Roll Call of Honour
“The Amiable Man of God”
By (Late) Fr. Cyril Browne, M.E.P. ( 1889 - 1986)
“At Church, with meek and unaffected grace,
His looks adorned the venerable place,
Truth from his lip,- prevailed with double sway;
Allured to brighter worlds and led the way.”
The Village Preacher
Many have very queer notions about saints. They imagine that they are strange creatures, somewhat ridiculous, not at all human; freaks, antiquities with exaggerated ideas of right and wrong; scrupulous, unsociable, narrow-minded, old-fashioned, framed portraits of stern, fixed creatures not fit for the drawing room-in fine, caricatures of men and women; some sort of demi-gods, with no failings but only perfections; with no weaknesses but only strength - so much so that poor mortals do not want tto have anything to do with them.
But this is far from true. Saints are persons like any one of us; retaining all their human nature, all their personal, temperamental, hereditary, educational and social characteristics; retaining their tendencies to gentleness or anger, their sense of humour, their timidity or their audacity, like any other human being. If they are intelligent men or women, they do not become stupid; if they are simple, they do not become learned.
The only difference between the saints and ourselves is that the saints believe in, act upon the truth that God is our origin, our environment, our end, our all and this with an intensity and perseverance to the end. St. Paul says, “the saints are in Christ and in them Christ lives”. Let us now turn to this simple, amiable, smiling man of God and see how much he lived in Christ and Christ lived in him.
Rev. Father Cholet died on the 5th February, 1954 and lies buried in the little cemetery of the Sacred Heart Church (Church of the Sacred Heart). An old student, who prayed at his grave, writes “The simple lime-washed grave typifies the man. Father Cholet was just a simple man, who led a simple life. He taught simple things, like doing one’s duty to God and man. He himself did only simple things, like practicing poverty, patience and obedience.”
Early Life of Father Benjamin Cholet: He makes choice of the French Foreign Missions
Born on the 22nd December, 1870, in the little village in Le Tremblais, a hamlet in La Motte Servolex of Savoy, he grew up amidst picturesque Alpine surroundings, in the country where the saintly Bishop, St. Francis de Sales, had laboured to bring back to the fold the stray sheep of those mountains. His parents were simple hard-working farmers and they sent their little son to a school run by the Assumptionist Fathers. This congregation maintains many Apostolic schools in France for the benefit of the labouring classes. These schools are more or less minor seminaries where boys are lodged and taught up to the High School standard. The brighter ones are prepared for their Baccalaureate degree. On completing their studies there, the boys are free to join any religious congregation, society or diocese. Benjamin Cholet chose the French Foreign Missions of Paris, as he wanted to work for the salvation of souls and die a martyr. Being of a retiring, unassuming, quiet nature, the only record of his seminary life that has come down to us, is that he was painstaking in his work, neat, studious, amiable and deeply religious. On the 2nd July, 1893, he was ordained a priest A dispensation from the age-bar had to be obtained in his case, as he was not yet 23 years old. His destination was Mysore, where he arrived in January 1894.
Life in the Missions: in India
Within a week of his arrival, he was posted to Mattigiri, as an assistant to Rev. Father Gouarin, that he may learn Kanarese and get initiated in the life and work of a missionary. Mattigiri, some 30 miles from Bangalore on the Salem road, is an old Catholic centre, dating from the time of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan. These Christians were mostly refugees who had fled from their homes on the Mysore plateau due to religious persecution and dire economic distress. They were hardbaked Christians, rude and rough in their speech and manners. Father Gouarin was the right man for them. He too was hard-baked ; a solid, rough-cut diamond type of the French missionary, who could sleep on the bare floor, go without food, trudge miles on foot, or ride his horse all over his vast district, exposed to sun or rain, administering to his scattered flock.
One wonders how this gentle, simple assistant could ever have adapted himself to this haphazard existence and the sledge-hammer tactics of this old French soldier. Fresh from the calm, simple, regulated life of the seminary, this young, pious assistant must have had a few rude shocks and surprises in his dealings with these Christians and his weather-beaten parish priest. Regular and scrupulously punctual in all his duties, he soon discovered that punctuality was not a virtue at Mattigiri, rather a vice. Services were held when the people came to church. As they had no watch or clock to tell them when to come, Mass and Benediction had a latitude from four to five hours. The priest had no faith in clocks or watches. He never possessed one in all his life. The sun was his best and only guide. Meals were very simple - rice, boiled potatoes and greens; but like the church services, there were no fixed hours. The cook held more than one portfolio, He was catchiest, tax collector, postmaster, teacher and cook to boot. Father Cholet had been trained in his seminary days to maintain a diary and he entered all the events of the day in a neat little note book. His parish priest wrote his diary on the white-washed walls of the dining and bedrooms of the presbytery - an open diary scribbled in pencil or charcoal: all the events of the day, the month and the year - Baptisms, First Communions, publication off banns, marriages, deaths, Mass intentions, church accounts, daily expenses and dhoby accounts, etc., etc. At the end of the year, good coating of white lime effaced the year’s records and cleared the walls for the diary of the New Year. What an experience for the young curate! Father Cholet had a neat, steady handwriting; that of his parish priest was illegible. On one occasion, the parish priest, being obliged to go on a long pastoral tour, left four long pages of written instructions for the guidance of his young assistant, but the young assistant had to await the return of the parish priest to decipher what he had written and was happy to find that Father Gouarin could not read what he himself had written. On another occasion a good conduct chit, written on behalf of the village grave-digger, was mistaken for a doctor’s prescription and the Local Fund Dispensary produced a bottle of medicine, that the grave-digger maintained cured him of chronic rheumatism. Father Gouarin. who was himself a subject of the same complaint, was indignant that the same mixture did not cure him. Father Cholet mildly remarked that the priest was wanting in Faith.
“Obedience is better than sacrifice.” Father Cholet proves a “ born “ teacher; he yet remains a “Missionary”
In his mind Father Cholet had decided that he would live and die in the country of his adoption as a missionary, bringing souls to the love and service of his Master. He would welcome being sent out into virgin territory, sans house, sans church and sans congregation. Then we might have had in the diocese of Mysore a Kanarese Beschi, a Robert de Nobili or a St.. John de Britto.
Though Fr. Cholet’s ambition was to work for souls in villages, his superiors ordained otherwise. The ardent young missionary was commanded to turn pedagogue. With silent and complete abnegation Fr. Cholet shut away his dreams of an apostolate amongst the unconverted and threw himself heart and soul into the less romantic task of drawing out the wisdom hidden deep in the groping minds of stolid school boys.
An Old boy writes: “The generations that passed through the hands of Fr. Cholet have, each in their turn, called him blessed. His austerity towards himself, his loving kindness to others, his zeal for God and the virgin Mother of Jesus, his gentleness, his understanding, attitude towards wrong-doers, all combined to win him, very early in his career, the affection and esteem of his young charges. These traits, along with the habit of taking long walks, earned him, by the turn of the century, the sobriquet of “the Walking Saint.”
To us who knew him for long, years at St. Joseph’s, his death brought a numbing shock, then glorious memories. We are back again in his English classes interpreting Shakespeare, sublimating Ruskin, revealing the soul of Wordsworth. Who could fail to be inspired? Then the Sunday, Chapel Sodality meetings! His face aglow with fervour, his heart on fire with the love of God and Our Lady, as his simple words flowed from his inmost soul.- What an experience for us boys! How easy it seemed to be a saint! If we could only be like him? If we could only be?
The outward sign of his sainthood was the bootlace he used as a watch-chain. At any rate, it was so for-his boys. That shoe string was to all who sat at Father Cholet’s feet, the sign of his humility and the badge of his authority. No boy who gazed at it could persist in vile or stubborn indiscipline. He was by virtue of that broken shoe string, the living personification of that legendary Irish priest, Fr. O’Flynn - “powerfullest preacher, kindliest teacher and gentlest creature.”
A few incidents speak for themselves. While he was once writing on the blackboard during his English class, a mischievous youngster tried his skill at shying chewed paper pellets on to the roof. He missed his aim, and the pellet hit the blackboard. Fr. Cholet turned round calmly, and said, “Bad marksmanship - have another try. My head should be a clear target against the blackboard”. That was enough. The indignant class felt happy when the stalwart stepped forward and begged pardon. No more chewed pellets decorated the roof thereafter. Encouragement after censure is like the sun after a shower.
A junior member of the staff harassed by a class of unruly boys complained that they were deliberately teasing him. Fr. Cholet with his child-like smile just said, “if God has given us eyes to see, He has given us eyelids to close them at times. Make use of these eyelids occasionally - join in the laugh against yourself, you take the sting out of the mischief”. After that this young teacher turned out to be one of the most successful and popular masters.
An Old Boy who had fallen into evil ways accosted Fr. Cholet with his tale of woe, a long, long tale of woe indeed. Fr. Cholet listened to him patiently and when he had finished said, with an encouraging look, “Thank God.” “Thank God for what?” snarled back he, indignantly. “Thank God”, repeated Fr. Cholet, with his usual calm, “it has not been worse. Thank God that despair has not driven you to greater misfortunes. Thank God for saying you from greater evils. What I can give you now is not mine but His. Thank God for it and keep on thanking God. The virtue of thanksgiving is greater than the virtue of almsgiving.”
The calm, kind talk of Fr. Cholet bad its effect. Crest-fallen, the young prodigal, as he walked away, passed by the College Chapel. Through the half-open door, he saw the spot where he once prayed as a boy. The Chapel was empty. He entered timidly, threw himself down on his knees in that hallowed sanctuary. Shame, sorrow, pain, regret and repentance choked his sobs - welcome tears. When he left that Chapel fifteen minutes later, he was a changed man, determined to mend his ways. The “Thank God” of Fr. Cholet had done its work. Fr. Cholet’s advice reveals a soul of deep simplicity and trust, that sees, even in evil. she protecting hand of God guiding his children.
It is related in the life of St. Francis of Assisi that one day he set out with Brother Leo saying : “Let us go out to preach”. Both of them walked through the streets of the city, St. Francis walking all alone in utter silence with modest, downcast eyes. On returning home, Brother Leo asked him: “But, what about the preaching?” St. Francis replied : “It is already done.” St. Francis could preach without words. His very presence was an eloquent sermon. Fr. Cholet was familiarly known to all his students as “ the Walking Saint.” Not only because he took long walks but because. when he was seen on those walks, he gave the impression of walking in the garden of Paradise, communing with Nature, enjoying Nature, in love with Nature, his whole bearing so simple, so childlike, so winsome, so chaste, that it seemed to radiate joy and peace all round. His soul was in some sort of trance. Is it then surprising that students, who are sharp in detecting the defects and good qualities of their teachers, should have called him “the Walking Saint”?
Fr. Cholet had a very simple way of teaching little boys to say the Rosary. He told them not to worry about the Mysteries or even about, the Rosary prayers but just to imagine Our Lady sitting with the baby Jesus in her arms at the stable of Bethlehem or kneeling at the death bed of St. Joseph or standing at the foot of the Cross with Jesus dying on it or, crowned in Heaven as a queen. Then with all their hearts to just whisper to her, “Mummy, I love you, 1 love you and 1 know that you love me. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death.” There is a blurred beauty in that impassioned cry of the child to its mother that appeals even to us, grown-ups.
There are saints in our midst but we often fail to recognise them. It is hard to believe that they, can inhabit this world of ours, They all seem to have left it behind. We invoke them as though they were all in heaven and able to bestow on us only invisible and supernatural favours. In every one of our neighbours there in a potential saint. He may not necessarily become one ; for there is also in him a potential criminal or even a potential devil. No outside sign marks off the saint from any passer-by. It is the mark of holiness to be as invisible to the natural eye as is the world of spirit into which it invites us to enter. To all appearance a saint lives the life of every man. We see him intent on his allotted task, never seeming to be diverted from it. He is interested in each and all of us so spontaneously and naturally, that he seems simply to enlarge the society to which we belong. No one is more accessible than he. It is courage that makes the saint, courage to go to the limit of his powers. This courage is no more than confidence in grace that comes from on high and is always available, though we do not always open our hearts to receive it.
For over forty years Fr. Cholet taught at St. Joseph’s and attracted no attention. We saw him intent on his allotted task - never seeming to be diverted from it. His lectures were always well prepared; his daily notes of lessons carefully written out; the home tasks done by his students conscientiously corrected; all mistakes underlined; all alterations neatly marked with red ink in the margin. He gave his lecture standing the whole hour and never sat on a chair. When we remember that he had from four to five hours of lecturing every day, it must have been a great strain on his frail constitution. Besides his hours of teaching, he was the Spiritual Father of the house and heard most of the confessions of the staff and boys. He was the Director of the Sodality of Our Lady, Chaplain to the Little Sisters of the Poor and Editor of the College Annual. Where he found the strength and energy to do all this and to do it to perfection, is his secret. But what we do know- is that he rose from his hard bed at 4 a.m., every morning, spent an hour on his knees in meditation. an hour and a half at his Holy Mass and thanksgiving. Then during the day he found time to spend two to three hours on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament in silent adoration. Watching him was at eloquent sermon on prayer.
Father Cholet the man: “he had his faults”
What is encouraging to all of us is that Fr. Cholet being human had his faults and to many they were serious faults. He was obstinate - very obstinate. No Rector ever dared to ask him to do any additional hour of teaching, outside his assigned daily lectures. He would refuse to comply. Without trying to justify him, it may be said that Fr. Cholet was neither a brilliant nor a fast worker; though well above the average, hard working and extremely conscientious, being a man of principles, he believed in accepting, work that was keeping with his capacity and doing that thoroughly not in accepting too many tasks and then doing full justice to none of them. Moreover, those who have worked in schools and colleges know but too well that there are Principals who are apt to take advantage of a willing horse, when they find one and then loading him to breaking point. Though saints may be willing horses, still saints cannot be expected to take things lying down. Fr. Cholet did not know what it was to pamper Superiors. He was much too far above that. He was just a simple straight-forward man, who in all humility knew his limitations and bowed before them. The greatest saint is not the one that does extraordinary things, but the one who does ordinary things extraordinarily well. Fr. Cholet was obstinate too with regard to his food, stubbornly abstemious. He rarely abided by the doctor’s orders except in obedience to his Bishop and obeyed when he could not do otherwise. This is encouraging to us mortals.
Fr. Cholet was by temperament impulsive, quite tempered and deeply sensitive. If he let himself go, he could come out with a ready answer that would cut the quick. But he so mastered his feelings that could turn a nasty retort into a gentle joke. He was a good judge of character and delicately appreciative. He had a wonderful command of the English language, facile pen and a genuine fund of innocent, sprightly humour, as “Notes from a Diary” in the college Annual reveal.
Chaplain and Confessor to Convents: Reminisces of his
Rev. Father Cholet had been appointed chaplain to The Little Sisters of the Poor in 1906 and continued to Serve them without a break till 1939. During those thirty odd years, he arrived every morning, fair weather or foul, rain or wind, exactly to the minute, at the appointed hour for his Mass. After his Mass, said with much fervour and devotion, he would visit and comfort the sick and dying, to console them troubles and help them in their last moments. Even non-Catholics looked forward to his visits as a ray of sunshine in their forlorn lives. To him, the words Goldsmith addressed to the village preacher could well be applied:-
Beside the bed where parting life was laid
And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismayed.
The Reverend Champion stood. At his control
Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul:
Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise
And his last faltering accents whispered praise”.
One Poor old non-Christian in his dying moments turned to his companion and asked, “Where is the morning God ? Will he not come today to send me to Heaven?” Poor old soul ! he knew no better but it just shows us with what love and respect their good chaplain was venerated by these weather-beaten folk. To them he was a saint - their saint.
But, to the good sister in charge of the kitchen, he must have been a very difficult saint to manage. The amount of trouble he gave her to take his morning breakfast and the many little devices he resorted to, that she might believe that he had done well, nearly drove her crazy. He was not the kind of saint she fondly imagined saints to be-meek and resigned - but here was a saint self-willed and resollute. On one occasion he even gave her a sound telling off. It was his feast day; in all simplicity, wishing to please him, she removed his dust-stained, shabby-looking, battered, tattered pithat from the hat-stand and replaced it by a new one - a gift from the inmates of the Home. Fr. Cholet flew into a rage. He wanted his old hat back. He would not go without it. The poor Sister had to produce it. Fr. Cholet, pleased as a school boy who had got back his favourite toy, cycled away with, “ thank you, thank you, thank you”, ringing in her ears.
On another occasion, Fr. Cholet arrived well in time for the Holy Hour, but in pouring rain. Having no umbrella, no rain-coat, he was soaking wet. The good Rev. Mother remonstrated. She requested him to give her the key of his room that she might send to the college for a change of clothes. But Fr. Cholet was obstinate: it was all right; there was no harm done; be would go back after Benediction and change. There was no need to worry about him. But women are rarely beaten. They must have the last word, it is said, and Rev. Mothers above all others! A note was sent post-haste to the Rector of the College. Rev. Father Prouvost arrived almost immediately with a dry set of clothes. Fr. Cholet was completely upset. He was profuse in his apologies for giving Fr. Prouvost, the Rector and the Rev. Mother so much trouble. He was so sorry that he caused all this worry. He then meekly obeyed and changed into his dry clothes in compliance with the Rector’s orders. For Fr. Cholet a Superior’s word was God’s word, even if that Superior was thirty years his junior in Holy Orders.
In 1937, when the good Jesuit Fathers from Calicut came to the help of the diocese and took over the management of St. Joseph’s College, Fr. Cholet retired to a quiet, back room in the Clergy House at St. John’s Hill. He was now over 67 years old but pleaded however to be allowed to continue his chaplaincy at the Home for the Aged. Every morning, he cycled this distance of over three miles, at the break of dawn, in all kinds of weather and arrived exact to the minute for his Holy Mass. One morning as he was coming along South Parade, a motor car driven by an officer, just returning home from the Mess after a night out, dashed into poor Fr. Cholet and knocked him down unconscious. He was badly hurt and bled profusely. The officer and his companion stopped, lifted him up and put him in the car. On their way, to the hospital, he regained consciousness and insisted on being taken to the Little Sisters, as they were waiting for him to say Mass. The officer tried to argue but he little knew with whom he was dealing. He finally took Fr. Cholet to the Home for the Aged. Fr. Cholet tried to make out that it was his own fault. thanked the officer for the trouble he had taken and begged his pardon for delaying him and taking up so much of his precious time. He asked the Sister for a basin of water to wash away the mud and blood, then went to the Sacristy to dress for Mass.
When news of this accident reached the Bishop, he exercised his authority and forbade the 68 year old zealot to cycle, and appointed him chaplain to the Carrnelite Sisters, at Ali Asker Road, with quarters attached.
When the Little Sisters heard that Father Cholet was transferred to the Carmelite Convent, Ali Asker Road, they pleaded with the Bishop to leave them their chaplain, promising even to find a conveyance to fetch him every morning, but the Bishop was adamant. Nothing was left to them but to bid him farewell. They wanted to thank him, for his 30 years of selfless service to them and their poor. His Golden Jubilee was approaching. They could organize a little function, read an Address, give him a parting gift and take a photo. It all seemed so simple, in their own simple way of thinking. But who was to bell the cat? Fr. Cholet, (they knew only too well) loathed receptions, loathed addresses. and fuss. If they asked him. he would certainly say, “No, No, No”. They would lay a trap for him; so they put their heads together and plotted. He never refused blessing to any one. The last time he came to give them Benediction, he was informed that an old lady, who could not come to church that evening, wanted his blessing before he left. Accordingly, after the service be was led to the big dining-room where an uproar of cheers and clapping of hands greeted him. Fr. Cholet stepped back, taken by surprise, scared. However, rather than hurt their feelings, he entered but when asked to ascend the little decorated platform and occupy the soft cushioned arm-chair, he stoutly refused and sat down on a little wooden stool in a corner. He listened to the reading of the address and the singing. Then he got up and thanked the Sisters and the old folk for all the pains they had taken. It was altogether unnecessary. They should pray for him. Then he quickly eclipsed himself. That was the last they saw of him, He was so humble that he thought he deserved nothing from anyone.
For the next fifteen years, Fr. Cholet served the Carmelites as zealously as he had served his boys and his old people in the past. The Carmelite Sisters, rapt though they were in meditation, soon realised the worth of the treasure they had in their convent, and they cared for their saintly chaplain with all the devotion and love they were capable of. The Rev. Mother who was asked to give their impression of their late chaplain, writes: “We would be very happy to do something to help people to be edified by the example of Fr. Cholet but this is difficult, for during the years that we knew him, he led such a quiet unassuming life that one would say that he did all in his power to efface himself. We noticed however that he was very mortified, ate very little, slept on a hard bed. rose very early every morning, never used a mosquito curtain, took over one hour for his Holy Mass and spent hours on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament. He had a deep sense of duty. He was straightforward but kind, and received everyone with a smile of welcome. This and many other little incidents in his daily life which cannot be described made us feel, we cannot say why, that we had a saint as our chaplain”: a soul detached from all selfish affections and living in continual communion with God. The years passed in peaceful progression. Every second week he gave the Sisters an instruction.
Here are a few extracts culled from them:-
These few stray selections are taken from a series of sermons, written in his own hand. They teem with beautiful thoughts, delicately conceived and gracefully expressed. There is matter for thought, grace and dignity in all that Fr. Cholet wrote. One feels that it comes from a heart brimful of the love of God and Man.
Father Cholet was appointed Confessor to the Sisters of Mount Carmel Convent, shortly after it was established in 1948 and until the time of his death. The Sisters, like all others who had the privilege of knowing him, were deeply impressed by his simplicity, piety and commitment to duty, whatever might be the wind or the weather ! He actually insisted once on walking back in the rain. His exhortations and spiritual direction were full of wisdom, learning and good judgement. A note written by him, is still preserved - “ Willingly I shall be at your disposal this evening at 5 P. M. Sincerely yours, B. Cholet. 18 April, 52.”
A Sister confessed to being distracted during Confession by the bit of brown shoe-lace holding together his old, black boot. He had been ill of Flu but nothing Mother Superior could say or do prevailed on him to take a cup of soup before leaving; it was only when she said that the Bishop wished him to take the nourishment, that he meekly complied. Though so austere himself, he was happy because of the reduction of the Eucharistic fast to three hours, “kindness” of the Church in making it easier for the faithful to receive Holy Communion.
Once, when asked to pray for the College girls who were appearing for the University examinations, he asked if they had worked for it. “No, Father,” falteringly replied Sister Principal. “ Then, they ought to fail” replied the old Priest - teacher. Seeing Sister turn pale, he said “very well, I shall pray for them to pass” - revealing his innate -kindness and tolerance of human weakness. He was full of concern and sympathy when their Mother General, Mother Mary, passed away on -April 26, 1952. It was Mother who had felt that the appointment of the holy man, Father Cholet, as Confessor of the Convent, would be very beneficial to the Sisters and probably, arranged this with the Bishop, Dr. Thomas Pothacamury.
The Sisters had sent him a little gift for his Diamond Jubilee, including a small Turkish face towel (which the extern Sister at Carmel had whispered to them, Father would like). When they visited him a few days later, during his illness, - they noticed with surprised delight, the towel hanging on the clothesstand. He received them with his usual cheerfulness. When a Sister had once enquired about his health, he replied firmly “ I am as well as a man at my age could be.”
The holiness of Fr. Cholet was not, as some may suppose, meek, resigned and attentive : it was resolute, prompt, eager, enterprising and indefatigable. His mark of sanctity was perfect simplicity and trust, in complete renunciation of self and self-love. But this renunciation of all corporeal comfort and pleasure, far from depriving him, of any happiness, seemed to give him an inestimable reward in the very joy of renunciation.
Opportunity to overdo renunciation: last illness, death and burial
He was so eager after it, that. he even overdid it; as the following results will reveal. In 1939 Fr. Cholet took up his quarters at the Carmel Convent and had the satisfaction to take his meals alone, no watchful eye of a brother priest or superior to check or regulate his mortifications. Fr. Cholet had rollicking time, trying to kill the “Old Man.” He went at it hammer and tongs, tooth and nail, cutting out this and cutting out that from his daily diet much to the distress of the kitchen sister. He was delighted that he could subsist on dry bread and water. But he had gone too far. His frail body was so weak and worn out, that the Rev. Mother was worried. Fr. Cholet refused to go to hospital or see a doctor. His state of anaemia brought on a high temperature. In her distress, she appealed to His Excellency, the Delegate Apostolic, who had come there on a visit. Father Lombardi, the Delegate’s secretary, was immediately sent to take Fr. Cholet to St. Martha’s hospital. Exhausted and weak as he was, he was determined to say Mass the next day. It was only when His Grace the Archbishop exercised his authority, he went back to bed, saying, “The Archbishop commands, I must obey.” And he did obey like a good child. His condition was so run down that it was not before six months that he was able to return to the Carmel convent.
Rev. Father Cholet returned to the Carmel Convent in June 1946 after having been an inmate of St. Martha’s Hospital since December 1945. He never fully recovered his lost strength ; for his desire to mortify himself, in spite of the watchful care of the nursing staff, was not cured. He did however make an attempt to moderate it, for fear of being taken back to the hospital. Years passed on in peaceful progression. The bare little room, its principal ornament a crucifix, became a centre of pilgrimage for Old Boys and for all who could claim any sort of acquaintance with the saintly occupant. The same winning smile, the same words of comfort, the same “ God and Our Lady bless you,’ sent each one on his way, revivified and comforted. And every year on the first Sunday of September, the frail figure of the dear old man would take its place in the School Hall for Old Boy’s day. But the long journey was coming to an end. The 2nd July 1953 was his Diamond Jubilee of the priesthood but Fr. Cholet would have no external celebrations whatsoever. That day he said his usual Mass with unusual fervour, pouring out his heart to God in thanksgiving and gratitude for all blessings and. crosses received during the sixty years of his priesthood. In spite of himself, the day did not go unnoticed. A stream of visitors, clergy, laity, Old Boys with their families and friends poured in all day long to offer him their good wishes and beg his blessing. The emotions and strain were too much for his weak constitution. The following morning he said his Mass with much difficulty and admitted that he was feeling tired. On the 4th morning, after Mass, while making his thanksgiving on his knees, he fainted and fell on the floor of the Carmel Chapel. He was carried to his room. The Rev’ Mother sent word to St. Martha’s Hospital and immediately ambulance was sent for. When he regained consciousness, they feared he would refuse to be taken to hospital but, on opening his eyes, he meekly said “I am ready to go. I shall not come back to the Carmel. I am going to prepare myself for death”. He rallied after some weeks and, was allowed to say Mass but it was the last flicker. The mighty heart, that had driven the willing body for over sixty years of unremitting toil, was running down. On the 6th September, 1953 a deputation from the Old Boys’ Association went to see him. He was visibly moved, but as humble and self-effacing as ever. “I don’t know why you have troubled yourselves over an old man like me”, he said, “you should think of yourselves”. Like the Master, he had served so long, and faithfully, his thoughts, even in his own extremity, were not for himself but for others.
On Christmas day, he said his three Masses, but with much difficulty. That evening His Grace the Archbishop invited all the French Fathers of the Archdiocese to meet His Eminence Cardinal Tisserant, who was passing through Bangalore. The Cardinal had a long chat with him and seemed very interested in this humble man. The strain was too much for him. The next day he went back to bed. His condition grew worse.. His Grace the Archbishop administered the last sacraments. But the Master made his servant wait some four weeks longer for death : perhaps to try his patience, perhaps to give him a chance of offering up his sufferings for those who needed and had asked for them. These sufferings seemed to increase towards the end - shortage of breath, irregular heart-beats and spasms of pain but he refused all attempts to alleviate his parched lips or quench his burning thirst. “It is hard but God is infinitely good”, he was heard to whisper after each violent spasm. A few minutes before the end, he was told that a lay sister from the Carmel Convent had come to ask his blessing. He opened his eyes, smiled and raising his right hand, with some difficulty, blessed her. Some minutes later, he peacefully passed away like a lamp going out but for lack of oil.
When news of his death spread, crowds, flocked to see him laid out in death, to kneel at his death bed, to kiss his feet, to touch their beads and holy pictures to his hands. It was an endless stream all day long. The good Sisters at St. Martha’s had cared for many a priest who, coming to India as a young man, had spent long years in the country in selfless and edifying service ; but never in all their experience had they attended on so child-like and so saintly a personage as Fr. Cholet. His Grace the Archbishop was at Koppa. He very graciously hurried back and conducted the obsequies himself. To the crowds, present at the service, His Grace gave a touching funeral oration on the life and work of this man of God. The Old Boys of St. Joseph’s vied with one another for the honour of carrying his coffin and laying it in its humble grave.
“How happy is he born and taught
That serveth not another’s will,
Whose armour is his honest thought.
And simple truth his utmost skill”
St. Matthew XIII; 24-30.
You were, triumphant soul, the wheat of God.
No cockle spared among your sheaves to grow.
You were the seed the husbandman did sow,
Which failing on good ground, died in the sod!
Died! hence from it abundance quickly leaped
Not as to the eyes of men, seeking praise
For what had you to do with that, whose days
Rich with the harvest of wisdom were reaped?
In superb indifference we saw you live,
To things of earth for which men toil and groan
Your life a silent sermon how to give
The soul to God-yet were you not unknown
The living Saint” the saying went, of you.
Was the people’s voice a prophecy true?
O God of infinite mercy, humbly prostrate at your feet, I beseech in confidence that if it by Thy Holy Will inspire Our Holy Mother the Church to appraise the virtues and merits of Rev. Fr. Benjamin Cholet, and grant him in your Own appointed time, the honours of the Altar for the Greater Glory of Your Name and for the salvation and sanctification of many.
In conformity with the decree of the Roman Pontiffs, and espically those of Pope Urban VIII, concerning the beautification of the servants of God and the cannonization of saints, we declare that the words “Saint” , “sanctity”, “miracle”, etc, contained in the above narrative, are designations that stand for our personal impressions as well as those of the immediate witnesses to the life we are relating , and are not meant to anticipate the judgements of the Church, whose most humble and most submissive sons we are.
(Late)Fr. Cyril Browne, 30 April 1974, Carmelite Convent, 14, Ali Askar Road, Bangalore 560 052.
Imprimatur: Archbishop of Bangalore, His Grace, P. Arokiaswamy
Original sponsor: Old Student of St. Joseph’s : Frank Bryne Smith, Australia
Father Benjamin Cholet, M.E.P. Born at Le Tremblais, La Motte Servolex,
Savoy, France on 5th February 1870
Ordained a Priest in France on 2nd July 1895
Professor, St. Joseph’s Bangalore from January 1894 to June 1937
Chaplain: The Little Sisters, Bangalore from 1906 to 1939
Chaplain: Carmelite Convent, Bangalore from 1939 to 1954
Buried at the Priests’ Cemetery, Sacred Heart Church, Bangalore on 5th March 1954. (Seventh grave on the right, first row on entering the gate)
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Thought for the Day:" Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, Fon in the manner their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did they fathers to the false prophets." Holy Bible: Luke 6:20-26
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