Today in England is the feast-day of St Edward, king and confessor. His was one of the few shrines in England that was not destroyed at the reformation – presumably the tyrant King Henry thought it imprudent to destroy the tombs of his predecessors, lest someone in the future destroy his. In our Order, however, the feast day of Blessed Peter Adrian Toulorge take precedence. We have written about Blessed Peter Adrian many times on our website, but it is always an edification to re-visit the lives of the saints, as, while they are fixed firmly in heaven, we, in our earthly exile, do well to draw continued inspiration from their lives as our seasons change.
In brief, Peter Adrian was a secular priest in Normandy at the end of the eighteenth-century, ordained in 1782. He was sent by the bishop to a parish run by a Norbertine priest (in those days, as is the case today, many parishes in that part of Normandy are run by Norbertine priests, as, indeed, were many English parishes before the Reformation). So impressed was he by the Norbertine way of life, realising that this life established by St Norbert in 12th century was of great benefit to priests, he sought admittance to the Order, and was professed in the Abbey of Blanchelande (on the Cotentin peninsula, north of Coutances) in 1788.
Two years later, however, the revolutionary government, enviously of the clergy and religious orders, decided to close all the monasteries, and sell their property. The priests were sent to live alone in neighbouring parishes; the lay brothers were interred in a quasi-religious house, that was effectively a prison. The state forced all clergy to swear allegiance to the revolutionary constitution, condemned by the Pope, as it effectively brought the French church into schism, and those who refused were exiled. Peter Adrian left for Jersey, just a short boat-journey away. But he soon returned, mindful of the faithful who needed the sacraments, and operated as an underground priest until he was arrested in 1793. Peter Adrian denied to the revolutionary court that he had been to Jersey (i.e. that he was a priest who had returned from exile), yet, full of remorse for lying, he spontaneously confessed, on Our Lady’s birthday, that he had in fact returned from exile. The judge in Coutances, not wishing to persecute his fellow countrymen, attempted to convince him to retract his confession, and so avoid the guillotine, but the priest refused, preferring, as it were, his own death rather than proclaiming an un-truth. And so he was condemned to death.
He slept well that night, and, in the morning, he recited the Office with his fellow-prisoners, but stopped at the hymn for compline, saying that he would rather sing this hymn in heaven, instead. In accordance with the constitution, his head was removed from his body by the blade of Madame Guillotine, and his martyr’s blood watered the town square of Coutances. His farewell-letter to his brother:
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.
Pray to Blessed Peter Adrian, especially for those who suffer persecution in the world today, that he might look favourably upon those who must make life-threatening decisions, for those many Christians in the world who, because they bear the name of Christ upon their hearts, are likely to suffer for it, and even die a death like His. Pray too for vocations to our Order, especially to our community in Chelmsford. May Blessed Peter Adrian be an example to those who desire to offer themselves as priests of Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid of following your heart, and doing what is right! Let your yes be yes!