Born at Presles (Hautes-Alpes), April 28, 1813
Taking of the habit at Marseilles, June 1, 1833
Oblation at Marseilles June 4, 1834 (no. 57)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, September 24, 1836
Died at Notre-Dame de Lumières, August 27, 1889.
François-Xavier Bermond was born at Presles, diocese of Gap, April 28 1813. He studied at the college of Briançon, then at the minor seminary of Embrun. During this last year at the minor seminary, the annual retreat was preached by Fathers Guibert and Capmas. The young philosophy student decided to follow them to Notre-Dame du Laus. He began his novitiate, recently transferred to Marseilles, June 1, 1833 and made his oblation June 4, 1834. After two years of theological studies at the major seminary at Marseilles, Bishop de Mazenod ordained him to the priesthood on September 24, 1836.
Father Bermond began his ministry especially as a preacher of missions at Billens (Switzerland) in 1836-1837, at Aix for a few months in 1837, at Notre-Dame du Laus from 1837 to 1841, at the juniorate of Notre-Dame de Lumières from 1841 to 1844 and at Notre-Dame de l’Osier in 1844-1845.
In 1841, Father Bermond declared himself in favour of accepting the missions in Canada and asked to be sent there forthwith. Bishop de Mazenod wrote him a reply in which he told his that he did not judge him sufficiently obedient and virtuous to be sent 1500 leagues away from the Superior General. In 1842, Father Bermond refused to go to Aix. Sent to Notre-Dame de l’Osier in 1844, he did not want to continue on there. In October of that year, the Founder wrote him: “I pray the good Lord withdraw you from dreams of childhood and give you the heart of a man and especially of a religious man. You will be the happier for it and much more useful.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1843-1849, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 859, p. 88)
At the beginning of 1845, Peter Aubert and Alexander Antonin Taché left for Red River. Bishop de Mazenod then told Father Bermond that he would go to replace Father Aubert at Longueuil where the Oblates were preaching parish missions with some success. “That is something that would stir the soul of a genuine missionary,” the Founder wrote him. Father Bermond refused to go. Bishop de Mazenod insisted on it, but, as he communicated in a May 11, 1845 letter to Father Vincens, received “an answer that is filled with insolence from one end to the other. I can overlook the impertinence in this letter, but what is more deplorable is a stupid ignorance of one’s most sacred duties. He builds up a thesis that the vows do not oblige him to obey me in this instance, and from that point he takes off to miserable rationalizations through which one can perceive that his self-conceit has been injured.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1843-1849, Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 872, p. 103)
Nevertheless, Bishop de Mazenod gave him his obedience in June of 1845, telling him: “Let us be worthy of our great vocation and go forth in the name of the Lord who will see to our recompense...” (Letters to North America, 1841-1850, Oblate Writings I, vol. 1, no. 55, p. 120) He presents him to Father Guigues in these terms: “Father Bermond has excellent qualities [...] Show him confidence and friendship and I am sure that you will be satisfied...” (Letters to North America, 1841-1850, Oblate Writings I, vol. 1, no. 57, p. 120) Father Bermond arrived in Canada in the fall of 1845, ministered for a few months in the lumber camps of the Ottawa area, and then, in 1846, rejoined his confreres at Red River. He served the missions of Saint Francis Xavier at White Horse Prairie (Manitoba) from 1846 to 1850. In 1850 to 1851, he was superior of the house at St. Boniface and parish priest of the parish from 1854 to 1857. He was also procurator for the vicariate.
In Western Canada
In the West, Father Bermond showed little tolerance for Fathers Aubert and Taché and criticized them often. After Father Taché was consecrated bishop in 1851, Father Bermond made it his business to warn all the new missionaries to be mistrustful of the bishop. Bishop de Mazenod, already unhappy with him because he had not written since his departure for Canada and that he left his mission “by his own choosing,” shared with Bishop Guigues his sorrow and urged him not to put his trust in what Father Bermond would tell him. “These professional murmurers have so lax a conscience that they shrink before no detraction, and are often in danger of uttering calumnies when they believe themselves to be doing no more than allowing themselves to speak critically...” (Letters to North America, 1851-1860, Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 137, p. 4-5)
Father Bermond continued to criticize Bishop Taché and even the General Administration, who, according to him, was founding too many missions. Bishop de Mazenod once again confided his sorrow to Bishop Guigues: “I will not hide from you the fact that I consider Father Bermond incurable. The last Father I sent, who is a perfect religious, wrote to me to say that if I had not forewarned him as I had done against all that might be said to him in the way of insinuations directed against the respect and the confidence that he ought to feel for his first Supeior and his Bishop, he would have allowed himself to fall into the trap. On this subject I will tell you that I consider this state of affairs so serious that if it does not change I will be obliged to withdraw Fr. Bermond from that mission in spite of all the experience that he has gained and his knowledge of languages. What do you think? Give me your opinion on that ...” (Letters to North America, 1851-1860, Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 209, p. 98)
In 1856, upon Bishop Taché’s request, the Founder decided to recall Father Bermond to France, but, first of all, sent him as extraordinary visitor to Oregon where it was soon necessary to replace Father Pascal Ricard, who was ill. Father Bermond obeyed, but with bad grace. He submitted a report in which he suggested that the missions to the Yakimas and the Cayouse be abandoned because of the war and to send the priests to British Columbia. The General Administration found the report valuable and asked Father Bermond to remain there. The plan was to appoint him vicar of the Oregon missions.
Surprise and anger were the reactions on the part of Bishop de Mazenod, sitting at the time in the senate in Paris, when in February of 1859, he learned that Father Bermond was back in France without having obtained permission to do so. Bishop de Mazenod wrote Father Casimir Aubert: “... It is an inexcusable extravagance, one apt to inflict immense harm on the good that the Congregatin could hope to do in Oregon, at least in the region that we have been exploring recently. I am quite indignant at it. To leave one’s post in such interesting circumstances without awaiting the orders of the Superior from whom an enormous distance separated him; to make his departure depend on the reception of a letter which could have been more or less delayed before reaching him; to take flight, as it were, after having undertaken so important a matter as the one in question, is, in my view, monstrous. Less than this is required to be expelled from the Congregation whose interests he has betrayed as well as those concerning the conversion of souls. The scamp did well in passing through Paris without trying to see me. We have counted too much that he would change. He is going from bad to worse.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1856-1861, Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1400, p. 124)
From this time on, Bishop de Mazenod hardly ever speaks of Father Bermond. On the other hand, Father Bermond became a better religious. In 1860, he worked for some time at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, from 1860-1861 at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, was superior of Notre-Dame de Lumières from 1862 to 1865, provincial of the province of Midi from 1865 to 1871. He spent the last years of his active life at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours (1871-1884) where he was superior from 1871-1877. He then retired to Notre-Dame de Lumières where he died on August 27, 1889 after celebrating his 50th anniversary of oblation in 1884 and of priesthood in 1887. In response to the speeches and praise heaped upon him at this latter event, he said: “I have received so few compliments in my life that I have not developed the habit of responding to them.” Indeed, in spite of his talents and the good that he did, especially after his return from Canada, because of his critical spirit, Father Bermond took a lot of time to become a community man and to be loved by his confreres.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and bibliography
Oblate General Archives in Rome: Oblation formula; several pages concerning real estate he inherited; 6 letters to Father Fabre, one to Father Soullier and 19 to Father Faraud from 1848 to 1860.