- Missionary of Provence
- The Founder’s Friend and Confidant
- Vicar General of Marseilles (1823-1861)
- Educator, Assistant General and Treasurer in the Congregation
- Human and Spiritual Personality
- Illness and Death
Born in St-Cannat, diocese of Aix, April 2, 1788
Ordination in Aix, March 26, 1814
Missionary of Provence, in October 1815
Oblation in Aix, November 1, 1818 (no. 2)
Died in Paris, April 8, 1870.
François de Paule Henry Tempier, the fifth in a family of six children, was born at Saint-Cannat, near Aix-en-Provence, on April 2, 1788. We know next to nothing about his early years: he probably spent these at Milles, a hamlet near Aix, where his parents owned a farm. Towards the end of his life, in rare moments of sharing some information about his personal life, he revealed that in 1799 he received his first Holy Communion secretly from the hands of a priest who had not taken the oath required by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.
After the Concordat of 1801 between Pius VII and Napoleon, the abbé Abel opened a minor seminary at Aix. Here young Tempier received his secondary schooling and was afterward a professor even while pursuing his philosophical and theological studies at the major seminary from 1810 to 1814. He was ordained on March 26, 1814 and spent his first year of priesthood as assistant priest in the parish of Saint-Césaire in Arles.
Missionary of Provence
During the summer of 1815, the abbé de Mazenod, moved by “an impulse from without”, decided to bring together a team of missionaries in view of renewing the faith among the people of Provence. He had already been assured the collaboration of some priests and purchased a part of the old Carmelite convent of Aix on October 2, 1815. Now he invited the assistant priest at Arles to come and be a member of this future community. The Founder’s three letters of October-December 1815 and Tempier’s two enthusiastic replies can be seen not only as the roots of a long and fruitful friendship, but also as the very foundation of the Missionaries of Provence community and, after 1826, of that of the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Tempier immediately understood and embraced Father de Mazenod’s apostolic ideal, and especially shared the latter’s plans for the exemplary priestly and community life which was soon to develop into the form of religious life.
Since he was not too gifted in terms of preaching, he at first remained at Aix while his confreres went out to give missions. Besides, there was a lot of apostolic work to be done at the church of the Mission: there was the Youth Congregation which had this church as its centre, there were the postulants and novices who were not long in coming, and there was the ministry to the many faithful who came to take part in the services held in this church.
In no time at all, Father Tempier was involved in all of the Founder’s projects and activities: elaborating the program for the missionaries, composing the Society’s Rules, favourable consideration to offers of new fields of activity, support and comfort in adversity, superior from 1819 to 1823 of the Society’s second house at Notre-Dame du Laus. In this latter place he definitely showed his gifts as formator, apostle and talented administrator. In these few years he restored the church and the monastery, gave a dynamic impulse to missions in the Lower and Upper Alps regions, infused a new élan to pilgrimages and was in charge of the novices’ formation from 1820 to 1822.
The Founder’s Friend and Confidant
It is not easy to sum up Father Tempier’s life which is so replete with different things. We can say, however, that his most important role was the part he played at the Founder’s side.
During the first years of his priestly ministry at Aix (1812-1815), Eugene de Mazenod did not have a true friend who was able to lessen his cares and to share his great designs, as he candidly says this in a letter to the abbé Forbin-Janson of September 12, 1814. His encounter with Father Tempier in 1815-1816 brought him what he was looking for and even more. Besides sharing plans and giving comfort in troubles, Father Tempier, a man who was calm, pondered and much less emotiional than the Founder, tempered the outbursts of the Founder’s character and helped him – at times also replacing him – perseveringly to accomplish all his plans and undertakings.
Bishop de Mazenod had a real affection for and always esteemed this collaborator and friend from whom he kept no secrets. He wrote to him often, entrusted all positions of trust to him, openly admitted to him that he considered him as one identical to his own self (Mazenod to Tempier, October 6, 1829) and that in the Congregation people counted on Tempier as much as they did on the Founder (Mazenod to Tempier, August 15, 1822).
Father Tempier, for his part, was always deeply attached to the Founder and worked together with him with unflagging devotedness. Though on account of his cool and quite reserved temperament he only rarely expressed his sentiments, he manifested his friendship in his activity, day in and day out, particularly in his role as admonitor and confessor, as councillor and collaborator in the service of the diocese of Marseilles and the Congregation.
After the liturgy of Holy Thursday, April 11, 1816, the two friends made a vow of mutual obedience. This was no vain ceremonial gesture on their part. Father Tempier always obeyed the Founder, at times in a heroic degree – in particular, by remaining vicar general of Marseilles from 1823 to 1861 against all his tastes – but he also had the courage to give orders to his superior in serious situations – as in the case of a grave illness in 1829 – 1830 and during the negotiations of the Icosia affair in 1835.
As Bishop de Mazenod’s confessor and spiritual director, Father Tempier was the confidant of the Bishop’s interior journey which is known to us now thanks in part to some of the Founder’s letters which were carefully kept.
Father Tempier’s friendship for his Superior General was manifest in all its fine quality during the latter’s long illness. He remained five months at Bishop de Mazenod’s bedside, advised him of the gravity of his condition, bade him a final farewell and was present at the moment of his death. Then he mastered his deepest sorrow to fulfill all the duties that friendship and his position laid upon him.
Two traits characterize this fruitful friendship: joy in the charity of community life and a frankness at times a bit rude in fraternal correction and in the daily collaboration of two men overburdened with work and concerns. Anecdotes illustrating this are many in their writings and in biographies of them. As Father Fabre writes in his obituary sketch, “These two friends were made to understand each other, to be united, to complete each other and to work together, each according to his own vocation, in accomplishing God’s work.” This latter work was the renewal of the diocese of Marseilles and the foundation and development of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Vicar General of Marseilles (1823-1861)
In 1823, the abbé Fortuné de Mazenod became bishop of Marseilles. He was already 73 years old and accepted this responsibility only on the condition that he could count on the collaboration of Fathers de Mazenod and Tempier as Vicars General. The latter would have preferred that he be not considered for a position which he considered beyond his talent and virtue and as especially harmful to the good of his own religious family. The Founder imposed this position on him by obedience, and thus Father Tempier shared all the Founder’s concerns and worked together with him in carrying out God’s designs.
This was one of the heaviest crosses that Father Tempier bravely carried for nearly the next 40 years. The first 15 years especially, i.e. during the episcopacy of Bishop Fortuné, there was a succession of serious problems. At first, Father Tempier complained that his role was not very clearly defined, that he seemed to be but a double of the first Vicar General and was thus little more than a mere secretary. A few years later, however, Father de Mazenod had to be away and that for some long periods at times: thus, e.g. the trip to Rome in 1825-1826 to seek the approval of the Rules and the Institute, the serious illness of 1829-1830 after the death of Father Suzanne, his appointment as bishop in 1832, his struggle with the French Government in 1833-1835, and the like. During these periods the second Vicar General had to bear, almost alone, the burdens of a diocese where everything had to be done, for it had been without a resident bishop for some 30 years. He was especially alone during the time of the worst opposition against the clergy after the July 1830 Revolution.
Though he had to be involved in everything, along with and at times without the first Vicar General, he soon took on responsibilities in three areas: the material and economic domain, superiorship of the major seminary and of several communities of religious women.
During the episcopate of the de Mazenods, i.e. from 1823 to 1861, the diocese of Marseilles – whose population increased from 100,000 to 300,000 – became a vast construction site. Twenty-one additional parishes were established, each entailing the construction of a church and rectory; and twenty-two other churches or chapels were either repaired, enlarged or at times built. Examples of the latter are the cathedral and the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde. It was Father Tempier who made the contacts with the relevant authorities, architects and contractors, and who closely followed these undertakings. He himself became architect and foreman in the construction of the major seminary on Rouge street, as well as of some churches and monasteries of the Carmelites, Capuchins, Sisters of Saint Claire, Sisters of the Refuge, etc. He also supervised the financial bookkeeping of the parish administrations and administered the goods of the bishop and of the bishopric. His talents and experience in this domain reached beyond the diocesan boundaries: in 1850, the Prefecture appointed him to a departmental commission which was responsible for the major works that were to be undertaken at Marseilles.
As soon as the Bishop had taken possession of Marseilles in 1823, the Vicars General began to organize the seminaries. The minor seminary was put into the hands of the Priests of the Sacred Heart and the major seminary was entrusted to the Oblates in 1827. The Oblates remained there until 1862: under the superiorship of Father Tempier from 1827 to 1854 and of Father Fabre from 1854 to 1861. This institution played a fundamental part in renewing the clergy of Marseilles after the Revolution. 300 men from the diocese were ordained by the de Mazenods. The superior always had five or six Oblates working with him. They were selected from among the best members of the Congregation, but were also young and without any specific preparation for their task. Father Tempier himself supervised the choice of scholastic textbooks, watched over doctrinal orthodoxy and the good spirit of the community. He was especially attentive to the spiritual and ecclesiastical formation of the seminarians to whom he was the first to give an example of perfect regularity.
Between 1823 and 1861, many apostolic works were begun or given new vigour; they were especially sustained by communities of religious women. In 1823, there were 3 congregations of men and 9 of women in the diocese; there were 10 of men and at least 25 of women in 1861. Father Tempier’s name appears but rarely in regard to the works or establishing of male congregations; on the other hand, he was the ecclesiastical superior of more than 12 communities of religious women and collaborated in the establishing of others.
Vicar General Tempier was quite adequate to the responsibilities that the de Mazenods laid upon his shoulders in 1823. Timon-David wrote that “his memory will remain forever in this diocese which owes him so much.” Father Fabre concludes thus the few pages he dedicated in his obituary sketch to Tempier as Vicar General: “In advising the bishops, in handling affairs, he was always known for his practical, just and moderate sense… Duty found him inflexible, circumstances always made him conciliatory.”
Educator, Assistant General and Treasurer in the Congregation
The zeal Father Tempier lavished on the diocese of Marseilles in no way lessened his love and dedication to his religious family where very quickly he appeared in the forefront at the Founder’s side. The Oblates counted on him as much as on the Founder, giving to each the full due of their respective positions. The Founder was always the man who gave the inspiration, who drew persons and things to their objective, the man of great dreams, important decisions and exceptional interventions; Tempier, for his part, a more practical person and a man of detail, was the one who patiently and perseveringly carried out, in the greyness of everyday life, the items of business, the headaches of minor reparations and major constructions, the slow pace of forming candidates, etc.
He was always elected Assistant General from 1818 to 1867. In this capacity, he took part in 11 General Chapters. Since he was often the only Assistant General in Marseilles, he took part in nearly all the sessions of the General Council. He was aware of all the joyful and sorrowful events that marked the first 50 years of the Congregation’s existence: the composition and approval of the Rules, recruiting and forming members, painful departures, then the rapid expansion of the Institute. He was ever the tireless auxiliary to the Founder: at times his support, as in the crisis of 1823 and of 1827-1837; at times his replacement as Vicar General; and by the many trips he undertook and the canonical visits he made in the name of his Superior General.
Ten times he was Vicar General of the Congregation during the Founder’s illness or travels. He canonically visited a certain number of houses almost every year from 1823 until 1850. He also made many trips in the interests of the diocese and especially of the Congregation: in particular, there are his three trips to Rome, as many to North Africa and to Switzerland, his canonical visit to Canada and to the eastern United States in 1851.
Father Tempier can be considered the Institute’s first educator, for he played this role from the very outset. He formed the first novices, at Aix in 1816 – 1818, then at Notre-Dame du Laus in 1820-1822. The scholastics studied at the major seminary of Marseilles from 1827 to 1834, and even resided there from 1835 to 1854. After the scholasticate was opened in Montolivet, Father Tempier was superior there from 1854 to 1861. Only a few of the 600 Oblates who made their vows before 1861 did not pass through his hands.
Each General Chapter regularly elected the General Procurators or Treasurers. None of them ever appointed Father Tempier to this position; yet, this task was one of his main occupations until his death! We have about 1000 letters that he received from the Founder and the Oblates and nearly all of them are written to him in this capacity. His main concern and occupation during his life as an Oblate were linked to his role as the one responsible for the material interests of the Congregation: the latter’s cashbox was always empty and its debts enormous. There were always more men in formation than Fathers and Brothers in the active ministry. Moreover, in France alone, a new foundation was made every two years on the average. In half of these cases, the property had to be purchased, buildings had to be put up or dilapidated structures repaired. Not only did Father Tempier have to find the money for all these purchases and undertakings, but he himself was often the architect and supervisor of these constructions and reparations. The Oblates did not dare to undertake anything in this domain without previously seeking the advice and gaining the agreement of him whom they referred to as “the Caesar of finance” (Magnan to Casimir Aubert, May 14, 1849), “highly experienced in construction”, “minister of finance, trade and public works” (Martin to Mazenod, August 8, 1848), for whom “the compass and straight measure are the two poles of his scintillating existence” (Vandenberghe to Soullier, 1862).
If the Congregation was able to spread so rapidly and acquire some 40 important pieces of property during the course of its first fifty years of existence, it is certainly due to the possessions and revenues of Bishop de Mazenod, to the precious assistance provided by the Work of the Propagation of the Faith; but it is also due to the wise and firm administration of Father Tempier.
Human and Spiritual Personality
Father Tempier’s calm and reserve, the mastery of his emotions and his phlegmatic character were a striking balance to the emotivity, “the outbursts and immediate reactions of Bishop de Mazenod in whom” – as the l’abbé Payan d’Augery says – “holiness managed to allow a Provençale temperament to survive.”
In the midst of difficulties, of pressures that his superiors exerted on him in view of obtaining permissions, money and men, the General Assistant or Treasurer remained inflexible; and, if he did become angry at times, one has the impression that it was always a calculated anger, an anger that emanated from a kind of pedagogic instinct that intends to alert attention, underline mistakes, correct shortcomings. His serenity made it possible for him to concentrate all his powers on the fulfillment of his multifarious duties of state.
Timon-David assessed him well when he described him as follows: “Without making any noise or haste, without getting excited, while giving each thing its proper time, Father Tempier managed to remain master of everything.” He did not dissipate any of his energies, not even in useless talk. Father Fabre writes that never did any man go as far as Father Tempier did in keeping secrets and in practicing discretion in carrying out the duties that were his. Often people complained about his silence and laconic character, especially when he kept to himself news he had received from the Founder away on a trip or from other superiors who were at a distance.
These character traits prepared the terrain for his principal virtues which appear to be: humility, unflagging devotedness in carrying out his many tasks, the life of prayer and regularity, the joy of fraternal charity. He spent his whole life in the shadow, serving the de Mazenods, superior of formation houses, in large communities where prayer and regularity were lived in a rigorous and exemplary fashion.
“To have a part in the precious cross of the Son of God… is a grace of predilection that God gives only to his saints,” Tempier wrote to Father de Mazenod on October 23, 1817. The cross that he carried without complaint from 1823 to 1861 was his duty of state in so many and such varied tasks, then the Founder’s illness and death, the fierce opposition of Bishop Cruice against his predecessor and the Oblates, the abandonment of Montolivet and the Oblate works in Marseilles.
Illness and Death
From 1862 to 1870, Father Tempier lived in the General House in Paris. He was still first Assistant General from 1861 to 1867 and superior of the General House from 1865 to 1867. Every summer until 1869, he took a trip to the south of France as a cure for his catarrh and to help superiors who were constantly referring to him for assistance in financial and temporal matters.
The years of 1864 and 1868 were memorable: they brought his brothers together around him in an atmosphere of joy and thanksgiving. He was the first in the Congregation to celebrate a 50th anniversary of priesthood (at Aix on April 7, 1864), and of religious profession (at Autun in June 1868).
At the end of November 1869, he had a critical bout of bronchial-catarrh fever. He had to remain in his room almost constantly throughout the winter. As time went on, he weakened more and more as the attacks became more frequent.
He died at midnight during the night of April 8 to 9, 1870. Present were the Superior General, Father Fabre, and the Fathers of the community in Paris.
He is buried in the cemetery of Montmartre.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.