Date of publication: 29/07/2017

Visit of Joseph Pandian, SSVP Vice President General, to France: in the footsteps of Emmanuel Bailly

Council General International

Last April 2017, Joseph Pandian, Vice President General of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVP), came to France for his first official visit since he took his post last September 2016. His visit began with the National Council of France, to meet Xavier de Carmantrand, President of the International Commission, then Michel Lanternier, National President, with whom he had some fruitful discussions. The 2 French officers then accompanied him to some iconic Vincentian sites, such as the tombs of Sister Rosalie Rendu, Amélie Ozanam and Charles Ozanam at the Montparnasse cemetery.

One of the integral points in the strategic plan for his term of office, explained by Renato Lima de Oliveira, 16th President General, is to revive the historic legacy of SSVP, as well as the life and work of its co-founders, in addition to Ozanam who is already well-known. So in his circular letter distributed in January, the President General declared that 2017 would be the “Year of Bailly”.

So on this occasion, Joseph Pandian, together with other Vincentians representing the SSVP around the world, went to Berteaucourt-lès-thennes, a small village 140 km north-east of Paris, to visit the tomb and honour the memory of one of the founders, Emmanuel Joseph Bailly de Surcy who is also the first President General of the society. They placed a small flower tribute on the grave and prayed for his soul and those of all our brothers and sisters who have passed away.

The cemetery of Lès Thennes is situated behind the church which is dedicated to Saint-Vaast de Moreuil and the tomb is to the right of the entrance to the cemetery. This is the family tomb of Bailly’s parents-in-law: the Vyrayet de Surcy family.  Several family members are buried there, along with Bailly. On the stone cross are engraved the words “Spes Unica” (referring to the cross itself on the grave, meaning: “the cross, our only hope”). There are family names engraved on the stone slab, some of which have worn away over the years. Visitors need to clean the surface of the tomb, in order to decipher the inscriptions. It is possible to read: “Emmanuel Joseph Bailly de Surcy”, and with more difficulty: “First President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul”. The year of birth is illegible, but that of his death, 1861, is clearer.

On 20 July 1830, in this same parish, at the age of 36, Emmanuel married Marie-Apolline Sidonie Vyrayet de Surcy, 25 years old. His father-in-law was concerned to preserve the family name, and so he added his wife’s name to his own, being known as Emmanuel Bailly de Surcy, instead of Emmanuel Bailly Fauquenois, his mother’s name. The couple had six children, three boys and three girls. Two of his sons became priests (Vincent de Paul and Benjamin), and were active members of the SSVP in Paris; Vincent de Paul Bailly was also the third Superior General of the Assumptionist Fathers; he is currently under consideration for beatification.

Emmanuel died in Paris on 12 April 1861, at the age of 67, and was initially buried in the Montparnasse cemetery, but subsequently his wife wished to transfer his remains to the family tomb at Berteaucourt-lès-thennes.

Being the co-founder of SSVP and as well as its first president, Bailly was an outstanding figure of the Catholic community in France in the 19th century. The members of the SSVP around the world should be familiar with his life and his humanitarian works.

While in Paris, the Vice President General also took the opportunity to find out about the daily work of the team in the International Office. He spent some time talking to each member for him to understand their roles and tasks. He is also involved in the preparation for the General Assembly last June, which was held in Paris. Along with the administrative officer, Claire-Hélène de Parseval, he surveyed the welcome centre prepared for the participants as well as the meeting rooms.

After the 4-day visit, Joseph Pandian returned to India.