Martyrs of the Paris Commune
Secular priests and religious who were murdered in Paris, in May, 1871, on account of their sacred calling
Commune, MARTYRS OF THE PARIS, the secular priests and the religious who were murdered in Paris, in May, 1871, on account of their sacred calling. They may be divided into three groups: (I) those who on the 24th of May were executed within the prison of La Roquette; (2) the Dominican Fathers, who, on the following day, were shot down at the Barriere d’Italie; (3) the priests and religious, who, on the 26th of May, were massacred at Belleville. The revolutionary party which took possession of the city after the siege of Paris by the Prussians began, in the last days of March, to arrest the priests and religious to whom personal character or official position gave a certain prominence. No reason was given for these arbitrary measures, except the hatred with which the leaders of the Commune regarded the Catholic Church and her ministers.
(I) At the head of the first group of martyrs is the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Georges Darboy, to whom the discomforts of his prison life were peculiarly trying on account of his feeble health. His fellow sufferers were: the Abbe Deguerry, cure of the important parish of La Madeleine, an old man, well advanced in years, but bright and vigorous; the Abbe Allard, a secular priest, who had rendered good service to the wounded during the siege, and two Jesuits, Fathers Ducoudray and Clerc. The first was rector of the Ecole Sainte-Genevieve, a well known preparatory school for the army: the second had been a distinguished naval officer; both were gifted and holy men. To these five ecclesiastics was added a magistrate, Senator Bonjean. After several weeks of confinement, first in the prison of Mazas, then at La Roquette, these six prisoners were executed on May 24. There was no pretense made of judging them, neither was any accusation brought against them. The revolutionary party still held possession of the east side of Paris, but the regular army, whose headquarters were at Versailles, was fast approaching, and the leaders of the Commune, made desperate by failure, wished to inflict what evil they could on an enemy they no longer hoped to conquer. The priests had, one and all, endured their captivity with patience and dignity; the Jesuits, their letters prove it, had no illusions as to their probable fate; Archbishop Darboy and the Abbe Deguerry were more sanguine. “What have they to gain by killing us? What harm have we done them?” often said the latter. The execution took place in the evening. The archbishop absolved his companions, who were calm and recollected. They were told to stand against a wall, within the precincts of the prison, and here they were shot down at close quarters by twenty men, enlisted for the purpose. The archbishop’s hand was raised to give a last blessing: “Here, take my blessing”, exclaimed one of the murderers and by discharging his gun he gave the signal for the execution.
The Dominican Fathers, who perished the following day, May 25, belonged to the College of Arcueil, close to Paris. Their superior was Father Captier, who founded the college and under whose government it had prospered. With him were four religious of his order: Fathers Bourard, Delhorme, Cottrault, and Chatagneret, and eight laymen, who belonged to the college, either as professors or as servants. They were arrested on the 19th of May and imprisoned in the outlying fort of Bicetre, where they suffered from hunger and thirst. On the 25th of May they were transferred from Bicetre to a prison within the city, situated on the Avenue d’Italie. The excitement and anarchy that reigned in Paris, and the insults that were leveled at the prisoners as they were led from one prison to another prepared them for the worst; they made their confession and prepared for death. Towards five in the afternoon, they were commanded to go into the street one by one: Father Captier, whose strong faith sustained his companions’ courage, turned to them: “Let us go, my friends, for the sake of God“. The street was filled with armed men who discharged their guns at the prisoners as they passed. Father Captier was mortally wounded; his companions fell here and there; some were killed on the spot; others lingered on till their assassins put them out of pain. Their dead bodies remained for twenty-four hours on the ground, exposed to every insult; only the next morning, when the troops from Versailles had conquered the Commune, were they claimed by the victims’ friends and conveyed to Arcueil.
The third group of martyrs perished on the 26th of May; the revolutionists were now driven back by the steady advance of the regular troops, and only the heights of Belleville were still in possession of the Commune. Over fifty prisoners were taken from the prison of La Roquette and conducted on foot to this last stronghold of the revolution. Among them were eleven ecclesiastics: three Jesuits, four members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, three secular priests, and one seminarist. All displayed heroic courage; the best known among them was Father Olivaint, rector of the Jesuit house of the Rue de Sevres, who thirsted for martyrdom. After a painful journey through the streets, which were filled with an infuriated rabble, the prisoners were driven into an enclosure, called the cite Vincennes, on the heights of Belleville. Here they were literally hacked to pieces by a crowd of men, women, and even children. There was no attempt to organize a regular execution like the one at La Roquette; the massacre lasted an hour, and most of the bodies were disfigured beyond recognition. Only a few hours later the regular troops forced their way to La Roquette, delivered the prisoners that still remained there, and took possession of Belleville, the last stronghold of the Commune.
BARBARA DE COURSON