He will be canonized next weekend, along with José Sanchez del Río (1913-1928); Manuel González García, Spanish bishop (1877-1940); Lodovico Pavoni, Italian priest (1784-1849); Alfonso Maria Fusco, Italian priest (1839-1910), Elisabeth de la Trinité, French woman religious (1880-1906); and José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero, Argentine priest (1840-1914).
BROTHER SOLOMON: TEACHING UP TO THE END – A TEACHER MARTYR, WITH YOUNG PEOPLE AT HEART
He was a teacher and educator, often of disadvantaged children. He was also the bursar of a large college and then General Secretary of his Congregation. Nicolas was born in 1745, the gentle, reserved son of a family of merchants in Boulogne-sur-Mer Boulogne, a major port on the northern coast of France. He grew up in a family that was well-off and numerous, and which held to solid religious principles. His mother was ever present and full of joy, giving comfort and security. His father was upright and honest in his business as a dealer in food and wines, besides owning two salt beds near Rochelle.
Perhaps the reason why his parents chose to send him to the Lasallian school was because it excelled in teaching calculus, precisely in order to make that discipline available to the children of traders and artisans in the XVIII century. His father had attended the same school and held it in high esteem and appreciation. These were precious days for the growing boy, who was fascinated by the big book about «God’s heroes» which he preferred to adventure stories. During his years in school, he absorbed the daily example of the serious devotion of his educators, and thus they prepared the ground for the development of his future vocation. He finished school at sixteen and began his apprenticeship. With an eye on the family business, he was first sent to Devres, not far from Boulogne, and then to Paris for work experience. There he found himself in the midst of the tumult of the capital city. It was characterised by hostility towards religion, and the young people (such as those with whom he lodged in the pension Vessette) were out of control. Because of this, there grew in him a rejection of the disorders of social life and an increasing desire to find fulfilment.
He returned home and expressed his determination. “I want to be like my teachers, the Brothers, following them in their piety, their austerity and their service to young people.”
It was a call to be different, similar to that of St Benedict, and he entered the novitiate at the age of twenty-one. His happiness at having finally found the right path to the end is evident in the many letters he wrote to his family whom he regarded as a great gift from heaven. He became a teacher at the age of twenty-three, first in Rennes and then in Rouen. Now fully occupied as a teacher, he sometimes had classes of up to 130 pupils, to whom he taught “reading, writing and calculus” from morning to evening. Some of them, like those in Maréville, were difficult teenagers, sent to the school for re-education. At some personal cost, he learned how to get through to them by tenderness, kindness and authority. He exchanged his natural timidity for a joyful, healthy approach, and he was concerned not only to teach them but also to accompany them patiently, while fully aware of the limited viewpoints of their old established families.
At the age of 27, he made final vows and a few months later he became Director of Novices. This new post involved the delicate and difficult work of discerning and supporting future religious. Guided by his profound understanding of the Lasallian constitutions and Rule, he initiated them into the constant practice of virtue in the course of the one year of the novitiate. It was a time of asceticism, when he was happy at having chosen «the essential» as opposed to the meaningless life offered by the world with its rush for material things and riches which fade.
Nine years later, he was sent to Melun to teach mathematics in the scholasticate, the teacher training centre for the Brothers. He stayed there for five years. His good sense, simplicity, discretion and great ability were evident to his students, who appreciated his intelligence and skill in synthesising things and admired his perfect handwriting.
During the General Chapter of 1787, he was appointed to the delicate role of secretary. He did not go unnoticed by the Superior General, who recognised in him an attentive and wise observer, with a skill in making interventions and relating to those in authority. He appointed him as his personal secretary. Two years later, the French Revolution exploded and became increasingly anticlerical. Brother Solomon continued to do his work for a higher court of law. Like many of the Brothers, he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the state. Religious congregations were abolished, and the Brothers’ schools were closed. They were driven from their houses and reduced to total poverty. Those who could went back to their families. When Solomon met Father Clorivière, a Jesuit, he discussed with him his idea of transforming religious institutes during times of persecution into what would later be known as secular institutes, living out their vocation in the world. Just before his time of trial, he made a retreat in the forest of Senart.
Brother Salomon and the Brother Superior General did all they could to ensure the dignity of the Brothers. The Revolution was at its height, and it suspended all individual rights in the name of democracy and equality. The Constitutive Assembly did try to introduce legislative compromises, but the Paris municipality inflamed people’s minds. When the Prussians were at the gates of Paris, violence broke out and was also expressed in the press. Many religious suffered because of it. In his last letter, dated 15 August 1792, Brother Solomon remained calm before the storm and was more worried about his family and the Brothers than about himself. “We bear with joy and gratitude the crosses and afflictions that come our way. As for me, I do not seem to be worthy to suffer for Him, since up to now nothing bad has happened to me, while there are so many confessors of the faith who are in difficulty.” A few hours later, he was arrested by a squad of about fifty men, along with 166 “refractory” priests and religious. He was imprisoned in the Carmelite Convent in Paris. Having been interrogated during the night, he spent his final days without any food. Brother Abraham, who was in prison with him, managed to escape and to tell people about the last hours that were spent as though in a Lasallian retreat of spiritual exercises developing detachment from material things in preparation for martyrdom.
On 2 September, they received the final order to take the oath to the Civil Constitution. After that, they were taken out into the garden in two successive waves at the usual time for their fresh air break. They were met by their killers, joined by hired assassins, who killed them with swords and guns. Some of them were praying. Their bodies were thrown into the well or buried in mass graves dug in the garden.