A priest on fire with Eucharistic love

Today, 10 Jun 2012, the solemnity of Corpus Christi, it is appropriate that we learn of the holy life of Blessed Edward Joannes Maria Poppe whose anniversary of death it also is. This Belgian diocesan priest of the 20th century only lived a short life, but he lived it to the full in love for the Holy Eucharist and in love for all of those struggling to find their way to Him.

The best online place to find a detailed and incredibly inspiring story of the life of Blessed Edward Poppe is at www.clairval.com/lettres/lettre_1.php?id=2160501 .

Blessed Edward Joannes Maria Poppe began life in late 1890 art Temse, Beligium, the third of eleven children. To provide for his family, Edward’s father worked as a baker. The children grew up in a faith filled home and imbibed the good example of Christian life and generosity to the poor from their parents. A brother became a priest, and five of Edward’s sisters entered into religious life. Following his First Communion and Confirmation Edward began to grow rapidly in virtue. His father dearly wanted his bright son to join him in the family business, but recognised that happiness lies in preferring what God wants, and gave his permission for Edward to go to the seminary in 1904.

Grief came to the family on 1907 when Edward’s father died of exhaustion. When Edward considered leaving the seminary to help run the bakery for a while, his mother told him that his father had wanted him to continue in the seminary no matter what happened.

During 1910 Edward was called up for military service and was placed in a unit where he would be able to continue his studies in philosophy. In military life Edward experienced the trials of mockery, the lewd behaviour of others and not being able to attend Mass regularly. It also opened his heart to the needs that military men had, to be listened to, laughed with, to receive kindness and friendship. However his health is not up to the rigours of military life and he needs a few months to recuperate. During another short health setback he was able to read St Therese of Lisieux’s ‘Story of a Soul’, which made a profound impression upon him. As soon as his military service was completed, Edward rejoined the seminary.

When WW1 broke out Edward’s seminary training was again interrupted. This time he is assigned to work with the ambulance, caring for the wounded. At this time Edward learned about the inspirational life and writings of the French priest Fr Chevrier, and was encouraged by how close their desires for holiness and bring souls to Jesus were. Another grace from his time of military service was meeting Fr Castelain and being inspired by his devotion to St Joseph. When a group of local Belgians were captured by the Germans, Edward sought the intercession of St Joseph for them, and they were all freed.

At last on 1 May 1916 Edward is ordained to the priesthood and then sent to the parish of St Collette in Ghent. It was a parish containing many working poor and few regular church goers. Edward knew that in order to bring others to Jesus, he had to get as close to Jesus as he possibly could ; ‘Sanctify yourself so as to sanctify others.’. Not waiting for people to come to him, Edward went out to meet his parishioners as they returned home from work and engaged them in friendly conversation. Learning of their needs, Edward gave all he could to alleviate the ravages of poverty. When he had to give up this ministry under obedience, Edward then devoted himself to the sick and dying. To keep going Edward found strength in time before the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, loving Him and keeping Him company.  

Always inventive when it came to attracting souls to Jesus, Edward decided to make the summer holidays for the school children a time of spiritual renewal. He challenged them to come to morning Mass and evening Benediction and began to give them spiritual pep talks. From this beginning he started the League of Communion to help prepare children for their First Communion and to give them mutual support in living out the life of holiness to which the Eucharist called them. Calling each one to Christian perfection, he did not water down any of the Gospel, and the children responded wholeheartedly. 

Sadly Edward’s health didn’t hold out, and he was forced under obedience to relinquish these ministries, even though he knew they would fall apart without him. In 1918 he was sent for a change of pace to Moerzeke, to direct the Daughters of Charity serving the elderly and orphans there. Together with the parish priest he started an hour of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the convent chapel, and gradually many others joined in. Like Saints before him (notably St John Francis Regis) Edward always sought the help of his guardian angel and of the guardian angels of the souls he was sent to bring to salvation. 

The beginning of the end started in 1919 with Edward suffering his first heart attack, aged around 29. Not being able to conduct an active ministry anymore, Edward took to the apostolate of the pen, writing letters, booklets, journal articles and brochures. His major themes were the Eucharist, priestly spirituality, helping the laity to grow in holiness, catechesis and how to combat the secularisation of society. To his bedside people came in increasing numbers to be consoled, encouraged and inspired to greater things. In 1920 Edward had recovered sufficiently to be able to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of St Therese of Lisieux, being inspired anew to follow her along her ‘little way’ to Jesus. 

Another ministry opened up for him in 1922, when he was appointed as spiritual director to a group of clerics doing their period of military service. At the beginning of 1924 came another heart attack, and from this time he began to prepare with greater and greater diligence for death. To those who visited him, Edward encouraged them to develop a strong relationship with Our Lady and to abandon themselves with trust to the Divine Mercy of Jesus. Following a stroke on 10 June 1924, and the gift of Extreme Unction, Edward fixed his eyes on a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and winged his way to God. 

May the good Lord grant us many more priests like Blessed Edward, one’s whose hearts are on fire with the love of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus..

Blessed Edward Joannes Maria Poppe, pray for us.