Catus, Le Puech, Montgesty

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Catus, Le Puech, Montgesty

The importance of these three place for Vincentians is that they are connected with Saint Jean Gabriel Perboyre. He was born at the hamlet of Le Puech (a form of the word puy, meaning an elevated place) near the town of Montgesty, 6 January 1802, and was ordained a pirest 23 September 1826. He was a novice director at the Vincentian motherhouse in Paris but nourished a desire to go to the foreign missions. On 29 August 1835, he landed in China near Macao. He exercised his ministry among the Catholic people of China until one of his students betrayed him. He was thereupon arrested, tortured and executed, 11 September 1840. He was beatified 10 November 1889 and cannonized 2 June 1996. In this he became China's first saint.

His uncle, Jacques Perboyre (1763-1848), a seminary professor in Montauban, greatly influenced his vocation. This priest, ordained before the Revolution, had been forced to hide out in the region for several years during the revolutionary period. The young Jean Gabriel was sent after that time to school with his uncle, again in Montauban.

The small town of Catus, population 800, is built around the former Benedictine priory of Saint Jean, now dedicated to Saint Astier. Its Romanesque church was begun in 1115 and was modified in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries with some Gothic additions, such as the side chapels. There are superb Romanesque carved capitals on the pillars. Little remains of the monastic buildings, apart from sections of the cloister walk and the chapter hall. Several medieval houses can be seen in the town. After the Revolution, the church was repaired several times, particularly after the great floods of 1960. Members of the Vincentian province of Toulouse serve this parish and twelve associated parish in the region. Since Catus was the parish for Vilary, Jean Gabriel Perboyre would have attended this church during his family visits to Vilary.

South of Catus on route D13 is the property called Vilary. Now in other hands, this was the property, until the middle of the twentieth century, of a branch of the Perboyre family. Pierre Perboyre, the father of the martyr, was born here, as was Pierre's brother Jacques. To call it a chateau overstates the case, but the main body of the building was a tower of refuge for nobles in time of war and insecurity; it dates from the sixteenth century. The only entrance was through a ladder, but now access has been made easier by adding doors on the ground level. Nearby on route D23 are the ruins of the Romanesque chapel of Saint Martin de Graudène, a place known to the young Perboyre.

Montgesty is a village of legends, such as one about Roland, the nephew of Charlemagne. He is said to have fought the Sarcens here before going on to Rocamadour, where his sword was planted in a rock. In the region of Montgesty are ruins from the Neolithic period (a menhir, that is, a standing stone, dating from 2500 BC), the Gallo-Roman priod, and burial sites from barbarian times. In the Gothic church can be seen a large image of Christ in the Spanish Baroque style. The church also has several reminders of Jean Gabriel Perboyre: an altar, a window depicting a rather pudgy young priest, and a plaque commemorating his baptism. In front of the church is a large statue of him, dedicated in 1897. Montgesty today has fewer than 300 people.

One of the little hamlets associated with Montgesty is Le Puech, the birthplace of Jean Gabriel Perboyre. It is some six or eight kilometers south of Montgesty and preserves the old building of the Perboyre farmhouse. A large statue of the martyr in Chinese dress stands at the entrance to the property. Here were born four sons and four daughters (two were Daughters of Charity and one of them died in China). Part of their home dates from the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Three of the sons became Vincentians. Jean Gabriel, the martyr, was the eldest. Jean Louis (1807-1831),left shortly after his ordination for China, but died at sea. Jacques Jean (1810-1896) entered the Vincentians as a lay brother, but later resumed his studies and was ordained a priest in 1845. He attended his brother's beatification in Rome and afterwards celebrated Mass at his altar in the motherhouse. He looked so much like his brother that his likeness was used to depict the martyr. Another Perboyre was Jean Gabriel (1808-1880), their cousin. He became a renowned historian of the Congregation. The Le Puech farm is still the property of descendants of the family. The entire area, however, is depopulated because of changes in agriculture and modern life.