Jean-Baptiste-Rigobert Nozo 1835-1842
The unhappy generalate of Fr Jean-Baptiste-Rigobert Nozo CM, (thirteenth Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission), with its scandalous allegations of personal and financial misbehavior, plunged the Congregation into a major crisis. Further, the way in which his council rose up against him is scandalous in its own right, as is the treatment he received from his successor in office, Jean-Baptiste Etienne. The result has been that Father Nozo’s reputation has been ruined, despite the good that he was able to accomplish during his seven years in office.
Early Life to Election, 1835
Jean-Baptiste-Rigobert Nozo was born on 4 January 1796 at Ablaincourt (now Ablaincourt-Pressoir), a small country town in the diocese of Amiens. It is unknown what drew him to the Congregation, but it must have involved the Vincentians at the major seminary of Amiens, where he began his ecclesiastical studies. He entered the Congregation on 17 May 1820. With him in the novitiate at the time were Jean-Baptiste Etienne, Marc-Antoine Poussou and Jean-Marie Aladel, all of whom would play important roles in his later life. He took his vows either on 6 June 1822 at Saint Flour or on 10 August 1823 after his priestly ordination. He had apparently been teaching at the seminary of Saint Flour, when he was assigned to Cahors, which the Congregation resumed officially in October of 1824. He moved from there to be assistant director of the internal seminary of Paris from 1827 to 1830. Here he participated in the domestic assembly leading to the provincial and then general assembly of 1829, culminating in the election of Dominique Salhorgne as superior general. During the outbreak of cholera in 1830, Nozo remained at his post in Paris and ministered to the sick who found refuge and care in the mother house.
His next assignment was as superior of the seminary at Châlons, where, from 1832 to 1835, he was also the visitor of the Province of France, the name for what was more generally called the Ile de France. In that period, however, there was not much for a visitor to do, since everything was controlled from the mother house, such as the placement of priests and brothers, and the management of finances. His major responsibility a visitor was to preside over the provincial assembly, which he did in 1835, in preparation for the general assembly that would lead to his election.
In the usual run-up to the assembly, some factions developed. The first coalesced around the candidacy of Ferdinand Bailly, visitor of Picardy. Those favoring Bailly, who as visitor had responsibilities for Amiens and the schools at Montdidier and Roye, saw the need to modernize the commitments of the Congregation to include education. The two previous superiors general had been elderly, survivors of the Revolution. Salhorgne, in fact, at seventy-three, was the oldest superior general ever elected, and embodied the memories of his elderly companions. The other candidate was Nozo. Those favoring him hoped that he would restore the Congregation to its old ways, to its “primitive spirit,” to use a hallowed expression. He was, however, only thirty-nine, the second youngest superior general in the history of the Congregation (only Father Watel, elected at thirty-three, was his junior). He probably represented a safer path for the majority of the delegates: a young man with fresh ideas but with a reverence for the past.
As recounted above, Nozo was elected on 20 August 1835 by an absolute plurality of votes on the first ballot. Even though the assembly followed the usual procedure by stating that all supposed defects in its proceedings had been removed, doubts would remain. If Miguel Gros, the Spanish “quasi delegate” had not been validly admitted to the assembly, then would Nozo’s election have been valid? In later years, Etienne would occasionally claim that it might not be.
Barely two weeks after his election, the members of his council expressed concern about their young superior general’s health. The minutes of their meeting of 31 August mention that two physicians had already been called in to examine him. Their only recommendation seemingly dealt with a diet for him to follow. Since the issue of his health arose only twice, at his election and at his leave of absence, it is likely that his illnesses were triggered by his strong emotions.
1835 to 1837, Administration
Fr Nozo’s generalate can be divided into two periods, culminating in two very different visits to Rome. The first runs from his election in 1835 to approximately the end of 1837, after his return from a profitable and celebratory visit to the Eternal City. The second, then, goes from 1838 to his resignation in 1842, which took place also in Rome.
In his first circular directed to the Congregation, 15 October 1835, he protested his surprise and unworthiness for office but was taking consolation in the signs of divine providence toward the Congregation. He sounded an important note that would characterize at least his early efforts as superior general: “My first care, like my first duty, will be to watch over the observance of our rules and our holy vows, to bring to an end the abuses that may have been introduced, and to reestablish the pious usages that have ceased because of the evils of our times.” He likewise called the Congregation to greater fervor and devotion to its traditional works in the spirit of the Founder. Following Saint Vincent, the members of the Congregation, he wrote, should be completely dedicated and submissive to the pope.
His first circular to the Daughters was dated two weeks previously, 1 October. This dating is interesting, since it points to two things: his interest in the Daughters, and the difficulty that he faced in composing his letter to the Vincentians, a longer and more demanding document. To the Daughters he pleaded his inexperience in dealing with them. He concluded by assuring them that Salhorgne’s health was good. For reasons that can easily be understood, none of Nozo’s circulars to the Daughters was ever published in the official collection of such documents.
He wrote to Gregory XVI announcing his election, and the pope responded on 23 December 1835. In his letter, he assured Nozo that he had given proof of his humility in the information submitted about his election. The pope then added this important sentence: “For we love your order because of the outstanding virtue of your founder, an order so noteworthy in the Church for its merits.” In hopes of forging a close relationship with the Holy See, Nozo took the somewhat extraordinary, even non-Vincentian, step of publicizing this papal support by having the letter printed for distribution. He appended a brief letter, handwritten this time, remarking on the pope’s benevolence toward the Vincentians and the Daughters of Charity. A few months later, Nozo reported another sign of papal approval, the grant of a special feast to commemorate the Translation of the Relics of Saint Vincent, a favor Nozo had requested shortly after his election.
Although he had announced his election to the pope, Nozo for some reason never requested, or at least never received, the customary and required approval of the French government for his appointment. No documents exist in Vincentian archives attesting to this, nor is it mentioned in any minutes of Nozo’s council. However, the Council of State continued to regard him as somewhat illegitimate, referring to him in 1841 as a person “who styles himself superior general of the Congregation of Saint Lazare and the community of the Daughters of Charity.” Since he was careful enough to procure papal approval, one might conclude that he was attempting to chart a new and independent, even rash, course. State officials apparently did not pursue the matter, even with the Holy See, and consequently Nozo was left alone. Whether this would have continued for many years is a matter of speculation.
Among the earliest decisions that Nozo took was to erect the American province, the first non-European province. Of the five points of the decree of foundation, only the last actually names a visitor, the American-born John Timon (1797-1867). The more important issues dealt with the mixing of lay and clerical students at the province’s motherhouse, Saint Mary’s of the Barrens. That this had been the French practice, to some extent, did not enter into the discussion, which terminated with the suppression of the lay college at the Barrens. This decision, however, was never implemented and Nozo in fact rescinded it in 1838.
One of the tasks assigned to him as a result of decisions of the general assembly was the publication of a collection of the decrees of past general assemblies. The reason was that the members of the assembly had been unsure which decrees were still in force and which could still be enforced in the conditions of their time. For this reason, Nozo published in 1837 the Collectio Selecta Decretorum conventuum generalium Congregationis Missionis… necnon statutorum per epistolas encyclicas Superiorum generalium per ordinem materiarum redacta. In the introductory letter, composed in Latin, Nozo agreed that some decrees had become obsolete and useless. Since members of the last three general assemblies had petitioned a new edition, he had formed a committee and did the requested work with help of those who had lived among the Italians and Spanish Vincentians, certainly during the Revolution. Their help had been important, since they had experienced the continuing life of the Congregation outside of France. Nozo published the decrees in as brief a form as possible, hoping that his confreres would memorize them, use them, and repair the damages and abuses that had arisen within the Congregation. He and his editorial committee omitted others whose issues had been solved and which would not arise again, they hoped. Other decrees were omitted in order to move them into a revised version of the rules of office. The committee believed that the general assembly had granted them the authority to change some articles on the basis of subsequent legislation. In any case Nozo’s plea was to observe the contents carefully. This entire process forms part of the reforming agenda that he brought to his office.
In attempting to ascertain his major hopes for his generalate, it is clear from the above that he was interested in good order and observance. He probably found his skills in financial dealings to be of help in placing the Congregation on a more stable course. However, he was probably in office too briefly to be able to chart his own course in any productive way.
Foreign Missions, the Miraculous Medal
Since the general oversight of the foreign missions of the Congregation fell to Etienne, as procurator general, many of these mission developments involved him. It is unclear, because of lack of documentation, to what extent Nozo was involved. He did share, however, in the commonly-accepted French sense of evangelization, namely to extend “[French] influence to the most distant lands and among those people most rebellious against civilization.” Nevertheless, growth in the missions took place during his time. In the Middle East, for example, missions abandoned after the Jesuits were forced to leave began to be resumed. Gradually, too, schools began in Constantinople, Antoura and Sgorta.
As for China, native candidates continued to join the Congregation even though it was difficult to station European Vincentians there. Even so, significant funding for the work of the overseas missions came from the Propagation de la Foi, a lay organization founded to support the Church’s efforts in foreign missions. For Vincentians, the most far-reaching event in China was the death of John Gabriel Perboyre. News of his arrest, sentencing as a criminal and strangulation took some time to reach the mother house. It is uncertain how the news first arrived or when, but it probably came through several channels. Bishop François-Alexis Rameaux (1802-1845) of Kiangsi wrote Etienne a month after Perboyre’s death, and his letter must have taken several weeks to arrive in Paris. Brother Louis-Charles Vautrin (1808-1852), a missionary in Macao at the moment of Perboyre’s death, wrote his parents with the news, but it is unlikely that Vautrin’s letter reached Etienne before the bishop’s did. In any case, the news must have conflicted with the preparations in the mother house for the sexennial assembly, and little immediate notice was taken of his death. It was first announced to the Congregation officially in the New Year’s circular of 1842, by which time a campaign had been begun for Perboyre’s eventual canonization.
Following the imposition of French government in Algeria, it quickly became clear that Catholic life there would need to be organized. In the beginning, military chaplains alone were responsible. By 1833, however, it had been decided in principle to confide this work to the Congregation of the Mission. Gregory XVI decided to erect a see in Algeria, initial agreements were drafted, but the main sticking point remained the conflicting responsibilities of the Holy See, the Vincentian superior general and the French government to name or change the vicar apostolic, a Vincentian. The discussions would drag on during Nozo’s generalate, to be resolved only after his resignation. Some speculated that Nozo took the occasion of the possible nomination of a vicar apostolic to propose Etienne, principally to distance him from Paris. Others believed that Etienne sought the position to distance himself from Nozo, or because he was eager to become a bishop. All this is mere speculation.
The important mission of Ethiopia also developed in Nozo’s time. The most significant issue here was conflict between Justin de Jacobis and Etienne. As director of the missions, he refused to assign any funds to Jacobis, since he had, in Etienne’s view, traveled to Rome without Nozo’s permission. This left Jacobis in some embarrassment, particularly since he complained officially against his treatment. This became part of the anti-Etienne atmosphere that developed in Rome during this period.
In significant contrast with the approach of Father Etienne, Nozo had little or nothing to do with the rapidly burgeoning devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. He never mentioned it in his circulars to either the Sisters or the Vincentians, and it never was discussed in the general council. He was certainly aware of the developments inasmuch as his assistant, Jean-Marie Aladel, had by the beginning of 1836 already published five editions of his Notice historique sur l’origine et les effets d’une nouvelle médaille. Although Aladel was not the director of the Daughters of Charity until 1846, he was the confessor and thus confidant of Catherine Labouré, the visionary, and therefore heavily involved in the development of the devotion. Given Nozo’s interest in the Sisters, this lacuna is intriguing.
First Roman Visit
Possibly continuing his campaign to maintain papal approval of his generalate and of the Congregation in general, it was determined that the superior general travel to Rome between May and August of 1837. The occasion would be the celebration of the centenary of the canonization of Saint Vincent to be held at Montecitorio. He must have used the occasion, the first visit of a superior general to Rome since Cayla arrived nearly forty years previously, to try to repair the many hurt feelings that persisted because of conflicts between French and Italian Vincentians. He announced this trip in circulars to his confreres as well as to the Sisters. He requested donations from them to help the Roman province celebrate the occasion properly, proposing also that each Vincentian priest voluntarily send in to Paris the stipends for one year from five monthly masses that they celebrated. No reports have come to light on the amounts received, but Guarini said that Gregory XVI appreciated Nozo’s liberality with money during his Roman visit.
Just prior to leaving, he issued a special circular directed to the Vincentians of France. Its background can be found in Salhorgne’s circular of 20 October 1833, which decried the low level of religious observance within the Congregation. The purpose of Nozo’s letter was to clarify issues about the observance of the vow of poverty, which he claimed was not being followed in France. Calling his confreres to a generous fulfillment of their obligations, he restated the details of the basic points that everyone should have known. In addition, he revoked all general permissions governing the use of money that had been granted in the past by vicars general or superiors general. Next, he restated the old prohibitions about travel or being outside a community for eight or ten days. For this, individuals would be obliged to obtain permission from the superior general. He included another prohibition of too much contact with the Daughters of Charity, particularly by eating with them in their houses even when the members of the two communities were working together. In hindsight, this circular probably caused more trouble than good for him, since the superior general himself would be accused of the same faults against his vow of poverty, as well as excessive contact with Daughters of Charity. His pattern of living above the law was one of the main factors in his failure and won him few friends among his French confreres.
Validity of vows
While in Rome, he asked for and received a rescript from the pope concerning the validity of the vows of certain Vincentians. This matter would play a large role in the conflict between Nozo and Ferdinand Bailly. The validity of vows has to be seen in the context of the haphazard oversight exercised by the vicars general from 1819 (when Bailly took vows) to 1827 (Dewailly’s appointment). The principal question arose about the jurisdiction received by Boujard from the Holy See. Some believed that, in the period between his election, 13 May 1819, and his official approval, 10 August 1820, those who took vows might not have done so validly, since Boujard was vicar general in name only. Nozo took the occasion of an audience with the pontiff to present his doubts. He asked simply that the pope either ratify the vows already taken, or “deign to do something for the aforesaid Congregation, by which the priests of the same could fulfill them, or in some way correct them; so that the same priests might immediately renew their vows after receiving notice that they were invalid, or at least dubious, and might enjoy all the rights and privileges completely which they used to enjoy, had they taken the same vows validly the first time.” Gregory XVI consulted with the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, Cardinal Pietro Ostini, and took a cautious approach. Instead of simply ratifying any vows taken under whatever conditions, he granted the necessary faculties to renew the vows. Besides the case of Bailly, who took vows 16 September 1819, and whose issues will be treated below, the same doubts touched the vows of only three others, Jean Grappin (27 September 1819), Naamat Falguières (2 February 1820), and Bernard Capelet (19 July 1820). For reasons unknown, but probably to be absolutely certain, at least three others also believed that their vows might have been invalid: Jean-Baptiste Etienne and Barthélémy Touvre (18 October 1822), and Marc-Antoine Poussou (21 November 1822). These three renewed their vows, as their handwritten attestations prove. Grappin’s attestation includes a text several lines long, mentioning “the defect in the authority of the vicar general of the time.” Interestingly, Etienne never referred in his later writings to this supposed defect in his original vows.
A few years later, this question of the vows had been misunderstood to such an extent that it was believed that the reason for Nozo’s first trip to Rome was to clear up the legitimacy of his election. Marcantonio Durando was one of those, but his surmise was incorrect.
Nozo signed another document during his stay in Rome, on 12 July 1837. In this declaration, he officially made Etienne his special representative and general proxy for affairs concerning the Congregation. As procurator general, Etienne could collect debts, pursue lawsuits and arrange for mediation of cases out of court. This document was countersigned by Cardinal Lambruschini, secretary of state, a proof of its importance to the Holy See. A minor matter was a letter Nozo fired off to Marius Barozzi, a Vincentian in Aleppo. He and his confreres had, according to Nozo, drawn down humiliations on him, because of “your supposed zeal, your intemperate justifications and your inconsiderate declamations.” They had lodged some complaints with authorities in Rome about one of their confreres, Nicolas Gaudez (1763-1844), who had heard the confessions of women in his residence, opening himself to possible scandal. Nozo, in summary, had made the rounds of the offices of the papal curia and took such actions as curial officials required of him.
One of the first steps he took after his return, 20 September, was to name his younger brother Constant as his private secretary. Honoré Constant Nozo (1803-1858) entered the Congregation 16 September 1825 and took his vows 23 September 1827. He was a member of the Saint Lazare house in 1835 when his brother was elected and was the treasurer of the local community at that time. It is tempting to see in this strange appointment a way for the superior general to shield himself somewhat from his official secretary, Jean-Baptiste Etienne. It may also point to what would develop into the disastrous rift between the superior general and his council. Another family member also entered the picture, his nephew Alexandre Gérault, who lived not far from the mother house. Nozo seems to have used him to help with his finances while superior general and even after, when he lodged with him. By using this relative, Nozo was able to bypass the controls put in place by Etienne over the Congregation’s accounts, and thus live above the law.
Another decision the superior general made in the autumn of 1837 was to continue his austere reformation agenda by decreeing the restoration of two points of traditional Vincentian life. The first was “separation,” that is, keeping the various categories of Vincentians apart--novices, brothers, students with vows, priests--except for certain activities. This practice had been neglected during the troubled years of reconstruction after the Revolution. The second was the reinstatement of the recitation of the Divine Office in common. This practice often conflicted with the active life of the missioners and was consequently neglected in many houses or observed only sporadically. He had already decided that the novices would no longer be able to study philosophy or theology during their novitiate.
1838-1842, the Bailly Case
On his return to Paris from Rome, Nozo began to confront an issue that would contribute to his downfall, the case of Amable-Ferdinand-Joseph Bailly, superior of the house at Amiens. It is difficult to underestimate the role played by this important seminary, staffed by the Vincentians both before and after the Revolution. It was often the scene of dramatic events involving the participants in far-reaching causes.
Ferdinand Bailly was born 15 September 1785 in Bryas, Pas-de-Calais, and, quite probably for family reasons, came to the Amiens seminary. His father, André-Joseph, had been a loyal supporter of the Congregation, which entrusted him temporarily with a collection of Saint Vincent’s original letters and documents during the Revolution. He returned them at length, and they may be the same as those brought by the small group of Daughters of Charity and Vincentians to Turin in 1792, along with the relic of his heart and items of his clothing. Veneration for the saint was traditional in the family, and it makes sense, therefore, that Bailly would come to Amiens. Besides, Dominique Hanon, a friend of the Bailly family, was at Amiens, and took an interest in Ferdinand’s education. However, since the Congregation did not exist legally at that time in France (suppressed as it was for the second time from 26 September 1809 to 3 February 1816), he was unable to become a Vincentian. He began to teach at the seminary in 1806, at age twenty-one, although he was not ordained a priest until the Saturday of Passion week, 6 April, 1811. He then became the professor of theology.
Bailly appears to have moved to Paris for a time, although this is far from certain. In an enticing letter that became important later on, Hanon invited him to move to Paris. “I am anxious to have you here; we are very well here, and you will be the fifth person. You can help me with my correspondence. Besides, [at Amiens] you would have to teach that class that is harming your health. The Congregation will soon be reestablished. In fact, we have been established by the pope and recognized by the king; I have the right to delegate my place and my powers to whomever I wish among those confreres with me.” Even if he did not come when Hanon called him, he took his vows in Paris, 16 November 1819, in new Saint Lazare. He was the first Vincentian to do so after the Revolution. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, he took vows precisely during the period between the nomination and formal approval of Father Boujard by the Holy See. This state of doubt would be one of the features in Bailly’s eventual removal from the Congregation.
When the Vincentians resumed control of the Amiens seminary in 1820, Bailly served as its procurator (treasurer) for the years 1820 to 1827, to be succeeded by Etienne. In that year, Pierre Dewailly became superior general, and Bailly succeeded him as superior of the seminary. Two years later, he was appointed visitor of Picardy, quite possibly just in time to preside over the provincial assembly of 1829 leading to the general assembly that elected Salhorgne as superior general.
Beginning with Bailly’s appointment as superior in 1827, he no longer submitted financial reports, perhaps relying on the seminary’s treasurer to do so. Why it took until 1838, more than ten years, for Etienne, the procurator general, and the council to deal with this problem is unknown, but Nozo and his council must have wanted to clean up several of the issues facing them, this being the most serious. One of the legal briefs drawn up to support Bailly claimed that the cause was in “a secret dissension [that] arose that inspired new accusations on the part of the superior general of the Lazarists, unfavorable to the petitioner [Bailly].” The members of the council, however, had two other concerns. First, Bailly had been responsible for Amiens and two subsidiary houses, Montdidier and Roye. Perhaps because Dewailly had run Montdidier as almost a personal undertaking, capital expenses in the three places even in Bailly’s time had never been authorized by Paris, and expenses outran income. Further, since the funds always remained in Bailly’s hands, he was able to engage in huge and unsupervised financial transactions, including help for his brother Emmanuel and for nephews and nieces. Second, Bailly refused to give up being superior and visitor, and come to Paris as ordered. Consequently, the council judged it right to send someone to remove him. By the end of January 1838, Bailly wrote Nozo asking him to delay any decision for the sake of his family, but by the middle of the next month the superior general had named Jean Grappin as his “extraordinary commissary” to visit the Amiens house. To accompany him, Nozo appointed Jean-Baptiste Mauriac (1805-1845), who had replaced Nozo’s brother Constant as the house treasurer in Paris as of 1838-1839. Grappin’s charge included bringing order to the house and extended, should this be necessary, to deposing Bailly, the superior and visitor, and substituting someone else in those two offices.
Grappin’s and Mauriac’s work must have taken some time, since the first mention of the results comes in the general council meeting of the following 23 July. Grappin reported that he had worked to decipher Bailly’s accounts and had held good conversations with him. Bailly, undoubtedly sensing the danger to himself, went on the offensive by demanding reimbursement for the expenses he had undertaken for Montdidier. He was unable, however, to furnish Grappin any financial documentation or exact accounting of these expenses. Further, Bailly demanded reimbursement for expenses he had undertaken to begin the parish of Sainte Anne, practically adjacent to the seminary. He had also made questionable loans to his brother, Emmanuel. Since Ferdinand Bailly had little personal wealth, the money he lent his brother probably came from the Vincentian funds that he was managing. This loan amounted to 67,000 fr, plus another 53,200 fr entrusted to the seminary which Bailly designated to produce an annuity for Emmanuel of five percent. As a result of Grappin’s investigations, he removed Bailly and installed Jean Brioude in his place. The council approved his actions and determined that the expenses were to be accounted as coming from the funds of the three institutions, Amiens, Montdidier and Roye, with no expectation that the Congregation would be obliged to meet any or their debts. Precedents existed for acting differently, as in a case from 1829. In that year, the issue was funds that Dewailly had left in his will. He was supposed to have received 10,000 to invest for the hospital at Arras, but no one knew this and no records were found after his death. In that case, the council agreed to guarantee the income due the hospital, at least until it could discover what actually happened. In any case, it never reoccurs in the minutes of the council.
After Bailly’s removal, matters moved quickly. In a meeting of the council of 29 August, the vows of Ferdinand Bailly were “recognized and declared null.” This expression was ambiguous. For Nozo and the council it meant that although Bailly had taken vows, even if of doubtful validity, they were declared henceforth to be null or without effect. This was the tenor of Nozo’s letter to Bailly, written soon after. It accompanied his notice of dismissal, and spoke of a dispensation from his vows. Bailly, however, read the expression as meaning that his vows had always been null and, in that sense, he would later demand a salary for the years he had worked as an employee of the Congregation beginning in 1807, when he claimed he entered. Nozo and his council would counter that he became a member only on 16 September 1819, the day of his vows. Besides, Bailly must have received room and board and probably expenses during those twelve years, 1807-1819. In at least one letter written some months before his vows in 1819, Bailly admitted to Boullangier that, although he was not yet strictly a son of Saint Vincent, the other Vincentians were pleased that he was one by desire. In this matter, Etienne’s view differed, taking the side of Bailly. At least his report of Bailly’s and Nozo’s discussions related that Nozo held that Bailly never had vows. This version is at variance with the facts.
Nozo’s dismissal is direct and unyielding. He accused Bailly of lacking respect for the superior general and of not fulfilling his responsibilities as superior (to say nothing of being visitor). Nozo then listed those points that he found particularly offensive: unauthorized loans, destruction of financial records, poor bookkeeping and inconsistent explanations for various financial transactions. In view of this, the council had lost its trust in Bailly. Nevertheless, Nozo concluded by acknowledging Bailly’s devotion to the Congregation, and hoped to have an occasion to demonstrate his gratitude to his former professor. Bailly, humiliated and confused, then left the seminary at Amiens where he had worked for more than thirty years.
Bailly initiated a campaign to justify his position, one that would end in a public trial. The most significant issue that he brought up involved a deposit in his own name of 62,000 fr by Hanon with a certain François-Hippolyte-Constant Corne de Brillemont. This investment, which took place in 1814 was undertaken to assure a steady income for the Congregation. After Hanon’s death in 1816, the title to the funds passed to his “residuary legatee” (légataire universelle) Sr. Anne Déboutin, D.C., who lent her name to the transaction to guarantee that the Congregation would receive the income. She then grew ill and, to protect the investment, passed the role of legatee to three Vincentians. In 1829 Boujard asked Corne to transfer the payment of the income to the account of just one person, Bailly, instead of to the three named priests. In Bailly’s mind, therefore, Hanon had invested the money for Bailly personally and not for the Congregation. He cited as proof an 1816 letter from Hanon which concluded: “For you alone: I have a considerable fortune in my hands; this will reassure you about the future for you and your brother, and it can make you independent. It is time for you to move [to Paris].” Nozo and the council naturally contested Bailly’s claim to the money, responding that Bailly was never the owner of the income but acted only as a figurehead (prête-nom) for the Congregation, which could not legally receive this income in its own name. The situation grew tenser after Le Go, Nozo’s first assistant, visited Bailly to negotiate a solution. Bailly threatened that if the Congregation would not give him what he demanded, he would indemnify himself from the Corne income which he still controlled. These funds, however, had appeared on the Congregation’s books from 1831.
Another irritant in the relation between Bailly and the Congregation was that he was also a vicar general of the diocese of Amiens. He held this office from 1831 despite the common prohibition in the Congregation against accepting such responsibilities. The bishop undoubtedly needed his help and more or less forced it on him. Salhorgne, in fact, permitted him to retain it. Nevertheless, Nozo wanted him to give it up, but the bishop would not agree. After Bailly’s expulsion from the Congregation, he then demanded his back salary as a vicar general of Amiens, which he claimed had been paid to the Congregation and not to him. If he had not been a member, as he now claimed, he would have a right to the salary. But Nozo’s position was that Bailly had been a member. Besides, Nozo and the council contested this claim on factual grounds, since they held that Bailly had destroyed the account books and thus could not offer any proof that he did not receive the salary.
A smaller issue, though probably no less irritating, was the presence of a woman living at the seminary. Mademoiselle Havequez had been an Augustinian of the Hotel Dieu in Paris before the Revolution. When her community was disbanded, she came to the seminary in Amiens in 1806, thanks to the charity of Father Hanon. She lodged in the buildings, taking charge of the laundry, the infirmary and the kitchen. She clearly enjoyed the confidence of Fathers Bailly, Dewailly and Salhorgne, so much so that she began to help Bailly with his accounts, even taking a leading role in managing them. Since she had moved into the seminary before the Congregation had full control of the institution, her presence was at least tolerated. Afterwards, however, she fell under the prohibition in the Common Rules against women living in Vincentian houses. For this reason, Nozo, in his drive to restore proper order to Vincentian life, at least wanted her out of the building. Bailly acquiesced by building a little house for her, but on the seminary property.
Arbitration or legal action?
Sometime in 1839, Bailly attempted to have these various issues submitted to binding arbitration. Nozo mistakenly refused the offer, against the advice of the archbishop of Paris. Failing that, Bailly saw no other option than to go to court. The first trial, for which Bailly enlisted the help of several attorneys, was held in early January 1840, with the court finding in Bailly’s favor. He had argued for various sums, principally the salary supposedly owed him as an employee of the Congregation, amounting to 39,000 fr, and the ownership of the Corne investment. The court commented on Nozo’s personality, characterizing him as a model of austerity and virtue overwhelmed by the pressures of reform. They concluded that, although Nozo had wanted to do good, he had done evil instead. The superior general was then ordered to pay 50,728.57 fr, the remainder of what Bailly had on account as of 20 February 1839, plus 39,150 fr for his years at Amiens, 1807 to 1838. Nozo shared the bad news of the court’s ruling with the superiors of France and possibly with others. He likewise informed the archbishop of Paris, giving the Congregation’s side of the story. He also asked the archbishop’s help in view of a possible appeal.
Nozo’s council met several times to decide what to do next. They determined in the first place that the affair was a major one that affected the entire Congregation, not just the superior general personally. But when in another meeting the members discussed the draft of Nozo’s brief against Bailly, Grappin and Nozo engaged in an angry confrontation, since Grappin believed that an appeal would not be in the spirit of Saint Vincent nor in the interest of the Congregation. A further session clarified their thinking, and they decided that an appeal would be launched not to exact vengeance on Bailly but to preserve the honor of the Congregation. Aladel and Etienne drafted the brief, but Nozo must have felt it necessary to defend the Congregation publicly, so he had 3000 copies printed and distributed in the dioceses of France.
The appeal moved forward in mid-1840 through the gathering of information and the publication of several briefs. One of the underlying issues that needed clarification concerned Bailly’s vows. In the practice of those days, a person became a member of the Congregation of the Mission only with his vows. Because of the doubts about those who took vows during the first months of Boujard’s office as vicar general, it was uncertain whether Boujard could have legitimately admitted someone to vows. Armed with the papal rescript, Nozo was able to remove the doubt, and the confreres in question apparently requested permission to renew their vows. It appears that Bailly did not make this request, but in any case, he would have been refused. Possibly he understood his situation and decided not to pursue the matter. One of the many briefs stated that Bailly was not permitted to renew his vows, but no evidence for this assertion exists. For the reasons mentioned above, the council had decided to expel him, whether his vows were valid or not, and did not pronounce on the question of their validity. The distinction about departing from the Congregation by leaving or dismissal is an important one, having been decided by the general assembly of 1670 in the time of Alméras and subsequently approved by the state. The solution was that those who left through dismissal were not entitled to any salaries for the time they had spent in the Congregation. Charity, of course, dictated some help to those who left, but nothing was due them in justice. Yet Nozo’s position was weak, since he had doubts about Bailly’s vows and had received the papal rescript precisely for cases like his.
Although exact information is lacking, it is known that the council under Salhorgne, 20 June 1829, dealt with a similar case, that of Jean-François Trippier, who had taken vows in 1820. This priest thought that his vows were null, based on the decision of the general assembly of 1829, and he asked permission to renew them. The council did not wish to allow this, “since they do not see in him the spirit of his state.” In his case, since he had been with the Congregation for nine years, the council agreed to allow him to remain at Amiens, “supported and fed as a confrere,” but without receiving any stipend apart from his masses. Since Bailly was superior of Amiens at this time, this decision must have had some impact on his later thinking about his own case.
The Congregation’s attorneys prepared their briefs, but these did not contain much new information, apart from legal reasoning against Bailly’s and the court’s positions. Nozo enlisted the help of the bishop of Amiens, Jean-Marie Miolland (1837-1849) and submitted the draft of the brief to him for comment. In concluding his presentation to the bishop, Nozo held out the possibility of arbitration, probably by ecclesiastical authorities. Unfortunately for the Congregation, the legal appeal was rejected at some point in June 1840.
No sooner was this matter concluded, at least for the moment, than another lawsuit arose. At the end of July, Emmanuel-Joseph Bailly, a printer, living at Place Sorbonne 2, Paris, cited Nozo and the council for issuing a document that defamed his family, “Exposé des faits relatifs…”, one of the legal briefs. This Bailly, known as Bailly de Surcy (1793-1861) was the younger brother of Ferdinand Bailly, and a one-time student at the seminary of Amiens. He apparently left the seminary at the end of 1817, but seems to have returned briefly in 1819. He found work in Paris as a publisher and began several journals: Le Correspondant (1829); Revue Européenne (1831), and La Tribune Catholique (1833), which soon merged with L’Univers religieux (1836). The Congregation invested in this latter publication and employed Bailly as its publisher, at least until 1839. He also was a fervent supporter, and the first president, of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, from 1833. In his complaint against Nozo’s brief, he objected to the story of how he allegedly got the money to purchase a house and a business, etc. Further, Nozo had this brief printed in multiple copies and distributed to magistrates and made public in Paris and in the departments, particularly in the Pas de Calais, where the Bailly family originated. Nozo lost this defamation case and was condemned to pay damages and to withdraw the brief within five days. He was forced to sign a document in the presence of the archbishop in which he wrote: “I declare that I sincerely regret the insertion of the passage in question in the brief of 1 May of this year, and I will henceforth regard the passage as suppressed.” With this decision, the court appearances in the Bailly matter were terminated.
However, the case itself was not over. Nozo and his council agreed to legal arbitration, as did Bailly. Unfortunately for him, after winning two judgments, he would lose the arbitration on nearly all points. By this time, clearly, the matter was quite public.
Sister Rosalie Rendu
The figure of Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C., now arrives on the scene, whether to her credit or not. This famous Sister, known for her many charitable endeavors, had heard from her sources that the newly-installed archbishop, Denis-Auguste Affre, was about to issue an interdict against the members of the council, specifically against Fathers Etienne, Aladel, Le Go and Grappin (but not Fiorillo, the Italian assistant.) The reason was that these councilors had opposed Nozo in the Bailly conflict as well as in other matters. In writing to Affre she acknowledged that she knew only part of the question but was begging him to reconsider. Other documents show that she continued her efforts. She tried to get a priest, possibly a Sulpician, who would play some role in the negotiations, to consider Nozo’s character in any dealings with the archbishop. She also urged her correspondent to research Bailly’s dispositions before the arbitration session took place. In her opinion, Bailly’s position was weak since his credit with the banks was ruined, and consequently the archbishop should approach the discussions from that point. She wrote twice more to the archbishop, 13 and 17 August, begging him to intervene in the matter, since in her opinion most of Bailly’s allegations were false. Besides, she had often spoken with Bailly. She then went to see the archbishop in person and, in a dramatic scene, fell to her knees and refused to rise until he changed his mind about issuing his decree of interdict. According to Rosalie’s secretary, Sister Costalin, the archbishop at first refused but finally relented. His only condition was that Sister Rosalie herself take the responsibility before the judgment seat of God of burning the document in his fireplace. Unfortunately for her, these interventions earned her the undying enmity of Jean-Baptiste Etienne, although she had saved him and the council from the penalty. Indeed, Etienne, whose desire was to control people and events, realized that he could not control this powerful woman who was answerable to him as her superior general.
The arbitration panel began its work in late August by examining witnesses and evidence. Another flurry of documents ensued, restating the opinions of the parties. During this phase, Etienne took a more prominent role through his researches into documents from the time of Fathers Boujard, Dewailly and Salhorgne. Nozo became nervous at the panel’s approach and signed a document appealing to their conscience. The council too went on record by restating its position. They added a point that had not been specified previously, namely that if Bailly’s vows had been invalid, since he had attended the general assemblies of 1829 and 1835 as visitor, the decisions of those assemblies could well have been rendered null, including, of course, the elections of Dominique Salhorgne and Jean-Baptiste Nozo. It was undoubtedly for this reason that Nozo had requested a special document from the Holy See to ratify the decisions of the assemblies. Since he had not previously consulted the council about this, he managed to alienate them further and to contribute to their sense of being useless.
On 23 September 1840, the day after this last document, the arbitrators rendered their decision. They overturned the previous judgment as badly made and determined that Bailly was not due the sum determined in that decision. Consequently, Bailly would have to pay back to the Congregation 395,827.80 fr. Further, he would have to restore the title of the Corne investment to Nozo, withdraw his brief and, as a final punishment, pay the costs of the arbitration. Several other points received action in the next several months. For one, Bailly had to sign various declarations clearing up financial transactions. Lastly , the council agreed, undoubtedly out of charity, to pay Bailly an income for the rest of his life.
Bailly remained in Amiens where he had been named an honorary canon and then dean of the chapter. His business affairs and those of his brother involved him in various problems, and Bailly left Amiens in 1849 for Paris. While there, he received support both from the Congregation and the diocese of Amiens. Nevertheless, according to Etienne, Bailly’s possessions had to be put up for auction, probably from bankruptcy, and he lived, at least for a time, in “humiliation and misery.” Details about his later life are lacking, although it is known that at the end of his life, he was living in the parish of the Parisian suburb of Neuilly, nearly blind. He died there 15 April 1864.
Although Nozo and the Congregation were finally vindicated, great damage had been done to his reputation, so much so that many believed that he had finally lost the case. What he might have regarded as a victory of good supervision over lax administration turned out to be a disaster. It is also surprising to notice the similarities between the Bailly case and Nozo’s: highhanded financial dealings, personalized administration, rejection and isolation.
1838-1842, The Denis-Hennecart case, other financial matters
At the same time that Nozo and his council were dealing with Bailly, another case arose. It was equally as bitter and public, and the outcome would be the same: the Congregation and Nozo as its representative would be judged innocent on appeal. Nevertheless, the nature of the case was such as to contribute equally forcefully to Nozo’s downfall.
The case involved a family of four: Marie-Adrien Denis-Hennecart (called Adrien Denis); his wife: Marie-Catherine-Sophie Mercier; their son, Jules Denis-Hennecart, and a daughter, known as Mme. Lavende. Nozo was a distant cousin of Sophie Mercier, Denis-Hennecart’s wife. Adrien would later claim that he had favored Nozo’s attempt to marry one of his sisters-in-law in his young life, but this did not work out. Nozo then, according to Adrien, went to study pharmacy, but that did not work out either. Finally, after Nozo entered the seminary, he always remained on good terms with his cousin and family. It is unknown whether this assertion is true, but Nozo did not challenge it in court. Adrien characterized Nozo’s personality as “dominating under the guise of humility, restless, demanding, underhanded, bothersome.” He concluded that Nozo’s personality had led to his recall from the houses where he was stationed: St. Flour, Cahors, Paris, Amiens (for reasons of health), and Châlons (regarded as the poorest of the Vincentian seminaries). There is no evidence for the reasons behind this constant shifting of assignment but, since Nozo was appointed visitor, with residence at Châlons, he must have had a good reputation with Salhorgne. Nonetheless, Adrien’s description may have some basis in fact, in the light of subsequent events.
The facts of the relationship between Nozo and Adrien Denis are complex. In 1835, Nozo lent 4500 fr to his cousin. Then, when one or more creditors sought to recover 5000 fr from Denis, he declared bankruptcy. Nozo stepped in with his own money, assumed the debt, paid the principal creditor, and thereby became a creditor for 9500 fr. Nozo’s attorney, Maître Louis Etienne, a brother of Jean-Baptiste, was also an acquaintance of the Denis-Hennecart family. He proposed to Nozo a mortgage to pay off the family’s creditors and to make some money for himself. By means of the mortgage, Nozo was then able to satisfy the other creditors, and his cousin’s debt to him increased to nearly 57,000 fr. The collateral for the mortgage was a meadow valued at 50,000 fr. Since Denis eventually was unable to make regular payments to Nozo, he sold the property for 50,000 fr, instead of for the 80,000 fr that Denis believed his meadow was worth. Since he felt cheated, he claimed that the land was still his and threatened a lawsuit to recover title.
In the meantime, Jules, Adrien’s son, moved to Paris, to lodge with Maître Etienne. Jules concocted many financial schemes, mostly useless, and in his frequent financial difficulties he would approach Nozo for money. As one example, Jules got the idea of establishing a business to produce waterproof cloth for which he invented a process. Nozo loaned cousin Jules 10,000 fr to get him started, but Jules would later assert that since these funds came from his family’s funds held by Nozo on deposit they were not a loan. Jules found himself unable to repay the money and asked Nozo for more. He agreed to this, but only on condition of the assent of Jules’ mother, which she gave, as supposed owner of the business notes. In a legally risky move, Nozo added these conditions in his own hand to the original agreement. All did not go well, and Jules then claimed that Nozo wanted to take over Jules’s business in favor of Nozo’s nephews. Adrien Denis himself came to Paris to ask Nozo to forget his son’s misdeeds and to loan him more money to keep him out of jail (as appeared possible). At this point, the father signed over the notes to Nozo, making him the owner of the Denis-Hennecart funds. Nozo then calculated that Adrien now owed him a total of 66,000 fr. In addition, Adrien had several other creditors and mortgage holders.
Lawsuit, Denis v. Nozo
Predictably, Denis went to court to secure what he believed to be his rights. As part of the preliminaries, he published a notorious brief, “Exposé pour Mr. Denis Hennecart … contre M. Nozo,” in 104 pages. In his statement of facts, he added the following bitter denunciation: “Others have been able to meet faithless depositors who, after deceiving their confidence, have attempted to complete their ruin and that of their family. But it has never happened that they have met in the author of a similar initiative a relative, a priest, the head of a truly esteemed religious order, and, which is truly incredible, a person who, in his ecclesiastical position, occupies the place of Saint Vincent de Paul.” It was this document that the deputies to the 1841 assembly found on the tables in their rooms when they arrived.
Despite the libelous nature of the Denis brief, it contains important details about other financial dealings undertaken by Nozo, which he never denied. According to Denis, Nozo was known as an able speculator, with investments in the Bank of Belgium, in a company established to clear the Landes of Bordeaux from the threatening sand dunes, and in other schemes. He claimed that Nozo acted through third parties so that in this way he could claim to be poor and still receive money from Propagation de la Foi. It is doubtful that Nozo’s motives were that underhanded, however. Further, Denis knew, somehow—perhaps through Jean-Baptiste Etienne to his brother, attorney Louis Etienne, a friend of Denis—that Nozo had funds invested in the United States, in railroads, and elsewhere, including a fund to hire military replacements for those called up in a draft. Denis even quoted his cousin as calling himself “the Rothschild of religious orders,” and writing: “I could lose one million and be no less rich for it.” Of course, these are unsupported citations, but it is tempting to believe Denis since, as will be seen, these expressions are in keeping with Nozo’s character.
The attorneys set to work and produced the usual panoply of statements and counter statements. Denis’s team drew up a formidable spread-sheet claiming that even though their client owed something to Nozo, he in turn owed Denis père et fils more than 300,000 fr. At a preliminary hearing, the court determined that the members of the superior general’s council were not involved, meaning thereby that the whole case was a personal matter involving Nozo alone. Denis and his attorneys then opted for arbitration, with each side choosing one arbitrator, with the court adding a third.
The arbitrators rendered their decision 7 December 1841, and found for Nozo. Denis lodged an appeal, but lost again, 10 August 1842, with the court finding that the Congregation had acted in accordance with its internal laws and with civil law. This decision was not widely known in the Congregation, leading to the conclusion that Nozo had unwisely speculated in the financial markets and had thus brought about huge losses to the Congregation and to Denis. Evidently, this conclusion is erroneous.
Denis and his lawyers were not ones to give up without a fight. They lodged other appeals on fine points of civil and canon law, but by the middle of 1843 the case seems to have run its course, with the original decisions confirmed. The advocate general concluded his statement by questioning whether the Congregation or Nozo had acted fraudulently. He answered that they had not, but that Nozo had a blind and misplaced confidence in Denis. By this time, of course, Nozo had resigned. A biting statement, which must have summarized the opinion of some of his confreres, was added by an unknown hand, written entirely in capital letters at the end of one of the documents involving the Denis-Hennecart matter: “M. NOZO IS NOT A TRUE PRIEST.”
Before concluding this material, it is worthwhile presenting some of the details alluded to above concerning Nozo’s, and Etienne’s, financial investments in the United States, since they shine light on the complexity of the finances. In early 1837, Nozo wrote to John Timon, the first American visitor, that he had decided to send funds to Philadelphia for fear of another revolution in France. Timon then went to work and, through a contact made on a sea voyage, entered into correspondence with Ramsey Crooks, president of the powerful American Fur Company of New York. Crooks counseled against investing in the Bank of the United States (New York) and proposed the recently-founded Bank of the State of Missouri instead. Investments were made, however, in both banks in the name of Jean-Baptiste Nozo. As it happened, Crooks was well informed. The Bank of the State of Missouri survived the depression of 1837, but the Bank of the United States, while giving better interest, ultimately failed. A regular correspondence ensued among Timon, Nozo and Etienne, and the surviving letters show that more than 100,000 fr were invested in the period 1838-1840, with a return rate of approximately five percent.
Despite the impending chaos in Nozo’s administration, the financial records of the time show a steady series of other investments. They included municipal bonds from Naples, a Roman bank and Austrian mines. In all of these, Nozo and Etienne acted prudently.
The Daughters of Charity and other ministries
Not everything that happened under the generalate of Nozo resulted in scandal. On the official level, Nozo’s relationship with the Daughters of Charity was correct. He wrote five circulars addressed to them in his first two years of office, but only two in his last years. As mentioned above, none of these was ever published, although the individual letters were printed and distributed to the houses at the time they were written.
His message to the Sisters was generally in keeping with his initial hopes for restoration of the observance of their rules and the extirpation of abuses. Given his subsequent problems with certain Sisters, however, it is clear that he did not follow his own advice.
One major element concerning his attention to the Sisters was that of a possible union of the Sisters of Charity of America, founded by Elizabeth Ann Seton, with the Daughters of Charity of Paris. Nozo favored this union, seeing in it the greater glory of God, the spiritual good of the Sisters, and spiritual and temporal advantages for the poor.
Several other important initiatives began or developed during his administration. The first was the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. This organization began as a student initiative to make the Gospel living through care for the poor. The first six members were young Catholic students interested in deepening their faith. Their leader was Frédéric Ozanam, who, together with his companions, met under the presidency of Emmanuel- Joseph Bailly (1794-1861). The society came slowly into being, meeting first in 1833 as the “Conference of Charity,” and then in 1835 with its traditional name. The founding members were supported and formed, as well, by the energetic Sister Rosalie Rendu.
All the members had careers of their own—Ozanam was a lawyer but also taught literature at the Sorbonne. As the society took shape, the members decided to divide into parish groupings to better serve the poor of their local parishes. Ozanam, however, died at age forty. Despite Emmanuel-Joseph Bailly’s personal dealings with the Congregation, the first members of the Society enjoyed good relationships with the Vincentians, mainly at the mother house in Paris. They came there at the beginning of their work, in the time of Salhorgne, to pray before the relics of Saint Vincent, and the problems that assailed the Congregation under Nozo did not seem to have touched them. As a lay organization, the Society and the Congregation followed separate paths but came together at various points in prayer and collaboration in the service of the poor.
Refoundation of the Ladies of Charity]]
The second great work stemming from this time was the refoundation of the Ladies of Charity. This work stemmed from the Confraternities of Charity began by Saint Vincent in Châtillon-les-Dombes in 1617. This initiative spread widely in his time, but it never developed a national organization. The Ladies of Charity, by contrast, began in Paris a few years later under Vincent’s guidance, and he continued to collaborate with its aristocratic presidents during his entire life. At the Revolution, the organization was suppressed, although the spirit of charity continued.
In 1839, while the vicomtesse Le Vavasseur was at the Berceau, she had the inspiration to do something about re-creating the same works that existed in Vincent’s time. In Paris, this would mean working for the poor. For reasons unknown, she approached Jean-Baptiste Etienne about it and he agreed to work with them, even later becoming their director. His typical attention to detail led him to base their rule on that drawn up by Vincent himself. Discussion led the twelve original members to devote themselves to the poor district of Saint Marceau. The archbishop gave his approval, and put them into contact with the pastor of Saint Medard parish and with his most famous parishioner, Sister Rosalie. The work spread quickly to other parishes, and collections were taken up in affluent parishes to aid the poor of other parishes. Although Nozo did not take an active part in the work of the Ladies of Charity, he did nothing to diminish Etienne’s role in their work.
Another work was the Oeuvre du Prêtre, an organization that ran homes for priests. This charity began in 1837 under the presidency of Charles-Auguste-Marie-Joseph Forbin-Janson (1785-1844), bishop of Nancy. Throughout his life, he had began numerous charitable causes, some of which had a long life, such as the Holy Childhood Association. He was an organizational genius in the mode of Vincent de Paul and, like Vincent, was an indefatigable fundraiser among the French aristocracy. In the case of the Oeuvre du Prêtre, however, after he left the work for other things, it began to fall apart without his charismatic presence. At this point, Jean-Baptiste Etienne became involved with the work. The probable connection was a Daughter of Charity, “good Sister Geray,” regarded as the “soul and promoter” of the operation. Its minutes from early 1840 show that the officers, including Etienne, decided to offer the work to Nozo, but always under the presidency of a board of interested bishops. In addition to Sister Geray, Rosalie Rendu also participated. Her role was to pass along requests for help from needy priests. Despite all the good will and sacrifices, the work did not continue, and documents cease in 1840. Nozo was not personally involved in this organization, although he was its titular head.
As the growth of these works shows, France in the 1830s and 1840s was undergoing a brilliant religious revival. The vocational picture was, therefore, very encouraging. A study of those who entered the Congregation during the years of Nozo’s generalate, shows a total of 138, about fifteen every year. A large group of seventeen were Irish, from the newly united Irish Vincentians, who came to make their initial formation in Paris. A sizable number of all the entrants were either priests (twenty-one in all) or deacons or subdeacons (twenty-five), many of whom had been already formed by Vincentians. The Nozo scandals seems to have affected the Congregation’s ability to attract new members, since a drastic fall-off occurred in 1843, from fifteen French entrants in 1842 to only two in 1843 and five the following year. The true cause is unknown, but the correlations are striking.
In the midst of these good works, other issues threatened the future of the Congregation. One was the continuing conflict concerning the role of religious congregations in France. François-André Isambert, who had threatened the existence of the Congregation nearly a decade before, rose again in the National Assembly to denounce teaching congregations. He was particularly concerned about minor seminaries, which, in his opinion, were simply boarding schools supported by rich families, and about provincial girls’ schools run by nuns. All these, he argued, damaged the public schools of France.
A similar anti-clerical stance was evident in the attempt by someone on the Council of State to separate the governance of the Daughters of Charity from Nozo, as superior general of the Congregation of the Mission. The Council went back to certain decrees from previous decades to show that Nozo was legally incapable of presiding over the council of the Sisters. Were this true, then contracts signed by them under his presidency would be invalid, entailing a possible loss of property. Although nothing came of this attempt, it shows that the position of the two congregations continued to be under threat.
==1840-1842, the Council]]
Although the Nozo and the Congregation won the cases brought by Bailly and Denis-Hennecart, these public affairs plus Nozo’s private way of acting and his troublesome personality were driving a wedge between him and his council. They would ultimately lead them to mutiny.
A stormy session took place “during the vacation of 1840,” as narrated by Jean Grappin, his appointed admonitor and his principal antagonist on the council. During this session, various issues were discussed, such as a problem at the seminary of Châlons, where Nozo had been the superior before his election. Rather than follow his council’s advice, he brusquely said that he would handle the matter himself. The Council turned next to two of the Congregation’s schools in France, Montdidier and Montolieu. For some time, these two secondary schools had been a financial drain on the Congregation, and major loans had been made to rescue them. This was reflected in the annual financial reports drawn up by Etienne in his capacity as general treasurer of the Congregation, in 1838 and 1839. The council believed it would be wise to give up these two schools, but no decision was taken. Indeed, the matter was not resolved in Nozo’s time.
Since Etienne was the general treasurer as well as secretary of the general council, he must have had a lot to say in this meeting, particularly since he or someone else brought up the issue of Nozo’s loans to Adrien Denis. The members also objected to the fact that the superior general had made a large loan to the Province of Naples of 10,000 fr without saying anything to the council. Although the Constitutions of 1668 obliged the superior general to seek the permission of his assistants for important loans, the exact meaning of “important” was not defined in real terms. In any case, his cavalier procedure concerned them greatly.
The council turned next to the issue of the normal sexennial assembly to be held in 1841, six years after the previous one. Their discussion was lengthy and controverted, with the council opting for a sexennial assembly but Nozo holding for a general assembly. According to Grappin, Nozo refused to discuss his reasons, and thus Grappin concluded, “he has a great lack of compatibility with his council.” The members, who should have been his helpers, became his adversaries. The decision, however, was to convoke a sexennial assembly.
Nozo then surprised the members by communicating a brief that he had personally sought from Rome, requesting decisions about supposed errors committed during the last assembly, the nullity of vows and the validity of his election as superior general. He had been concerned about the effect of the presence of the unelected Spanish delegate at the 1835 assembly. The members were understandably upset since he had said nothing to any of them, who should have known what was happening. Consequently, they regarded the request for the brief as sneaky. As it happened, the pope did not do anything specific about validating Nozo’s election, regarding it as without error.
Neglect of the council
As if to ease his strained relations with the council, Nozo did not often meet with them in the period 1839-1840. This was not the first time, however. No council minutes exist for more than a year, from 2 May 1836, to 19 September 1837. He had been absent for a while during that time, first in the south of France in 1836 and then in Italy, from May through August 1837, but his absences do not explain the lack of minutes. There may have been informal meetings, however, since he wrote, as he was obliged to do, to the visitors of Europe about the nomination of Grappin, his second assistant, to the role of admonitor after the death of Salhorgne, the previous admonitor. In his letter to the visitors, dated 21 September 1836, Nozo mentions that he had received the consent of his council, but the official minutes do not reflect any meeting. In the period 1839-1840, there was a space of four months, from 22 October 1839 to 2 March 1840, when he did not hold council meetings. He was not often absent, since at the same time he regularly presided at the meetings of the general council of the Daughters of Charity (23 October, 29 November 1839 and then nearly weekly from 15 January to 4 March 1840).
In neglecting his council, Nozo was acting against the intention and spirit, if not the exact letter, of the Constitutions of 1668. The text of chapter 1, article 4 begins with a general statement: “… he [the superior general] cannot govern the entire Congregation by himself.” Given this, the superior general is to use the officials of the Congregation, namely visitors, local superiors and, more importantly for this discussion, the secretary and procurator of the Congregation. His specific obligation to treat of major matters with his council is also stated in chapter 2, article 2.
Against this constitutional background, therefore, Nozo’s refusal to sign the annual financial reports for 1840 and 1841 as submitted by Etienne appears all the more problematic. Since these reports are not found in the archives of the procurator general, one can only speculate on the reason for Nozo’s action. It appears quite likely, however, that Etienne’s reports pointed to some of the questionable dealings in which Nozo was involved. Further, it is quite likely that he mingled funds of the Congregation with his own private money, and amounts entrusted to him for investments, particularly by at least twenty-two Daughters of Charity. The result was a financial tangle that would take years to straighten out.
In retrospect, however, it must be admitted that under Nozo’s administration, the Congregation went from an operating deficit of 87,000 fr at the end of 1838, to a surplus of 11,000 fr the following year. It can be concluded that he was managing to bring some order and development into the finances, but probably at the cost of unregulated or unaccountable transactions. His dealings with Timon show that he understood financial administration; what he lacked, clearly, was a good framework to hold everything together, both financial and personal.
It must have become common knowledge to Vincentians in France that dissension existed between Nozo and his council, although probably not the reasons for it. This is reflected in the decisions of the provincial assemblies of Paris and Lyons in particular. Contrary to the preference of the superior general’s council, the delegates to the Paris assembly, of which Etienne was a member, opted for holding a general assembly in 1841. The first reason for this decision was “dissension between the superior general and the assistants of the Congregation, which is extremely harmful to the good of the Congregation and to its wise governance.” The Lyons assembly focused on the injury done by members of the council who had not been keeping inviolable the secret doings of the council, especially by writing about them to their friends in the Congregation. Clearly there was wrong on both sides. The Province of Picardy, meeting in assembly at Amiens, restricted its comments to the “restoration of good government in the Congregation.” This concern had not been disseminated in the Italian provinces, as far as can be determined. The minutes of the provincial assembly of Lombardy, held in Genoa, show that the delegates unanimously voted against holding a general assembly and did not mention the growing problem of Nozo’s relationship to his council.
Perhaps as a way of overcoming some of this dissension, the Paris provincial assembly also went on record petitioning the redaction of rules for both the procurator general and the secretary general. It appears that the lack of proper boundaries and expectations for these two offices must have contributed to Nozo’s problems with his council and Etienne. Since Etienne was both procurator and secretary general, and a member of this provincial assembly as well as its secretary, his being secretary would offer him a way to get his point across without engaging in a more overt challenge to Nozo. Evidently nothing happened, since the province repeated its request for revised rules in the subsequent assembly, 15 June 1843, after Nozo’s resignation.
At all events, Nozo and his council approached the coming assembly seriously conflicted and brimming with mistrust. Repeating an earlier pattern, the council held no meetings between 8 March and 2 November 1841. When they resumed, Nozo had more surprises in store.
The Sexennial Assembly, 1841; Nozo’s appeal
On 28 March 1841, Nozo again wrote on his own to Gregory XVI. This time, he laid out his request for the faculty to “name, in case of absence or illness, a vicar general on whom he [Nozo] could confer his powers, limited and revocable as he may judge expedient in the Lord.” The pope replied in the usual fashion of a rescript, but without taking a stand: “We freely agree with what has been requested.” Nozo must have kept this information confidential while attempting to circumvent the mounting pressures facing him from his council and his various lawsuits. Then, on Monday, 26 July, the day before the assembly, Nozo took the fateful step of appointing Marc-Antoine Poussou as vicar general. In the Constitutions of 1668, a vicar general could take office only on the death of a superior general and on the basis of previous appointment by him. The Constitutiones selectae of 1670 recognized the possibility of a vicar general substituting for a superior general also in the case of incapacity or “some very grave external sin” (article 11). In this instance, it was the general assembly that would appoint the vicar. For these reasons, the appointment of Poussou to substitute for Nozo was canonically dubious, but Etienne, as secretary, signed the document nevertheless. It seems that Poussou had not been consulted in advance.
Similarly unaware, the assembly opened on the twenty-seventh at 5:00 p.m. It numbered a mere thirteen participants: Nozo, his four assistants, Etienne as secretary and procurator general, and seven delegates. As the first act of business, Nozo notified the members of his decision to chose and appoint Poussou, who was not present. Etienne, the secretary of the assembly, did not record in the minutes the reaction of the members, but their astonishment can be easily imagined. They must have spent that evening and the next morning in consultations, since the second session did not commence until 3:00 p.m. the next day. Nozo then read his decree appointing Poussou: “...seeing that I can no longer sustain the weight of office because of frequent illnesses and, since I have the faculty from the pope of naming a vicar general, ... I hereby give him all faculties that a vicar general exercises,” a responsibility lasting until the next general assembly. Nozo added that he had renounced the right granted him of ever withdrawing the nomination, and that the delegates should devote the next session to working out and limiting the faculties.
Before that session, the council held an informal meeting, without Nozo. They apparently believed that they had to pronounce “on certain temporal affairs.” The assistants and Etienne declared their gratitude to Nozo for his act of devotion to the interests of the Congregation (namely, stepping down, at least for the moment); their affliction at Nozo’s troubles caused by Denis-Hennecart’s libelous brief, and that Nozo had not only treated Denis well, but that he deserved thanks for it. In addition, they agreed to pay off the debt owed to Denis. This extraordinary statement has to be read, first, against the background of the mysterious appearance of the Denis-Hennecart brief that the delegates found on their table when they arrived for the assembly. Who else but the council or one of its staff, probably Etienne, could have acquired fifteen or twenty copies and distributed them? Secondly, the signers of the statement went to the trouble to have it printed and distributed. The reason is not hard to fathom. In other words, they clearly did not want to implicate themselves in Nozo’s moment of disgrace, although they were as much to blame for it as he was.
When the delegates met the following afternoon, Nozo read out his Italian-language letter to the pope and the reply. Then, in addition to the issue of his personal health, the superior general also took a swipe at his council, saying that they were of no help to him. He said that his first assistant, Le Go, at age seventy-four was sick and useless (once even calling him an imbecile.) Two others, Aladel and Grappin, were taken up with other matters. Of course, it was Nozo who gave the work to the other assistants, but this did not figure in his address to the delegates.
The secretary, Etienne, then recorded that the deputies were moved with deep edification of such an example of humility on Nozo’s part, and they requested that at least some faculties be withheld from the vicar general to maintain the honor and dignity of the generalate. They also agreed, with Nozo’s approval, that this appointment would commence the following first of November, unless the superior general decided otherwise for a grave reason and with the assent of his assistants. In this situation the superior general alone retained the right to convoke a general assembly, except in the case foreseen in the Constitutions, when the assistants could do so. Another limitation on the authority of the vicar general was that he could not dispense from vows, unless the superior general were permanently living or traveling outside France. In addition, only the superior general could name visitors; in case of need, the vicar general could name a vice-visitor until the issue was resolved. Finally, the assembly stipulated that the superior general should receive news of the Congregation from the vicar general every three months. In this last matter, there is no documentary evidence that this ever happened, and it seems unlikely.
The minutes record that that assembly agreed to this, but without giving the vote count, thus leaving the impression that the vote was unanimous. Etienne’s account of this entire procedure is highly colored. He adds details that he omitted in the laconic official record, such as Nozo’s emotional appeal for relief, on his knees and in tears. What the secretary omitted, however, was that besides the regular sessions of the assembly, other private sessions were being held in the library during which the Etienne and the council laid out their complaints against the superior general. Le Go, the first assistant, had once favored Nozo and supported his drive to return the Congregation to the strict observance of the past, but now had turned against him. Etienne, however, attributes to others the opinion that, since Nozo was unfit to govern, he should be stripped of his office. He thus protected himself from a charge of disloyalty. Nozo himself, however, in another context, admitted that he himself, or rather, his sins, had caused his disgrace. Nozo’s version, naturally, makes himself the instigator of his leave of absence. In this telling, he was protecting himself from the accusations of his council. There must be truth in both versions. Another concern was fear that Nozo might at some point resume the reins of office, another detail not mentioned in the assembly minutes. This uncertainty manifested their feelings of shock and helplessness over the events surrounding them.
Nozo’s was not the only withdrawal. Fiorillo, his fourth assistant, presented his resignation too. He cited, among other reasons, the cloudy and rainy weather of Paris, which gave him headaches and chest pains. Interestingly, he said that there was no other reason, and that he had good friends in Paris. Fiorillo agreed to leave on 1 November, the same day that Poussou would take over as vicar general. In Fiorillo’s place, Pierre-Paul Sturchi, a deputy from the Province of Lombardy, was elected.
The assembly then concluded its work on Saturday, 31 July, with the usual formalities, including the approval and signing of the minutes. They wished Nozo well as they concluded this bizarre week.
What had happened was that both sides, through careful calculation and planning, set up their own procedures to bring order out of chaos. Nozo had become increasingly involved in matters too complex for him to solve, but he tried to exercise his office on his own terms. Because of his troubled psychological state, he isolated himself from those very persons, his assistants, who should have been his natural allies. The council and its secretary, Etienne, for their part, had schemed to remove him for reasons cloaked in religious language. Unsuccessful at guiding and correcting him, they turned instead to ruin him, thereby saving themselves.
1841, Nozo on leave
It took the superior general nearly three months to send circulars concerning the outcome of the assembly to his confreres and the Daughters of Charity. Why he took so long is uncertain, but it most likely stemmed from his ambivalence about what he had initiated. He dated both letters the same day, 28 October, just prior to Poussou’s installation. As another sign of his need to avoid unpleasantness, the circular he sent to the Vincentians began, not with the main news, but with the appointment of the Spaniard José Escarra (1777-1855) as his admonitor, and of Sturchi (spelled here Stucco) as the Italian assistant replacing Fiorillo. Escarra, a refugee and professor of theology in the mother house, was twenty-one years Nozo’s elder and might have been able to give him good advice had Nozo remained. He took the pains in his circular to note that Fiorillo had resigned because of his health, had “no other motive for making this decision,” and that he respected the French. Only then did he turn to the issue of the appointment of Poussou, repeating the same details presented to the pope and the delegates. He concluded by promising to convoke a general assembly after consulting his council and the wishes of his confreres. As will be seen, his further consultation with the council was infrequent and hostile. The circular addressed to the Sisters emphasized that they should not worry or listen to rumors, of which there must have been many since he had postponed any official communication with them for so long. He was not present for their general council meetings during August and September, and joined them only twice more in October. He would therefore have had a chance to explain himself on those occasions, but the minutes of their meetings do not reflect this.
In keeping with his practice, Nozo must have left Paris quickly after the assembly. Durando blamed him for stirring up conflicts in the communities of Vincentians and Daughters that he visited. There is little evidence of Nozo’s personal sentiments apart from individual letters. In a very frank one written from Dieppe, 15 September, addressed to his friend Vito Guarini (1805-1871), the Italian procurator in Rome, he confides: “After you left, I had to undergo some very strange treatment by my assistants, at the instigation of and according to the treacherous maneuvers of that attorney whom you have seen, and who played such a strange role at the time of the assembly.” He is probably speaking of Maître Mandaroux, who would have an important hand in Nozo’s later treatment. He concluded that he had been deceived about this attorney, who had favored his dear friend Etienne, who had managed to secure for the attorney a rich wife. “My career is finished” is Nozo’s conclusion. Other letters to his friend Guarini are equally personal and revealing. “I will tell you, however, that certain maneuvers that caused our problems are slowly coming to light, especially the spirit that moved the people on the council—I mean some of them.”
One can have nothing but the deepest respect and appreciation for the life and ministry of Marc-Antoine Poussou (1794-1860). His paternal uncle, a priest, had fled to Spain during the Terror but returned to France to minister in hiding. It was he who inspired Antoine’s vocation. After nearly completing his studies in the diocesan seminary at Cahors, he sensed a missionary vocation and sought to accompany Bishop William Dubourg to the United States. Instead, this vivacious young man entered the Congregation, 26 March 1819. He was ordained a priest a little more than a year later, 27 May 1820, and pronounced his vows, 21 November 1822 at the seminary of Sarlat where he was stationed. His ministry brought him next to the parish missions. After six years, Boujard fulfilled Poussou’s desire for foreign missions, assigning him to Syria.
In the Middle East, he proved to be an energetic worker in preaching and catechizing, as well as in restoring neglected or abandoned missions. While in Damascus, he met the poet Alphonse de Lamartine, who found him “excellent, pious, educated, and friendly.” The writer admired Poussou’s steadfastness in the face of great indifference among the Christians of that city. Poussou became the first prefect apostolic of the mission of Syria in 1833, and then the first provincial of the new Province of Syria in 1839, an office he exercised only briefly. Nozo assigned him back in France, where he was quickly appointed superior of the important seminary at Cahors and, in January 1841, visitor of Aquitaine. By the end of the year, however, Nozo had named him vicar general. He must have felt a great deal of stress because of these rapid changes in his life. Despite his general experience, he was also less than well informed about the events developing in Paris when Nozo and the Congregation called on him as vicar general. This made him a good choice.
Poussou entered upon his new responsibilities 1 November 1841, and began by joining his council members in signing the 1840 accounts that Nozo refused to certify. The next day they held the first council meeting since the previous August. Also, John Timon, the visitor of the American province, arrived on Paris on 1 November and found Poussou exteriorly very calm. Nozo was still in the house and Timon found him in improved health, hopeful about the future, and about to leave for a trip around France. After his departure, Nozo wrote to Poussou with his intended itinerary, namely to stop at Vincentian houses in the south of France. He shared with the vicar that he believed that he had not been “condemned to perpetual exile,” a remark that likely reflected a sentiment within the Congregation.
By the end of the month, Poussou addressed his first circular to the Sisters. He acknowledged their surprise and hurt but urged them not to worry about Nozo’s recent letter to them. The vicar general also admitted that some badly-intentioned persons had been spreading gossip about the whole case. In his council, it became evident that some Sisters had become fearful of another division in their community.
During Poussou’s administration, several major issues arose, some concerning the Congregation itself, and others concerning Nozo’s affairs. One long-time issue concerned the responsibilities of visitors. Up to that time, the office of visitor existed in name only, being restricted to presiding over provincial assemblies. Although the visitors of France had recently requested full implementation of their rules of office and the superior general agreed, this did not happen because of Nozo’s resignation. Poussou wrote to the French provinces stating that he would do his best, but that the next general assembly should handle the issues. He wished in the meantime to reserve to himself and his council all assignments of Vincentians throughout the country, admission to the novitiate and vows, and control over funds. It is difficult to see what else was left, apart from occasional visits to houses, contacts with bishops, and the encouragement of the members.
A more serious matter was Etienne’s work as procurator general. Since Nozo had refused to sign the annual reports of 1840 and 1841, even with Etienne’s written explanations, the question arose of how to handle them. The house accounts had errors that could not be corrected, and Nozo was not available to explain. Consequently, all the council members took on the responsibility of signing the accounts themselves.
Shortly thereafter, Poussou presided over a council meeting to discuss various matters left in suspension after Nozo’s departure. The Denis-Hennecart case was still in court and the archbishop urged the Congregation to conclude it as soon as possible. They agreed that it was Nozo’s personal problem since he had never consulted the council about it. Still, the members of the council were implicated since Denis had cited them in his suit. To resolve this, they formed a committee of lawyers to help them, Maîtres Pardessus, Mandaroux, Masson and de Villers. Of these, Mandaroux had already dealt with Nozo’s issues and would continue to be the council’s chief liaison with him. A week later, the council turned to some remaining Bailly issues, mainly questions about property in Amiens that he claimed as well as the Dewailly inheritance that he had managed. These matters would continue for several months, with the council continuing to rely on its four lawyers. Payments to Bailly were finally agreed on, with Nozo being informed but not consulted. On a less critical note, the council agreed to purchase a “daguerreotype instrument” for the seminary’s physics laboratory. The modern world was slowly gaining admittance to the new Saint Lazare.
Case against Nozo
At some point during this period, Etienne prepared a bill of particulars for the councilors to examine. In this document coming after Nozo’s leave of absence in 1841, he accused the superior general of not following the Constitutions. In bypassing the procurator general, who served at Nozo’s pleasure, Nozo had personalized the Bailly case by handling it himself. In the Denis-Hennecart matter, Etienne made the same charge: Nozo did not consult his council as he was required to do. Further, he had engaged in some secret financial dealings with the Daughters of Charity. In one case, he had managed to get 50,000 fr from the treasurer of the Sisters but forbade her to mention the matter to the superioress general. He later did so but claimed that the money was a loan. This secrecy was his style of acting, if one can extrapolate from a letter to a Sister Lautard who had written him for advice about some funds she received as the local superior. He told her not to tell the Sisters about the money nor give any financial accounting of it, provided she give him the information. This would give her more liberty in her financial administration.
Graver than the money or his personalized approach to administration was his personal life. Etienne listed several charges concerning Nozo’s relationship with individual Daughters of Charity, particularly those who “were young and highly favored by nature.” He cited instances of excessive and imprudent familiarity, such as hugging and kissing the Sisters, and hearing their confessions when they felt they had overstepped the bounds of propriety as well as their vows. While there is no accusation of any overt sexual activity in these relationships, the innuendos were certainly present. How Etienne came to know all this, and whether he verified it, is unknown. What is lacking in this matter is any response from Nozo to these charges. He must have been aware of them but never went on record rebutting them, probably preferring, as he states at several points, to remain silent. Neither is there any record of Poussou and the council explicitly dealing with this document. Whether it therefore arose from Etienne’s need to put everything on paper, or to lash out against Nozo, likewise remains unknown.
Another of the many unknowns in this case is how widely these charges were circulated. It appears that they were restricted to a limited group of individuals. They were probably known to members of the French government and to the archbishop of Paris. At least that is the clear inference from a letter of François Guizot, minister of foreign affairs, to the Comte de Latour-Maubourg, French ambassador to the Holy See. Although he wrote it in the context of Nozo’s summons to Rome, Guizot held that Nozo had been “an instrument of scandal,” against whom charges existed that he could be convicted of in civil court.
The charges also became known to the Holy See. Joseph Rosati, who was to play an increasingly important role in the whole case, confided this to his friend John Timon: “It is the wish of the Pope