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A Modern Martyr: St. Theophane Venard
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Théophane Vénard was eminently a tender and dutiful son; a most devoted and loving brother; an equally devoted and attached friend. Neither did he consider these warm affections incompatible with the great work to which he had given his life. His devotion to his sister, whom he calls a part of his very life,? shines through every page of this touching and beautiful correspondence. She is the first thought of his boyish years, she is his last thought in death. Yet all this strong human love did not prevent his sacrificing everything to God leaving the home he loved so fondly, the sister he idolized, the family tie which bound him with what others might have considered iron links everything, in fact, which made life dear when the voice of the Master called him to go forth from his people and his country into a strange and distant land, to preach His word and do His work, and save the souls for whom He had died upon the Cross. This is the striking characteristic of the life before human love, surpassing all ordinary home affections, willingly and joyfully offered up on the altar of Our Lord for the salvation of the heathen who knew Him not.
EXCERPT from the book:
January 2, 1861
My dearest Father, Sister, and Brothers,
I write to you at the beginning of this year, which will be my last on earth. I hope you got the little note which I wrote announcing my capture on the Feast of St. Andrew. God permitted me to be betrayed by a traitor, but I owe him no grudge. From that village I sent you a few lines of farewell before I had the criminal's chain fastened on my feet and neck. I have kissed that chain, a true link which binds me to Jesus and Mary, and which I would not exchange for its weight in gold. The mandarin had the kindness to have a light one made for me, and treated me, during my stay in his prefecture, with every possible consideration. His brother came at least ten times and tried to persuade me to trample the Cross under foot. He did not want to see me die so young…."
Tributes to A Modern Martyr
From His Eminence Cardinal Farley
I am very grateful to you for making me acquainted with A Modern Martyr. I think it is the most fascinating book I have read in a long time. I can hardly put it out of my hands and have finished reading half of it already. I have instructed the President of our Cathedral College to place a copy in the hands of each of our petits seminaristes and I feel convinced that no better book could be given to them for their spiritual reading.
From Bishop Casartelli
When I was a boy of ten, I was taken by a good Belgian priest to visit the Missions and the Salle des Martyrs. I shall never forget the impression of the latter, especially the sight of a young candidate kneeling at a priedieu and praying earnestly, probably for the grace of martyrdom.
But I really knew nothing about foreign missions till 1870, when, on the day I received tonsure and minor orders, my mother gave me Lady Herbert's Théophane Vénard, still one of the treasures of my library. It is one of the few books I have wept over in reading. To it I owe my taste for and interest in foreign missions, and although the taste never led to anything practical, for I never had the personal call, it led among other things, to my becoming Editor of Illustrated Catholic Missions from 1889 to 1903, when I was compelled to give up the cherished post for the undesired episcopate. The editorship was the happiest avocation of my life.
Judge, then, of my delight at receiving your admirable revised and augmented edition of my favorite book. You have done the work remarkably well. Pray accept my sincerest thanks and warmest congratulations. May this golden life have a great circulation and stir up the missionary fire in many hearts.
From Father Elliott, C.S.P. of the Apostolic Mission House
It is a most delightful book and very touching indeed. It filled me with envy for the high privilege of Vénard to die for the faith of Christ. I wish that every priest and every aspirant to the priesthood could read that book.
From the Very Rev. F. Henry of Mill Hill College, England
Thanks many times over, for Théophane Vénard, not only for the copy of the book itself, but above all for writing, publishing, and spreading it. It is bound to do an immense amount of good for the Cause which we have both have so much at heart. The crowning glory will be when the United States of America starts her own Foreign Mission College, which I trust we shall both live to see. Before leaving Mill Hill, I gave the book to the Rector with instructions to have it read in the refectory.
From the Catholic Fortnightly Review
These letters one might term models of the epistolary style, except that this expression seems to formal to apply to such natural, simple, and spontaneous communications. They are so real that the living voice of the writer seems to linger about the pages as one reads.
From the Catholic University Bulletin
One cannot have too wide an acquaintance with noble Christian characters. In this age of ease, and of endless scientific discussion, of church-building, and of money-collecting, we need at times for our souls' sake to look to the example of the saints and heroes of God who are on the sterner side of life.
Few biographies are better suited to remind us sweetly and forcibly of higher things than the volume presented to the public under the title, A Modern Martyr. Modern, indeed, for it is within the lifetime of many of us that Théophane Vénard, a young priest of only thirty-two years, went smiling and singing to a martyr's death. Priest and layman, old and young, will find in this book much to delight the mind and to lift up the heart.
From the Catholic Transcript
Here we have the life of a martyr brought right up to date the story of a young priest, Théophane Vénard, who was beheaded for the faith in China some years ago. The Reverend Editor was naturally drawn to the theme before him by reason of his training under the lamented Abbe Hogan, late Superior of St. John's Seminary, Brighton, Mass., who was ordained in Paris on the same day as Blessed Théophane Vénard.
A Modern Martyr has all the charm and interest of a novel. In variety of incident, in wealth of detail, in careful analysis of character, it will not suffer by comparison with the latest production of fiction. It is brimful of human love and human interest. Chapters there are that, strung together, might be woven into a sweet tale based upon domestic affection. Others there are that depict the development of the missionary instinct and its gradual unfolding and its final consummation in far-off China when Abbe Vénard's blood crimsoned the soil of Tong-king. Nothing so edifying and inspiring has of late been recorded in our missionary annals as the calmness and fortitude with which Théophane Vénard bent his neck under the stroke of the executioner's axe in testimony of the faith delivered by the saints.
From Mary E. Mannix, Author
I cannot tell you with what pleasure and edification I have read the life of Théophane Vénard. It takes one back from the twentieth century, with its terrible Zeitgeist to ages of Faith and makes one feel consoled to know that such souls are still born into the world.
What a beautiful, natural, simple family, altogether. And how hard it must have been for the sweet, pure, affectionate boy to leave them behind. Nothing, nothing, but supernatural grace can explain it. And that feature of the book alone is a sermon and a lesson in itself. It seems to me it is the humanity of the saints, as that of our Lord, which brings them nearer to us.
From Mary E. Blake, Author
Ever since I read that very beautiful memoir of a beautiful life which you have given the English-speaking people, it has been on my mind to tell you of the deep impression it left upon me.
It is so unusual to have in the record of a saint, in addition to its spiritual atmosphere and its helpfulness towards reaching courage and steadfastness, such a memory of simple and sweet joyousness as the little book gives. It does not confound our poorer natures by its heights and depths' resplendent as those are in it. Something human and loving and intimate moves us to understanding and sympathy, and makes its appeal almost personal. You feel as if he would be friend as well as teacher. Thank you very much for making his story better known.