Born at Murist (Switzerland), November 21, 1814
Taking of the habit, Notre-Dame du Laus, January 25, 1833
Oblation at Marseilles, February 17, 1834 (n. 56)
Ordained to the priesthood at Marseilles, September 22, 1838
Dispensed from his vows, August 8, 1862.
Joseph Nicolas Bise was born at Murist, diocese of Fribourg, in Switzerland, November 21, 1814. He began his novitiate at Notre-Dame du Laus on January 25, 1833 and made his oblation in Marseilles on February 17, 1834. He, then, studied theology at the major seminary of Marseilles. In April of 1837, Sir Drach, a converted Jew, was traveling through Marseilles and met Brother Bise “who has a natural bent for learning Hebrew.” (Mazenod Diary, April 3, 1837) The Founder wanted to ordain him to the priesthood at the end of 1837, but Brother Bise refused because of his bad health with forced him to observe a special diet. He was ordained to the priesthood in the church of Le Calvaire on September 22, 1838. On that day, Bishop de Mazenod wrote in his diary: “Father Bise is the 38th priest we now have in the Congregation. His gentleness, his affection for his religious family and his great respect for me whom he loves as he is loved leads me to hope that this new priest will edify the Congregation and, with the grace of God, in its midst will accomplish good work.”
Father Bise did, indeed, write often to the Superior General and in many ways communicated to him his affection and his regard. From this stems the goodness and patience the Founder showed him who was a subject with little aptitude for preaching and with a rather independent and demanding character. Initially, he worked in Aix for a few years. He complained about Father Courtès, charging that he did not give him enough time to prepare sermons. It seems he only participated in one mission, that of Rognes in December of 1840. In the August 27, 1840 entry in his Diary, the Founder noted: “A letter from Father Bise. Very distressing in content and form. Using as an excuse some fanciful idea of perfection, he grumbles, he complains of the ministry he is given, he threatens to write to the Pope to ask to be sent to the foreign missions, etc. What delusions! A wretched child who cannot handle giving the most simple religious instruction claims he wants to use his own wings to fly off to the foreign missions and what a fund of virtues he seems to think he possesses to deal with the dangers of these blazing countries. My God, what wretchedness! Humility, obedience, holy detachment, has any thought been given to acquiring them? If one only possessed a smattering of these, one would not write like Father Bise has just written to me. Far from it, one would not even allow oneself to think it.”
Next, we find him as treasurer at Notre-Dame de l’Osier in 1843 and, then, at the major seminary in Marseilles during the academic year of 1844-1845. He promptly requested to be removed from the seminary for “reasons of health and even of conscience.” (General Council, June 12, 1845) In the June 15 entry of his Diary, Bishop de Mazenod wrote: “Unimaginable conversation with Father Bise who came to tell me of his displeasure at being assigned to the seminary. It was not just a simple explanation of his troubles and his desires; it was a definitely determined resolve to be removed from there. Even though I have showered him with kindness, that stripling could only remember the admonishments I made to him a year ago and even those I made to him four and five years ago whose bitter memory he has jealously guarded in his soul in order to draw the conclusion that I am treating him unjustly. Would anyone say his is a model of regularity and of virtue? He challenged me to tell him whether I had any reprimands to make to him. Oh, my God, yes, I would have some very serious faults to find with him if I was to respond to his insolent provocation. It would be that he did his work as treasurer very badly, something which, no doubt, wounded his pride just like my guidance concerning the bad habit he had developed of speaking ill of his confreres, of disparaging them in front of other people. That is what he could not forget. The fact that without any excuse whatsoever he absents himself from oraison in the morning in view of the whole seminary community which does not fail to notice these kinds of failings; the fact that he is not any more punctual in attending recitation of the Office and evening oraison than he is in attending morning oraison; that he conducts himself badly in the monastery which he is supposed to serve, full of exaggerated ideas of his self-worth and super-sensitive about it, putting on airs about everything, taking offence at the least thing which he thinks casts a slur on his dignity and the authority he claims to wield. What a quantity of things I would have to tell him, if ever he would profit from them. But this young man is so full of himself that he would never agree to anything and he would simply be more convinced of the false impression that I am treating him unjustly. On the other hand, I only learned the majority of these things tonight from Father Tempier after I had received the bizzare visit of this poor blind person. If I have really grasped the situation, he had come to me with the intention of repeating the threat that he had formerly made -- something I did not give him the opportunity to do -- when he wanted me to remove him from Aix where he was unhappy, the threat of adopting some extreme measure like asking to leave the Congregation. From what I gleaned in our interview, I was forced to conclude that Father Bise is as lacking in soul as he is in good sense.”
As a result, he was sent to Notre-Dame de Lumières where the Founder wrote to him on February 13, 1848 to renew his friendship with him and to reprimand him for holding himself too aloof. From 1850 to 1854, Father Bise was in charge of this community as superior. From an October 15, 1855 letter by Father Casimir Aubert to Bishop Buissas, we learn that Father Bise, in Limoges for some time already, was appointed superior of this missionary community. He only stayed there one year and received his obedience for Notre-Dame de l’Osier.
In 1858, he was resting in Switzerland. From there, he invited the Founder to make a foundation at Montet. The Founder wrote him a reply dated July 24. In this letter, he refused the foundation, expressed his happiness at Father Bise’s improved health and added: “Even though I maintain that all healthy climates are good, nevertheless I understand that the satisfaction of seeing one’s native place influences morale, a factor that has so much power over our physical makeup.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1856-1861, Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1384, p. 101) Nevertheless, in October of 1858, Father Tempier went to check out the situation in Montet, a small parish where Father Bise was parish priest and where two priests could preach missions. In December of that same year, Bishop Marilley, Bishop of Lausanne and Geneva officially invited the Oblates to come. Father Peter Rouge, recalled from Canada, was sent as companion to Father Bise and, in 1859 was appointed superior of that little community. But he left the Congregation in 1861.
Left alone at Montet, in an August 5, 1862 letter, Father Bise asked Father Joseph Fabre, the Superior General, to be dispensed from his vows: “It was with pleasure I learned,” he said, “through longtime acquaintances and through the newspapers that you had been elected Superior General. It is my hope that, after having dealt with more important issues, you will have a thought for me and will extend to me the hand of friendship to help me to extricate myself from the abnormal situation into which the former administration thrusted me. I was hoping and yearning for it. But this kindness was not granted me and I waited for it in vain... I have now waited long enough and I can no longer refrain from taking a decision. The former provincial suggest that I should ask to be separated from the Congregation; his Excellency the Bishop was deliberating as to whether he should grant me this separation. You will do what you think is best. My health is as ever impaired, but with some small measures of caution, I get along. The thought of becoming one more of your sick members and to haggle tediously over a few glasses of water or some medicinal tea is abhorrent to me. I would like to think that God is happy with my twenty years of mission work and that I can accept to retire in the position that Providence has provided for me. I readily pardon the injustices and the crass treatment I received as a reward for my poor services and which are closing the door in my face...”
Father Fabre did not have to be asked twice when it came to granting him dispensation from his vows. Of those few priests whom the Founder had permitted to live alone, he demanded that they either return to live in Oblate community or leave the Congregation.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Father Bise’s dossier in the Oblate General Archives in Rome contains only his oblation formula and a few letters to Bishop de Mazenod, to Father Fabre and Father Tempier. This latter letters dealt with Notre-Dame de Lumières. (AGR DM XIII-4).
About ten priests, his contemporaries, mention him in their correspondence.