Father Gabriel Demey, C.P., St. Paul of the Cross Province (1858-1936)

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Born August 16, 1858 in Belgium, at sixteen he went to join the Passionists in France. He professed his vows on October 28, 1876. He was ordained on January 8, 1882. His first twenty-one years were spent in Europe where he lived in Passionist monasteries in France, Belgium and Italy. He held the position of superior at various time. He was a rector and master of novices. In 1903 he was transferred to the United States. He was a professor and director of students for fifteen years. Father Demey was chosen as the first director of the St. Gabriel’s Laymen Retreat House, Brighton, Massachusetts. Later in life he was confessor to the Xaverian Brothers and priests in the Archdiocese of Boston. In his later years, though he was blessed with a strong constitution, he suffered from diabetes. There is another point of reflection raised by the life of Father Demey. His obituary starts out with the statement: “Father Gabriel snuffs no more.” This makes one ask the question about the role of snuff and tobacco in daily Passionist life. The obituary goes on to state that the familiar greeting of Father Demey was “Have a pinch of snuff.” So, the writer stated, “When Father stops snuffing that will be a bad sign, for that will mean that Father is dying.” He even took snuff while he was attending devotions. When he was asked why he did this his response was “Why not! Is not God’s House our home.” In effect he had come to the conclusion that he would snuff at home and if a chapel was akin to a home then there should be no problem of taking a snuff there as well. These statements conjure up more reflection. For example, what was the role of the spittoon in the monastery choir. Around 1944 it appears these spittoons were nailed shut. Passionist seminary students, it seems, were obliged as part of their chores to clean out the spittoons. Perhaps it is this chore that led many students to come down with tuberculosis. It would be quite safe to assume that the germs would be carried by the spit in those spittoons. To people of the twenty-first century these thoughts may sound crass but such points need greater clarification and understanding. Other areas of understanding are diet, exercise, the use of alcohol, medicine, and clothing in daily life.