Born at Florensac (Hérault), June 3, 1822
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, June 28, 1843
Oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, July 16, 1844 (no. 124)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, April 8, 1848
Expelled from the Congregation, August 12, 1856.
Esprit Jean-Baptiste Berthuel was born in Florensac in the diocese of Grenoble, on June 3, 1822. He entered the novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier on June 28, 1843 and made his oblation there on July 16, 1844. After four years of study at the major seminary of Marseilles, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop de Mazenod on April 8, 1848.
In the General Council session of May 24, 1848, his first obedience was issued. He was sent to Limoges, but right up until the autumn of 1850, he remained at Le Calvaire in Marseilles where he did ministry and acted as the local treasurer. After he left Le Calvaire, he was accused of being a bad administrator. Bishop de Mazenod rebuked him on this score and this greatly saddened Father Berthuel at the beginning of his stay at Limoges where he preached parish missions and retreats up until 1853.
When the Oblates accepted responsibility for the direction of the major seminary of Romans in the diocese of Valence, Father Berthuel was appointed professor of philosophy there from 1853 to 1855; then, he was appointed professor of Sacred Scripture and eloquence in 1855-1856 while at the same time acting as local treasurer and even treasurer of the province Nord in 1855-1856.
In August 1856, he wrote to Casimir Aubert, the secretary general and to the Founder a long letter in which “midst hypocritical protestation of his fondness for the Congregation and its head, he declares that he can no longer live in it and asks to withdraw from the society with a canonical dispensation from his vows.” The main reason he puts forth is “the situation of his mother and his aunt towards whom he has the obligation to help in their temporal needs, in a manner that would be too burdensome for the Congregation.”
At the August 12, 1856 session of the General Council, the decision was made to expel him. Many reasons are set forth justifying this course of action (two pages in length in the report): reprehensible conduct of this priest during the school year just past, “very imprudent remarks” with regard to Father Bellon, his superior and against the Congregation, purchase of clothing and arrangements made for his departure, arrangements known by the seminarians but not by the priests on staff, etc.
In a letter to Bishop Thibault, Bishop of Monpellier, who was asking for information about Abbé Berthuel with a view of putting him to work in his diocese, Bishop de Mazenod wrote on September 12: “I do not want to pronounce myself here on the value of the motives that Mr. Berthuel offers to justify his departure; but I cannot resist strongly blaming the lack of openness and the little tact he showed in all this matter, and, what is still more objectionable, his disregard of the most sacred duty of gratitude.” (Letters to various correspondents on the Congregation of the O.M.I., 1815-1861, Oblate Writings I, vol. 13, no. 149, p. 172) The Founder soon repented of the contents of this letter and wrote the Bishop a second letter on October 2: “I would be very embarrassed to be the reason why you would withdraw your charitable goodwill from this poor Berthuel who had counted on a place in your diocese as something altogether assured [...] His mother’s distress affected his heart too strongly and so he had the misfortune of giving in to this temptation of infidelity. No doubt it is a fault in God’s eyes, and a very grave wrong to the Congregation, but this poor priest should inspire compassion all that much more in that we have never had anything against him concerning his morals. Thus, my Lord I dare to beg you to have compassion on him and grant him a post wherein he is able to make his living.” (Letters to various correspondents on the Congregation of the O.M.I., 1815-1861, Oblate Writings I, vol. 13, no. 151, p. 175)
Behind Father Berthuel’s name in the Registry of the Personnel (1862, p. 124), we read this: “After having exercised his sacred ministry in Limoges, he was appointed staff member of the seminary of Romans in the role of treasurer and professor of Sacred Scripture. While he was a very capable person, he did not administer things well and left the Congregation as an apostate in 1856. Having obtained a position in the diocese of Montpellier, he fell short of the confidence his bishop placed in him.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Oblate General Archives in Rome: Oblation formula, July 16, 1844; 14 letters to Father Aubert (1854-1856); 8 letters to Father Bellon (1847-1852); 17 letters to Father Fabre (1852-1854) and 2 to Father Tempier (1856).