Dominique-François Hanon 1807-1816

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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 (176 cm.) Like nearly all of his predecessors and successors, he spent his next ten years in seminary teaching, in his case at Metz.


With the outbreak of the Revolution, he continued in Metz, refusing to take the prescribed constitutional oath (1791). He was appointed professor of Church history at Heidelberg (1791), but it is doubtful that he ever taught there. The main reason was that Cardinal Louis Joseph de Montmorency-Laval, prince bishop of Metz, forced to go into exile into Germany, 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.

Priestless Mass

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, both juring and non-juring, 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 Hanon an honorary canon of the cathedral, a distinction 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.

Vicar General

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.” Sicardi, however, still held that he was in charge of the non-French provinces, but it is impossible to know when this authority was granted him by the pope, nor how.

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.

General Administration

Vicar General Hanon
First assistant Sicardi (residence in Rome)
Second assistant Claude
Third assistant (vacant)
Fourth assistant (vacant)
Admonitor (vacant)
Procurator General (vacant)
Secretary General Viguier

Provincial and Mission Administration

Paris (vacant)
Lyons Daudet
Lombardy Scarabelli
Rome Ansaloni
Spain De Sobiès
Portugal Pereira Franco
Poland Jacobowski
Naples De Matthaeis (“major superior”)
African Islands (vacant)
Algiers (vacant)
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
Poitiers, seminary 2
Saint Brieuc, seminary 2
Vannes, seminary 1
Valfleury, pilgrimage 3
Carcassonne, seminary 3
Meximieux, student residence 1
Sarlat, seminary ?
Genoa ?
Savona ?
Sarzana ?

Other nations, houses and members

Papal States Montecitori 41
Papal States (other houses 51
Italy 78
Naples 85
Spain 108
Portugal 35
Prussian Poland 124
Russian Poland 77
Austrian Poland 18+
Other European Totals 617+
Palatinate Mannheim, Neustadt 3 French, several Germans
Algeria mission 2
Turkey Greece 14
Turkey Syria 2
Turkey Persia 2
African Islands ?
Goa ?
China French mission 3
China Portuguese mission 8

The partial statistics demonstrate the relative position of the French Vincentians as compared with the others. His figures were fluid, however, as can be seen from another draft report he composed, with slightly different overall totals of ninety-seven houses, and 717 members. Among the members he reckoned about 150 French, presumably ready to return.

As part of the official report, he also included a revealing list of twenty-five former Vincentians who had either agreed to return immediately, 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.)

  1. Jean-Henri Schuler (1738-after 1810) In Germany during Revolution; now librarian at Heidelberg; totally worn out, looks like a ghost
  2. Jean-Baptiste Grenier (1762-after 1812) 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.
  3. Honoré Lallier (1742-1808) Pastor, has reasons for not returning
  4. Jean-Baptiste Moissonnier (1736-1813) Fled to Ferrara; superior at seminary in Marseilles; needs money, then work
  5. Louis-Luc Chantrel, (1747-1820) Fled to Jersey, 1792; in England, 1801; hopes to receive confreres to work with him
  6. Bro. Guillaume Rajon (1752-1815) In Barcelona; will return
  7. Huitcocq (no information) Wants to return
  8. Marie-Charles-Emmanuel Verbert (1752-1819) Pastor in Marseilles; can return
  9. Francois-Xavier Muyard (b. 1762) Does not want to return, since we are only for foreign missions; used to be at Meximieux, waiting for better days
  10. Jean-Baptiste Barbault (1738-1809) Had been at Heidelberg; good for Amiens, waiting until we can make a canonical request
  11. Guillaume Lacroix (1743, after 1816) Refugee in Spain; pastor, wants to return; sick, a slight stroke that affected his speech
  12. Pierre-Vincent Flechmans (or Vlechmans) (1755-1831) Fled to Ferrara; ready to return, but not for foreign missions
  13. Bernard Mazaré (1746-?) Good, even for missions
  14. Joseph-François Jaubert (1753-after 1817) Probably all right, no news
  15. Eutrope Sellier (1740-1818) Had been interned during Revolution at Bordeaux; very good, even for foreign missions
  16. Bégoulé (1751-1808) Refugee in Spain, pastor in Cahors; died in the meantime
  17. Bro. Nicolas Elain (1756-1823) At Constantinople; wants to go to China
  18. Marie-François-Georges Sol (1739-?) Wants to return, but is seventy; has a pension, furnishings
  19. Pierre-Joseph Dewailly (1759-1828) “He piles up objections and difficulties of every sort,” but he returned
  20. Stanislas-Joseph Guillain Bernier (1755-1820) Not happy until he returns. Good in every way.
  21. François Rupied (1765-1808) Took oath, pastor (died in meantime)
  22. Jean-François-Léonard Mouillard (1765-?) Imprisoned at Ile de Ré, 1799-1800; teaches in a lycée at Besançon, lives with his two sisters, whom he cannot easily leave
  23. Pierre-Simon Barrand (1760-after 1808) 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
  25. Louis Figon (1745-1824) 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 and 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, 1809

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, Hanon 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. Hanon’s letter to his confreres in Poland is a good example of his attention to details, since it covers the replacement of the visitor and his possible replacement, and grants them “all the rights, privileges and faculties, permitted or reserved by our constitutions or by the Holy See to our superiors general and our vicars general….”

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 1 October, his self-imposed deadline, to act. He issued his decree 26 September 1809, revoking the decree of 7 prairial an XII, as well as all decrees concerning it. 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 decree “will not be printed.” This meant that it, in fact, 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 March 1811 the authorities had him brought to Paris again for questioning about his continuing relationship with the Daughters of Charity. The result was that he was condemned to imprisonment in the castle at Fenestrelle. He would remain there until 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.