Today marks the anniversary of the execution of the Premonstratensian priest and canon, Pierre-Adrien Toulorge. Peter-Adrian Toulorge was born on May 4, 1757 at Muneville-le-Bingard in Normandy, France. After his early education he entered the diocesan seminary at Coutances. He was ordained a priest and assigned as vicar of Doville in December, 1782, at age 25. There he experienced the great zeal of his 44-year-old Norbertine pastor, Father James-Francis Le Canut, for the 618 members of the parish, the majority of whom lived in poverty. In his sermons which have been conserved, the young Father Peter-Adrian exalted the mercifcul goodness of God, at the same time forcefully affirming His inexorable justice in regard to hardened sinners. During his time at Doville he was a frequent guest with his pastor at the Norbertine abbey of Blanchelande (founded in the twelfth century). Inspired by the ideals of St. Norbert, Peter-Adrian entered the Order at Blanchelande. However, since the abbey did not have a novitiate of its own, the young confrere was sent for two years to the abbey of Beauport. After the passage of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, Fr. Toulorge exercised his ministry in the surrounding parishes. When he heard about the law of August 26, 1792, which condemned to deportation all ecclesiastics who exercised a public office without taking the revolutionary oath, he falsely believed himself implicated and left for the English island of Jersey. No one took note of his error when he crossed the border on September 12th. It was only after arriving in Jersey that he discovered he was not at all affected by the law of deportation and could have remained in France without being bothered. At the first opportunity, he returned clandestinely and hid himself in an area of wild scrub.
One year later, in September 1793, Fr. Peter-Adrian was captured and sentenced. The tribunal was convinced about his stay in Jersey, but they had no proof to back up the story. After some hesitation he decided to tell the whole truth – even at the risk of his life – namely that he was being pursued because he was a Catholic priest. The night before his death he went to confession and, while all the other inmates slept, he wrote three deeply touching letters – to his brother, to a friend, and to an unknown woman – to which he added, “I wish you God’s blessing. October 12, 1793, the evening before my marytrdom.”
In the morning – it was a Sunday – he rose with good courage, ate breakfast as usual, prayed his breviary, before he asked one of his fellow prisoners to fix his hair and cut his beard. In the end he asked his confreres to sing Vespers with him. At the beginning of Compline, during the second to the last verse of the hymn GRATES PERACTO JAM DIE he closed his breviary and cried out full of joy,
“My dear friends, let us stop here, for I will soon be gratefully singing the end of this hymn in heaven… My dear brothers, I will not forget you; I ask God to watch over you. I am praying for all my benefactors, friends, and even my enemies.”
His confreres knelt down and asked for his blessing during which a heavenly joy shown from his face. According to an eyewitness, the guillotine was placed in front of the house of the mayor of Coutances. The crowd was speechless with emotion as they beheld this young priest who went to his death filled with such inner peace. Just before the execution Fr. Peter-Adrian said: “My God, I place my life in Your hands! I pray for the restoration and preservation of Your Holy Church. Forgive my enemies.” After the execution the hangman grabbed the bloody head by the hair and held it up to show the people. It was 4:30. His body was taken to the cemetery of St. Peter in a cart.
The process for the canonization, including 56 other priests of Normandy, was begun in 1922 but fell into oblivion during the years 1928-1930. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God, Abbot General Marcel van de Ven – in light of the cult of the faithful of that region – took up the Cause once again. The diocesan informative process was opened in Coutances on December 1, 1995 and closed on July 29, 1996. The splendid Positio regarding the martyrdom of Peter-Adrian, compiled by Fr. Bernard Ardura, OPraem, of Frigolet/Rome, was judged unanimously positive by the historical consultors of the Roman Congregation on December 5, 2000. We are now awaiting the judgment of the theologians and cardinals.
Father Peter Adrian’s farewell letter:
My dear brother (Jean-Baptiste),
Rejoice, for tomorrow you will have another friend in Heaven watching over you – I hope – if God preserves me, as he has until now. Rejoice that God has deemed me fit to suffer not only prison, but even death for Our Lord Jesus Christ; it is the greatest grace He could possibly give me; I will pray that He might give you a similar crown. We should not attach ourselves to perishable things. Turn therefore your gaze towards Heaven; live life as an honest man, and most importantly, as a good Christian; raise your children in the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman faith, outside of which there is no salvation. Always consider it the greatest honour to have had a brother in the family who has been called to suffer for God. Far from being sorrowful about my fate, rejoice instead and say with me: “Blessed be God!” I wish you a holy life, and paradise at the end of your days, not only to you but also to my sister, to my nephew and neice, and to all my family. I remain always, in perfect friendship, your brother, TOULORGE.
12th October 1793
I lovingly embrace you all.
PRAYER FOR HIS BEATIFICATION
O Lord, our God, You granted to Your Servant Peter-Adrian Toulorge the grace of fidelity to his beliefs, to the Church, the Pope, his Order and his homeland, in the midst of trials. Rather than preserving his life and prolonging his freedom through lies, he chose out of love for the truth to give himself up, in order to win that life which knows no end and to partake in Your glory. You showered him so much with Your love, that he was able to forgive his executioner before he gave his life back into Your hands.
Grant, Lord, that Your Servant may be glorified, and grant me through his intercession the grace …, which I confidently ask of You. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.