Piety, purity and pain: Gerard Raymond and the ideal of French Canadian Catholic manhood.
Cet article jette un regard critique sur un mouvement de spiritualite adolescente du debut du vingtieme siecle. II examine la facon dont le personnage de Gerard Raymond (1912-1932) a ete <<faconne>> par les membres du clerge comine symbole d'une masculinite catholique canadienne-francaise. Par l'entremise d'analyses du Journal de Gerard Raymond, ainsi que d'un recit hagiographique ecrit par le directeur spirituel du seminaire, Une ame d'elite, et des lettres provenant de pretres et de religieuses, il est propose que ces differents textes mettent de l'avant une serie de vertus chretiennes--en particulier la purete--comme elements constituants de cette masculinite catholique.
About two years ago, I was doing research in the Gerard Raymond papers held in the archives of the Seminaire de Quebec. These consist mainly of his student writings, most notably his journal, but one also finds several thick files of letters and testimonials from around the world, each attesting to the exceptionally virtuous life of the 19 year-old seminarian, or soliciting special favours through his intervention. One letter in particular caught my eye, primarily because it was so touching. In phonetically broken French, a certain Mrs. Rosaire Doyon, on 16 October 1936, writes asking a seminary priest to intercede on her behalf with Gerard Raymond so that he can ask God to watch over her husband, who, she says, is not frank with her. He drinks and returns home late in the mornings, hides money from her and their six children, and comes and goes as he pleases. She is particularly worried about her eldest 15 year-old son, who may follow in his father's bad footsteps. She herself is not well, and she is also concerned about what the neighbours may be thinking. She asks that, in his response, the priest not mention any details of her difficulties, as this would only worsen things. She also asks for heavenly protection for her husband, and that he be made to see the error of his ways. (1)
Our sensibilities cry out against the injustice of such a situation, where a woman with few options in life finds herself caught in what was undoubtedly a cold and abusive marriage. We also see here, however, a vivid manifestation of faith: an absolute belief and hope that, through the intercession of some exceptionally holy individual--in this case, Gerard Raymond--the trials and tribulations of earthly existence can somehow be made bearable. We have here the beginning of the cult of saints. How can a woman caught in such desperate straits come to believe that a young seminarian who had died only four years earlier could act as a divine intercessor on her behalf, and help bring her husband back to her safe and sound? This woman believes in the power of conversion; it is, perhaps, the one thing that sustains her. Her lonely, heart-wrenching letter may well be addressed to an earthly man, a priest, but her prayer--for that is what it is--goes well beyond this world to another man. This man, who was young, strong, pure and selfless, can empathize with the depth of her pain and suffering, for he too suffered much. She wants to put her longing in the strength of such a man who, rather than ignoring her, will give her the life to which she believes she is properly entitled. Equally important, she is seeking protection--a sort of heavenly peer influence--for her own son. She wants the saintly Gerard Raymond to act as a protective older sibling to this young son, who is far more at risk of straying from the path of goodness because of his age and immaturity.
The Young Quebec City 'Martyr'
Gerard Raymond is not an official saint of the Catholic Church. He has not even reached the first stage of being declared Venerable. (2) Yet for over seventy years, there has been a small but persistent cult to him. Every year, on July 5th, the anniversary of his death, a mass is held in Quebec City to ask for the grace of his beatification. (3) Pilgrims occasionally still visit the family plot where he is buried. Who was this elusive young man, known almost exclusively through the pages of a journal which was discovered and published after his death, and which still sells, albeit in rather small numbers?
Gerard Raymond was born on 20 August 1912 into a typically modest urban Quebec City family, the fourth of eight children. His father, Camille Raymond, was a tramway conductor, while his mother, Josephine Poitras, as with most Catholic women of that era, maintained the household. Very little is known of his brief life, except for those events recounted in his journal--written during his last four years--and which quite naturally reflect his own selective priorities and interests. In 1924, at the age of twelve, he entered the Petit Seminaire de Quebec as a day student, where he remained until he was forced to enter hospital in January 1932. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he died on 5 July 1932, at the age of nineteen. From the seminary archives, we know that he was a bright and diligent student, often finishing first or second in his class. From his journal, we also know that it was his intention to enter the Order of Friars Minor upon completion of his studies. In particular, he wanted to become a Franciscan missionary to China, and he would often express a burning desire and willingness to die as a martyr for the faith. Most of the other details of his short and uneventful life come from the journal, but also from a popular hagiographic text published anonymously in 1932, a few months after his death, with a particularly suggestive title: Une ame d'elite: Gerard Raymond (1912-1932). Its author was undoubtedly Oscar Genest, priest and spiritual director of the students at the seminary. (4)
This text is important for a number of reasons. First, the seminary must have distributed it--together with holy cards of Gerard Raymond--rather widely to religious congregations, parishes and schools throughout North America, for its archives contain many letters of acknowledgement and thanks. These documents provide the researcher with a uniquely rich look at the particular worldviews of these recipients--clerical for the most part--for they are loaded with luxuriant and nuanced commentaries on the religious meaning and import of the life of the young Gerard Raymond. (5) Second, Une ame d'elite is very much a classic hagiographic text, in the sense that it does two things: it makes a case for the sanctity of Gerard Raymond, and it proposes his life as a compelling model for other Catholic youth. In so doing, it offers much by way of insight into how the French Canadian Catholic clerical culture of this distinctive era understood and defined not only adolescent spirituality, but lay sanctity more generally. Third, and perhaps most significant, the book essentially consists of a prolonged spiritual commentary on Gerard Raymond's own journal. Because it was written by the spiritual director of the seminary, a person directly responsible for the welfare of the souls of the young students, it has much to say about how this clerical authority chose to "construct" Gerard Raymond as a potential saint, by drawing and emphasizing particular elements from his life, and how these might be relevant, in turn, to the lives of other seminary students, both present and future. In this regard, the choice of title is quite revealing: it bespeaks an overriding concern with Christian perfection, particularly for young males, as a task best suited to strong, exceptional or elite types, as might be the case for an athlete or a soldier. There is another sense in which the term "elite" can be understood here. Because they ran a college classique (6) the priests of the seminary were indeed forming a French Canadian elite of future lawyers, doctors, notaries, politicians or clergy. For the priests, this elite would naturally need to possess the sorts of qualities and virtues that Gerard Raymond so well embodied if its members were to occupy the rightful place that belonged to them in society and in the French Canadian Church.
Gerard Raymond's reputation for sanctity rests almost exclusively on his journal. The document is exceptional in that it provides the reader with an intimate look at the spiritual development of a young French Canadian Catholic man of the early part of the twentieth century. Its first entry is dated 23 December 1927; its last, 2 January 1932. Published by the Seminaire de Quebec, it is reminiscent of the remarkably popular auto-biographical spiritual text by St. Therese de Lisieux (1873-1897), Histoire d'une ame (1898). In fact, Gerard Raymond may have modelled his entries on those of Therese. In his journal, he writes about how much he was impressed with her writings and spiritual insights, and he often invokes her as one of his special patrons. It is also important to note that the seminary itself edited and published the journal, and that selective parts of the original manuscript (mostly detailed summaries of sermons heard and recorded by Gerard) were removed from it. (7) This parallels the process at Lisieux, where the Carmelite convent edited and arranged for the first publication of Histoire d'une ame, thereby almost single-handedly being responsible for the spread of the cult of the young Therese Martin, who would arguably become the most influential Catholic saint of the twentieth century. (8)
Raymond Lemieux, a scholar of Quebec Catholicism, characterizes the major focus of the spirituality of Gerard Raymond, as reflected through the pages of his journal, as: "... a sharp awareness--and sharpened by the institution to which he submits himself--of the distance between daily life and the ideal, an awareness of work always needing to be redone to bridge the chasm, the challenge and necessity of perseverance." (9) He further delineates the young seminarian's personality as comprising the threefold aspects of the model student, the pious adolescent and the elite soul. (10) When reading the journal, one is struck by a number of recurring themes: the overriding concern with perfection in all aspects of life, and the consequent guilt which inevitably comes from not attaining it; the emphasis on penance and suffering, whether self-imposed or not, and how this imitates Christ and the tribulations of the martyrs; and the overly punctilious observance of Catholic rituals and devotions. The motto of the young student was: "Aimer, Souffrir, Aimer" (To love, to suffer, to love). The picture of Gerard Raymond that emerges from his journal is that of an exceptionally religious yet determined youth, insecure and often guilt-ridden, who wanted to be perfect in all things, whether his studies, his faith and devotional observances, his home life or his relationships with peers. In psychological terms, he might perhaps be viewed today as a bit of an obsessive-compulsive.
Above all else, however, stood Gerard Raymond's burning desire to be a saint and a martyr: "... as of today, I give myself to you, do with me as you wish, I know that it will be good. Make of me a saint, and if possible a martyr." (11) Such an idealistic Catholic ambition for sanctity and martyrdom--much more common in that era than was often admitted--served as a powerful template. In reflecting homogenous Tridentine ideals of Catholic perfection and perfectibility, it provided individuals, particularly youth, with the necessary inspiration, impetus and models for the forging of their fragile identities. In striving for sanctity and martyrdom, Gerard Raymond thereby became both himself and a good Catholic, for the two were seen as indivisible. The ideal of the martyr-saint bridged a chasm between the world and the Church, between this earth and the heavenly promise, between ordinary humans and stronger, more elite ones. What more could any typical adolescent look or ask for?
The Ideal of Heroic, Sanctified Masculinity
Since Une ame d'elite and his journal were both officially published by the priests of the Quebec City seminary, Gerard Raymond's exemplary youthful sanctity could be said to be a clerical construction. This does not detract from the merits of the youngster's life. Rather, it points to a common process in saint-making: that it is often those with particular vested interests--sometimes very legitimate ones--who are the real advocates of sainthood for a given individual. The seminary priests were the ones who wrote about Gerard Raymond; who edited and distributed his writings; who had images and holy cards of him printed; who composed prayers in his honour and organized novenas for his canonization; who kept alive his memory; and who proposed him as a model for other French Canadian Catholic youth. They created the saintly and ascetic Gerard Raymond. Without them, it is fairly certain that he would have remained unknown. Why, therefore, did they do it, and what sort of young man were they interested in fashioning?
Gerard Raymond, ne a Quebec le 29 aout 1912, a fait ses etudes au Seminaire de cette ville et est mort a l'Hopital Laval, le 5 juilliet 1932, en odeur de saintete. Son ideal etait : Aimer--souffrir--aimer. Son grand desir etait de devenir pretre, missionnaire, martyr. PRIERE DIVIN COEUR DE JESUS, qui, dans votre amour de predilection pour les jeunes gens, avez accorde a Gerard Raymond la grace de vous aimer ardemment et lui avez inspire le genereux desir d'etre avec Vous victime d'amour pour les pecheurs et de mourir martyr, daignez glorifier votre jeune serviteur. Nous vous supplions par le Coeur Immacule de Marie, de susciter partout darts l'Eglise des ames d'apotre qui aient comme lui, la sainte ambition de passer leur vie dans l'immolation continuelle, pour vous faire aimer et vous donner des ames. Amen. Imprimatur: PAUL NICOLE, v.g. Quebec, 16 aout 1982. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Holy Card Source: Courtesy of the Author (Printed Quebec, 16 aout 1982)
The dedication page of the young seminarian's journal, which would have been composed by a cleric from the seminary, provides a revealing perspective in this regard. It reads: "To our dear [French] Canadian youth, particularly those regrouped in specialized movements, we dedicate these pages of Catholic Action from the journal [diary] of Gerard Raymond, proud, pure, joyful and conquering adolescent." (12) Through this dedication, the seminary priests were clearly proposing their own student as a viable model for all youth involved with Catholic groups and organizations under the care of the Church. There was therefore an overarching purpose to their publication of the journal, which was to mold and channel the energies and talents of Catholic youth in the service of the Church's broader religious and secular interests. It is important to underscore that the pages of the text are referred to as an example of "Catholic Action," in the sense of that early twentieth century movement, particularly prominent in Quebec, which sought to transform the everyday secular world through the application of Catholic social ideals and teachings by committed members of the Church' s faithful. (13) Interestingly enough, while Gerard Raymond did participate in the activities of a number of Catholic youth groups, mostly those of a devotional nature--and while the pages of his journal do make occasional reference to them--they do not constitute a major focus of his intimate writings. The priests here seem to be recuperating Gerard Raymond's ideal of personal asceticism as an example of Catholic Action, a subtle but significant shift which seeks to extend even further, and ever more intimately, the hold of Roman Catholic institutional hegemony.
It is without a doubt the description of Gerard Raymond as a "proud, pure, joyful and conquering adolescent" that most clearly spells out what the youth ideally represented for his clerical guardians. These are the Christian virtues and qualities that they looked for, and which they actively promoted, in the Catholic boys under their care. This was how they understood and delineated Catholic masculinity: someone who was confident and secure in both his maleness and his faith; who was pure and therefore self-controlled; who was able to offer the world, despite his virtuous ascetic life, the look of a happy, contented and cheerful individual; and who finally was grandiosely heroic in having overcome his natural and sinful bodily urges, and thus willingly resigned himself to an early and painful death. This was the Catholic version of the Protestant ideal of "the muscular Christian," the soldier-boy/man of Christ and the athlete for Jesus. (14) In proposing the saintly Gerard Raymond as an exemplar for Catholic adolescent boys, the clergy of the seminary were idealizing and sanctifying this masculine standard. The expression "conquering adolescent" may strike one as being odd or slightly out of place. It does, however, reflect, at an individual level, the broader cultural sense, at that time, of an imperial mandate, particularly as this might apply to the British colonial context and experience, and from which Canada, including Quebec, was certainly not exempt. (15) Catholic masculinity was always a masculinity subservient to, and in service of, the Church, an institution defined primarily as the ultimate protector of French Canadian identity and survivance. As opposed to Protestantism, which may have placed much more of an emphasis upon perfection for the sake of the individual's own salvation or, more broadly, in the interests of some global colonialist political goal, French Canadian Catholicism understood masculine vigour in an almost ecclesiastical context, i.e., it was concerned with forming strong Catholic citizens whose loyalty was to Rome rather than to a specifically national authority. This, of course, reflects quite well the overarching clerical ideology of ultramontanism which dominated Quebec society so powerfully at this time. "Imperial" for the Catholic Church in Quebec was therefore not necessarily the British Empire, but rather the imperial and autocratic nature of the Church itself, whose structures were understood as divinely-sanctioned.
In Une ame d'elite, another resounding plea is made: "Young people, have the courage to follow him. You owe it to God, you owe it to the Church, you owe it to your country." (16) Gerard Raymond thus leads the way as the perfect man of faith, the perfect Catholic and the perfect citizen. A perfect citizen is one who exhibits, above all, a visible and total sense of discipline and subservience in his personal and religious life. One should understand "country" here as referring to French Canada, in that this concept or idea was the locus of identity for French-speaking Catholics. This re-inscribes the traditional nationalist motif of language and faith as the bulwarks against assimilation, and as the legitimate guarantors of collective survival. (17) Further in the same text, one reads: "Our young people, impacted more and more by a diversity of influences, have an even more pressing need to contemplate and imitate models which will teach them how to resist evil passions, how to hitch themselves forever, to the true and the good." (18) The long-suffering Quebec City youngster is now offered, by his clerical mentors, as a model of resistance to the allures of the world and a saintly guide in the timeless struggle between good and evil, between truth and falsehood, between the safety of the Church and the nefarious pull of the world at large.
Such a sanctified ideal of heroic virtue is quite obviously contingent upon the existence of a "dangerous" and suspect environment outside the secure borders of the Catholic worldview. In this regard, it is particularly illuminating to consider the written reactions of a selection of priests and members of religious congregations to having received complimentary copies either of Une ame d'elite or Gerard Raymond's journal from Father Oscar Genest. (19) On 14 March 1937, a certain F. Manuel of the Peres du Tres Saint-Sacrement in Montrral innocently writes: "... my heart holds a special attraction for this young man caught up with the ideal of sanctity. In these times of revolting paganism and of exaggerated materialism, it is good to encounter souls which understand the sublime realities of the afterlife and who live in accordance with their beliefs." (20) On 9 January 1933, the superior general of the Soeurs de l'Assomption de la Sainte-Vierge expresses her feelings as follows: "It is indeed a good action to teach youth to elevate themselves to the heights of sacrifice and Christian mortification while everything compels them to remain in the more comfortable domains of easy and selfish pleasure--when they are not encouraged to descend even further." (21) From College de Sainte-Anne in Sainte-Anne de la Pocatiere, an anonymous writer, presumably a priest, states the following in a letter dated 27 March 1936: "Paganism, egotism, sensualism: here are the three causes of the present crisis. Is it not true that Gerard Raymond made whatever laid in his power to apply the break to this affliction towards himself? Charity, modesty, mortification, visits to the Holy Sacrament: all these things composed his program. His day-book attests all that." It is interesting that this writer does not specify what is meant by "present crisis" or "affliction." Presumably, they referred to a sense of overall degeneracy about the secular world. Finally, from something intriguingly called The Boy Savior Movement, headed by a certain W.H. Walsh, a New York City Jesuit, come these words dated 28 January 1937: "In these dreadful days, when the efforts of Satan to draw our youth from God are powerfully aided by the impure worldly atmosphere around them, it is lovely and encouraging to have so recent an example of the power of God's grace in one just like themselves and with the same advantages, to put before them." Through these selections, one gets a clear sense of the multi-vocality of Gerard Raymond as a symbol of disciplined, chaste, pious and saintly youth.
What these various representatives of Catholic clerical authority have in common is a shared sense of the dangers inherent to the temporal world, especially when it comes to the perceived innocence of youth. This sharp sense of moral panic was not typically Catholic; rather, it was reflective of a far broader nineteenth and twentieth-century North American cultural concern with the hazards and pitfalls of uncontrolled adolescence, just as adolescence itself was beginning to emerge as a clearly identifiable and identifying age category. (22) The wild, untamed bodies of adolescents, particularly those of boys, were perceived as frontiers to be charted and brought under the control of such civilizing forces as religion. This era, for example, saw the birth and rapid growth of the scouting movement. Catholicism too was anxious about subjugating its teenage bodies, hence Gerard Raymond's emergence as the perfectly disciplined and self-controlled boy. His was a body on which was written--in fact, carved through a variety of ascetic practices--the wishes and designs of an insecure and apprehensive Church, a Church always anxious to ensure the unquestioned loyalty and continued devotion of its members. Here again, though there may have been many similarities between the Protestant and Catholic views of the dangers associated with adolescence, particularly the widespread perception of the increased "feminization" of young men because of easy or undisciplined living, the distinctiveness of the Catholic perspective--or at least its special salience--may arise more from a sense, if not a sharp and sustained expectation, of the higher morality of "the Catholic way."
The French Canadian Church at this time was very much a missionary church, and it sent missionaries to all comers of the earth (per capita, the highest percentage of any Catholic country in the world). In that sense, the Church can be said to have had "dreams of conquest," of wanting to spread the faith well beyond its geographical borders. Gerard Raymond also wanted to be a missionary; his sense of vocation and his ascetic agenda of self-perfection were modelled on those of the martyred Jesuit missionaries to New France. The conquest of the young self through acts of abnegation, always in service to a higher Catholic institutional ideal, therefore mirrored and extended the Church's own expansionist designs. The two, in fact, were co-extensive.
One strategy in the Catholic pedagogical arsenal for dealing with adolescent boys was that of proposing models of chaste and youthful sanctity for them to emulate, in the hope that these saints would inspire and motivate the boys. The Church offered several such exemplars, drawn mostly from religious orders: Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit novice, was the most popular, as was Dominic Savio, a Salesian student. Both were closely tied to issues of bodily chastity. In fact, more often than not, these boy saints came across as highly ambivalent sexual icons. (23) Gerard Raymond himself was regularly compared to some of these saints, most notably one of his personal favourites, Stanislaus Kostka, a Polish Jesuit novice and a relatively popular saint in French Canada at that time. The unspoken hope was that Gerard would eventually join this illustrious saintly company.
That Ever Elusive (but, Oh, So Important) Purity
The most important virtue hoped and sought for in Catholic youth was that of purity or bodily integrity, also often called chastity. Though it was seldom referred to in explicit terms, the biggest fear by far, particularly in the case of boys, was that they might engage in the hidden practice of masturbation, also known as the sin of self-abuse. The nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries had a very different view of this particular sexual act. Seen as a disease by many in the medical profession, masturbation was long understood as contributing to a variety of physical, psychological, moral and even social ills. (24) Above all, it was believed literally to sap the manhood out of boys, and engaging excessively in it might even feminize them and make them less manly, hence an almost obsessive concern with its full eradication. Masturbation was understood as an actual threat to masculinity because it denoted lack of proper manly self-control, an inability to dominate one's urges, and hence eventually an incapacity to assume one's proper social role as a dominant male. Of course, the threat of masturbation--also called the solitary sin in the confessional literature--raised the spectre of homoerotic acts, for it was believed that boys, especially younger ones, could be easily subjected to peer pressure, thereby being "forced" by older youngsters to engage in same-sex activities.
Interestingly enough, Gerard Raymond does not really emerge in writings by or about him as a potential "saint of purity," even though the virtue is often ascribed to him, but almost as an afterthought, as if it were something expected. The assumption seems to be that, because of his self-imposed mortifications, he would be naturally pure. There are a few scattered references in his journal to his struggles with purity, but this is never spelled out in any explicit terms. One can assume that the reference is to so-called impure thoughts, which he counteracts by such ascetic practices as lowering his eyes ("modesty of the eyes"), sleeping on his back or, strangely enough, never crossing his legs (perhaps because this might be seen as a particularly feminine gesture). In the classic religious mode of this time, he understands purity as a perennial struggle against his own sinful body, and as something which is considered essential to his calling as a future priest. With the agreement of his confessor, he will actually take a personal vow of chastity, renewable monthly, at the age of seventeen. The published journal, regrettably, does not tell us how successful he might have been at maintaining it. (25)
In the dedicatory pages of his journal, Gerard Raymond is called pur by the priests, but this is one in a series of four Catholic adolescent qualities. In the journal's forward, the virtue of purity is elaborated upon in the following words: "Pure, of an angelic purity, and entrusting the purity of his heart to the power of the Host, to the maternal protection of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and to the care of a director of conscience; (...)" (26) Here, purity is understood as an ethereal, angelic quality, something watched over by Mary, the very symbol of a virginal life. The role of clerical authority in also safeguarding this virtue is emphasized in the person of the director of conscience. Rather unusually, Une ame d'elite does not dwell on Gerard's purity, an omission which can perhaps be explained by the fact that some other desirable Christian virtues are highlighted, such as self-mortification, humility and charity. An indirect reference to it is found in a brief passage about Gerard's plans for his summer vacation, which he always circumscribed by a variety of fairly intense spiritual practices: "And even his vacation days were subjected to a severe discipline. For him, piety does not take a break, far from it, during this most dangerous of times." (27) Summer vacation was often seen in Catholic schools as an especially risky time for the practice of Christian virtue, primarily because of the fact that children were often on their own, away from the daily supervision of nuns, teaching brothers or priests. To counteract this, many parishes would actually set up special in-house camps during the summer months.
It is, once again, the various testimonials received in response to the reading of biographical material about Gerard Raymond that are most interesting because of the ways in which they interpret or frame the virtues exhibited by the young seminarian. Using the traditional image of the lily as a symbol for purity, the authors--priests and nuns for the most part--write eloquently about the importance of this virtue in a young Christian soul. This is a sampling: from a priest of the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, writing from Chicago on 3 March 1937: "I have read these colourful pages, where one of the beautiful souls of our century is revealed. A flower who is one of ours, a lily from your rich gardens, a lily on fire;" from Les Soeurs adoratrices du Precieux Sang, writing on 4 November 1937: "Beautiful lily whose white assemblage of petals enclosed the virtue of an angel, his odour was pleasing to the divine Gardener and soon enough He transported him to the heavenly gardens;" from a Franciscan priest, writing from Japan on 21 March 1937: "Virtue and youth, it has been said, are two of the most beautiful flowers of humanity. When virtue shines on the brow of a young man, it is the most enticing spectacle that the earth offers. (...) [he has] enough purity to keep chaste innocent souls and to help re-bloom faded lilies;" and finally, from Father Walsh of The Boy Savior Movement in New York City, writing on 30 May 1935: "It is examples like Gerard Raymond that we need today to give courage to our young people in the imitation of the purity and obedience of their model Jesus." (28)
Several themes cut across these selections. First, and most obviously, the image of the lily, coupled with colourful gardening references, is omnipresent. In these letters, the flower is also associated with such things as angels, heavenly perfumes and fire. In the Catholic iconography of saints, including that of Mary, the white lily is always used to indicate the purity of the body, and more specifically virginity. Second, purity and beauty are combined. A pure young man is called the most beautiful thing in the world. Youth and virtue are described as one of humanity's loveliest flowers. Angelic references also underscore beauty. Third, this purity is conceived as exemplary and, even more importantly, as powerful. It can impart courage, and it can even make fading lilies bloom again. Gerard Raymond has so much purity that its excess can keep other, less holy, souls safe! He was so pure that Jesus himself decided to uproot him prematurely and transplant him to the heavenly garden. Purity acts here as a sort of talisman, safeguarding not only the chaste individual himself, but also all those who may invoke him. These are all ideas, motifs and images commonly found in Roman Catholic hagiographic texts. Saintly individuals are believed to exhibit special graces and powers. Their chasteness and other virtues make of them the elect, and they are considered especially strong intercessors and advocates in the economy of salvation. It was the undiminished hope and belief of the seminary priests that their pious and chaste student would eventually be seen as having joined this heavenly elite. Such an understanding of the power of Christian chastity served to underscore and reaffirm Catholic manliness. It was believed to make good Catholic men out of undisciplined Catholic boys. In a way, it was a mirror image of celibate clerical chastity. If the chaste priest was the Catholic man par excellence, then other Catholic men needed to be equally pure in their lives, even if they were not necessarily celibate.
Robert A. Orsi, historian of American Catholic culture, has argued that, prior to Vatican II, the bodies of Catholic children or young people were sites of "corporalization of the sacred," means by which what was holy could be made really real, not only for the youngsters themselves, but more significantly for Catholic adults. (29) He writes:
Children signal the vulnerability and contingency of a particular religious world and of religion itself, and in exchanges between adults and children about sacred matters the religious world is in play. [...] Children's bodies, rationalities, imaginations, and desires have all been privileged media for giving substance to religious meaning, for making the sacred present and material, not only for children but through them too, for adults in relation to them. (30)
The ways in which the chaste body of Gerard Raymond was described and adulated by these Catholic adults, and the words and images that were used to enshrine it, speak far more significantly about their own notions of holiness or sanctity than they necessarily do about those of the young seminarian himself, though he had certainly internalized them. In this way, Gerard paradoxically embodied angelic manliness. His was a masculinity circumscribed by the chaste projections of celibate men and women, hence the apparently exceptional quality of his virtue. If a young man in the prime of his age could succeed in controlling his malleable body in such a heroic way, how much worthier and meaningful, therefore, might the sexual disciplines of Catholic adults, especially men, be?
Conclusion, or How to Die Like a Saint and Become One
Gerard Raymond's last journal entry, dated 2 January 1932, reads in part: "Do with me, good Jesus, everything that you wish. Make me suffer, if that pleases you, [for] I am lazy in obtaining merit otherwise. Already, Jesus, I accept absolutely everything ... I unite everything with your sufferings." (31) Une ame d'elite, in commenting on his death, describes the moment in the following words: "His white brow laid back on the pillows, with blood on his lips, he gave the impression of a young martyr of the first centuries of the Church, as an eyewitness stated. His calm and quiet death was the echo of his life." (32)
The sanctification of Gerard Raymond had already begun, and it happened in two ways: by the hand of the sick and dying seminarian himself, who took care, over several years, to describe in writing his exceptional spiritual journey; and by his clerical guardians, who framed his death in the language and imagery of the most authoritative of all claims to Christian sanctity, that of martyrdom. A direct filial line is drawn from twentieth century French Canada all the way back to the first centuries of the Christian era. This Roman Church of the New World can have its martyrs too. This young and beautiful (for that too is important) contemporary martyr embodies the classically romantic ideal of the earlier martyrs: proud, fearless, silent in suffering and, above all, willing to die like Jesus himself. The very words of the martyr proclaim it: "... I unite everything with your sufferings." What greater proof need there be?
The saintly fate of Gerard Raymond has yet to be sealed in any official way, yet he continues to be a focus of devotion. No doubt he represents a certain type of French Canadian Catholicism once triumphant, but now passe. For a contemporary reader, his journal may seem a tad quaint, perhaps frightening and slightly suspect because of his persistent insistence on the daily rituals of self-abnegation. His values seem incredibly old-fashioned, if not downright strange. Yet he is not all that exotic or different from many an adolescent today struggling with their emerging sense of sell He was very much a child of his times. The Catholic Church, in its institutional and cultural strength, gave him the context; he quite naturally grafted his identity and his personality onto it. The question of his "official" sanctity may or may not one day be resolved, but his true importance lies elsewhere.
The making of young Catholic saints always serves a Church-driven agenda. In the case of Gerard Raymond, even though his time may have come and gone, we can see the ways in which the clerical authorities of the Quebec seminary, as well as others in their networks, framed and constructed his life so that he came to represent the very best of what young Catholic men should be about. Theirs was a pedagogical strategy. They were forming Catholic faithful, but equally, if not more significantly, they were molding future men: men of privilege no doubt, but also men who stood alone in a fundamentally hostile world. Men who were humble, loving, strong, controlled, courageous, proud, pure and principled. Men like their very own angelic student, Gerard Raymond, the once and future saint.
(1) Versions of this paper were presented at a Concordia University Department of Religion colloquium and at the 2009 annual meeting of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association (CCHA). I am grateful to colleagues and to the anonymous CCHA reviewers for their comments. As well, I thank Ms. Anne Laplante, archivist at the Centre de reference de l'Amerique francaise in Quebec City, for her valuable help in accessing the Gerard Raymond papers.
For ease of reading, I have translated the French passages in this paper. The original French text will be given in the notes. As for the specific letter to which I am referring here, I have kept it in the original French because of its unique character: "Cap Madelaine, 16 Octobre 1936. Monsieur le Cure, je vous demande d'entercede pour moi au pres de Gerard Remond pour que Dieu veille sur mon mari car depuis quelque temp il nest pas fran avec moi il boit et il arrive tres tard le matin il se cache de de largent et je ne sais ce quil en fait il me dit quil a $15 et $25 quil as la nuit je cherche et jai eus la preuve la semaine passe, moi je ne puis faire comme lui car il me donne jusque ce quil feau pour paye ce que Ion doit il retire $35.00 a $40, par semaine mais il nous prive pas du nessecaire il mes serd [?] pas car il a une machine il va ou il veut et me dis des messonge je demande au petit Gerard que Dieu lui montre que ce quil fait la nest pas bien car jai 6 anfant un grand de 15 ans il senapersoive car sa me fait bien de la paine, il va aller plus loin comme sont pere a lui car moi je suis malade dune journe a leautre jen perd [?] cest la faiblesse carje sard pas beaucoup sa me jene les voisin sen apersoive et bien mon pere quand vous mecrire parle pas de rien sa sera pire il ne conprend rien jespere que vous maublire pas dans vos priere que Dieu le consarve et lui fasse conprendre ce quil fait je demeure Madame Rosaire Doyon 71 St Pierre Cap Madelaine Ouest" (Quebec : Seminaire de Quebec, Fonds Gerard-Raymond, box 260).
(2) In the Catholic Church, there are three stages to being declared a saint: Venerable, which attests to heroic virtues; Blessed, which requires one miracle and authorizes a local cult for the person; and Saint, which requires a further miracle and entitles the person to a cult at the level of the universal Church.
(3) I attended the celebrations of 5 July 2009. There was an anniversary mass said in Gerard Raymond's home parish. Copies of holy cards and a bound collection of his "sayings" were on sale at the entrance to the church. In the sanctuary, a painting of him was on display. In his sermon, the priest, who was visiting, only made passing reference to him, though he was praised as an example of humility and a "manifestation of God's strength in weakness," and as a model for youth. At the end of the service, a prayer was said for Gerard's beatification. Outside, a rented bus awaited those who wanted to visit the Raymond family plot in the local cemetery. About fifty people went. Flowers were placed on his tombstone, and further prayers were said. Several persons touched the tombstone, including a blind woman who traced his carved name with her fingers.
(4) See Une ame d'elite: Gerard Raymond (1912-1932), (Quebec: Seminaire de Quebec, 1932); and Journal de Gerard Raymond, (Quebec: Seminaire de Quebec, 1937). This process is similar to that of St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, who wrote a life of Dominic Savio, one of his early students. The popularity of this text eventually led to Savio's canonization, and to his being declared patron saint of students.
(5) All the letters from which I will quote in this article are found in box 259 of the Fonds Gerard-Raymond. My focus, in this paper, is specifically on clerical "constructions" of Gerard Raymond's saintly persona, which means that there may well be a disjuncture between Gerard Raymond's "real" life insofar as we can know it, and the ideal put forward and modelled by his clerical guardians. The archives do contain letters from classmates, but these were most often written after his death, and attested to his virtuous qualities. They would have been used in building the diocesan case for canonization. Obviously, future generations of youngsters would have responded to Gerard Raymond's sanctity, since he was held up as a proper Catholic model for youth, at least until the early 1960s. Though Catholic adults, specifically priests and nuns, I would argue, were instrumental in "constructing" his saintly reputation and the modest cult surrounding it, young people played a significant role in its maintenance and propagation. A methodological point about the letters I am using should be emphasized. I selected the passages I quote precisely because they are plausible and significant in terms of my argument. Obviously, they are not meant to provide an unassailable basis for an overall theoretical framework or model.
(6) Prior to the 1960 Quiet Revolution and the reform of education in Quebec, the college classique was a type of private high school run by members of Catholic religious orders, mostly male, which provided a "classical" education geared to future professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, notaries and, of course, priests.
(7) This raises the intriguing question of what the seminary priests may have chosen to leave out of the published journal. The text is remarkably free of ordinary, non-religious comments on Gerard Raymond's everyday life. Presumably, the journal contained some of these, but they may have been excluded because they were not considered spiritually "edifying" enough. I do not present an extensive exegesis of Gerard Raymond's Journal, but rather cull some of its more salient aspects as a way of drawing a summary portrait of the young man. In fact, the Journal makes for rather tedious reading; it is repetitious and overly didactic in many parts. I would argue this says much more about the worldviews of its clerical editors than about the spiritual or literary zeal of the young Gerard.
(8) Such a process is certainly not unusual for religious orders which are intent on having one of their members canonized, thereby benefiting in a variety of ways, directly and indirectly, from the cult which will develop around the new saint.
(9) Original French as follows : "... une conscience aigue--et aiguisee par l'institution a laquelle il se soumet--de la distance entre le quotidien et l'iddal, la conscience d'un travail sans cesse a recommencer pour en combler le fosse, le defi et la necessite de la perseverance." Raymond Lemieux, "Le sourire du martyr: Gerard Raymond (1912-1932)," Gilles Routhier and Jean-Philippe Warren, (eds.), Les visages de la foi : figures marquantes du catholicisme Quebecois, (Montreal: Editions Fides, 2003), 51. Some details of the life of Gerard Raymond are also drawn from this source, 49-66.
(10) Ibid., 53-54.
(11) Original French as follows: "... des aujourd'hui, je me livre a vous, faites de moi ce qu'il vous plaira, je sais que ce sera bien. Faites de moi un saint, et si possible un martyr." Journal, 165.
(12) Original French as follows: "A notre chore jeunesse canadienne, surtout a celle qui se groupe dans les mouvements sprcialisrs(,) nous drdions ces pages d'action catholique du journal de Gerard Raymond, adolescent tier, pur, joyeux, conquerant." Journal, dedication page.
(13) Taking their cue from Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum, there was a proliferation of Catholic social action organizations in the first half of the twentieth century in Quebec. They covered a wide gamut of groups and interests: students, workers, farmers, and so forth. It can be said that these were another way for the Church to extend and consolidate its influence. In the 1950s, in Vie etudiante, the magazine of the Jeunesse etudiante catholique (JEC), Gerard Raymond is mentioned three times (15 November 1956, 15 February 1957 and 15 November 1959), but only very briefly and always in connection with the slow progress of his cause for canonization. I am grateful to Professor Indre Cuplinskas for these references.
(14) Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).
(15) I am particularly grateful to Professor Michel Despland for pointing this out. There always was a sense, in the Pax Britannica, of the need to turn English boys into proper Christian men for the purpose of helping to administer and govern the Empire. The rhetoric employed in French-speaking countries, however, was slightly different, and the example of francophone Belgium is a case in point. See, in this context, Martin Conway, "Building the Christian City: Catholics and Politics in Inter-war Francophone Belgium," Past and Present, 128 (1990): 117-151. In this article, the author discusses Catholic discourses of youthful "perfection" as being essentially anti-modern in tone, an attempt to reassert Catholic political and cultural hegemony in what was seen as a fundamentally secular and materialist society. The following quote from a publication of the Rexist movement, a 1930s ultra conservative movement for youth (which later supported the Nazi occupation of Belgium), is telling in this regard. No doubt Gerard Raymond would have felt perfectly comfortable applying these words to himself: "Ah, beautiful youth! Formed in devotion and self-denial, admirably prepared for the work of men by Catholic action [sic], it constitutes the most fervent, the most generous and the most united army imaginable ... A youth that is pure, a youth that is optimistic, a youth that is family oriented, a youth that is patriotic, ready to sacrifice itself for everything that is noble and beautiful." Conway, "Building the Christian City," 141.
(16) Original French as follows: "Jeunes gens, ayez donc la force de le suivre. Vous le devez a Dieu, vous le devez a l'Eglise, vous le devez a votre pays." Une ame d'elite, 81.
(17) A common motif of the clerically supported French Canadian nationalism of this period is the symbiosis of land, language and religion. Historically, the Catholic Church was always seen as the institution best able to defend the interests of French Canadians, and the French language and the Catholic faith were understood as essential markers of their collective identity. Though French Canadian ultramontanism may have looked more to Vatican City than to Quebec City as its ultimate source of allegiance, there can be little doubt that French Canadian Catholic ideals of manhood were very much conditioned by a sense of national and religious purpose, for the two were seen to be in a symbiotic relationship.
(18) Original French as follows: "Notre jeunesse travaillee par tant d'influences diverses a de plus en plus besoin de contempler et d'imiter les modeles qui lui enseigneront comment resister au courant des passions mauvaises, comment se fixer a jamais dans la [sic] vrai et le bien." Une ame d'elite, 112-113.
(19) Clearly, the massive distribution of such material to religious congregations across North America points to a conscious and deliberate strategy on the part of the priests of the seminary to construct and propose their pious student as a model for other Catholic youth. At this time, the American Catholic Church, particularly in the Eastern United States, contained large communities of French Canadians who had emigrated there in search of employment.
(20) Original French as follows: "... mon coeur a une prrdilection sprciale pour ce jeune homme epris de l'idral qui fait les saints. En ces temps de paganisme revoltant et de matfrialisation a outrance, il fait bon d'entrer en contact avec des ames qui comprennent les sublimes realites de l'au-dela et qui vivent en conformite avec leurs croyances." Emphases in this and the following quotes are mine.
(21) Original French as follows: "C'est, en effet, une bonne action que d'apprendre aux jeunes a s'elever vers les hauteurs du sacrifice et de la mortification chretienne alors que tout les sollicite a demeurer dans les regions plus commodes des plaisirs egoistes [sic] et faciles--quand ce n'est pas a descendre plus bas."
(22) Jeffrey P. Moran, Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the 20th Century, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).
(23) Donald L. Boisvert, Sanctity and Male Desire: A Gay Reading of Saints, (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2004), 124-138.
(24) Peter Lewis Allen, The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 79-118.
(25) As was stated in note 7, there are few comments or observations of a non-religious nature in Gerard Raymond's journal. If this was, in fact, an intimate diary, one can assume that there might have been occasional references to his struggles with temptation, particularly of a sexual nature. Such things would have loomed large in a young boy's mind. But nothing is highlighted, except for those oblique references mentioned in this article. If there were such references, then the seminary priests certainly did a thorough editing job of removing them. Once again, the silence or absence of such incidents speaks rather loudly and eloquently to the control of clerical authorities over the bodies of young Catholic devotees. Sexual references would probably have been seen as occasions of temptation in themselves, or certainly as inappropriate to a pious text such as the journal. Gerard Raymond's striving for perfection is therefore not framed in explicitly sexual terms. Such concerns, however, would have loomed large in the minds of his clerical handlers and those who were "recipients" of his story--other clergy and other youth--just as they still do today in certain ecclesiastical circles.
The ensuing discussion in this paper raises the interesting question of how purity, a typically feminine construct in Catholic hagiography, can be used to "bolster" masculinity. First, it should be mentioned that the lily does not exclusively denote female virginity. Rather, it is the attribute of many male saints known to have maintained their bodily integrity. St. Joseph is a good case in point, as he is traditionally portrayed holding a lily in one arm and the Christ Child in the other. Second, the Catholic view of purity is, in a paradoxical sense, "genderless." By that I mean that it is expected of both females and males, especially consecrated ones, or at least those who aspire to sanctity. Though the overarching symbol of purity, Mary, may be female, holy Catholic males should also strive to imitate her virtuousness. In a way, therefore, chaste Catholic males are made feminine through the denial of their natural sexual urges. But, most importantly, they also become more like Jesus, the perfect male, and therefore more truly Christian or Christ-like males. The tradition, of course, understands Jesus to have been asexual. All this raises even more interesting questions about the "sexual identity" of a church dominated by celibate men, and the homosocial or even homoerotic nature of its institutional culture.
(26) Original French as follows: "Pur, d'une purete angrlique, et confiant la purete de son Coeur (sic) a la puissance de l'Hostie, a la protection maternelle de Marie, Reine des ap6tres, et a la sollicitude d'un directeur de conscience; (...)." Journal, 6.
(27) Original French as follows: "Et meme sesjournres de vacances etaient soumises une discipline severe. Chez lui, la piete ne vaquait pas, loin de la, pendant ce temps si dangereux." Une ame d'elite, 66.
(28) Original French texts for the first three quotes as follows: "J'ai lu ces pages si vivantes oh se revele l'une des plus belles ames de notre siecle. Une fleur de << chez nous, >> un lis de vos riches parterres, un lis en feu;" "Beau lis dont la blanche corolle renfermait la vertu des anges, son parfum a plu au divin Jardinier et bien vite II l'a transporte au parterre des cieux;" "La vertu et la jeunesse, a-t-on dit, sont les deux plus belles fleurs de l'humanite. Quand la vertu brille au front d'un jeune bomme, c'est le plus ravissant spectacle que nous offre la terre (...) [il a] assez de purete pour garder chaste les times innocentes et faire refleurir les lys fletris."
(29) Robert A. Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 73-109.
(30) Ibid., 77.
(31) Original French as follows: "Faites de moi, bon Jesus, tout ce que vous voudrez. Faites-moi souffrir, si cela vous plait, je suis si lache pour acquerir des merites autrement. D'avance, Jesus, j'accepte tout, tout ... et j'unis tout avec vos souffrances." Journal, 168.
(32) Original French as follows: "Sa tete blanche renversre sur l'oreiller, du sang aux levres, il donna l'impression d'un jeune martyr des premiers siecles de l'Eglise, comme le disait un temoin oculaire. Sa mort calme et tranquille fut l'echo de sa vie." Une ame d'elite, 106. In the first half of the twentieth century, many youth died from contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, which was seen as a particularly romantic and therefore ennobling or spiritualizing disease (since it was associated with breath or air). Some of these Catholic youth had a reputation for holiness. In that sense, Gerard Raymond does not stand out as a unique example, though he was certainly one of the better known, at least in French Canada.
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|Author:||Boisvert, Donald L.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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