Born at Seyne (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence), January 22, 1794
Ordained to the priesthood, September 19, 1818
Taking of the habit at Aix, October 8, 1818
Oblation at Notre-Dame du Laus, August 15, 1819 (no. 9)
Dispensed from his vows, February 17, 1832.
Jean Joseph Touche was born in Seyne, diocese of Digne, February 22, 1794. Everything that happened before his entry into the Congregation in 1818 is unknown to us. August 18 of that year François Antoine Arbaud, Vicar General of the diocese of Digne wrote to Father de Mazenod to offer him the pastoral responsibility for the shrine of Notre-Dame du Laus in the Upper Alps and at the same time informed him that he gave him permission to accept two deacons from the diocese, namely, Noël François Moreau (1794-1862) who had already entered the novitiate on April 22 and Jean Joseph Touche who would take the habit October 8 after his ordination to the priesthood September 19, 1818.
Jean Joseph began his novitiate in Aix, but in the spring of 1819, he was sent to Notre-Dame du Laus where, from the beginning of January, Father Tempier was already in residence as first superior of this second house of the Missionaries of Provence. John Joseph finished his novitiate there under the direction of Father Tempier and made his oblation there on August 15.
Father Touche remained attached to that house until 1828. He usually spent a few months during the summer at the shrine seeing to the pastoral care of the pilgrims. For about ten months of the year, he preached parish missions and retreats or replaced parish priests of the diocese of Digne and of Gap, a diocese reconstituted in 1823. He participated in more than half of the major parish missions preached by the Missionaries of Provence from 1819 to 1828.
Father Simonin writes: “Tall and broad shouldered with the physique of an athlete, Father Touche, a man of rugged, irregular features, had a powerful, ringing voice and through his eloquence unadorned, vigorous and impassioned, he made a strong impression on his rural listeners.” (Missions OMI 1897, p. 355)
But this priest was not judged a good preacher. When he went to preach parish missions with others, they asked him to teach catechism in Provençal to the most unschooled in religion. On January 30, 1828 the Founder urged him once again to do more studying, to draw up “good plans, well thought out and replete with doctrine” so that his preaching would get better and better. (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1826-1830, Oblate Writings, Vol. 7, no. 293, p. 150)
In the Chronique de Notre-Dame du Laus, Father Simonin tells us that Father Touche had “a flare for the unconventional that was more or less careless and his zeal, which was great, at times lacked prudence. This sometimes produced a few disagreeable incidents.” (Missions OMI 1897, p. 199) In September of 1827, for example, in the parish mission of Valserre with Father Pierre-Nolasque Mie, he addressed the young people of the area in such a harsh manner that he had to leave town immediately and was replaced by Father Alexandre Dupuy. During the summer of 1828, a woman pilgrim at Notre-Dame du Laus wanted to drink at a fountain during the procession. Taking her by the arm and shaking her roughly, Father Touche shoved her away. The lady threatened to have him charged in court. She relented when she was offered compensation of 40 francs and was assured that the priest would be sent away from Laus.
For a long time already, Bishop Arbaud had been complaining about Father Touche, accusing him of “recruiting candidates left and right,” of following the moral theology of Blessed Alphonsus Liguori, etc. In a November 16, 1825 letter to the bishop, Father Tempier wrote: “If this gentleman is persona non grata for you, we will have him sent to another one of our houses as soon as the winter campaign is over, even though I am convinced that he fits better at Laus than any place else and that, because of his knowledge of the people of your diocese and their customs he is more effective in your territory than any other worker we may send there.”
Father Tempier was right. Father Touche did not adapt in other places and, at Laus, Father Guibert, the superior of the community from 1829 to 1834 stated that they missed Father Touche and that he, himself and Father Sumien had difficulty doing the work Father Touche used to do. Father Touche worked in Nîmes until that house was closed in 1830; then, he went to Le Calvaire in Marseilles. It was at that time that, compelled to live more in community, his lack of religious spirit came to light along with his problems of living in community and his dissatisfaction with the various ministries offered to him.
Initially, assessments of him were positive. September 14, 1819, Father Tempier had written from Laus that he was edified by Fathers Emmanuel Maunier and Touche. He wrote the Founder: “When will I ever have a hint of their virtues! Say a little prayer to God for me so that their example can help me improve.”
Subsequently, they continued to trust him in spite of defects that became more and more evident. He held the position of bursar at Notre-Dame du Laus in 1823-1824, but Father Tempier had to write him several letters to give him direction and to complain of his administration. He was called to the General Chapters of 1824 and 1826. In 1825, Father de Mazenod urged him to accept fraternal correction with more humble trust. He wrote: “Every time that I have needed to make an observation to you, you have been upset; however, I could cite twenty letters from you in which you beg me always to say frankly what I think without fear of displeasing you.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1814-1825, Oblate Writings, Vol. 6, no. 197, p. 185) In 1826, Father Touche no longer wished to live with Father Jean-Baptiste Honorat as his superior. Father Honorat was superior of Laus at the time. Nevertheless, he did seem to be willing to give of himself. During the summer of 1828 when a cholera epidemic raged in Marseilles, he offered to come to city to put himself “at the service of the plague-stricken.” In 1831, he wanted to be sent to the foreign missions, etc.
At the beginning of 1832, he wrote a letter requesting a dispensation from his vows. On February 17, the Founder took this opportunity to call together his council. They then decided to expel Father Touche. In eight pages of text, the major book of expulsions outlines the reasons for this action: “Conduct which for a long time already is out of order…; he used to deviate from his duty and weary the Society by lack of order in his conduct, often by his insubordination and especially by an exaggerated presumptuousness which, leading him far astray from his duty, gave him the impression that he had the right to pass judgment on everything and to voice his opinion about everything…”
In October of 1837, Abbé Touche came to Marseilles and went to visit the Founder. It seems he was not working for anyone since he asked to be employed in the diocese of Marseilles. The bishop refused to accept him. Failing that, he asked to be sent as chaplain for the military in Algeria. Bishop de Mazenod promised to recommend him for this post. He subsequently wrote in the October 10 entry of his Diary: “Concerning this Father Touche, since his name appears under my pen, it is good to remember that after having spent a few years in the Congregation doing only what he pleased, misusing his almost independent position in the Upper Alps where he preached alone, God knows how, in the villages of those mountains, when we tried to call him to order, he took into his head the notion of dedicating himself to a so-called more perfect life; he wanted to join the Capuchins. It was in view of joining that religious order or some other equally austere order that he requested to be dispensed from his vows as an Oblate. This poor man was so lacking in common sense, he was so incapable of uttering two sentences that made any sense, he was, in addition, so lax in observing the Rule, even though he never ceased bedazzling himself with long mystical sounding words, that my council was of the opinion we should allow him to leave. He did, indeed, leave the Congregation, but what happened to him? That which happened to others. He got stranded on the road. He broke the bonds of his first commitment and did not go join the Capuchins any more than the ill-starred Riccardi went to join the Barnabites. Oh, delusion! Oh, lethal blindness! The final judgment of all these dishonest manoeuvres is in the lap of God.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.