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"Papa Chapdelaine" to his French colleagues ---------- "Father Ma" to his beloved Chinese converts

Missionary of the French Foreign Missions

Martyred Kwang-Si, China in 1856, Canonized October 1, 2000

Patron of Associate Pastors and of Tardy Vocations


Auguste was born in this house on January 6, 1814
Destroyed by American bombs in 1944
during the Normandy Invasion
Auguste was born in this house, La Métairie, village of La Rochelle-Normande, on January 6, 1814, the youngest of nine children of Nicolas Chapdelaine and Madeleine Dodeman, who in 1802 had come from Plomb, the ancestral cradle of the Chapdelaines. Located in the present day department of Manche, the area is in Lower Normandy, France, near Mont Saint Michael. Of Gallo-Roman and Viking ancestry, Auguste could trace his ancestors back to at least 1259 when they were known as Capdelaine and so willingly built the "Treasury" for the Cathedral of Avranches, in honor of King Saint Louis IX.
After grammar school, Auguste worked on the family farm. Since he was physically strong, it is understandable that his parents, needing him at home, would object to his desire to become a priest. But, with the sudden death of his two brothers, they realized that God wanted their youngest as a priest and acquiesced to his wish. On October 1, 1834, at age 20, Auguste entered the minor seminary of Mortain, studying with boys only 12 or 13. From the first days, he received a lifelong nickname: "Papa Chapdelaine," because of his age and tardy vocation.
Newly ordained Auguste Chapdelaine
Father Chapdelaine at age 30
His father died on November 27, 1835. After brilliant but arduous studies, Auguste entered the Seminary of Coutances. He received the tonsure on June 5, 1841 and minor Orders on December 17, 1841. He was ordained a sub-deacon on May 21, 1842, a deacon on December 17, 1842 and a priest on June 10, 1843. He spent the next eight months with his family then was named associate pastor in Boucey, on February 23, 1844.

Before his assignment in Boucey, Father Chapdelaine confided to his brother that "he had not become a priest for those who already know God, but for those who don't." He wished to enter the French Foreign Missions immediately after ordination but submitted humbly to the will of his superiors. For seven years, he would remain in Boucey, under the guidance of the pastor, Father Oury, already an old and infirm priest. Despite his parish work, Father Auguste never abandoned his goal: to found a mission church, then die! Still, Auguste was not getting younger. When Father Oury died in April, 1849, Father Chapdelaine was already 35 years old, the age limit to enter the French Foreign Missions. (The Foreign Missions is not an order but a congregation. Members are secular priests ordained in their own diocese or who attend the Paris seminary at Rue du Bac.) Yet, despite his ardent wish to enter the Paris Missions, he would serve under the new pastor, Father Poupinet, for another two years. Then, in January, 1851, Bishop Robiou authorized him to leave the diocese for the Foreign Missions, if they would have a 37-year-old priest! Immediately, Father Chapdelaine reapplied for admission, despite his age. In the face of such zeal, he was accepted. The news of his leaving spread in Boucey, and parishioners filled the church for his last Mass. After Mass, they grouped before the rectory door for a final goodbye. But Father Auguste slipped out the back door to the road that would lead him to his birthplace, La Rochelle. His entire family was assembled there, not to say farewell to him but rather to his sister, Victoria, who had just died. After the funeral, Auguste announced his departure for Paris and let it be known he would never see his family again. Eight days later, after a final "adieu," he boarded a train for Paris, arriving there March 15, 1851. The young man who had entered minor seminary at age 20 was now entering the French Foreign Missions two years over the age limit, truly a tardy or delayed vocation.

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