Born at Vienne (Isère), January 27, 1824
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, March 6, 1843
Oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, March 7, 1844 (no. 120)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, September 23, 1848
Dispensed from his vows, July 11, 1852
Second novitiate begun at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, March 22, 1854
Oblation at Ajaccio, April 8, 1855
Died at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, April 14, 1893.
Alexandre Chaine was born at Vienne, diocese of Grenoble on January 27, 1824, son of Jean Chaine and Marie Montessieux. He studied at the minor seminary of Grenoble and entered the novitiate of Notre-Dame de l’Osier, March 6, 1843 where he made his oblation March 7, 1844. After four years of philosophy and theology at the major seminary in Marseilles he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop de Mazenod on September 23, 1848.
He worked for one year at Notre-Dame de l’Osier and in the fall of 1849 was sent to Nancy where Father Dassy was the superior. Father Chaine only stayed there a few weeks. He wrote: “I am in prison here. I am in Hell, yes, the foretaste of Hell… I am a dog on a chain, but a dog who is protesting, who is howling.” Without permission, he left Nancy and returned to Notre-Dame de l’Osier. The Founder was planning to dismiss him from the Congregation, but he was deterred from this course of action by the “pressing appeals” of Father Vincens.
Father Chaine stayed at l’Osier for some time and then entered the Trappist monastery at Aiguebelle where he did not remain. In 1852, he asked to be dispensed from his vows. On July 11, the General Council decided to grant him the dispensation because “he is an individual who has always been a source of problems and grief because of his lack of virtue and his idiosyncratic spirit and the difficulty he has to comply with the regular life and to obey...”
Abbé Chaine was subsequently appointed assistant priest at Saint-Geoirs in Isère. His leaving the Congregation weighed heavily upon him like the pangs of conscience. In 1854, he made a pressing appeal to redo his novitiate, and so he began at Notre-Dame de l’Osier on March 22. Bishop de Mazenod rejoiced to see him rejoining the fold. In an April 24, 1854 letter, he wrote: “My dear son, you would never have been able to measure the depth of a father’s heart such as mine is. There, perhaps, you have the reason for your astonishment at finding me so affected in your regard. To be sure, I don’t want to water down your fault which I consider, in my soul and conscience, as the greatest that can be committed after apostasy from the faith; but the greater the fault, the greater my rejoicing has to be when I see it atoned. And so I can state to you that when I expressed myself as I did, it was much less than the joy and happiness that I felt. [...] Oh, my son! Let there be no more any question between ourselves concerning your time of wandering. I don’t want to hear anything said about it. I am nevertheless vividly moved by the good sentiments that God’s grace inspires in you. Daily I thank his mercy and I count the months of penance you have laid upon yourself and which had to be endured, according to the canonical laws, to restore you with honour to the rank that you have regained through your fidelity to the grace and the edification of your conduct.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11 no. 1206, p. 193)
And yet, in spite of the sentiments expressed in this letter, Bishop de Mazenod doubted that Father Chaine would persevere. On July 17, 1854, he wrote to Father Charles Baret who was on retreat at l’Osier: “Take good care that the presence of Father C[haine]’s whom you will meet there is not a temptation to the least lack of regularity to either of you.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11 no. 1220, p. 210) In an August 8, 1854 letter to Father Fabre who had gone to the novitiate for some rest, he added: “What you told me, and even more what Father Baret told me about Father Chaine is a thorn that I cannot pluck out. Keep an even sharper lookout so that I am able to take a definitive decision.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11 no. 1233, p. 226)
In the autumn of 1854, while still a novice, Father Chaine was sent to the major seminary of Ajaccio as a professor. Father Magnan, the superior, found him to be “very easy to get along with... very cheerful and communicative” brimming with good will and love of study. But on January 23, 1855, he added: “his bearing, his dress, his manner of speaking, his tastes, etc., etc., everything indicates that he is not cut out for life in a seminary.” Father Chaine made his oblation on April 8, 1855 at Ajaccio where he continued on as a professor until 1858.
From 1858 to 1861, he was in the house of Notre-Dame de la Garde where he worked at the shrine and taught courses to the young priests who were pursuing “advanced studies” under the tutelage of Father Vincens. From 1861 to 1865, he was a member of the general house community in Paris and was chaplain of the Ladies of Loreto and the students at Saint-Mandé, while he preaching retreats in the meantime. From 1865 to 1867 he was superior at Limoges, a community of preachers who, at the time, preached some fifteen parish missions and more than 20 retreats annually. Before the end of his three-year term as superior in the Limousin, Father Fabre appointed him superior at Angers where he remained until 1872.
Subsequently, he worked at preaching missions and retreats with residence in Tours from 1872 to 1877 at Saint-Andelain from 1877 to 1879, at Le Calvaire in Marseilles from 1880-1882, at Vico in Corsica from 1883-1884, then at Aix, Diano Marina and at Notre-Dame de l’Osier where he died on April 14, 1893.
Father Lavillardière, the superior at Lyons, wrote that Father Chaine used to come frequently to help out the priests at Lyons. He added: “With each visit, he showed a marked decline of health and last year his state of health was a source of real concern for us. How quickly he made his way to God. Leaving us on Monday, he died on Friday in his armchair at Notre-Dame de l’Osier. Upright and good-hearted, an educated man, creative, a man of strong, solid faith, easy to get along with; we grew genuinely fond of him...”
Father Henri Moyet concluded the obituary of the deceased Father Chaine with these words: “Father Chaine was a man of faith and of charity, avoiding any form of backbiting, stopping abruptly when those around him went beyond the limits in criticizing others. And, if he was fond of jokes, a taste for gallic humour, it was never his intention to hurt anyone. In his life there was some emotional instability, but, in general, he was amenable to his superiors orders. His overall qualities led people to like him and not a few religious found in his easy going manner the kind of delightful respite that makes one forget many sorrows.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Oblate General Archives in Rome. Baptismal certificate, January 28, 1824; oblation formula of vows taken at Notre-Dame de l’Osier on March 7, 1844.
MOYET, Henri, o.m.i., “Le R. P. Alexandre Chaine”, in Notices nécrologiques, vol. VII, Bar-Le-Duc, 1899, p. 462-474.