Historical dictionary  vol.: 1  let.: B

Bellon, Charles Barthélemy

Born at Marseilles, September 13, 1814
Taking of the habit at N.-D. du Laus, August 14, 1835
Perpetual oblation at Notre-Dame du Laus, August 15, 1836 (no. 67)
Ordained to the priesthood at Marseilles March 25, 1837.
Died at Bordeaux, June 28, 1861.

Charles Bellon (Bernad).

Charles Barthélemy Bellon was born at Marseilles on September 13, 1814. In Father Bellon’s obituary, Father Joseph Fabre does not tell us where Charles studied, but he makes this judgement: “A consummate model in all the virtues of his age, he was a source of edification for all his confreres, a joy to his teachers and a blessing to his parents.”

A seminarian from 1832 to 1835 at the major seminary of Marseilles, a seminary under the direction of the Oblates from 1827 on, he was received into the Oblate novitiate at Notre-Dame du Laus on August 14, 1835 and made his novitiate in this house where the novices were sent on the occasion of the cholera epidemic of 1835. It seems it was here, too, that he made his oblation on August 15, 1835. In the year 1836-1837, he finished his theological studies at the seminary in Marseilles and received the priesthood at the hands of Bishop de Mazenod on March 25, 1837. On this occasion, Bishop de Mazenod wrote in his Diary: “Ordination of our excellent Brother Bellon. [...] We are not in a position to foretell all the good that will flow from the ministry of this blessed child, who, not only never deserved the slightest reproach since he entered the Congregation, but who constantly gave to his confreres, either in the course of his novitiate, or during his time in vows, the example of the strictest regularity, of faithfulness to the rule and of a sustained fervour...”

Professor at Ajaccio and at Marseilles (1838-1848)

The young priest remained at Le Calvaire 1837-1838 under the direction of Father Casimir Aubert, superior of the house and novice master. At this time, he was chaplain of the detention centre for the Law Courts. In the summer of 1838, he was sent to the major seminary of Ajaccio, entrusted to the Oblates since 1834, under the direction of Father Guibert. He taught dogma and functioned as spiritual director of the seminarians, first at Vico, where in 1838-1839, the seminarians were sent while the work of expanding the seminary was in progress, then to Ajaccio from 1839 to 1843.
In November of 1841, Bishop de Mazenod allowed the seminarian Jacques Santoni to make his novitiate at the seminary in Ajaccio and put him under the direction of Father Bellon. The following December 27, the Founder wrote to Father Moreau, who had since been appointed superior of the seminary after the departure of Bishop Guibert who had been made bishop of Viviers: “Father Bellon will be your first assistant, your admonitor and director. Father Mouchel and Pont are excellent men [...] I recommend him [Santoni] to Father Bellon so that he makes of him another himself. I shall be pleased with that.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1837-1842, Oblate Writings I, vol. 9, no. 754, p. 200-201)

Father Bellon was called to the major seminary of Marseilles in the fall of 1843 to teach dogma there and be spiritual director for the scholastic brothers whose number was growing year by year. In this regard, Father Fabre wrote: “For their direction, it was necessary to choose a priest who possessed solid and profound learning along with a gentle, enlightened piety, a priest who could teach by his words as well as by his example. Among everyone else, Reverend Father Bellon was worthy of the choice our superiors made of him. During the five years this very difficult and important work was confided to him, he always showed himself equal to his sensitive task. Never demanding of others what he would not do himself, his life was for the seminarians and for the Oblates a continuous teaching. In class, a conscientious and well-read professor, in chapel and the prayer room, a model of piety, fervour and regularity, in his room he was a good, prudent, enlightened director, without being too weak and without being too rigid, exteriorly of great equanimity, his face inspired confidence, while his words inspired a love of piety. Since he knew how to use his time wisely and having a pious appetite for study, he was able to acquire that depth of learning that would later make him sought after and held in high regard at the provincial council of Agen [in 1859] by the learned and pious clerics, while at the same time he was educating himself and perfecting his knowledge of Hebrew, Italian, German, English and Spanish. His day was marvellously well organized. He had found the means to do a lot of work and do it well, to blend a profound learning with a gentle, kindly piety...”

When Father Moreau died in 1846, the General Council in its June 5th session decided to appoint Father Bellon or Father Magnan, both of them professors at Marseilles, as superior of the seminary of Ajaccio. In the final analysis, it was Father J. J. Magnan who was appointed to that post.

Superior of the Oblates of England (1848-1850)
In 1848, the Congregation was spreading rapidly in England and, without permission or money, Father Daly purchased the substantial property of Ashbourne in the county of Derby at the heart of the country. Worried about this situation, Bishop de Mazenod called together the General Council on May 24 and decided to send Father Casimir Aubert to England as visitor extraordinary and Father Bellon as superior of Ashbourne and of the Oblates in England.

Father Bellon left in September of 1848 and remained in England until the spring of 1850. The property at Ashbourne was soon sold. Father Bellon especially watched over the formation of the novices and Oblate students, first at the Monastery of St. Mary’s near Everingham, then, from 1849 on, at Maryvale near Birmingham. The Founder wrote to him often, urging him to instil in the Irish novices and scholastic brothers the spirit of self-denial and sacrifice, of holy indifference, etc... because they were needed especially in Canada and Oregon.
Father Bellon seems to have fulfilled his role to the Founder’s satisfaction. In January of 1850, the Founder wrote to Father Baudrand: “Father Bellon has just sent me a detailed account of ten pages about the work of our Fathers in England and the situation in the different establishments in which they find themselves. It shows plenty of reasons to offer to God expressions of our most ardent gratitude.” (Letters to North America 1841-1850, Oblate Writings I, vol. 1, no. 126, p. 235)

In the spring of 1850, Father Bellon’s health began to weaken and Bishop de Mazenod called him back to Marseilles. On April 21, he wrote him: “I quite agree to withdraw you from England but I cannot in conscience renounce calling on your zeal for other services quite important for the Church, the Congregation and the sanctification of souls. I shall call in consequence upon the devotedness that we all owe to God and which hence precludes considerations of taste, inclination, health or life itself.” (Letters and Documents concerning England and Ireland, 1842-1860, Oblate Writings I, vol. 3, no. 38, p. 53) Father Bellon probably did not understand what exactly this phrase meant.

Bishop A. Barnabò, secretary of the Congregation of Propaganda at Rome, had just offered the Oblates the Apostolic Vicariate of Natal in South Africa. On March 30, 1850, Bishop de Mazenod answered that prelate as follows: “To come back to the project that you set forth in your letter of March 18, my answer to you is that if it is the sacred congregation’s pleasure to entrust the new vicariate of Natal to the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, I accept the offer in the hope of doing some good there. In that case, I would suggest as vicar apostolic a religious of great merit because of his virtue and his learning. Learning languages is just a game for him. They call him the little Mezzofanti[1]. He knows Hebrew and I do not know what other eastern language, Latin, obviously, French, Provençal, English, German, Italian, Spanish. I believe he even knows Portuguese. But since his humility exceeds even his learning, if the Sacred Congregation chooses him, it will take nothing less than an order from the Holy Father himself to bring him to accept to become a bishop. The person in question bears the name Charles Barthélemy Bellon, 36 years of age, priest of my diocese, a religious for 15 years already in the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, presently the superior of our novitiate in England. As he deserves, he is held in high regard in our institute as well as outside of it, but, I repeat, for him to be made a bishop will take nothing less than an order from the Pope and the assurance that he will remain a member of the Congregation. I was forgetting to tell you that he has been professor of theology in the major seminaries of Ajaccio and Marseilles.”

In the month of May, when Father Aubert returned from his canonical visit to England, he told Bishop de Mazenod that Father Bellon’s health was “so weak that it would be impossible for him to undergo the least fatigue or the least travelling.” Father John Francis Allard, master of novices in Canada was the one who was appointed.

Assistant and Secretary General (1850-1856)

At the General Chapter held at the major seminary of Marseilles from August 26 to 31, 1850, Father Bellon who participated as the delegate for the Oblates of England, was named fourth assistant general and Secretary General of the Institute. He fulfilled this task as well as a number of others: Superior of the house Le Calvaire in 1851 and spiritual director of the seminarians at Marseilles in 1851-1852. He then conducted the canonical visit of Notre-Dame de l’Osier in August and September of 1851, at Notre-Dame de Lumières in September and October of the same year, and in England in 1852-1853. It was during this visit, lasting one year, that he accepted to make the foundation at Galashiels in Scotland.

Superior of the Major Seminary of Romans (1853-1856) and Provincial of France-Nord in 1855-1856
While Father Bellon was still carrying out his task of visitor in England in 1853, Bishop de Mazenod accepted the responsibility of staffing the major seminary of Romans in the diocese of Valence and resolved to make Father Bellon superior there. In a September 28, 1853 letter to Bishop Chatrousse, he suggested him to the bishop. “Father Bellon whom I am giving you as superior of our priests is one of our best individuals. I am making an enormous sacrifice in sending him from my side. He possesses virtue, talent, exceptionally fine judgment, everything that constitutes a good priest, an excellent religious and a consummate superior.”

Father Bellon remained at Romans from 1853 to 1856 and fulfilled his task the best way possible in the midst of numerous problems: diocesan clergy who were being replaced as seminary staff and consequently had little sympathy for the Oblates, a complex financial situation because of the dilapidated state of the seminary building and the bishop’s refusal to make the necessary repairs, etc.

During the 1855-1856 year, Father Bellon functioned as well as provincial of France-Nord.

In 1856, Bishop Sergent of Quimper suggested that the Oblates take over the staffing of his major seminary. For a long time already, Bishop de Mazenod had been seeking to establish a foothold in Brittany, and area rich in vocations. He accepted this fifth major seminary, but initially sent only Fathers J. Lagier and C. Bellon whom he presented to the bishop in these terms: “I have held back for you the best I have. The two religious designated to begin your great work are first and foremost two men of God, filled with an awareness of their duty of state, devoted to the Church, eminently suited to communicate the love of God with which they are filled. Both of them have been professors in major seminaries for several years. Both of them have held the position of superior...”

The directorship of the seminary in Quimper, like that of Romans, was short-lived. In 1857, Bishop M. Sergent, bishop of Quimper and Bishop F. M. Lyonnet, the new bishop of Valence discharged the Oblates to the great discomfiture of Bishop de Mazenod.

At Marseilles and Bordeaux (1857-1861)
Upon his return to Quimper, Father Bellon was appointed superior of the house at Notre-Dame de la Garde and professor of courses of post-graduate studies for the young priests which were then being launched in this house, according to the decision taken at the 1856 Chapter. He stayed there for only five or six months. Indeed, in 1857, Bishop de Mazenod was negotiating with Abbé Pierre Bienvenu Noailles, founder of the association of the Holy Family of Bordeaux in view of an affiliation of this association with the Oblates. Thanks to the intervention of Bishop Guibert, then archbishop of Tours, the Founder accepted to become director general of the association of the Holy Family at the death of Abbé Noailles. The Association which already boasted more than 2,000 members was distributed among 223 houses in France, in Spain, in Belgium and Algeria. The contract of affiliation was signed by Abbé Noailles and by Bishop de Mazenod on January 11 and 14, 1858. Shortly after, in accordance with the contract, Bishop de Mazenod sent to “Good Father” Noailles, an Oblate with the responsibility of being his representative and to familiarize himself with the spirit of the association. Bishop de Mazenod’s choice fell on Father Bellon. Father Fabre wrote: “This position was at the same time very important and very sensitive. It was a case of fathoming the spirit and views of this worthy priest, to stay abreast of all its endeavours, and yet to do only that which had been prescribed for him and to show up only where they would deem appropriate and in the measure they judged suitable. But Fr. Noailles was a man of God, he wanted above all to do God’s work. On his part, Reverend Father Bellon brought no preconceptions, no personal views: to foster the designs of the Lord, such was his only goal. In addition, the relationship was soon established; it was complete; it was cordial. Within the space of a few months, Father Bellon was dedicated wholeheartedly to the good priest and to the Holy Family. For his part, Fr. Noailles had bestowed all his affection on the one whom he loved like a son and whose presence, he himself admitted, was indispensable to him. Two years passed in this way in the most perfect understanding and the closest unity. Only death succeeded in breaking this unity; alas, no! Death separated them, but death has just brought them together again...”

Indeed, Abbé Noailles died February 8, 1861. Bishop de Mazenod then became, in fact, the director general of the Holy Family and officially designated Father Bellon as pro-director. The bishop of Marseilles died May 21 of that year and Father Bellon died on June 28 of that same year at the age of 46 years and 9 months. Father Vincens, the provincial of France-Nord was at his side for the last days of his brief illness. He subsequently wrote to Father Fabre, assistant general: “Not the least agitation when faced with death, a complete submission, the most complete abandonment to the will of God. He sensed that he was on his way to Heaven and he stated this with a simplicity which inspired confidence [...] I wish to recall one of his statements: “How good God is! My mission surpassed my strength, and the Father has called me to be with our two founders.”

Father Fabre, assistant general, communicated this news to the Congregation on June 30. He began his letter with these words: “God has increased our trials and our sufferings. After only a few days of illness, He has just called to himself, one of our priests who was most justly held in high esteem. Reverend Father Bellon died in Bordeaux on the 28th of this month. A worthy and excellent religious, he died a holy death just like the life he lived. In losing him, our Congregation lost one of the most dedicated and most learned members of the institute…”

June 1l, 1862, one year after Father Bellon’s death, Mother H. Hardy-Moisan, director general of the Sisters of the Holy Family, sent out to her religious circular no. 14 in commemoration of Father Bellon’s death: “...A year has gone by since Father Bellon left us, carrying with him all our sorrow. A large number among us knew him. We all felt the impact of his total devotion to the Holy Family. You know what filial affection he felt for our good Father and what ways he had of showing it. This affection was returned in kind, and in his last moments, one of the sweetest consolations of our beloved Father was to know that his family was entrusted to the immediate care of the one whose heart he knew so well. How many are the reasons that justify the filial gratitude that we feel toward reverend Father Bellon! Now that he is no longer with us, we can only express this gratitude by our prayers. Let us pray, therefore, dear daughters, and let us pray with all the fervour of our souls...”

Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.

Sources and Bibliography

Oblate General Archives in Rome:

Section: Persons: Bellon: 1 dossier; 15 letters, especially from Maryvale, and various others. Mazenod: 56 letters to Father Bellon. Various: 48 letters to Father Bellon in the dossiers of 22 priests. About 100 letters from thirty some priests with references to Father Bellon.
Section: Manus: “Journal de mon administration de la province du Nord depuis ma nomination, 1er octobre 1855, et des affaires courantes du séminaire de Romans, jusqu’au 2 septembre 1856,” 89 pages. Various notes on theology and Sacred Scripture. Notebooks A and B, about 350 pages. Preaching notes (1847-1851), 76 pages.
Section: Postulation: “Directoire des novices.” Text attributed to Father Casimir Aubert, handwritten by Father Bellon in 1835-1836. Ms. AGR DM IX 6, 34 pages. Text published in: Oblate Writings II, 5, p. 34.
“Registre des lettres du secrétaire général 1850-1852” Ms.: AGR DM X 1.
FABRE, Joseph, Lettre circulaire of June 30, 1861 in Notices nécrologiques I, pp. 27-34.
MILLE, Vincent, priest. Article about Father Bellon in La Gazette du Midi, Marseilles, July 17, 1861.
Missions OMI, passim, cf. Analytical index.
Oblate Writings, lst and 2nd series, passim, cf. Table of contents.
DENNY, Vincent, o.m.i., Reaching out: History of the Anglo-Irish Province of the O.M.I. (1841-1921). Greencastle Press, 1991, 160 pages, passim.

[1] Gaspare Mezzofanti, Cardinal from Bologna, philosopher and famous specialist in Oriental knowledge (1774-1849).

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