Took the habit: April, 1881.
Vows: April 3,1883 (N. 1153).
Priesthood: Sept. 27,1884.
Francis and Jeanne Lemius wanted at least one more child, after the birth of their fourth child. They made a pilgrimage to the same shrine where they had gone to pray in 1840 after several miscarriages for the birth of their first child, Marie. Their prayers were answered and their last child, Joseph, was born on April 20, 1860.
Joseph first studied for the diocesan priesthood under the Jesuits, then thought of the Trappists. But frequent stays at the Oblate house in Bordeaux, when the family visited his sister, seemed to have had a strong influence.
During his novitiate at Notre Dame de l'Osier (1881-82), he immediately began to search for the guiding principles of spirituality. All during his life, he needed to go to the root of things, to make a strong synthesis.
His personal spirituality was strongly based on the Marian devotion of St. Grignon de Montfort, as lived by the Oblates. His brother John Baptist, in the thirty-five page "Notice Necrologique" he wrote about Joseph, gives some fascinating descriptions of such devotion, especially the letter Joseph wrote to his sister to describe his perpetual vows in Rome on April 3, 1883.
He earned a doctorate in philosophy at Rome's Gregorian University, one in theology at Rome's Academy of St. Thomas, and a licentiate in Canon Law. None of his family were able to attend his ordination in Rome on Sept. 27, 1884. He has left a remarkable letter to them describing the churches he visited that day, following in the footsteps of St. Eugene De Mazenod's love of Rome.
Joseph seemed equally at home in Scripture, dogma and canon law, but his favorite was ascetical/mystical theology. His letter to the scholastics of Canada illustrates this.
His intellectual skills were infused with a great tenderness, imagination and ability to make deep and lasting friendships. John Baptiste didn't hesitate to apply to his brother the words of Lacordaire: "soft as a mother, hard as a diamond."
At the age of 34 he was named procurator general on Dec. 17, 1894, and remained in this position until his death almost 29 years later. One of his first challenges involved the incompetence of the apostolic delegate in Sri Lanka. He began a formal process against him, which John Baptist calls "unheard of." He lost the first round, but won on appeal, completely vindicating the Oblate bishops .
Joseph's role in composing most of St. Pius X's Encyclical Pascendi is uncontroverted today. But whether or not Pascendi, written against Modernism (Liberalism) was too strict, is quite controverted. One authority, Joseph Blinkinsopp, a Scripture professor at Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN, called it in 1989 part of "the Reign of Terror under Pope Pius X." Father Marvin R. O'Connell, a professor of history at the same university, denounced Pascendi in 1994 for "its harsh rhetoric, its tone of personal denunciation, its exercise of apparently rash judgment."
Practically every other investigator of the Modernist/Liberal controversy agrees with Gabriel Daly, OSA, who wrote in 1995 about Joseph Lemius: "I found him to have been the most moderate and well-informed of all the Roman anti-modernists."
Father Desire Mercier founded the College of Philosophy at the Louvain. It flourished because it taught the Summa of St. Thomas not in Latin but in French. Some Roman authorities considered this too liberal and sought to crush the college. Not once but twice Joseph saved the program. When Mercier was made a cardinal, he told Joseph "I owe you the cardinalate."
There is probably much more in the Oblate archives about the role of the Lemius brothers during the very agonizing period when the fourth superior general, Cassien Augier, resigned; illness plagued the short administration of his successor, Auguste Lavillardiere (1906-08); and the Vatican considered merging the Oblates with another religious community in difficulty. John Baptist did write that when Archbishop Dontenwill had his first audience with St. Pius X after Dontenwill's election, and expressed his fears, the pope told him "trust Joseph Lemius. He is wise, very prudent and above all he is humble."
With his warmth, knowledge of theology, and great imagination, Joseph was in great demand as a preacher. He spent much time in France giving Lenten retreats and missions. He always stressed the love and mercy of God, especially as shown in the Sacred Heart, and Mary.
In 1923,he vacationed in France, preaching a retreat to the Oblates in Midi. He then went to enjoy a few days rest at his nephew's home in the Jura Mountains. He died there at age 63, of apoplexy, and was buried in the nearby family plot in Dijon, next to his brother Louis.
Harry Winter, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography