Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

China's First Saint

by Desmond O'Grady


A short biography of St. John Gabriel Perboyre, canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 2, 1996.

Larger Work

Inside the Vatican



Publisher & Date

Urbi et Orbi Communications, August-September 1996

St. John Gabriel Perboyre, a Vincentian missionary who died in China in 1840, was canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 2, 1996 in St. Peter's Square in Rome.

Perboyre was born in 1802 in Le Puech (near Mongesty, Cahors diocese, southern France). Receiving his vocation at the early age of 16, he followed his brother Louis to the seminary and entered the Congregation of the Mission of St. Vincent in 1818. He was ordained a priest in Paris in 1826.

When his brother died on his trip to the missions in China, John Gabriel asked to replace him. In March 1835, he sailed for China, arriving in Macao in late August that year. After a long trip by canoe, foot and horseback to Hunan, and five months of intensive Chinese study, Father Perboyre began his mission in June, 1836. In January 1838 he was transferred to Hebei in the Yangtze Lakes area.

In 1839 a widespread persecution of Christians began in China. (That same year England had attacked China.) Father John Gabriel was arrested and brought to trial at Cha-Yuen-Keu on 16 September, 1839. The missionary was subjected to cruel tortures: hanging by his thumbs and flogging with bamboo rods. On September 11, 1840, in Wuhang, he was condemned to death. Father Perboyre was lashed to a cross on top of a hill named the "red mountain" in Chinese, and strangled with a rope around his neck.

Father Perboyre was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 10 November, 1889, and declared a saint by Pope John Paul II on June 2, 1996.

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