WHO FATHER FELIX WAS
that unexpected meeting occurred, Father Félix was a 43 year
old priest. He had been born in France, in the province of
Auvergne, in the town of Meilhaud, the 17th of December
1859. His parents, Benedict Rougier and Luisa Olanier, were
middle class peasants, hard working and very religious.
Félix was the first of their children. When he finished
grade school, they sent him as a boarder to a school in Le
Puy. The school was known as "La Cartuja" because it was
housed in a building that had formerly been a monastery of
Carthusian monks. Félix studied there from 1874 to 1878. He
was a mediocre student. He had friends who were good and not
so good. And he committed adolescents’ sins. In short, this
is what he tells us in his Memoirs.
One day, towards the end of
his last year at La Cartuja, all the students (there were
about 400) were requested to come together in the main patio
because a bishop wished to address them. The bishop was an
old missionary who had lived in the Samoa Islands.
He told many stories about
those primitive islands. He told of the pagan tribes, their
constant warring and their cannibalism. He told of the many
lepers who wandered around like wild beasts with no one to
care for them. He also told them the following story:
"With great difficulty I
built some sheds intending them to be a makeshift
leprosarium. Then I gathered the priests at the mission and
asked if any of them wanted to volunteer to care for the
lepers. They all stood up as if moved by a spring, except
two who were the most advanced in years. They were almost
deaf and had not understood anything. When we explained to
them what it was all about, they not only volunteered as the
others had done, but they argued that since they had
seniority, they had a right to be chosen first. And the two
of them are there, evangelizing the lepers with their words
and with their love, living in those sheds and hoping to
become infected and to die as lepers among their brothers
The old bishop told them
about many heroic deeds and finished by saying to them:
"The harvest is great but the
laborers are very few. I have come to knock at the door of
your faith and generosity.
If there are any among you
who would like to go with me to the missions in Oceania, let
them raise their hand.”
In his diary, Father Félix
"I looked around me. No one
had raised his hand. Then I felt an irresistible internal
urge to raise my hand. I decided on the spot to go with the
missionary bishop. I was sure I was inspired by God to do
On September 21, 1878,
eighteen-year-old Félix bade his parents’ good-bye and on
the 24th he entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the
Marist Fathers who served in the Oceania missions.
The written reports (hat his
novice master (Father David) sent his superiors every three
months still exist. Those, which refer to Brother Félix,
indicate that he was good. The second trimester, however,
the novice master observed that: "His health is good but he
suffers from arthritis in the right wrist." And in the
reports of the third trimester we read: "We wonder about his
vocation because of the arthritis." The reports of the last
trimester indicate that: "His loyalty to the Society of Mary
is not only sincere, but enthusiastic. However, his vocation
is still in doubt due to his health."
Crippling arthritis attacked
his right hand and arm. Brother Félix learned to write and
eat with his left hand.
Despite his illness, the
novice was admitted to first vows on September 24, 1879, and
the 7th of October he entered the scholastic to study
Two years went by. His arm
was in very bad shape and his muscles had become atrophied.
Operations and medicine were useless. Moreover, the illness
also invaded his left leg. His vocation was in danger and
this caused Brother Félix a great deal of pain.
Around that time, Don Bosco
(now St. John Bosco), the founder of the Salesians Fathers,
arrived in Toulon. His fame as a saint extended all over
Europe. Brother Félix's mother was a supporter of the
Salesians and it was at her behest that Don Bosco agreed to
speak to the Marist student with the diseased arm. He laid
his hands on the student’s head and prayed for his health
and for his vocation.
Father Félix was cured of
arthritis in the leg in a few days. The arthritis in the arm
stopped spreading immediately and, although it disappeared
very slowly, it was no longer considered an obstacle to his
vocation. After some time he was completely cured.
Father Félix was always
grateful for this cure, and confidence in the intercession
of Don Bosco never left him.
I will now recount an
extraordinary event that took place many years later (on
March I, 1932). I will retell it exactly as I heard it from
the lips of my father:
"When you were two weeks old,
you contracted enterocolitis, and no medicine was able to
stop the illness. Your condition worsened so that, when you
were twenty days old you agonized and died. Dr. Escondria,
who had been taking diligent care of you, went to see about
the death certificate and Dr. Alejandro Velazco also
confirmed that you had died.
Two hours later, Father Félix
arrived to offer his condolences. I never knew who called
him. He asked to pray for the child and we led him to the
room where we had laid the small body on the bed, cold and
purplish, awaiting its little white coffin.
Father Félix knelt down. He
began to pray in silence. And he prayed so long that we grew
tired and left the room one by one. Father Félix kept on
More than an hour went by and
Father Félix was still praying... Suddenly, we could clearly
hear the crying of a child coming from that room. We all
rushed to the room and saw Father Félix visibly moved.
He was flushed with emotion
and he was shouting: "I prayed to Don Bosco for him! I asked
Don Bosco to protect him!"
He then took his hat and ran
for the door. He only told us: "Feed that child!"
But let us continue with our
In 1882, when Brother Félix
was 21 years old, he was sent to the Institute of St. Mary,
a school the Marist Fathers had near Toulon. There he was
made prefect of discipline the intermediate group.
The children nicknamed him "Pionbete",
which roughly means idiot. Brother Félix wrote in his diary:
"I intensely dislike being
prefect of the intermediate group. My appointment has been
renewed for another year. I will not complain and I will
always appear to be happy. Divine Providence has been so
good to me that I cannot doubt that being prefect of
discipline of the intermediate group is good for me, at
In the years that followed,
Brother Félix finished his studies of philosophy and
theology; and finally, on September 24, 1887, he was
ordained a priest:
"Msgr. Gonindard, Archbishop
of Rheims, ordained me a priest in the chapel of the
Franciscan sisters. My father, mother and brother Stanislaus
were present at my ordination" (Diary).
From that day on, Father
Félix asked God for the grace to celebrate the Eucharist in
a saintly manner. And every day of his life he celebrated
the holy sacrifice with such devotion that all who saw him
at the altar were impressed. One of the recommendations his
superior made to him was: "Try not to spend so much time
The recently-ordained Father
Félix was sent to teach Holy Scripture at the scholasticate
in Barcelona, Spain, because the study of the Bible had
fascinated him since he was a novice. He had learned Hebrew
in order to read the Old Testament in the original, and had
even published a Hebrew grammar.
In a letter addressed to his
Superior General we read:
"I am especially attracted to
the life of the major seminaries: a hidden life of prayer
and study. I am giving myself over to the study of Scripture
which I love so much, and which now more than ever gives me
For 8 years (1887 to 1895),
he taught Sacred Scripture, Hebrew and Church history. He
had always yearned to go to the Oceania missions, but as
always, he saw the will of God in the orders of his
superiors and he obeyed joyfully.
A strong personality trail of
Father Félix was his joy and his constant good humor. In a
letter from his Superior, we find this advice:
"You should not joke so much
with your students. Be kind to them, but without so much
In his Memoirs, years later,
Father Félix wrote:
"I have always considered
having been sent to teach Sacred Scripture for eight years
to have been one of the greatest graces of my life. How many
inspirations came to me as I prepared for this dear class!
How many readings full of God! What graces of enlightenment
for my soul! As I studied the Gospel in depth, I found the
soul of Jesus there, His Heart, His thoughts, His love for
the Father, His teachings, His spiritual life. How lucky I
was to be able to dedicate all my time to meditate on these
divine pages for such a long time!
All his life, Father Félix
insisted on the need to study the Scriptures constantly.
"If you are careless about
the reading of the Holy Scriptures, your religiosity will
become superficial", he said frequently.
One day he confided to his
novices that: "Since the time of my Biblical studies I have
engraved in my heart a constant remembrance of Jesus."
When the 1895 school year
ended, Father Félix received a letter from his General
Superior with the command to go to Colombia in order to
found two schools in the province of Tolima, one in the town
of Neiva, and the other in Ibagué. He wrote in his Diary:
"I was delighted with this
hidden life but the command confused me for although one is
a religious, one cannot become immediately detached and keep
from feeling uprooted when one has lived for a long time
among very dear brothers and students and among well-beloved
I went downstairs to the
chapel, and at prayer I was completely flooded with
happiness. To Colombia! The missionary dream which had been
born in me eighteen years before, and which had filled me
with enthusiasm during the novitiate, was going to become a
reality... I was about to leave for a new country, 12,000
kilometers away from my loved ones and... perhaps forever. I
felt that this was a great and undeserved grace, and this
moved me deeply." Father Félix made a one-week spiritual
retreat and a general confession. And after finishing the
preparations for the journey and saying many loving
good-byes, he embarked at Burdeos the 26th of October, 1895,
together with two other priests, Fathers Joseph Gauven and
After a 23-day sea voyage,
they disembarked at Port Colombia. From there they went to
Barranquilla where they boarded a small steamship which
moved goods and people up and down the busy Magdalena
Father Félix had to travel
more than once in these dilapidated steamboats. In his
diary, he wrote down not too pleasant memories, but we can
see that he kept his sense of humor.
"Disorder reigned: there were
mountains of wood for the engines, stacks of suitcases,
animals, the crew and the passengers. The food was terrible.
It was hard enough to be hungry, but a great deal of will
power was necessary not to go by the kitchen... The boats
had innumerable leaks. During the first rainstorm it was
necessary to leave one's cabin to look for a dry corner,
unless one believed strongly in hydrotherapy. When the rains
continued for long periods, those who did not sleep with
their face under a leak could consider themselves lucky. The
muddy river water was all that was drunk on board. If we
were lucky, they filtered it."
Father Félix and his
companions were so enthusiastic about their missionary work
that in a short time they were overdoing it. In a letter
dated May 25, 1897, the Assistant General of the Society of
Mary wrote to Father Félix, who was the superior of the
"... you have gone ahead and
made decisions, without waiting for things to happen. But I
do not know how you could stand such weariness and attend to
so many occupations and concerns, and moreover, give
retreats. Take care of yourself, dear Father. Because
excessive efforts, if they are constant, break down the
healthiest constitutions. The work with which you have been
charged must not be imperiled by these exhausting efforts
which can take you to heaven before your time. Please, save
your strength". (P. Leterrier, Assistant General).
Father Félix answered this
letter as follows:
"... And I thank you very
much for your paternal advice, which offers guidelines for
one so inexperienced. I am very well, better than ever. So
is Father Halliet. But we both understand that you are
right, and that even though we have not become sick, we are
both very tired. I promise that I will work a bit less."
On April 24, 1899, Father
Félix received a letter from his Superior General telling
him that his mother had passed away on the 12th of that
month. Father Félix answered that letter thus:
"... Oh, Father, what a
terrible blow! How full of pain these days have been!! I
think there is no greater pain than having one's mother die.
When I started thinking about the many sweet memories of my
mother, I fell into a great depression.
It is now twelve days since I
received the news and I am still so nervous that the sound
of the bell makes me jump. Physically and morally this test
has been a very difficult one."
The night of October 18th of
that year, 1899, civil war broke out in Colombia and
continued for three years. The schools became barracks and
hospitals. The Marist Fathers devoted themselves to help the
wounded, not only in hospitals but also in the battlefields.
Father Félix was named military chaplain of the First
Division of Tolima and later administrator and chaplain of
the military hospital of Ibagué, with the salary and rank of
The prisons were full. Father
Félix made great efforts to improve the prisoners'
situation. He spoke to the Governor on their behalf and
constantly tried to obtain medicines, clothing and food for
those unfortunate people.
The war became more intense.
The life of the missionaries was always in danger, and
therefore the Superior General of the Society of Mary
decided to recall all his personnel from Colombia. On
November 30, 1900, the order to abandon the mission arrived.
One by one, the Marist Fathers left for other assignments.
Father Félix was the last to leave. The financial
difficulties to pay for his trip and the dangers of the war
did not allow him to leave until February I, 1902. On that
day, he took a boat for Panama, which then belonged to
Colombia, with Mexico as his final destination. He had lived
for six years as a missionary in that land and had become
attached to it. He was sorry to leave everything he had sown
in these fields:
"I did not enter my cabin
until very late at night, so that I could see a bit more of
my dear Colombia."(Diary)
Father Félix was named
superior and pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes,
staffed by Marist Fathers in Mexico City. He arrived on
February 17, 1902.
"Father Lejeune welcomed me.
He was one of the members of that community and while he
showed me the house he made bold to tell me something which
-Father Félix...we have heard
that you are very strict.
-You will see that is not so,
Once more I extended my hand
in greeting to him..."
That church was designated
for the French immigrants who lived in Mexico City. At that
time they numbered some six thousand.
With his characteristic
enthusiasm, Father Félix began organizing this new area of
work in the best way possible. He visited the French
families to obtain a complete census and then organized the
religious instruction, without overlooking maids and
employees. He visited the sick at the French Hospital. He
founded the associations of Bread for the Poor and Daughters
of Mary, and organized a group of altar boys and a choir, he
then began to print a one page parish bulletin which was a
very helpful tool to inform and bring the parishioners
together. Later he brought the Sisters of St. Joseph from
Lyon to open a school, especially for the daughters of the
French families and he look the first steps to found the
school for boys staffed by the Marist Fathers, but it did
not open for three years. Father Félix also served as
confessor of the Marist brothers and their pupils.
When all this was taking
place, Father Félix was 43 years old. He was full of
strength and experience and was an excellent priest with a
missionary soul. He had many human qualities and solid
Christian virtues, but he was not yet what you would call a
In his diary he recounts the
need for a profound change in his life, far a greater
surrender in God. To this end, in early February he began a
novena to the Holy Spirit asking "that He might call him to
a way of greater perfection."
As in answer from God to this
desire and this prayer, the surprise encounter with Mrs.
Conchita Cabrera took place on February 4, 1903. From this
day forward he began a new stage of spiritual development,
moving towards sanctity with giant steps.