135th Anniversary - Fr. Debrabant's Death

February 18 marks the 135th Anniversary of the death of the founder of the Holy Union Sisters. Here are excerpts from 2 biographies which give a glimpse of the last years of the life of this holy man. 

THE GRAIN OF WHEAT, a Biography of the Abbe Debrabant 1801-1880
by Sister Marie Agnes D’Anjou, SUSC 

“As soon as the news of Fr. Debrabant’s death was made known, crowds besieged the convent, and for five days there was a long queue of people who desired to see him for the last time and touch his body with rosaries and medals.  The funeral ceremony was an occasion of public mourning for the whole diocese of Cambrai.  His death was a grievous blow for his sisters. How could they carry on the work without him?  But very soon they were aware that he was still guiding them and they took fresh courage.  At times he seemed to come to their aid in a truly striking way; difficulties were smoothed out; the sick got well. One declared herself cured of a troublesome skin disease after wearing a slipper belonging to the Founder; still another was amazed to find something he had foretold being realized in all its details.

His tomb became a favorite place of pilgrimage for his nuns up to the day when World War I struck the town of Douai; the cemetery was literally reduced to ruin, tombs torn open, monuments thrown down. In the midst of all the desolation, one cross remained standing, quite intact; it was that of the Abbe Debrabant. Thirty years later, during World War II, the same cross stood alone in a part of the cemetery particularly badly bombed.  Was it just a coincidence?”

JEAN BAPTISTE DEBRABANT 
by Alice Curtayne

“The last ten years of his life were troubled by intermittent attacks of illness, enteritis and bronchitis, which left his constitution weakened.  His days were further clouded by the gradual failure of his institute of Brothers, which he had made frantic but vain efforts to resuscitate.  Unlike the congregation of nuns, this Brotherhood seemed to lack cohesion from the outset.  This mysterious failure was his crown of sorrow.

He had, too that saddest experience of old age, when a man is the survivor of all his friends. Holy Union Sisters who had helped him from the very beginning of his work and whose help he considered indispensable, died before him, leaving him bereaved and disconsolate. Two years before his own death, Pope Pius IX, to whom he was deeply devoted, died too, and this afflicted him with a sense of personal loss.  A year later he lost his oldest priest friend, Father Seraphim, so that he felt he was alone in the world. All those who he had truly loved were gone before him. He began to suffer. It was a strange mental trouble, which no one properly understood, much less succeeded in healing. He entered into that state variously described by mystical writers as the dark night of the soul, or the silence of God.  He would speak to no one. He would not eat. Scruples tortured him and overrode his power of resistance.                  

A strange factor which marked this anguish at the close of his life is that up to the very end he was always perfectly capable of guiding others with the greatest wisdom.  In the midst of his own misery, his nuns continued to go to him for direction and he never failed them.                   

During the entire year before his death, he never left his room. The fears that oppressed him took a thousand forms  … he never ceased his struggle against the powers of darkness. There was no respite to this grief until the Heavenly Father gathered him in, and the mists were finally dispersed in the light of everlasting day. He died on February 18, 1880 at the age of 79. 

He is venerated by the members of his Institute, who have every reason to believe that his fatherly protection still surrounds them. His continual guidance is nowhere evidenced more remarkably than in the expansion of his Institute, which has continued uninterruptedly since his death.”