The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Father Valentin Paquay

photograph of Blessed Valentin Paquay, date unknown, photographer unknownThere lived and worked for fifty years at Hasselt, the chief city of the Belgian province of Limburg, a Franciscan father known far and wide among the people as “the holy father of Hasselt.” A Catholic people sometimes show a remarkable intuition which reverently anticipates the decision of Rome. So it was in the case of Father Valentin Paquay, O.F.M. The people had long canonized their beloved “holy father” and the Church with her usual rigorous exactness has approved the life and virtues of this great son of Saint Francis, thus ratifying the judgment of the people.

Father Paquay sprang from a pious Flemish family at Tongern, and after completing his classics joined the Franciscans in 1849. Shortly after his ordination in 1854, he was sent to Hasselt, and here remained, except for a single year, until his death, on 1 January 1905.

How great is the attraction of a holy example is clearly shown in this man. In early youth, Father Paquay had chosen for his patron his countryman, Saint John Berchmans, whom he sought to emulate in everything and to whom he always clung with the most tender devotion. In the confessional and in his conversation he always managed to refer to his “little Berchmans.” Whenever he went to Louvain he hastened to the altar in the Jesuit church where the heart of Saint Berchmans was enshrined and spent here a long time in prayer. “Oh,” he declared, “I could stay here the whole day.” He sanctified himself, as did his model, by the strictest observance of the rules of his Order, doing only what was ordinary but not in an ordinary manner.

Father Paquay achieved his greatest reputation by the prudent direction of souls in the confessional. So, after a few years the citizens of Hasselt depended so much on him, that his superiors, who had stationed him elsewhere, were stormed with petitions by them until their “holy father” was back in their midst. He must have spent the greater part of his life in the confessional. He could hardly find time for his Breviary and for meals. Especially on evenings before Sundays and feast-days, great crowds besieged his confessional. What was the secret of this attraction? They ascribed to the father an extraordinary knowledge of the human heart and the rare gift of setting aright with a few words the unhappy and the discouraged. By reason of this work, he justly belongs, says an Antwerp newspaper (“La Presse,” 9 February 1911), among the great social reformers of our time and has done the same service as the ancient saints who by their apostolic zeal won heathen peoples to the Faith.

The most interesting chapter of Father Paquay’s life is that which deals with his richly blessed success in the confessional. Besides this, he had to answer numberless requests for advice from high and low. Catholics have a remarkable confidence in the saints.

When the apostle of Belgian Limburg died on 1 January 1905, he was seventy-six years of age. His body was exposed for public honor and for two days a continuous stream of people passed to gaze for the last time on the countenance of the beloved priest and to beg his intercession. A committee was soon formed to erect a monument to the father in the cemetery. The unveiling of this was another grand demonstration for the poor son of Saint Francis. The monument fittingly represents him with his hand raised in absolution. He is the beloved of his countrymen and has already obtained renown as a worker of miracles.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916