Born at Barjols, diocese of Fréjus (Var), October 7, 1802
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame du Laus, April 2, 1820
Oblation at Notre-Dame du Laus, May 30, 1822 (no. 10)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, September 24, 1825
Left the Congregation, February 24, 1831
Second novitiate, Notre-Dame de l’Osier, March 3, 1849
Oblation in Marseilles, March 5, 1850 (no. 284)
Died in Marseilles, October 28, 1883.
André Marc Sumien was born October 7, 1802 in Barjols, diocese of Fréjus. He was baptized the following Sunday, October 10 (18 vendémiaire of the year XI) His family, which was rather well-to-do, was honoured and respected. The child’s uncle, l’Abbé Marcel Sumien, assistant priest at the parish of Saint-Maximin, prepared him for his First Holy Communion.
André spent a rather heedless, carefree youth. He rarely attended church and preferred to live with his friends, idling his time away in the town square or gambling in one of the local gaming parlours. At sixteen, he worked with his father who owned a tannery. Father de Mazenod and five other Missionaries of Provence came to preach a parish mission at Barjols from November 8 to December 20, 1818. They visited Mr. Sumien’s workshop. At the invitation of the priests and urged on by his mother, André attended the mission services. Touched by the grace of the mission, he went to confession and resolved to follow the missionaries to Aix, where, from that time forward, he began his study of Latin.
On a trial basis, he was admitted to the Youth Association on June 26, 1819 and began his novitiate on April 2, 1820 under the direction of Father Tempier at Notre-Dame du Laus, where he made his vows May 30, 1822. He, then, followed the Oblates to Aix to study theology. On March 18, 1823, from Paris, Father de Mazenod wrote a letter from Paris thanking him for a letter written in the name of the Oblates and told him of his joy at seeing him following “in the footsteps of the Lord, full of ardour for good, burning with holy zeal for the salvation of souls, devoted to the Church.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1814-1825, Oblate Writings, Vol. 6, no. 96, p. 104) He was ordained to the priesthood in Marseilles by Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod on September 24, 1825.
He was then assigned work as chaplain to care for the sick in the city hospital of Aix and given the responsibility of spiritual direction of an orphanage. He took part in the General Chapter celebrated in Marseilles from July 10 to 13, 1826. Then, he spent a few months in Notre-Dame du Laus, replacing Fathers Jean-Baptiste Honorat and Jean Joseph Touche who were preaching missions, and returned to Aix. In September of 1827, he “wrung” from the Founder permission to go visit his family and prolonged his stay beyond the time allotted him. As a result, Father de Mazenod wrote him a rather stern letter informing him that he saw in this “an indication of his carelessness, of his lack of zeal and of charity.” Father Sumien preached with the priests of Nîmes in the beginning of 1828, then he was appointed second assessor at Notre-Dame du Laus in July of 1829.
At the time of the July Revolution, a rather violent anti-church movement, Father Sumien took fright and withdrew to his diocese of origin where Bishop Michel, the Bishop of Fréjus, appointed him parish priest of Monfort and later parish priest of Varages, not far from Barjols. In a February 24, 1831 letter, Father de Mazenod dispensed him from his vows, stating that “taking flight [from religious life] is the equivalent for us as for other people of apostasy.” It was his opinion that this conduct “was, after all, only the culmination of a consistent conduct dedicated to evil and a fitting punishment for continued dereliction of your duties.” He claimed that he had done everything he could to save him, sending him frequently from one house to the other in the hope of finding a superior and a work that would have made him get a grip on himself. He concluded with a word from the heart: “While bemoaning bitterly your dishonest behaviour and the extremes to which it has brought you, I will always keep in my heart a genuine affection for you, you whom I have for so many years considered my child.”
Sumien’s Return in 1849
Did these final words strike home with the fugitive? He always kept up a few contacts with the Oblates. In 1845, he asked them to preach a mission in his parish of Varages. In January of 1849, at 46 years of age, he asked Bishop de Mazenod to be readmitted in the Congregation. He began his second novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier on March 3 and made his oblation at Marseilles March 5, 1850. He then worked in Aix. The superior complained about him because on June 30, 1852, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Courtès: “I urge you not to spare Father Sumien the remarks and reproaches he deserves for his caustic tongue, the use of which is all the more out of place since he of all people stands in need of everyone’s good will, not only because of his mediocre talents but for a host of other reasons that are not forgotten in the diocese of Fréjus.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings, Vol. 11, no. 1106, p. 87)
In 1854, he was sent to replace the parish priest of Saint-Cassien. There was a cholera epidemic at the time. Father Sumien only stayed there one week. He left his post as soon as he felt a slight illness. The Founder wrote: “What a disgrace! A priest, a missionary, a religious seized with fright!” On the occasion of the 1856 Chapter, Father Sumien was in residence at Le Calvaire in Marseilles where he stayed for a few years. In March of 1859, Bishop de Mazenod asked Father Tempier to send a priest to the parish of Olives. He added: “Couldn’t we temporarily make use of a man like Father Sumien, a man we do not know what to do with?” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1856-1861, Oblate Writings I, Vol. 12, no. 1419, p. 152)
From 1860-1861 right up until 1880, Father Sumien remained in the Oblate chaplain’s house of Notre-Dame de la Garde. According to some information published in Missions OMI about this house, Father Sumien participated in missions and retreats and took care of preaching at the shrine. He was away from the house when the priests were expelled from their home during the expulsions of 1880.
Father Sumien then went to live with Mr. Émile Sumien, his nephew, and editor of Gazette du Midi. It was there that he experienced a fall on the street and subsequently died of his injuries on October 28, 1883.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
At the General Archives in Rome, we have Father Sumien’s dossier in which there is only the formulas of oblation of May 30, 1822 and of July 13, 1826. The text of the dispensation of his vows is found in Registre des expulsions, February 24, 1831, p. 14-15.
FABRE, Joseph, “Notice du père Sumien” in Notices nécrologiques O.M.I., vol. v, p. 301-307.