John Nicholas Cordier (1710-1794) survived the French Revolution only to fall
victim to the violence during the Reign of Terror. A native of Souilly, in the
Duchy of Lorraine, Cordier entered the Jesuits in 1728, and then studied
philosophy before teaching at the colleges in Dijon, Auxerre and Autun. After
theology studies he received a doctorate, and then taught philosophy at
Strasbourg and then theology at Pont-à-Mousson. He later served as prefect of
studies and superior of the Jesuit residence in Saint-Mihiel, where he
remained as the chaplain to a convent of nuns after the Society was
In 1790 the government suppressed all religious orders in France, and Cordier
accepted shelter from Canon Georges-Fran & ccedile;ois Steinhoff in Verdun.
Despite his advanced age, Cordier was arrested on Oct. 28, 1793 and ordered to
be deported. He waited in prison for six months before joining the convoy of
priest-prisoners on their way to Rochefort for eventual deportation to Africa.
On June 19 the elderly priest boarded the ship, Washington, a former slave
slip which never set sail because the English navy had successfully blockaded
the French coast.
The deportees suffered horrible conditions in the crowded, unsanitary
underdeck. During the day they were allowed on deck, but space was so limited
that they could only stand packed together. A single daily meal of boiled
beans, wormy bread and rancid was insufficient to prevent respiratory
problems, scurvy and typhus. Several priests died each night, but the number
increased as summer's heat increased. Finally the boats had to be moved
further down-river from the port, and a makeshift hospital set up on an island
in the channel. When Cordier became ill, he was moved to the hospital, which
was actually an improvement on the prison ship. He died there and was one of
254 victims buried in the sand.
Other Martyrs of the secularization era
Originally Collected and edited by: Tom Rochford, SJ