January 24 – Guy Pierre de Fontgalland

January 23, 2017

Guy de Fontgalland (November 30, 1913 – January 24, 1925), Servant of God, was regarded in the inter-war period as the youngest potential Catholic saint who was not a martyr. His beatification process was opened on November 15, 1941, and suspended on November 18, 1947.[1]

Life

Guy de Fontgalland was the son of count Pierre Heurard de Fontgalland (1884-1972), a lawyer, and Marie Renée Mathevon (1880-1956). She had intended to become a Carmelite and he was a militant Catholic. Bishop de Gibergues, Bishop of Valence (Drôme) and friend of the family, introduced them and united them in marriage. He baptized their son as Guy Pierre Emmanuel on December 7, 1913.

Pierre Heurard de Fontgalland, father of Guy.

Guy had the qualities and defects of an ordinary child. He proved to be wanton with his mother and angry with his brother Marc, born in 1916, but also sensitive and affectionate. He was especially frank and loyal, confessing to his faults at the risk of being punished. He died with the reputation of having never told a single lie. He reflected a very childlike faith inspired by Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. In January 1917 he visited her tomb at Lisieux, where he accompanied his mother on pilgrimage. Although very young, he tried to imitate Jesus in everything. He “chatted with him” in the privacy of his room and, subsequently, during Holy Communion. He offered every day small sacrifices to try to “please Jesus”. He was only five years old when he manifested his desire to make his First Holy Communion and, the following year his wish to become a priest. He learned to read and write in two months and was enrolled in the parish Catechism classes.

Marie Renée Mathevon, Mother of Guy.

On May 22, 1921, he took advantage of the provisions of Pope St Pius X [2] in favor of early communion, and he soon became an apostle within the ‘Eucharistic Crusade’ sodality. On that day after a month of preparation, punctuated by “one hundred eighteen sacrifices” which he diligently recorded, he made his First Communion in the Church of St-Honoré d’Eylau. He was given a revelation of his approaching death but kept it secret so as not to sadden his relatives.

In October 1921, he entered the Collège Saint Louis de Gonzague, where he was a poor student, slothful and lazy in his studies despite his intelligence and curiosity. He was corrected and improved his character. He did not draw attention to himself but was noted for his charity and his easy companionship. He protected the weaker students but did not defend himself when attacked, forgave his opponents and did not keep grudges or hard feelings, was never sulking and refused to denounce others or to cause trouble.

In July 1924, the family went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. In front of the grotto, he had a confirmation of his earlier revelation that he would die soon, on a Saturday, the day of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On the night of 7–8 December, he fell ill with diphtheria. There followed a period of crisis and remissions during which, knowing he would die despite the optimism of his doctors, he disclosed his “double secret” to his mother. He confronted the pain with courage and died of suffocation on Saturday, January 24, 1925, aged eleven.

Photo of Lourdes as it looked in 1886.

Later reputation

His death caused a sensation. At the end of 1925, the Father Rector of St. Louis de Gonzague wrote: “Really the way in which the story of this little life spreads is amazing; the finger of God is here.” There was a continuous procession of parents, friends and religious at 37 rue Vital where the body surrounded by white flowers was exposed for fifty two hours by special permission. A photograph of Guy on his deathbed, taken at the time, was sent or delivered in his memory to a total of 500 copies.

After a ceremony at Our Lady of Grace Church at Passy, the coffin is taken to Gare de Lyon and placed in a wagon with the arms of the Fontgalland family. The funeral service at the Cathedral of Die (Drôme), the family seat, took place on Friday 30 January 1925, “in the middle of a very large crowd”.[3]

Encouraged by priests, including the Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Cerretti, who wrote the preface to Madame de Fontgalland’s book, and the Archbishop of Paris, Madame de Fontgalland wrote from 23 to 25 March a short biography of her son.[4] It was published in the autumn, first in an edition of 400, then 4,000, then 95,000 copies. It was translated into thirteen languages.

From all of France and then from around the world, more is written about him. Many came to pray at his grave and visited his parents. Calls for the memorial images of him are taken by hundreds of thousands, and distributed in 48 different languages. Some 726,000 parcels of clothes were distributed. Books were dedicated to him in several languages.

At the inauguration of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro,[5] in October 1931, the Brazilian Episcopate and over five hundred priests requested the beatification of the child. They echo the 650,000 signatures already sent to Rome or Paris between 1926 and 1931. The following year, on June 15, a diocesan tribunal was constituted by the Archbishop of Paris, to investigate the his cause. Up to March 1, 1934, 244 conversions, 698 religious vocations, 742 cures attested by physicians and approximately 85,000 other graces were documented and attributed to him.

In 1936, on 25 March, his body was transferred to the chapel Sainte Paule at Valence (Drôme) to assist the vocation of the seminarians. On September 11, his parents and his brother were received by Pius XI who had promoted his cause.[6]

There were by then 1,312,000 signatures of children and adults who asked the pope to accelerate the beatification of Guy.

The record of the inquiry is 1804 pages long. It was sent to the Congregation of Rites in Rome, on 8 February 1937. Pius XI died two years later. The decision to suspend the cause was known informally in November 1941, at the opening of the ordinary process, then officially on 18 November 1947,[7] ten years after the close of the diocesan investigation.

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Notes and references

[1] Lelièvre, p. 220
[2] Decree “Sacra Tridentina Synodus” of 20/12/1905
[3] Dubly, p.35
[4] Une Âme d’enfant: Guy de Fontgalland from the Derniers souvenirs sur Guy de Fontgalland “A soul of child: Guy de Fontgalland’ from “The Last memories on Guy de Fontgalland”, in 1927
[5] Copacabana college still bears Guy’s name.
[6] Letter of Cardinal Gasparri to the parents of Guy, dated September 27, 1925.
[7] “Acta Apostolicae Sedis” of 28 January – February 27, 1948, p. 43

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