Born in Digne (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) September 30,1810
Taking of the habit in Marseilles, December 24, 1826
Perpetual Oblation, December 25, 1827 (no. 30)
Ordination to the Prieshood, Marseilles, April 6, 1833
Died in Marseilles, January 17, 1860.
Father Joseph Jérôme Casimir Aubert was born in Digne, on September 30, 1810. He came to know the Oblates during the mission in Digne, preached by Fathers Pierre-Nolasque Mie, Jacques Jeancard and Hippolyte Guibert from November 3 to December 11, 1826. Fr. Guibert, Novice Master, met several young men and seminarians on that occasion and returned to Marseilles accompanied by Casimir, who took the habit on December 24, 1826. The diary of (his) novitiate already gives us a glimpse of a quite methodical young man, of few words and very generous. His father had let him go, no doubt with the hope of seeing him return soon. He went to visit him at the novitiate, but did not succeed in taking him back home. Casimir, hardly seventeen years old, made his vows on December 25, 1827.
The Congregation had just accepted the direction of the seminary of Marseilles. The scholastics pursued their studies there, while residing at Le Calvaire. It was there that Casimir studied philosophy and part of his theology.
During the 1830 revolution, Fr. Eugène de Mazenod bought the house at Billens, in Switzerland, intending to send the novices and scholastics there. Bro. Aubert went there along with the second group of emigrants. Fr. Vincent Mille, Superior of Billens, narrates that, at Aix, he succeeded “in disguising Aubert Casimir and Raynaud. The latter had the air of a whipper-snapper, the former in a cap and a black suit resembled a young doctor” (Missions OMI, 39 (1901) p. 286). Lacking teachers and according to the custom of the time, the scholastics who were the most advanced in studies helped the youngest. It is thus that Bro. Aubert taught philosophy at Billens from Easter 1831 onwards and dogma at the seminary of Marseilles during the school year 1832-1833.
He was the first Oblate ordained priest by Bishop de Mazenod, Bishop of Icosia, on April 6 1833. The latter wrote to Fr. Guibert on March 25 1833: “I could not refuse to let him (Aubert) have a fortnight off to prepare himself for the priestly ordination of which his unblemished life has already made him so worthy. What an outstanding fellow he is! Intelligence, character, virtue, heart, he has them all to perfection. You can congratulate yourself on winning such a prize and the (Oblate) family will be eternally grateful”. (Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 444)
On the occasion of his journey to Rome in 1825-1826, Fr. de Mazenod visited several religious novitiates and was greatly edified. He resolved to form the Oblate novices better, and above all, to dedicate exclusively to this function one of his best men: Fr. Hippolyte Guibert. Unfortunately, the latter had a very low tolerance for sedentary life. As Novice Master from July 1826 till the beginning of 1829, he preached several missions each year during that time. From 1829 until 1833, at least five fathers took their turn at the Novitiate. The Founder finally found the religious for whom he had been searching for a long time: Casimir Aubert, who held the post from the beginning of June 1833 until the month of February 1841.
The novitiate changed residence many times: Marseilles in 1833-1834, Saint-Just during the summer of 1834, Aix from September 1834 till the month of August 1835, Notre-Dame du Laus from September 1835 till August 1836, Aix during the month of September 1836, then Le Calvaire in Marseilles, from the month of October 1836 until 1841. In spite of few persons entering the Congregation, Fr. Aubert had the happiness of giving the religious habit to ninety one novices. Bishop de Mazenod wrote to him often when the novitiate was outside Marseilles. He gave advice, especially to the novices; rarely did he complain about the Novice Master, except to say that he was not sufficiently careful of his health, or because once, he undertook to preach a mission. Fr. Aubert took care of his novitiate wisely and with kindness. Although reproached for being indulgent, he also knew how to be firm if needed. “He preferred quality to quantity” (Missions OMI, 40 (1902), p.69-70).
Fr. Dominique Albini, little satisfied with the virtues of a number of men, wrote to Bishop de Mazenod on February 4 1837: “Rev. Fr. Aubert is doing an awful job at the moment. I know that he keeps his eyes open, but let him open them more”. Shortly before his illness, Fr. Albini received a letter from Fr. Aubert, to which he replied on July 2, 1838: “I have every reason to thank you, because in the midst of your tiresome occupations, you were able to find a few minutes to devote to your brother who cherishes you, who esteems you, to a degree that is known to God alone and who will cherish and esteem you all the more in the measure in which he knows that you have become a great saint in order to make all your dear novices saints as well”.
While, for a few years, the Superior General obliged Fr. Aubert to take care only of the novices, he did not hesitate to entrust him, at the same time, with many other tasks: teaching dogma at the seminary from 1836 until 1937 and superiorship of the house of Le Calvaire with the ministry in the Church from 1838 until 1841. It is above all during this stay of Fr. Aubert in Marseilles, from 1836 till 1842, that Bishop de Mazenod got to know him well. He appointed him his private secretary and soon made him one of his chief confidants and collaborators. He called him personally to the General Chapter of 1837, where Fr. Aubert was named Deputy Assistant and pro-secretary of the Congregation. Fr. Louis-Toussaint Dassy wrote, on May 5, 1834: “Ten religious like him could set the whole world on fire.” Fr. Jean Françon, who made his novitiate in Marseilles in 1839-1840, was to write later about the novice master: “Ten Fathers would hardly suffice to do the work that good Fr. Aubert did” (Missions, 20 (1882), p. 358-360).
The first years of Fr. Casimir Aubert’s priestly life were therefore fully occupied: preaching, confessions, professorship and direction of the major seminary, Novice Master and Superior, close collaborator of the Founder in the government of the Congregation. No type of work was unknown to him, Fr. Achille Rey wrote, “and in the accomplishment of these duties, he knew how to reconcile religious perfection with the most ardent thrusts of zeal. God opened before him an even more extensive career and he showed himself equal to the mission entrusted to him”.
Founder of the Anglo-Irish Province
In 1837-1838, Fr. Aubert received an Irishman named William Daly into the novitiate. William subsequently followed the courses of theology in the major seminary at Marseilles. In May 1841, a few weeks before accepting the missions of Canada, Bishop de Mazenod sent the young Fr. Daly to England in order to examine on the spot the possibility of a foundation. Fr. Daly’s reports soon gave reason to hope that all expectations would be fulfilled, including a fruitful recruiting since several young Irishmen presented themselves at the Novitiate of Notre-Dame de l’Osier. A trusted man who knew English well had to be sent there without delay. It was with considerable regret that the Superior General felt obliged to send his secretary abroad, but he let him know that it was to be a mission of short duration. On July 27, 1842 he wrote: “It is indeed because you exist that my mind is at ease. I have always thought of you as sent by the Lord to be my life’s consolation and the support of my old age... I have nurtured many children. How many of them can I count upon to take care of me? [...] Where is the Order or Congregation in which the Superior cannot surround himself with those who will ease the burden of his office and with whom his mind and heart will be at rest? So make no definite plans which are apt to keep you away from me permanently; observe, scrutinize, calculate but always leave yourself a door to escape”.
This obedience would from now on occupy an important part of the time and especially of the concern of Fr. Aubert and would deprive Bishop de Mazenod too often of the presence of the faithful secretary of the Congregation. The man who was to be considered as the founder of our mission in England travelled there ten times and was present there for almost five years between 1842 and 1857. It is he who took the decisions relating to several of the fifteen foundations which the Oblates were to make in England, Ireland and Scotland during the life of Bishop de Mazenod, or the abandoning of eight of them.
His longest and most painful journey took place from June 1848 until May 1850. It was at that time that he established the Oblate Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of l’Osier and put in order the sad financial affairs of Fr. Daly, at the cost of abandoning the Oblate properties of Manchester and of Penzance. He then practically organized the houses of England as a Province and had Fr. Charles Bellon appointed in charge of them. After the official division of the Congregation into Provinces at the General Chapter of 1850, it was he who was named the first Provincial In July 1851, with the assistance of Fr. Robert Cooke as Vice-Provincial.
Bishop de Mazenod expressed himself as being greatly satisfied with the activities and the decisions of Fr. Aubert In England and affirmed that he accomplished his task “with intelligence and devotedness” (de Mazenod to Guigues, February 18, 1843). Did Fr. Aubert permit himself a little too much freedom of initiative in 1851? On March 12, the Founder regretted not being able to send an Irish priest to Ceylon and wrote to Fr. Étienne Semeria: “Aubert - I do not know what has come over him - has just sent to Canada eight of the subjects who were in England”.
Superior of Le Calvaire, Provincial of Midi and Assistant General
During his stay in Marseilles Fr. Aubert took on more and more duties and shared the responsibilities of the Founder in the administration of the Congregation.
In practice, Le Calvaire became the premises of the General House until the opening of Montolivet in 1854 and even after this date, since this house was situated a few paces from the Bishopric. It was there that Fathers who wanted to meet the Superior General lodged, as well as missionaries who awaited their departure for foreign countries. The ministry of the chapel of Le Calvaire, the work among the Italians, the Association of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, parish missions, required the presence of many fathers and a Superior gifted with the qualities of welcome, zeal and leadership. Fr. Aubert occupied this post from 1845 until 1848, in 1854 and 1856 and from 1858 until 1860.
When the Congregation was divided into provinces, Bishop de Mazenod retained the immediate superiorship of the Midi Province, but with Fr. Aubert as Vice-Provincial from 1852 until 1854; he then named him Provincial of that Province in 1854 and at the same time, professor of moral theology at the new scholasticate of Montolivet. Fr. Aubert then visited the houses of the Province, and was much involved in the re-opening of the juniorate of Notre-Dame de Lumières in 1959 and the church school of Vico.
His duties were a source of considerable worry. Most of the superiors asked for help, both financially and in personnel at a time when the Congregation was passing through a financial crisis, after the construction of Montolivet, while the Founder preferred to send most of the young fathers to the foreign missions. The Provincial, calm and diplomatic, succeeded in responding to the most urgent needs or in making (the Fathers) understand that they would have to be patient. Only Fr. Adrien Telmon, who made all his superiors suffer, criticized him openly. Returning from Canada, tired and in bad sorts, and named superior of Notre-Dame de Lumières when he wanted to live outside any Oblate community, he determined to transform everything immediately and to form a dynamic community, but he resented the dilatory letters of the Provincial as well as those of Fr. Henry Tempier. He wrote to the Founder, for example, in 1855: “Fr. Aubert has shown himself a bit contrary because of the fact that I had complained to you about his delays, his frequent changes and his decisions. I think I was very moderate. A categorical review of his promises and announcements would have been more sharp and disagreeable. He does not realise all the inconveniences of this manner of acting. How much confusion, how many ambiguous steps, how many orders and counter-orders, how much money lost on works which had no longer any goals, how much lack of consideration for a local Superior who goes forward, then backward, hesitates and ends up looking like a fool in the house because he took the letters of higher superiors too seriously. I seriously doubt if Fr. Aubert would accept such a situation himself”.
It is especially as close collaborator of the Founder that Fr. Aubert excelled and rendered priceless services to the Congregation. We have seen how, from 1837 until 1842, he functioned as secretary of Bishop de Mazenod for business relating to the Congregation. The latter confirmed him in this responsibility at the end of 1844; he also named him Assistant General after the death of Fr. François-Noël Moreau in February 1846, and procurator for the foreign missions in 1848.
In the role of General Secretary, Fr. Aubert faithfully wrote out the minutes of the General Council from December 1844 until 1859. There remain no traces of General Council meetings before this date, nor during the two following years. After the acceptance of foreign missions, Fr. Aubert wrote out every year the report to be presented to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in order to obtain grants for the different missions. These reports, written clearly and with exemplary conciseness, won the admiration of the authorities of the Society.
Bishop de Mazenod wrote letters of encouragement or of reproach to the Fathers and Brothers, but left to Fr. Aubert the care of all business letters, especially with the missions outside France. He was sure that his secretary would esxpress his thoughts in the smallest detail; besides, Fr. Aubert spent a few moments at the Bishopric almost every day (See de Mazenod to Vincens, June 11, 1851).
The Superior General appreciated the services of this precious collaborator very much. He wrote to Fr. Semeria, for example, in Jaffna on May 9, 1848: “I rely on the faithful and incomparable Fr. Aubert who copes with everything with admirable efficiency and presence of mind”. During the absences of Fr. Aubert the Superior General sought the help of Fr. Bellon or of the young priests who were less acquainted with business affairs. At those moments he found himself overwhelmed. He wrote again to Fr. Semeria on January 17, 1850: “Fr. Aubert’s absence has left me alone to bear all the weight of correspondence, which is more than my strength can bear”; or again to Fr. Vital Grandin in October 1958: “Only Fr. Aubert can tell me how to proceed, and when he is not with me I become discouraged”.
Well-Beloved Disciple of the Founder - His Death
The confidential matters mentioned above enable us to understand the terrible blow which Bishop de Mazenod received when he learned of the sudden death of Fr. Aubert, on January 17, 1860, and what a shocking emptiness this sudden departure left in his life.
It can be said that Bishop de Mazenod loved Fr. Aubert with all the affection that he bore Fr. Marius Suzanne and all the esteem that he had for Fr. Tempier. He found that, like himself, Fr. Aubert proceeded quickly in business affairs and acquitted himself well in everything that was entrusted to him (see de Mazenod to Aubert, May 2, 1856). He loved him especially because of his good manners, his affectionate heart, his open spirit, his exemplary religious life. Dozens of times, in his journal and his letters, the Founder expressed himself on this subject. For example, he wrote to him on June 13, 1836: ‘You are spoiling me by the moving and affectionate tone of your letters. There isn’t any great merit in giving one’s tender love to a child like you [...] Have you ever caused me a single moment’s pain since I adopted you? Isn’t it rather that your soul and mine mingled from the moment they met and since that first moment has there ever been the least interruption, the least cloud? Far from it! How could I not enjoy a friendship that hasn’t known a moment’s lapse?”.
Aubert’s health gave no premonition of such a sudden departure. He had never been ill except in 1841 and in 1855, but each time it was a serious illness. In 1855 Bishop de Mazenod spoke of ‘a brain paralysis which robbed him of every physical and moral capacity” (de Mazenod to Jean-Baptiste Conrard, March 19, 1855). It looks as if it was again a stroke that took him away on January 17, 1860. On the following day, the Founder wrote to Bishop Guibert that Fr. Aubert had died in two hours “without any agitation, without any more movement than as if he were peacefully asleep”. In his Diary, on the evening of his death, the Bishop noted: “The Saint, the incomparable Fr. Casimir Aubert died suddenly. I hide my face, I fall prostrate, I adore. Nescio loqui! Let them fall, let my tears fall, it’s all that I can do...” He stopped at these words and didn’t take up his pen until a few days later. He sent a circular letter to the Oblates only on February 1, to recall the virtues of the deceased.
Several Oblates, filled with esteem for the General Secretary and knowing well the pain that the Founder would feel, wrote him letters of condolence, in which they praised the memory and the virtues of the deceased. Fr. Joseph Arnoux, among others, wrote on February 5, 1869: “Only Jacob’s affliction can be compared to yours. Like the holy Patriarch, you have lost your well-beloved son, him who was to Your Lordship what the well-beloved disciple was to Our Lord... From the heights of Heaven, he will continue, with divine zeal, to take an interest in the prosperity of our Congregation, especially that of his dear British Province of which he was the Founder...”
As for Bishop de Mazenod, the remembrance of the deceased, “faithful interpreter of his thoughts and his sentiments” (de Mazenod to Semeria, July 8, 1860), would never leave him. In all his letters of the year 1860, he excused himself for not succeeding in replying to all those who wrote to him, nor in following all the business of the Congregation; he never ceased to say that the void that Fr. Aubert had left “is an abyss that nothing could fill” (de Mazenod to Semeria, July 8, 1860).
In a letter of Bro. Antoine Jouvent we find the most beautiful and shortest panegyric of Fr. Casimir Aubert, of whom no necrological sketches were composed: “What gentleness, what provident charity! what zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls! What a life of devotedness and sacrifice! Truly, we can assert and believe that, like the well-beloved disciple resting on the heart of the Divine Master, he too had rested on your fatherly heart whence he drew the great virtues which seemed to make him your living image”. (NN,VI,p.125).
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
General Archives, Rome.
DE MAZENOD, Eugène, Circulaire du 1er février 1860, in NN, I, 2 pages.
REY, Achille, O.M.I., “Le père Casimir Aubert”, in La Gazette du Midi, January 19, 1860, p. 2.