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Alphonse Magnien

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An educator of the clergy, born at Bleymard, in the Diocese of Mende, France, 9 June, 1837; died 21 December, 1902. As a student of classics at Chirac, and of philosophy and theology at Orléans (1857-1862), he was distinguished for sound and brilliant talents and a noble, attractive character, he had become affiliated to the Diocese of Orléans in response to Mgr Dupanloup's appeal for clerical recruits. In the seminary he developed a Sulpician vocation; but the bishop postponed the fulfilment of his desire, employing him for two years after his ordination in 1862 as professor in the preparatory seminary of La Chapelle St-Mesmin. He then became successively, under the direction of his Sulpician superiors, professor of sciences at Nantes (1864-65), and professor of theology and Holy Scripture at Rodez (1866-69). At length, in the fall of 1869, Father Magnien began the work at Baltimore which made him so well known to the priests of America. He soon revealed himself at St. Mary's as a born teacher, first in his course of philosophy and, later, of Holy Scripture and dogma. He seemed instinctively to grasp the vital part of a question and rested content only when he had found the truth.

After the death of Dr. Dubreul, superior of the seminary, in 1878, Father Magnien was appointed to the succession. As superior of St. Mary's Seminary during a quarter of a century, Father Magnien exercised the widest influence on the formation of the American clergy. He was richly endowed for his predestined work. He was a naturally upright, frank, manly character; and above all he was a true priest, devoted to the Church and supremely interested in the spread of religion. He spoke to the seminarians out of the abundance of a priestly heart and from a full knowledge of priestly life. Nowhere was he so much at home as on the rostrum. To speak almost daily on spiritual topics without becoming tiresome is a task of rare difficulty; few men, indeed, could stand the test so well as Father Magnien. In the administration of his office there was nothing narrow or harsh. He had a keen knowledge of conditions in this country. He used to say at the close of his life "I have trusted very much and been sometimes deceived; but I know that had I trusted less I would have been still oftener deceived."

This generous and wise sentiment characterizes the man and partially reveals the secret of his influence. Father Magnien was loved and revered. He had strong affections; he had also strong dislikes, but not so uncontrollable as to lead him into an injustice. His personality contributed, in no small degree, to the growth and prosperity of St. Mary's Seminary. Under his administration St. Austin's College was founded at the Catholic University, Washington, for the recruiting of American vocations to St. Sulpice. His abilities as a churchman and a theologian were conspicuously revealed at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore.

Throughout his life, his wise counsel was frequently sought and highly valued by many members of the hierarchy, and he was a father to many of the clergy. He frequently preached retreats to the clergy; during the retreat at St. Louis in 1897, he was seized with an attack of a disease from which he had suffered for years. Some months later he went to Paris for special treatment, where he underwent a very dangerous operation, and returned to his post at Baltimore. His health, however, was never entirely regained and after two or three years began to fail markedly, and in the summer of 1902 he resigned his burden. The good he wrought in the Church in America can never be told. In my love and veneration for his memory, I may be permitted to add that he was to me, for more than a quarter of a century, a most affectionate, devoted, and faithful friend, and a wise and able counsellor.


DONAHUE, Sermon preached on the day of the funeral; LEBAS, Lettre circulaire à l'occasion de la mort de M. Magnien; FOLEY, Very Rev. Alphonse L. Magnien in The Catholic World (New York, March, 1903), pp. 814-822; Bulletin Trimestriel des Anciens Elèves de S. Sulpice (1903), pp. 160-169; Very Rev. A. L. Magnien, A Memorial.

About this page

APA citation. Gibbons, J. (1910). Alphonse Magnien. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Gibbons, James Cardinal. "Alphonse Magnien." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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