Causa of Peter-Adrian Toulorge
Life and witness
Peter-Adrian Toulorge was born on May 4, 1757 at Muneville-le-Bingard in Normandy,
France. After his early education he entered the diocesan seminary at Coutances.
He was ordained a priest and assigned as vicar of Doville in December, 1782, at
age 25. There he experienced the great zeal of his 44-year-old Norbertine pastor,
Father James-Francis Le Canut, for the 618 members of the parish, the majority
of whom lived in poverty. In his sermons which have been conserved, the young
Father Peter-Adrian exalted the mercifcul goodness of God, at the same time forcefully
affirming His inexorable justice in regard to hardened sinners.
During his time at Doville he was a frequent guest with his pastor at the Norbertine
abbey of Blanchelande (founded in the twelfth century). Inspired by the ideals
of St. Norbert, Peter-Adrian entered the Order at Blanchelande. However, since
the abbey did not have a novitiate of its own, the young confrere was sent for
two years to the abbey of Beauport.
After the passage of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, Fr. Toulorge exercised
his ministry in the surrounding parishes. When he heard about the law of August
26, 1792, which condemned to deportation all ecclesiastics who exercised a public
office without taking the revolutionary oath, he falsely believed himself implicated
and left for the English island of Jersey. No one took note of his error when
he crossed the border on September 12th. It was only after arriving in Jersey
that he discovered he was not at all affected by the law of deportation and could
have remained in France without being bothered. At the first opportunity, he returned
clandestinely and hid himself in an area of wild scrub. One year later, in September
1793, Fr. Peter-Adrian was captured and sentenced. The tribunal was convinced
about his stay in Jersey, but they had no proof to back up the story. After some
hesitation he decided to tell the whole truth – even at the risk of his
life – namely that he was being pursued because he was a Catholic priest.
The night before his death he went to confession and, while all the other inmates
slept, he wrote three deeply touching letters – to his brother, to a friend,
and to an unknown woman – to which he added, “I wish you God’s
blessing. October 12, 1793, the evening before my marytrdom.”
In the morning – it was a Sunday – he rose with good courage, ate
breakfast as usual, prayed his breviary, before he asked one of his fellow prisoners
to fix his hair and cut his beard. In the end he asked his confreres to sing Vespers
with him. At the beginning of Compline, during the second to the last verse of
the hymn GRATES PERACTO JAM DIE awhich reads:
he closed his breviary and cried out full of joy, “My dear friends, let
us stop here, for I will soon be gratefully singing the end of this hymn in heaven...
My dear brothers, I will not forget you; I ask God to watch over you. I am praying
for all my benefactors, friends, and even my enemies.” His confreres knelt
down and asked for his blessing during which a heavenly joy shown from his face.
According to an eyewitness, the guillotine was placed in front of the house of
the mayor of Coutances. The crowd was speechless with emotion as they beheld this
young priest who went to his death filled with such inner peace. Just before the
execution Fr. Peter-Adrian said: “My God, I place my life in Your hands!
I pray for the restoration and preservation of Your Holy Church. Forgive my enemies.”
After the execution the hangman grabbed the bloody head by the hair and held it
up to show the people. It was 4:30. His body was taken to the cemetery of St.
Peter in a cart.