Dominique-François Hanon (1757-1816)
During the nine years of his ministry as vicar general, Dominique-François Hanon experienced the growth of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, then a schism among the Sisters, the second suppression of the Congregation in France, another intrusion by Domenico Sicardi into its government, and finally arrest, detention and imprisonment for more than four years, concluded only with the fall of Napoleon. Such an experience of violent swings of events coupled with devotion to duty has not been equaled by any other in the Congregation’s history.
Hanon was born in 1757 in Saint-Pol-sur-Mer, on the coast of the English Channel not far from Dunkirk. He entered the internal seminary of the Congregation at Saint Lazare in 1772 and made his vows two years later. According to one of his passports, he was described as having brown hair and brown eyes, and was five feet seven inches tall (1.76 m.) Like nearly all of his predecessors and successors, he spent his next ten years in seminary teaching at Metz.
With the outbreak of the Revolution, he continued in Metz, refusing to take the prescribed constitutional oath (1791). Cardinal Louis Joseph de Montmorency-Laval, prince bishop of Metz, was forced to go into exile into Germany but named Hanon as administrator of his diocese. He then had to cope with the presence of a constitutional bishop, Nicolas Francin, elected 13 March 1791. The new bishop suffered rejection by the people, particularly when he was forced, under virtual torture, to abandon his priesthood in 1794. He retracted, but the pressure on him probably caused the stroke that left him partially paralyzed from 1796 until his death in 1802.
As part of Hanon’s pastoral concern, he composed what he entitled “The Ordinary of a High Mass, for Catholic assemblies, when there is no priest to celebrate it,” a pioneering document dated Metz, 22 August 1795. Lacking clergy, the faithful still wanted to pray as best they could. This was gradually tolerated, since townspeople understood that their former parish churches were their property and insisted on their right to use them. Hanon’s text is a version of the Eucharist, conducted in French, complete with the normal prayers, readings and instructions of a Sunday mass. For the Eucharistic prayer and communion, he substituted prayers for a spiritual communion. The entire text had a penitential tone, particularly in view of the disasters committed in the name of the Revolution.
Two excerpts will give the flavor. At the opening of the celebration: “Where are our priests, our shrines, our altars…? You are just, O my God, and your vengeance is based on principles of justice. We have so unworthily abused your mercies and your favors. We used to attend mass and the offices with great tepidity and lack of awareness. Today, you have deprived us of them.” At the time for communion: “We groan to be deprived today of this inestimable kindness. We confess that we have deserved this privation by the sacrilegious, empty or imperfect [communions] … that we have had the sadness to make so often, O sovereign physician of our souls.” It is unknown whether this text was ever used, but if it was, it fit into the tradition of other priestless celebrations of that period. The celebrants were equally men and women, sometimes schoolteachers or others with some education, and the ceremonies also included processions and even pilgrimages to local shrines. Hanon’s entire text may be interpreted as one among several of his gestures of reaction against authority.
He had to move to Nancy in 1798, where he remained until 1802. The cause may have been that, in that same year, he had had to remain in hiding, under suspicion of being a counterrevolutionary agitator. After the Concordat of 1801 and the death of the constitutional bishop, the duly installed new bishop of Metz appointed him a canon of the cathedral, an honor he certainly deserved after his years of difficult service.
He then returned to his birthplace and began a sort of minor seminary, but he was unable to overcome anticlerical resistance there. He then transferred the students to Doullens, a small town near Amiens, where he came to know the bishop of Amiens. When he reopened the seminary, the bishop had Placiard assign him there in August 1806 as its first superior. During his time in Amiens, he befriended two sons of the Bailly family, and brought them to Amiens to secure their education. This friendship would later lead the Congregation, in the time of Jean-Baptiste Nozo, into a period of public scandal with terrible consequences for the Church and the Vincentians.
At the death of Father Placiard in 1807, Pierre Claude, the only assistant then in Paris, assembled nine available Vincentians to propose a new vicar general. They met on 23 September at the mother house of the Daughters of Charity, Vieux Colombier. Placiard had designated Dominique-François Hanon, who was not present for the meeting. The members, however, wanted Claude as their candidate but, in view of his age and frequent infirmities, and his own positive rejection of the office, their choice fell unanimously on Hanon.
Claude quickly wrote to the Holy See, asking for Hanon’s nomination and not his confirmation (since Placiard had not named anyone, and the little assembly at Vieux Colombier did not have the right to elect, only to propose.) By a new brief, Quum per apostolicas, 14 October 1807, Pius VII appointed Hanon “as vicar general of the entire Congregation of the Mission,” with faculties to enjoy all the constitutional authority of a superior general according to the constitutions, and the right to name a successor “per schedulam,” on the traditional piece of paper kept in the locked box.
Accompanying this brief was another letter from the Pope to Claude. He commented that the nomination had been done correctly, and that Hanon would have all the faculties needed, despite that fact that the French Vincentians did not yet have a central house, nor a place to live, but were working to accomplish a return to their original way of living as soon as possible. He also ordered everyone to be subject to Hanon under holy obedience. As for Sicardi, all of whose pretensions had been effectively undercut, he was to continue as assistant until a general assembly was held, and the pope “burdened your conscience” to hold one as soon as possible. To be doubly certain, Pius VII ordered that his decree be printed, signed by a public notary, and sealed with an ecclesiastical seal or by the procurator general, so that it could confidently be shown to others. These very clear measures were evidently necessary to forestall another assault on his decision by Sicardi and his council. The presence of French troops in Italy also made Sicardi’s pretensions less believable, since he would not be able to exercise his former office under those conditions.
The new vicar general complied in short order, sending around the brief attached to his first circular letter. From the side of the government, Napoleon confirmed Hanon as “Superior of the Mission, known under the title of Saint Lazare” on 7 January 1808. Probably at this same period he wrote to Sicardi, expressing esteem for “your venerable person,” and tried to smooth over the past. “I know that some light clouds arose at the time of my predecessors,” but the pope had appointed him without any restrictive clause, and named Sicardi as first assistant. Another letter addressed him as “my first cooperator.”
His second circular, sent about two months later, was wider in scope. He described the conditions of his nomination by the pope, and how he had sent the bull to the visitors of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland. Sicardi received a copy and sent in words of submission. Hanon was thus beginning his vicariate with everyone outside France henceforth united and “in their dependence on only one head, resident in Paris.” Possibly to counteract further questions, he explained that the emperor had simply confirmed him, not named or installed him. Despite early attempts to mollify Sicardi, he then wrote a remarkable, even shocking, sentence, in which he pointed the finger at him as the source of past troubles: “Cardinal Fesch, our illustrious and zealous protector, intervened very effectively during his time in Rome, to prevent Father Sicardi from dividing the Congregation….” He concluded by reminding his readers that “…there is no doubt, therefore … that this is not some new body, but our own Congregation of the Mission,” which the French government had reestablished in France.
Hanon quickly set to work to bring order into both the spiritual life and the developing works of the Congregation of the Mission in France. He petitioned the Holy See for permission to restore an old custom practiced in times of war, famine, plague and other calamities. He wished to designate every day three members of the Congregation, one priest, cleric and brother, to fast, pray and receive communion for this intention. In addition, he hoped that the same custom would take root among the Daughters of Charity.
In a report to the ministry of foreign affairs, he explained the conflict between the new identity of the Congregation and that established by Saint Vincent. He explained that the traditional work was diocesan seminaries and home missions in our towns and country areas. Foreign missions were not a Vincentian work, except secondarily. However, under Napoleon, they were the principal work, “and [we] will fulfill them with all the zeal of which we are capable. Indeed, these missions are not in any way incompatible with our earlier and primitive functions, and we can even fulfill all of them, as we used to do before the Revolution.” Clearly, Hanon was trying to continue the path taken by his predecessor Placiard to open the way officially to return to the Congregation’s main work. He bolstered this by referring to Napoleon’s support of the mission in the Vendée—the one which so exhausted Placiard—as well as missions preached in other dioceses, plus various seminaries. He linked the service in seminaries to preparation of candidates for foreign missions.
He also submitted the following report to Félix-Julien-Jean Bigot de Préameneu minister of foreign affairs, reflecting the situation of the Congregation in the middle of 1808, with added information on houses in France and the French empire.
|First assistan||Sicardi (residence in Rome)|
Provincial and Mission Administration
|Naples||De Matthaeis, (“major superior”)|
|Middle East||Renard (vice-prefect apostolic)|
|Constantinople (?)||Ghisland (vice-prefect apostolic)|
Houses and Members (France and French empire)
|Paris, Vieux Colombier||4: Hanon, Claude, Philippe, Braud|
|Amiens, seminary||3, and 4 postulants|
|Saint Brieuc, seminary||2|
|Meximieux, student residence||1|
Other nations and houses
|Papal States||(other houses)||51|
|Other European Totals||617+|
|Palatinate||Mannheim, Neustadt||3 French, several Germans|
The partial statistics demonstrate the relative position of the French Vincentians as compared with the others.
As part of this report, he also included a revealing list of twenty-five former Vincentians who had either agreed to return, or who wished to put it off. His comments are the best indication of the situation in which he found himself. (He had already asked the Daughters of Charity to send him the names and addresses of the priests and brothers of the Congregation who were living in their area.)
|In Germany during Revolution; now librarian at Heidelberg; totally worn out, looks like a ghost|
|Had been superior of constitutional seminary of Agen, but is now reconciled; ready to return, but in poor health; in contact with four others, also in poor health.|
|Pastor, has reasons for not returning|
|Fled to Ferrara; superior at seminary in Marseilles; needs money, then work|
|Fled to Jersey, 1792; in England, 1801; hopes to receive confreres to work with him|
|6)||Bro. Guillaume Rajon
|In Barcelona; will return|
|Wants to return|
|Pastor in Marseilles; can return|
|Does not want to return, since we are only for foreign missions; used to be at Meximieux, waiting for better days|
|Had been at Heidelberg; good for Amiens, waiting until we can make a canonical request|
(1743, after 1816)
|Refugee in Spain; pastor, wants to return; sick, a slight stroke that affected his speech|
|12)||Pierre-Vincent Flechmans (or Vlechmans)
|Fled to Ferrara; ready to return, but not for foreign missions|
|Good, even for missions|
|Probably all right, no news|
|Had been interned during Revolution at Bordeaux; very good, even for foreign missions|
|Refugee in Spain, pastor in Cahors; died in the meantime|
|17)||Bro. Nicolas Elain
|At Constantinople; wants to go to China|
|Wants to return, but is seventy; has a pension, furnishings|
|“He piles up objections and difficulties of every sort,” but he returned|
|20)||Stanislas-Joseph Guillain Bernier
|Not happy until he returns. Good in every way.|
|Took oath, pastor (died in meantime)|
|Imprisoned at Ile de Ré, 1799-1800; teaches in a lycée at Besançon, lives with his two sisters, whom he cannot easily leave|
|Condemned to deportation; poor health, poor eyesight, fears going blind|
|24)||Dunand, Jean-François, b. 1761; or Jean-Joseph, b. 1766||Pastor in Italy for several years, now in France, Willing to return|
|Has family responsibilities|
Hanon concluded with a list of 337 Vincentians unwilling or unable to return. The notes on some of them read: absolutely sick, with his family, incapable of any work. Others were in France, serving as pastors, superiors of seminaries or professors, or students. Some lived out of the country, in England, Spain, Belgium, and one was an astronomer at the Mannheim observatory. Had all these middle-aged and elderly Vincentians returned, at an average age of fifty-seven, Hanon would have been faced with the impossible task of housing them and finding enough work and resources to support them. These figures should be compared with the approximately 460 French Vincentians before the Revolution. By 1808, 160 had already died, fifty were sick, and another fifty reported their willingness to return, but had significant excuses.
Bigot reviewed and analyzed the report. He wrote back, 15 February 1809, to inform Hanon that the report was insufficient, since it did not mention houses in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Poland. The government had wanted information on all houses recognizing the vicar general as superior, possibly since the government considered as French all the Vincentian houses united to the mother house and giving obedience to the vicar general.
Hanon then submitted a more comprehensive table within two weeks, proving that he had the information previously. The totals for houses and members, however, are still approximate, but they show relative positions among the nations involved. Further, they correspond roughly to the provinces of the Congregation.
Hanon’s summary enumerated the houses and works as follows:
French empire (Italian) 5 houses 110 members Kingdom of Italy 5 houses 37 members Papal States 4 houses 75 members Kingdom of Naples 4 houses 89 members Kingdom of Spain 6 houses 110 members Portugal 4 houses 68 members Austrian Poland 2 houses 7 members Grand Duchy of Warsaw 11 houses 102 members Russian Poland 30 houses, missions 152 members Prussian Poland 1 house 2 members Totals 72 houses, missions 758 members Paris, Vieux Colombier 1 house 6 members Scattered members in France 260 (?) Scattered members in Piedmont 30 (?) Totals 73 houses, missions 1048 members
His annual New Year’s circular for 1809 was modest in its reports on the missions, but patient and hopeful concerning the outlook for the Congregation in France and the French empire. He was still looking for permanent housing for his administration and the seminary, but this problem would not be resolved for another eight years. Unfortunately, the year ahead would be full of conflict, ending in his arrest, interrogation and imprisonment.
His work for the foreign missions, although modest, was bearing fruit. Since the missions fell under the authority of the government, he had to look to government subsidies for this work. He also received about 15,000 francs each year for the central administration, in addition to a similar amount for the missions in the Middle East, and a small amount for Algiers. Despite this help, he had to complain to Bigot that the overseas missions were needy and closing for lack of funds. In the past, for example, Algiers received 9000 francs, and the Middle East (Constantinople), 20,000. For 1807 or 1808, however, Algiers received 3000 and Constantinople 9000. In addition, he faced a jurisdictional problem in the island of Bourbon, now Reunion. The local prefect apostolic, a recently installed Capuchin, insisted that he was also the superior of the Vincentians working in his prefecture. The priests legitimately refused to accept this, and as a consequence, he reported them to the civil authorities, and the Vincentians were thrown out of their houses and are now indigent. To help them, “it would be very urgent to have a decree or general order which his Imperial and Royal Majesty had promised to your Eminence [Cardinal Fesch], to place us everywhere under your protection and particular safeguard.”
Problems with Napoleon, Second Suppression of the Congregation
His most difficult problem, however, came from Napoleon’s plans for the Daughters of Charity, addressed in the following separate section.
Knowing that his own future was far from secure, he took some extraordinary measures to assure continuity in the government of the Congregation. He announced his intentions to extend to visitors for their provinces and for the Daughters of Charity the whole extent of the powers granted by the constitutions to vicars general and superiors general of the Congregation. This would allow the visitors to act on their own should they be unable to correspond with him for political reasons. In the case of the death of a visitor, he was thinking of naming a pro-visitor, should this become necessary. Hanon had been aware of the schismatic tendencies that had bedeviled his predecessors and, for this reason, presented these reasons in his petition: “so that all trouble of minds and hearts in the entire Congregation be blocked, and all occasion of schism be removed.” Sicardi, as the first assistant, living in Rome, presented Hanon’s petition to the pope, who quickly granted the request, 16 April 1809.
This action was none too soon, since Napoleon was about to annex the papal states to his empire (17 May). He would also retract his earlier reestablishment of the Congregation, for which he had several reasons. In the first place, he believed he could not trust his foreign missionaries, particularly since reports were reaching him of the interest that the English had in taking over French missions in China. He presumed that the English would pay them well for their treachery.
In the second place, the emperor was becoming dissatisfied with foreign missions as well as home missionaries, who were preaching at the invitation of the bishops. Bigot presented a request for the missions in the Middle East in early September. In reply, Napoleon ordered Bigot to prepare a draft decree on the subject by 1 October. “I don’t want any missions at all. I had allowed an establishment of the missioners in Paris and I granted them a house; I take it all back. I am happy to exercise religion in my home, but I have no intention of propagating it abroad.” Bigot presented an assessment of French foreign missions, commenting that it would cost a considerable amount to maintain them and that, in any case, there might not be enough Vincentians to staff them.
In the third place, the emperor had continuing problems with the papacy. Pius VII refused to annul his marriage to Josephine Beauharnais, and the emperor’s pressure on the Church only strengthened the loyalty of the lower clergy to the pope, instead of to Napoleon and his compliant bishops.
He did not wait until his self-imposed deadline, 1 October, to act. He issued his decree 26 September 1809, revoking the decree of 7 prairial an XII, as well as all decrees concerning them. Commentators noted that his signature was, unlike others that day, written with great passion and anger. He also added in his own hand, that the degree “will not be printed.” This meant that it, in act, had no official standing, although when Louis XVIII came to power after Napoleon, he believed he had to revoke it just to be certain.
Cardinal Fesch must not have been privy to his nephew’s thinking, since he wrote him a bold letter on his decision. “Yes, Sire, I dare to say it: this suppression is the most fearsome of all the operations that have taken place for the last two years. It tends to impede the preaching of the Gospel. It paralyzes the ministry of the bishops from whom have been taken away the only resources they had to recall revealed truths and the lessons of Gospel morality to those of their diocese who have been deprived of pastors.”
Arrest and Imprisonment
Since the Congregation of the Mission had been suppressed once more, Hanon lost his position as its superior in France, as well as superior general of the Daughters of Charity. The police ejected him from his apartments at Vieux Colombier, and he moved a few streets away into rented quarters until his arrest, 29 October 1809.
As a result of this suppression, Hanon also lost the subsidies he had been receiving from the state. He reported, as part of his interrogation lasting nineteen days, that he had received a total of some 92,000 francs for his headquarters (housing, food, office supplies, travel), and the four other Vincentians living with them, three priests and a brother. He had divided the subsidy to support the missions in the Middle East, Algiers and China. He likewise had to spend some of the funds on the seminarians who had begun to enter the Congregation. There were at the time five candidates studying in three seminaries: two at Poitiers, one at Lyons, and two, the brothers Emmanuel and Ferdinand-Joseph Bailly, at Amiens. Of these, only the latter made it to vows and ordination.
After Hanon’s jailing and interrogation, he was forced to remain under detention and surveillance in Saint-Pol, his native place, although he no longer had relatives living there. He was not idle, however, since he appears to have taken on the formation of a few candidates for the priesthood. No further information exists about his activities for the rest of his sixteen months there. In February 1811, the authorities had him brought in again for questioning about his continuing relationship with the Daughters of Charity. The result was that he was sent to the castle at Fenestrelle, to remain there until Napoleon’s abdication in 1814.
Domenico Sicardi, the first assistant, automatically assumed control of the Congregation in Hanon’s absence. Jean-Baptiste Etienne criticized him for this: “It was then that Father Sicardi came to the fulfillment of his plan, pursued for such a long time. Under the pretext that Father Hanon was unable to govern the Congregation, he obtained from the sovereign pontiff the powers of a vicar general of the entire Congregation.” Etienne was unnecessarily harsh, since this move followed the spirit if not the letter of the Constitutions, which specified only laziness, negligence, illness or senility as reasons to name a vicar general. In any event, the pope acted, but it is unknown whether this was a permission given orally or in writing.
On Hanon’s return to Paris from prison in the summer of 1814, he resumed his duties. The Congregation, however, still remained legally suppressed, although its members continued to live and work at their ministries in small groups. As for Hanon, he first lived with the priests of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, and, probably to escape the pressure of dealing with the fractious Daughters of Charity, he went to visit his family. He wrote ominously of this period to Sicardi that Jean-Jacques Dubois had been conspiring to have him removed from office, possibly to protect the vicar general’s mental and physical health. Dubois is reported to have held a small “assembly” of six or seven Vincentians to get a replacement for Hanon, who was believed to have been ousted by the pope. Nothing came of this, of course.
Once in Paris, he found first one and then another apartment, 6, rue Garancières, for himself and a few others of his confreres. This would be the temporary mother house for the Congregation of the Mission until the community was able to move in to the permanent mother house in 1817.
His first concern, naturally, was the restoration of the Congregation. He seems to have requested it of Louis XVIII early in 1815. Any possible consideration of restoration was halted by Napoleon’s return during the so-called Hundred Days, 10 March to 22 June 1815. When the king returned after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Hanon resumed his petitions. One possible explanation for the government’s slowness in responding could well have been the issue of acquiring a suitable mother house. Hanon requested the Sisters’ former house, Vieux Colombier, but its destination as a fire station put it out of the question.
Restoration of the Congregation
On 3 February 1816, Louis XVIII decreed the restoration of the Congregation of the Mission in France. The legal basis was the application of a royal decree of 2 March 1815 concerning the Paris Foreign Mission Society to both the Congregation of the Mission and the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), missionary congregations. Although it had already been determined that the house at Vieux Colombier was unavailable, the decree still granted it to the Vincentians as their headquarters. The pastor of Saint Sulpice also wanted the same house for the Sulpicians. He asserted that the Vincentians should have no claim on it since Hanon, and Brunet and Placiard before him, had never lived in the big house, only in the small house at the back of the property.
Hanon next had the joy of communicating the “precious news” of the reestablishment of the Congregation, doing so in a circular to his confreres, dated 12 March 1816. He outlined his new administrative chores: assembling a staff, forming the internal seminary (novitiate), and finding a mother house. His major concern in this letter was to recall the members to return to the community. Consequently, he laid out the kinds of work that were available to them: foreign missions, seminaries, home missions, service to the Daughters of Charity, and pastoral ministry of all sorts. “So, be so kind as to let me know if you are ready to join in that number, and at what time, soon, we will be able to count on you.” He received responses from forty-nine priests, five brothers, and fourteen other priests, all in their sixties and seventies. Their answers were of the same sort as he had received in 1808. Interestingly, he noted the responses of his successor, Emmanuel Verbert, and a future superior general, Dominique Salhorgne. Verbert cited his age, sixty-four, as being why he was incapable of any work. Further, he feared that “our ancient practices and customs” would not appeal to the majority who had for twenty-five years lived apart from the Congregation. Salhorgne, by contrast, was well disposed, but had already written that he did not want to accept any important position.
At about the same time, Hanon drew up a memorandum listing the foreign Vincentians dependent on the superior general in Paris (using the term “superior general” to agree with the views of the French government.) In all, he mentioned sixty-two houses in ten jurisdictions, with a total of 490 Vincentians. Of these, the largest numbers came from a dismembered Poland: seventy-seven in Russian Poland, twenty-four in Austrian Poland, 120 in the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. In Italy, Naples and the Papal States, he counted 142; while Spain had sixty-eight, and Portugal, with its Chinese mission, numbered forty-one. There was a remnant of four in the German-speaking province of the Palatinate.
Sicardi in Rome believed that he should still exercise his authority, possibly since the pope had never formally revoked it. He issued a New Year’s circular for 1816, for example. In it, he explained that problems in Italy had prevented him from sending out the circulars for previous years. The Congregation there had lost more than 100 houses in a dozen or so years, and many of the Vincentians had left or were dispersed by the “furious north wind,” a veiled reference to the Napoleonic armies. In this confused situation, he recommended assiduous prayer, the practice of traditional Vincentian virtues, and an unswerving devotion to the tried and true in Church dogma, and the community’s rules and practices. He also referred in a roundabout way to the continuing non-existence of the Congregation of the Mission in France, where it had lost some eighty houses, and now had only one (Valfleury). He imparted no news about either Spain or Portugal, but mentioned that the American mission was about to begin.
On 15 April 1816, Sicardi wrote to Hanon, complaining that he had not heard from him. He explained that, at age eighty-six in failing health he wanted to resign from the “duty of governing the Congregation, with the single exception of France.” In accordance with his office, he reported that he had erected Naples as a province, and named visitors for Russian Poland (“Lithuania”), and for Spain.
In the meantime, Hanon’s health began to decline and he moved to the Hospital of the Incurables, staffed by the Daughters of Charity, to be attended by its physicians. If he received Sicardi’s last letter, he would have received it in the hospital. This is doubtful, however, since he died there 24 April 1816 of a stroke, like Placiard before him. He was only fifty-nine. His funeral was held at the chapel of the Incurables and, like his predecessors, he was buried at the Vaugirard cemetery.
Dominique-François Hanon was the leading light among the five French vicars general. He struggled to reconstruct the Congregation and to preserve the traditional identity of the Daughters of Charity. A contemporary account describes him as animated with a very vibrant zeal for the prosperity of the two communities, and being tireless in work, and very attached to his duty. His character made him unbending in matters that required firmness, and he paid for this by years of harsh imprisonment. At the same time, he was charitable and compassionate, and a truly attractive figure.
The Schism of the Daughters of Charity
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