by Vincent R. Vasey, SM
Unwittingly, for over 100 years, any person telling the story of the final period of Father Chaminade’s life misrepresented it. In fact, the clouds that formed during the stormy events of 1841-1850 hung over members of the religious institutes he founded. For a half century,Chaminade was relegated to little more than a footnote in the annals of SM history. The calumny threatened to truncate the progress of his toward being declared a saint. Complicating the matter is the fact that 50 years after the drama, a major biographer of Father Chaminade's found it a problem of conscience to disclose the whole truth and couched the sequence of events in a framework that was more palatable, but still not truthful.
All this changed with the work of Father Vincent Vasey, SM. In 1966 he was elected Procurator General of the Society and Postulator of the Cause of Father Chaminade. He researched notes, letters, and legal documents related to the case. In 1970, he published the remarkable findings on the actual course of this aspect of Father Chaminade’s history.
In Last Years of Father Chaminade, Vasey first details the reasons that Good Father Joseph Simler, SM, felt obligated to let new clouds form.
Near the turn of the 20th century, while Superior General of the Society of Mary, Father Simler unearthed documents that uncovered the full story of Chaminade. He wrote an incredible biography reclaiming the vision and wisdom of the Founder for his followers. However, Simler decided, out of loyalty to his predecessors, to cast Chaminade during his last years as a victim of senility, again blocking the rays of truth.
Vasey, with a degree in canon law and a doctor of law degree, lays out the complicated legal issues that resulted in lawsuits against the Society and eventually, the resignation of Father Chaminade as Superior General. However, one need not be a lawyer to understand the terrible misdeeds chronicled in this book. And, one does not need an analytical reading of this text to see the pain of Chaminade in his final days. Vasey rights a terrible wrong. While relaying the complete story, he lovingly shows the courage, genius, and holiness of Chaminade.
Despite the continued strain in their relations, Father Chaminade and Father Caillet kept up appearances. But the wide gap between them was destined never to be bridged. Father Chaminade refused to forego his rights and neglect his duties as Founder. For him preservation of the true spirit of the Society was the last great effort God asked. He could not rest, then, until he saw the Society as God wanted it to be. Year after year from 1845 one witnessed the failure of both parties to reach an agreement. The two positions remained what they had been—diametrically opposed. Father Caillet could not understand how he could recognize any authority but his own. Was not the recognition of a founder’s right and duty to counsel, guide, and recommend tantamount to concede him the exercise of authority? He wondered how the Founder could pretend to help him correct abuses, if abuses there were. But as for Father Chaminade, as the hour of death drew nearer, he dreaded more and more the definitive distortion of his divinely inspired ideal. (p. 78)
I. The Problem of the Founder’s Last Years
II. Father Chaminade’s Resignation
III. The Aftermath of the Arbiter’s Decision: Open War
IV. The Roman Decree and the Chapter of 1845
V. Conflict Over Abuses
VI. The Reality of the Abuses
VII. The Testament of 1849
VIII. The Rehabilitation of Father Chaminade