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Feast Day: November 6th
The Catholic Church is exceptionally rich when it comes to its history of heroic souls who died in witness to our Faith in Jesus Christ and the Universal Church that he founded. Many of our martyrs not only died with remarkable courage, but also with a spirit of joy that astonished those who witnessed their deaths. One such martyr is the missionary-priest, St. John Theophane Venard. He was born on November 21st, 1829, in the small French town of Saint-Loup-sur-Thouet, and was blessed to have been raised in a highly devout household from which two younger brothers also entered into the priesthood.
As a child Theophane read an account of the 1837 martyrdom in Vietnam of the French priest, St. John-Charles Cornay, and was so deeply inspired he exclaimed, "I want to go to Tonkin, too! I want to die a martyr, too!"
So in his late-teens, he obtained permission from his father to enter the Minor Seminary in Montmorillon where he studied philosophy before completing the rest of his religious training in the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions. He was ordained a Catholic priest on June, 5th, 1851, being only 22-years-old. In September, 1852, Fr. Venard's goal of becoming a missionary was fulfilled when he was sent to a mission in Hong Kong, and later transferred to West Tonkin, Vietnam, in May 1854.
When the young priest arrived in Vietnam, the Christian community was undergoing persecution by order of the local ruler, Minh-Menh. Recently enacted anti-Christian laws had forced the Church to go into hiding, with missionary-priests ministering to their flocks in secrecy or under cover of darkness in caves and forests. The hostile and extreme conditions, plus chronic illness, took a heavy toll on the health of Fr. Venard but he continued to labor zealously for the good of the Church in Vietnam.
On November 30, 1860, at the height of a renewed Christian persecution, Fr. Venard was betrayed to government officials by a relative of one of his parishioners. During his short trial he was given repeated opportunities to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ, but he remained steadfast and was consequently sentenced to death. For several weeks prior to his execution, he was kept in a small ornate cage that left him with very little room to move. Sympathetic guards allowed Fr. Venard occasional breaks from his cage, while several of his parishioners secretly ministered to him. Given his situation, he also wrote a series of farewell letters to family and friends that expressed his commitment to the Faith, as well as the peace and joy he felt in being able to die a martyr's death for the sake of Christ.
[Click] Letter of Saint Theophane Venard
In a particular letter to his bishop, he stated, "My heart is like a calm lake."
Fr. Venard was beheaded on February 2nd, 1861. Witnesses to his martyrdom reported that he walked joyfully to the execution site while singing the Magnificat. The Church Canonized St. John Theophane Venard on June 19th, 1988.