anything that requires generosity.”

In November1849 Brother Surel left for Oregon with Brother Janin and Father D’Herbomez. Father Tempier went to considerable trouble to purchase all sorts of things for them “from a needle to an anvil and a plough”, as the Founder wrote to Father Aubert in England. “Finally, on November 24, our dear evangelists departed and, with God’s help, they will arrive in seven or eight months. Oh, how edifying they were!”

On their arrival in Oregon, Father Ricard put some land, which had been donated by the American Government, in the names of each of the Brothers. They wrote to the Founder requesting permission to become really property owners. One of the Brothers even asked to be dispensed from his vows because Father Ricard had refused him this permission. He even added that since the permission from Marseilles was likely to be delayed, he would take his share before it arrived. In his reply, the Founder wrote: “That was as if to tell me that he wanted to go to the devil. That is, quite simply, the intention of apostasy,” On May 12, 1853, he wrote to Father Ricard: “May I speak to you about your Brothers? Truly, since you have made them proprietors, they have lost their heads. They used to be wise men, good religious. That did not understand that since they are religious, they are only nominal owners of the proprieties which have been acquired in their name and that these lands must be acquired for the Congregation… Try to make them understand that without upsetting them because they complain that they are being treated too harshly, that they are being treated as slaves, and that nobody cares for their spiritual welfare, and this is serious because this a right which nobody can deny them, and I must ask you to provide for them in this matter so as to acquit yourself of an obligation from which you cannot be dispensed. Also, their work load has to be decreased; this is a duty in charity and in justice.”

Afterwards, Bishop de Mazenod does not mention Brother Surel’s name again. He continued to work for about ten years in Saint Joseph of Olympia and in Ahtanum in the state of Washington, then in Esquimalt in British Colombia. Afterwards he worked in Okanagan (1859), in Sandy Cove and in Prince Rupert (1859-1866), on the farm at William’s Lake (1866-1883) and finally in Kamloops from 1883 until his death in 1908. The periodical Missions OMI often mentions his activity in these different places and mentions too his sixtieth anniversary of vows in 1908. On that topic it has this to say: “Our dear Brother Philip Surel from the house in Kamloops, in British Colombia, is one of the rare privileged persons to whom the good God grants the grace of celebrating in good health the sixtieth anniversary of his perpetual oblation. It cannot be repeated often enough: sixty years of religious life must be a beautiful crown in heaven, especially when, as in the vase of our dear jubilarian, those sixty years have passed away, hidden, if we may say so, in the constant practice of the virtues of an Oblate and the faithful accomplishment of the duties of our holy vocation…” (1908, p. 411).

Brother Surel died in Kamloops, British Colombia, on September 6, 1908. He is buried in the Oblate cemetery in Mission City.

Yvon Beaudoin
and Gaston Carrière, o.m.i.