A sermon he heard at age 15 inspired today’s saint to become a missionary in China. There he met a brutal death on a cross for refusing to renounce his faith.
Born in France in 1802, Jean-Gabriel became a Vincentian priest. He displayed so many gifts and had such fine personal and spiritual qualities that, for a time, his religious order kept him busy closer to home.
He finally received permission to begin his missionary endeavors in 1835. After a 1,000-mile trip by boat and foot across three provinces, he arrived in central China. In one early letter written to his community in Paris he described himself as a curious sight: “my head shaved, a long pig-tail, stammering my new languages, eating with chopsticks.”
He soon joined the Vincentians in helping to rescue abandoned Chinese children and in educating them in the Catholic faith. He was arrested in 1839 under an edict that banned Christianity. He was tortured and interrogated for months. Almost one year later he was executed by strangling while hanging on a cross.
St. Jean-Gabriel was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1996. Chinese government officials denied permission for any public Mass commemorating the new saint.