Saint of the Day – 10 June – Blessed Edward Joannes Maria Poppe (18 December 1890 in Temse, Belgium – 10 June 1924 at Moerzeke, Belgium of a stroke, aged 34) Priest – Apostle of Eucharistic Adoration, especially amongst children and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Evangeliser, Reformer, Spiritual Director of Seminarians, Supporter of the Labourer – Patron of Moerzeke, Labourers, Military chaplains, Children’s Eucharistic Adoration. Attributes – Priest’s robes. Bl Edward’s beatification cause commenced on 5 April 1966 under Blessed Pope Paul VI and he became titled as a Servant of God as a result while the affirmation of his life of heroic virtue saw St Pope John Paul II name him as Venerable on 30 June 1986. That same pope beatified Poppe in Saint Peter’s Square on 3 October 1999.
Edward Joannes Maria Poppe was born in Temse on 18 December 1890 as the third of eight children to the baker Dèsirè Aloies Poppe (25.12.1851-10.01.1907) and Josepha Ogiers (31.08.1863-21.10.1947). One brother became a priest while five sisters were nuns and one daughter remained home alone with her mother.
He was an energetic child and an excellent student. His mischievousness saw him often knock things over even putting himself at risk of being harmed. He was also quite stubborn and never left his sisters alone though his sisters would often get back at him and would muss up his hair when he was caught combing in front of the mirror. He was also a big eater and liked to devour treats from his father’s store. But in 1902 he received his First Communion and Confirmation and this made him more serious which meant jokes and teasing became rarer. In spring 1904 his father introduced him to his business plans and had hoped to see his son begin a baking apprenticeship though Poppe remained silent at first though his resolution to become a priest led him to tell his father as much. Not long after a priest friend to his parents gave a favourable opinion of Poppe’s vocation to which his father told his mother: “Let’s not be selfish. God has not given us our children for ourselves”. He studied at the Sint-Niklaas St. Joseph Minor Seminary from 1905 until 1910 where he became a member the De Klauwaerts association which was a student movement in the Flemish Movement before World War I.
Despite his father’s death on 10 January 1907 he was able to continue his studies and commenced his ecclesial studies in 1910 to become a priest. But at first he wanted to take over his father’s business for his mother’s sake, though his mother did not like the idea and told him: “Before he died, Papa made me promise to let you continue with your studies. I want to keep that promise”. He was drafted in September 1910 and being a seminarian made him a target for harassment (he was mocked and provoked) while his companions’ vulgar nature was unendurable to him to what he called “a hell”. He was also quite pained that he could not receive the Eucharist and go to Mass each week due to the rigidfity of the army service. But his time in the service still allowed for him to do his philosophical studies. He liked to read poems which was something he had done since his childhood.
He began his studies in Thomism on 13 March 1912 at the Louvain college where he became influenced from the works of Saint Louis de Montfort which made him a fervent devotee of the Blessed Mother of God. It was also around this time that he learnt about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux but he also had a love for Saint Francis of Assisi. In September 1913 he moved to the Ghent for his studies where he became a member of the Filioli Caritatis which was a group of priests who aimed for holiness. On 14 July 1913 he graduated in letters and philosophical studies at Louvain.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 saw Poppe called to arms as a battlefield nurse on 1 August but he fell ill in Namur at Bourlers on 25 August after having been at the battle site since 4 August. He was placed half-dead in an ambulance van and was taken to Bourlers where the priest Castelain took care of him until December. In his period of recuperation the Germans advancing had with them several prisoners of war and he appealed to Saint Joseph that these men be freed which led to their miraculous freeing all except a Frenchman; Poppe renewed the appeal and the Frenchman returned. Father Castelain also told him about the life of Blessed Antoine Chevrier. Once he recovered in he went to Mechelen to continue with his ecclesial studies in April 1915 after Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier obtained for him a dispensation to leave the armed forces.
On 1 May 1916 he was ordained to the priesthood. Poppe became the parish associate pastor in Sint-Coleta on 16 June 1916 which was a poor labourers’ parish in Ghent. He started the Eucharistic League for the children (he dedicated this to Pope Pius X) and introduced them to the countless aspects of the faith and also taught catechism and handed children devotional cards. He made it a practice to greet workers after their shifts ended in the late afternoon. Poppe chose to live in poorness in order to be like his parishioners.
He became exhausted in July 1917 due to his manner of living and his weak health and so was transferred to a convent in Moerzeke. He was ordered to rest for a month though when he returned the pastor was concerned for him so discharged him from league meetings and catechetical lessons; this made him heartbroken but he was obedient. He was often confined to his bed but from there wrote numerous texts for the “Eucharistische Kruistocht” – Eucharistic Crusade) of the Averbode convent while often appearing in the popular adolescent magazine “Zonneland”. In July 1918 he asked the Bishop of Ghent for a different post and so from 4 October 1918 until 1922 he served as the rector to the Vincentian Sisters. But Poppe suffered a severe heart attack on 11 May 1919 (and received the Extreme Unction) though spent his time recovering in his bed while writing letters and articles that were criticisms of materialism and Marxism. He suffered a much more serious heart attack on 8 June and could no longer have visits or celebrate Mass due to the severe status of his health. He was weak but recovered over the next several months to the point where he managed to make a trip to visit the tomb of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux in France on 15 September 1920.
Declining health and death
Improvement in his health saw him appointed as the spiritual leader of the armed forces school in Leopoldsburg in October 1922 for seminarians and priests drawn into service. But a cardiac crisis in 1923 – while visiting his mother on Christmas – made it impossible for him to return to Leopoldsburg and he again was confined to the Moerzeke convent. He suffered a heart attack on 1 January 1924 but suffered a severe relapse on 3 February. Poppe died from a stroke on the morning of 10 June 1924 as he prepared to dress and take care of affairs. He received the Extreme Unction and gazed at an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as he died.
Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier promoted him as an ideal of a good priest who was spiritual and ascetic and who was prepared to sacrifice his life for the faith. His birth house in Temse has become a museum and the street is renamed “Priester Poppestraat”; another museum can be found in the Moerzeke convent. There are statues of Poppe in both Moerzeke and Ghent.
The beatification process opened in Ghent in an informative process that spanned from 21 March 1946 until its closure on 29 September 1952 at which stage the theologians approved all his spiritual writings on two instances on 13 February 1959 and 15 January 1971. The formal introduction to the cause came under Pope Paul VI on 5 April 1966 and he was titled as a Servant of God while an apostolic process was later held from 18 November 1967 until 25 June 1969. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints validated the previous processes in Rome on 28 April 1975 and received the Positio dossier from postulation officials in 1984. The theologians approved the cause on 25 March 1986 as did the C.C.S. on 10 June 1986. The confirmation of his life of heroic virtue on 30 June 1986 allowed for Pope John Paul II to title him as Venerable.
The miracle was required for his beatification was investigated in the diocese of its origin from 4-19 January 1996 at which stage all documentation was sent to Rome and received C.C.S. validation in a decree on 28 June 1996. Medical experts approved this healing as a miracle on 6 November 1997 as did the theologians on 31 March 1998 and the C.C.S. members on 1 July 1998. John Paul II issued his approval to this miracle on 3 July 1998 and beatified Poppe in Saint Peter’s Square on 3 October 1999.