CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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Quiet brother met with a violent death

Born Nicholas Leclercq at Boulogne in France in 1745, De La Salle Brother Solomon was destined to die a martyr during the French Revolution in 1792.

With his wine merchant father, he came from a family of the professional class. His parents were good and religious people, with his mother in particular holding a great love for the Church and deep devotion to Our Lady.

Young Nicholas attended the school run by the De La Salle Brothers in the town. A studious pupil, he showed early signs of a preference for the quiet life of study and reading, although it was generally expected that he would follow in his father’s footsteps.

So it came as a surprise to his father when Nicholas declared he wanted to join a religious congregation and an even bigger surprise when he heard his preference was for the Brothers of the Christian Schools (De La Salle).

After all, there would be no chance of worldly promotion with the brothers. His mother, however, was delighted and encouraged her son in every way.

Brother Solomon was to write after her death, “It is to her, after God, that I owe the happiness of having left the world to serve the Lord more faithfully.” He remained close to his parents and family all his life and wrote numerous letters to them.

In the novitiate, he was given the name Brother Solomon. After the peace and quiet of the novitiate, his first teaching assignment in Rennes brought a radical change to his daily routine when he was given a class of no less than 120 boys!

A transfer to a school in Paris brought a tiny bit of respite, as he only had 100 in his classroom! However, he was not left in the classroom for long, but was sent for further studies that resulted in an appointment back to his beloved novitiate as the master of novices.

Here the emphasis on spiritual development suited him perfectly. However, an appointment as the bursar put him back in touch with the everyday matters of the world, which did not sit that well with him.

Other trials beset him in the shape of the quick succession of the deaths of his eldest brother, his mother and then younger brother.

He was relieved, though surprised, when he was suddenly called to be the secretary to the superior general, where besides secretarial work, he had to travel with the superior on his visitation of the various schools and communities.

On these travels he noticed that the state of the country, especially that of the peasants and the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, had begun to deteriorate badly.

The poor were almost destitute and even starving and, in addition, they were gradually stirring themselves up to attack the nobility and the clergy who they were accusing of ignoring their plight.

Gradually the whole country was sliding deeper into chaos and anarchy.

The French revolution had arrived.

Once the monarchy had been overthrown early in the French Revolution, the next target was the Church. In 1790, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy had given the state complete control over the Church.

Priests and religious were forced to take an oath of support for the constitution. Most of the priests and brothers had refused. Brother Solomon had been staying quietly in Paris, but on the 15 August 1792 he was discovered, arrested and imprisoned in a Carmelite Convent.

On September 2, the convent became the site of one of the bloodiest massacres of the French Revolution.

Almost all the prisoners, amounting to nearly 190 bishops, priests and religious were killed by the sword or bludgeoned to death in the convent garden.

Carts were piled high with naked bodies, as their clothes had been removed and auctioned for the executioners as form of payment for their work. The remaining bodies were thrown down a well in the grounds.

Brother Solomon was 46-years-old. He was the first of the De La Salle martyrs and the first to be beatified by Pope Pius XI on 17 October 1926.