Among the 64 priests and religious who were beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on October 1st, 1995, was Jacques Retouret, a Carmelite friar of the Ancient Observance, who was killed in hatred of the faith in one of the last round-ups of priests and religious who had refused to sign the loyalty oath that was required of all priests and bishops in order to be considered to be loyal citizens of the new regime brought about by the French Revolution.
Jacques Retouret, the son of Marie Theulier and Étienne Retouret, was born on September 15, 1746 in Limoges, France. He was baptized on the same day of his birth by the parish priest who bore the same family name as his mother’s maiden name, Theulier (evidence is lacking that would indicate whether there was a family relationship, however). Retouret’s mother had a reputation for deep piety and an intense love for the Eucharist. Jacques inherited his mother’s religious sensibilities. Very early on, he was known for his seriousness, his gentleness, his modesty and prudence. He was enrolled at the College des Jésuites (what would be considered today by American standards a sort of junior high school) where he was known to be very studious and very “teachable”. His Jesuit teachers took note not only of his piety but also of his considerable talents in different areas. They tried to get him to consider a vocation to the Jesuits. At the same time, however, one of his maternal uncles who was the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Saint Augustin-lez-Limoges, tried to get him to enter his own monastery in the hope that he would become a Benedictine. In the end, neither the Jesuits nor the Benedictines attracted him. On May 23, 1762, Jacques entered the Carmelite monastery in Limoges where one of his uncles was also a member of that same community. He made his first profession on May 31,1763 at the age of 16.
Having completed his novitiate he was sent for further studies in rhetoric in La Rochefoucauld. This was followed by five years of philosophy and theology studies which prepared him for ordination to the priesthood, to which he was ordained by the bishop of Limoges, Monsignor Argentre. The bishop held Jacques in such high esteem that he often went to the Carmelite monastery to seek him out for spiritual direction.
No sooner were his studies completed when he was sent out by his superiors to preach Lenten parish missions in various parishes of Limoges, including the cathedral itself. Other parishes that considered themselves fortunate to have him as a Lenten preacher were those in Albi, Toulouse, and several other cities. He was admired both for the conviction and fervor with which he preached his love for Christ as well as for his rhetorical skills (which, in the days long before microphones and other means of sound amplification, were particularly necessary). Both his confreres in community as well as those who were the beneficiaries of his preaching and pastoral ministry were unanimous in praising him as a man who was fervent and faithful to prayer, that he was meticulous in the observance of obedience and in his presence in choir, very observant of even the minutest regulations of monastic life. People took special notice of the devotion with which he celebrated daily Mass.
Among the laws enacted by the French Revolutionaries was the one entitled the Civil Constitution of the Clergy which, as mentioned above, required that all clergy sign an oath of allegiance to the state. Jacques refused to sign which incurred the wrath of the revolutionaries. Not too long after, however, having been “seduced” into thinking that there was nothing wrong in signing the oath, he did in fact sign the oath. But when the time came when the revolutionary authorities actually came forward with the document to sign, he recanted in a formal way before the tribunal. And he did so once again, this time in the presence of the municipal Commissary of Limoges, Guillaume Imbert, on February 22, 1794. He was immediately condemned to exile to French Guyana. On March 27, 1794, a doctor found that he had some kind of liver obstruction but which was not to be considered an impediment to his deportation. On March 29, two days later, he, along with 39 other priests, were put aboard the sailing ship Les Deux Associés. However, due to a British blockage of French ports, the ship was grounded on Isle Madame, a few miles of the coast from La Rochefoucauld. Suffering from the effects of his liver disease, and from intense cold (having only a threadbare habit for clothing) which aggravated longstanding sciatica, as well as the ravages of thyphoid fever, he nonetheless exhibited the greatest Christian patience and the spirit of forgiveness. He died on that boat during the night of August 25-26, 1794, at the age of 49. Carmelites celebrate his memory liturgically on August 26.