- Ministry in Marseilles, Notre-Dame du Laus and in Corsica (1830-1841)
- In Canada and the United States (1841-1850)
- In France (1850-1878)
Born in Barcelonnette (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence), September 8, 1807
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame du Laus, September 8, 1822
Oblation in Marseilles, September 8, 1826 (no. 24)
Ordination in Marseilles, April 10, 1830
Died in Aix, April 7, 1878.
Adrien Telmon was born in Barcelonnette, dioceses of Gap, September 8, 1807, son of Madeleine Caire and François Telmon, carpenter. He received a deeply Christian education, due in large part to an aunt who was a religious living with her family because of ill health. He was allowed to receive First Holy Communion at the age of nine and, it seems, “he plunged into his studies with such enthusiasm and such success that at fourteen he had finished his Latin studies.” (Notices nécrologiques III, p. 499)
Following the mission preached at Barcelonnette by the Founder and his confreres from April 20 to May 20, 1822, Adrien followed the missionaries to Aix. Bishop de Mazenod wrote in his diary under the entry of May 1, 1837: “I snatched him, so to speak, from the cradle during our parish mission at Barcelonnette. How old was he at the time? Fifteen or sixteen, I do not know. Anyway, he was not even knee-high. He looked like a little child. Nevertheless, I took him under my wing and always considered him as my own son. I saw to all his needs and saw to it that he received an education. Finally, I welcomed him into the society and so I led him right up to the priesthood in spite of the fact that he did cause me some concern during his years in vows and on one occasion he fled the house at Aix.”
Adrien began his novitiate at Notre-Dame du Laus on September 8, 1822 and made his oblation in Marseilles, September 8, 1826. Of a rebellious and impulsive disposition, at the very outset he began to be a source of worry for his superiors. On November 24, 1824, the Founder refused to admit him to tonsure. He wrote to Father Hippolyte Courtès: “For a child who has given us grief up until a day or so ago, who was decided to leave us, who on departing would most likely have unfrocked himself, this smacks of too much courage. […] Never has he committed more stupidities. I admire your clemency but shall not follow your inclination…” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1814-1825 Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 159, p. 155)
He began his philosophic and theological studies at the seminary in Aix and continued at the seminary in Marseilles, where, before being ordained to the priesthood, he taught philosophy in 1828-1829 and dogma in 1829-1830. He also taught the same subjects the following year following his ordination to the priesthood at the hands of Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod, April 10, 1830.
Ministry in Marseilles, Notre-Dame du Laus and in Corsica (1830-1841)
Following the 1830-1831 school year, Father Telmon became part of the community of Notre-Dame du Laus until 1834. It was an experience he did not enjoy. He found the climate in Marseilles too hot and Laus too cold. On January 7, 1832, the Founder wanted to send him to Aix and he wrote to Father Courtès about: “over-much esteem for learning to which perhaps he gave preference over sanctity” and “then, over-much care of his health led him to neglect even things that can never be abandoned with impunity.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1831-1836 Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 413, p. 52)
At Laus where Father Hippolyte Guibert was the superior, Father Telmon was teaching Sacred Scripture to some of the scholastic brothers and preaching missions. But there was little demand for parish missions after the Revolution of 1830. That is why in the course of his stay in Rome in 1833 Bishop de Mazenod wanted to take on the direction of a seminary in the suburbs. In choosing professors and directors for this task there was no hesitation on his part; he designated Fathers Guibert, Dominique Albini and Telmon. This project was never put into effect. However, in 1834, Bishop Casanelli of Istria, the Bishop of Ajaccio handed his major seminary over to the direction of the Oblates. The Founder suggested Father Guibert as superior of the institution and announced that he would be accompanied by “a dogma professor, a talented man with a good grasp of Sacred Scripture and the ceremonies of the liturgy,” that is, Father Telmon. They arrived in Corsica at the beginning of 1835 and Father Albini joined them as professor of moral theology at the beginning of the 1835-1836 school year. In Ajaccio, Father Telmon taught dogma from 1834 to 1837 and, at the same time, during Advent and Lent, accompanied Father Albini preaching parish missions.
Both his preaching and his teaching were successful. His preaching was much appreciated by the public. Bishop Casanelli of Istria was one of his admirers and put his trust in him. Father Albini as well appreciated the talents of his coworker, but had much to endure from his personality and his lack of religious spirit. In his frequent letters to the Founder and to Father Tempier, he often mentioned Father Telmon whom he describes as a “sorry kind of religious” (December 1835) “impulsive and rash in character. When he finds no opposition, he succeeds in what he is doing and his candour wins you over just as surely as his courage does.” (August 7, 1836) “Telmon is always impulsive, disobedient and lacking in respect. He only does well when he is following his own ideas and what he wants to do.” (October 17, 1836), etc.
In May of 1837, Father Albini allowed Father Telmon to go and see the Founder. He wrote, “As a court of final appeal, only you, in virtue of your grace of state can revive this member who, if I am not mistaken, is out of joint… God knows how I much I wish his spirit would settle down and that he be properly focussed and a good religious. But to reach that point he would need a few months of novitiate under your direction. And yet, no superior will always be equal to the task of keeping him under control… He is one of those people who charm you with their words and their presence, but when these are put to the test we soon discover their real worth.”
Father Guibert kept the Founder informed of the situation in Corsica. The Founder wrote in his Diary under the heading, May 21, 1837: “Telmon’s conduct towards his superior, Father Albini, in the presence of the other priests has been fundamentally deficient. This was not his first attempt. How many times has he not failed in his duty to Father Guibert? What a letter he wrote to Father Tempier!! Even those that he wrote to me, if I must say so, were not always fully respectful. Nor have his suggestions been any more respectful on many occasions. He judges everything and everybody according to his own narrow conceptions and nothing is sacred to him when his fancy has convinced him that his is right. God only knows whether he is often correct in his judgments. It is too bad, the only outcome one can expect from this too sustained and blameworthy conduct is something unfortunate. For the moment, I am holding my tongue.”
May 17, Bishop de Mazenod notes once again in his Diary that Father Telmon has become “inordinately angry with Father Guibert. Oh, how much work our dear Father Telmon still has to do on his character and his imagination! But I must say that I was satisfied with the way in which he took my observations and even my admonitions. It is true that I spoke to him gently with a great deal of restraint, without, however, dissembling the truth of the matter. It is a dangerous thing for a young man who is not sufficiently grounded in virtue to succeed so well in everything he does and to become the object of widespread admiration. Self-love and pride infiltrate into his soul and blind him to his faults. When his superiors, who see his faults, rebuke him, it becomes insufferable because he believes these reproaches are due to a jealous bias and are, therefore, unjust. Respect and obedience are soon compromised. Then, come grumbling and complaining and something else as well enters into it, the whole thing can lead one far afield…”
The Superior General saw Father Telmon personally on a number of occasions. He found him to be “very reasonable” and accepted in good grace the observations made to him. He allowed him to spend a few days with his family in Barcelonnette, then with the Oblates at Notre-Dame du Laus and Notre-Dame de Lumières. He, then, made the decision to keep him with himself and Father Tempier. He sent him to Le Calvaire where he remained until 1841. Father Telmon taught dogma at the major seminary 1837-1838 and afterwards preached many parish missions.
In Canada and the United States (1841-1850)
September 29, 1841, accompanied by five confreres, Father Telmon left Marseilles for Canada. They arrived in Montreal on December 2. Initially, they stayed at Saint-Hilaire on the Richelieu river for a few months and then took up residence at Longueuil on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, across from Montreal. Father Telmon worked in parish ministry in both places and functioned as a missionary preacher. From the very first year, the priests preached 14 parish missions and retreats and were often away from home. Father Jean Baudrand was away from the community for 26 weeks. Fathers Jean-Baptiste Honorat and Lucien Lagier were gone for 20 and 15 weeks and Father Telmon for 10 weeks. As a preacher, it seems he had a fondness for rashly tweaking the noses of the Protestants. He did this at Sainte-Élisabeth and especially at Corbeau in New York state where he burned some Bibles and incurred the wrath of some Protestants. Bishop Bourget was concerned about this matter and wrote to Bishop de Mazenod that Father Telmon “because of his fiery talent, with the best of intentions in the world, has gone off the track on a number of occasions […] If this good priest had sought the advice of some of the people who know the country better, he would not have exposed the Catholic religion to becoming compromised in this way and would not put the bishops in the position of being seriously embarrassed.”
Father Telmon was the first Oblate in Canada to give retreats for institutions: Saint-Hyacinthe College in 1842 and in 1843, the orphanage under the direction of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart at Saint-Jacques-de-l’Achigan. If he did less preaching than the others, he still found many other ways to keep himself busy: Master of Novices in 1842 with three priest novices who often went to preach as well; co-founder with Blessed Eulalie Durocher of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary at Longueuil dedicated to the education of youth. Again, it was he who was appointed delegate from the Oblates of Canada for the General Chapter of 1843.
From 1843 on, Bishop Ignatius Bourget, Bishop of Montreal and Bishop Patrick Phelan, coadjutor Bishop of Kingston asked the Oblates to establish themselves in Bytown. Father Telmon arrived there in February of 1844, followed in May by Father Damase Dandurand and, in 1845, by Father Michael Molloy. In a few years, the Oblates finished building the parish church, future cathedral of the city of Ottawa where Father Telmon was pastor. They built a rectory, opened some schools and set up some other works among which was a hospital. With this end in view, in 1845, the pastor appealed to the Grey Nuns of Montreal who, in a short space of time, became a new congregation, the Grey Nuns or the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa whose foundress was the Servant of God, Élisabeth Bruyère.
At the beginning of 1844, Bishop M. O’Connor, Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, passed through Marseilles and suggested to the Founder that the Oblates take over the direction of his seminary. That is as far as it got. But, in May of 1848, Bishop O’Connor met Bishop Guigues and asked him once again for a few priests. Father Telmon was the priest who was sent, along with Father Augustin Gaudet and scholastic brother Eugène Cauvin. They worked there from September 30, 1848 to March 12, 1849. Living conditions were difficult. There were only about ten seminarians housed in a building too small for their needs and which was undergoing repairs. In a January 3, 1849 letter, the superior with his flare for the dramatic wrote to Mother Bruyère: “What have I been doing since I last wrote to you? Alas, the same thing I have been doing since my arrival here. I am building, doing framing work, doing carpentry, sweeping the floor, washing up, getting covered with dust, I am ruining my health, I am overwhelmed, I am ruining my clothes to enable us to make our house liveable, that is, to give us a place to sleep and some place to do our spiritual exercises. They would soon hustle me off to the hospital for immigrants to wash me from head to foot, to comb my hair, because lice do not fail to mingle with the dirt and would subject me to a complete overhaul in order to make me presentable. The difficulties of our founding sometimes remind me of what we experienced at Bytown five years ago…”
The Oblates left the seminary, accusing the bishop of coldness and indifference towards them and of having very little interest in the seminary. Their hasty return surprised Bishop Bourget who wrote: “Father Telmon is here […] awaiting momentarily a call from the United States in order to set out again. I could not judge whether his fiery talent was compatible with the stolid character of the Americans. I have to admit that I was sorry to see him fail in Pittsburg and I think he would have been wise to let the bishops of Bytown and Pittsburg sort out the difference which arose surrounding the founding.”
The requests coming from the United States asking for foundations were not lacking. Shortly after his return from Pittsburgh, Father Telmon met Bishop J. M. Odin, C.M., Bishop of Galveston, Texas at the seminary of Saint- Sulpice in Montreal. He was looking for some coworkers. Father Telmon, who thought he had received from the Founder the green light to found institutions in the United States, took counsel only of his enthusiasm and committed himself to go. By October, it was a done deal. On November 20, Fathers Augustin Gaudet, Alexandre Soulerin and Telmon were in New Orleans and Father Telmon preached at a meeting of bishops. A few days later, they arrived in Brownsville, their final destination.
In 1862, Father Soulerin wrote: “Once arrived in Brownsville, Father Telmon found himself faced with a most difficult situation. Obstacles of all kinds stood in his way. There was no church, no rectory, no seed money. Hostility on all sides, in spite of an external show to the contrary, hostility especially from those who because of their language and nationality had some obligation to stand in his defence. His courage proved equal to the difficulties involved. As he himself loved to say, God had given him as He had given the Apostles, a very thick skin. The people of Brownsville were not inclined towards religion, far from it. The devil of licentiousness had built there one of his most powerful fortresses and the God of the almighty dollar was no less in honour there. Relying upon help from Heaven and upon his own vigour and energy, Father Telmon plunged bravely into the fray of non-practicing Catholics, the unbaptized, the Protestants, the Mormons, common-law marriages and Free Masons that made up the ferment that was Texas…” (Notices nécrologiques III, p. 504)
Within a few months, the Oblates built a chapel and a rectory. Towards the end of 1850, Father Telmon’s health could no longer keep pace with his enthusiasm. In addition to that, Bishop de Mazenod, who did not look kindly upon this mission launched without permission, called the superior back to France and restored his two colleagues to the jurisdiction of Bishop Guigues.
In France (1850-1878)
Back in France suffering from poor health, Father Telmon found it difficult to fit back into the rhythm of regular religious life. He received an obedience to Le Calvaire in Marseilles, but often lived outside of the community. In a May 27, 1851 letter, the Founder wrote to Father Tempier: “Since he considers himself as having been taken advantage of on every side, Father Telmon has adopted a stand-offish attitude which is almost insulting.” In 1854, Bishop de Mazenod could no longer tolerate Father Telmon’s frequently staying outside of his community of Le Calvaire. September 21, he sent him to Notre-Dame de Lumières, telling Father Ambroise Vincens that if Father Telmon would not obey, he should suggest he leave the Congregation.
Father Telmon obeyed. He stayed at Lumières from 1854 to 1857 where he was the superior. He did good work ministering to the pilgrims and carried out several improvements on the property. He wrote often to the Founder, but it was in order to complain about something. He accused his predecessors of having left the place in debt; he accused Father Tempier of having stripped the house of furniture to furnish the new scholasticate at Montolivet; he accused Father Casimir Aubert, provincial of the province of Midi, of not having sent him the necessary personnel for the work demanded of the community and not having sent the funds that were fundamentally essential for the improvement projects.
For a few years, it is impossible to know to which house he belonged. At the beginning of 1862, he was superior of Nancy for a few months. Subsequently, he spent his declining years at Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours (1862-1864) and at Aix-en-Provence (1864-1878). He still preached frequently, but suffered more and more from gout, an illness which forced him to spend his last years in retirement. He accepted his sufferings and his inactivity with patience and piety and let his love of the Church shine through. He died in Aix, April 7, 1878. His remains were laid to rest in the Oblate vault in the city cemetery.
Father Telmon was very gifted and zealous. He excelled in every area of ministry: teaching, preaching, architecture. Bishop de Mazenod valued these qualities in him, but lamented the fact that he was hard to get along with and sometimes lacked a religious spirit. Once again in a July 20, 1847 letter, he wrote to Bishop Guigues: “Father Telmon must take himself in hand. He is forty years of age with a lot of talent and zeal. Can it be possible that he would ruin so many fine qualities by his lack of moderation.”
In Father Telmon’s obituary, Father Soulerin stressed especially his talent as an orator and his zeal. He wrote: “He was an orator, a compelling speaker. His success in the pulpit was due to his diversified learning and his thorough knowledge of Sacred Scripture, making judicious application of Scripture texts as called for by the circumstances, along with the novel and ingenious conclusions he drew, his flow of words and elocution was outstanding, as well as the pleasing quality of his voice and his physical appearance. His speech was not flamboyant; there was none of that showiness which comes from style and gesture, but it was solid, enlightening, winning and simple with the poor, of a noble simplicity with the educated. His ability was such that he could in some way or other improvise on any subject whatever […] He would not have achieved such fine success without having been a man of zeal, sacrifice, self-denial, faith, piety, charity, of love of the Church and the Congregation. Truly, it was a touching scene [in Texas] to see him forgetful of himself in every respect, take on the most onerous task, thinking only of building a fitting abode for our Divine Savior, to achieve a splendid liturgy, to lavish upon souls the most earnest care, literally pursuing the lost sheep, taking his sometimes inadequate meals very late in the day, stooping to carry out the most humble household chores when the poor lay brother was overloaded with work. How often did we not see him at the end of the day vomit blood or collapse from fatigue and to fall asleep on the floor of his cell or in his chair until far into the night. Nevertheless, he was at meditation when morning came. He would offer Holy Mass, make his thanksgiving, after which, before turning his attention to his breakfast, he had already planned out all the details of the coming day…”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.