St. Jean Gabriel was born in Puech, France, on January 6th, 1802, to a pious family of eight children. Including Jean Gabriel, five of the Perboyer children became consecrated religious – three priests and two nuns. Accompanying his younger brother Louis while he was entering the seminary, Jean-Gabriel discovered his calling and entered the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St. Vincent de Paul, at the age of 16.
He was ordained at age 23 and taught theology at the seminary before being appointed rector, and later master of novices in Paris – on account of the sanctity his superiors saw in him.
His younger brother, Louis, died on his way to preach in China at the age of 24 and Jean-Gabriel asked to carry out the mission that had been entrusted to his brother. He arrived on the island of Macao on August 29, 1835 and set out for the mainland later that year.
He carried out his evangelical labors in Ho-Nan for three years before being transferred to Hou-Pé. His missions bore much fruit in the short time he spent there.
On September 11, 1839 Jean-Gabriel became one of the first victims of the persecutions against Christians, dying in a manner which had a striking resemblance to the passion of our Lord. He was betrayed for a sum of silver, stripped of his garments and dragged from tribunal to tribunal, beaten and tortured continuously until he was sentenced to death with seven criminals. He was crucified and died on a cross.
Canonized on June 2, 1996 by Pope John Paul II, St. Jean Gabriel Perboyre is the first saint of China.
Before his death St. Jean Gabriel wrote this prayer:
“O my Divine Savior,
Transform me into Yourself.
Grant that I may live but in You, by You, and for You,
So that I may truly say, with Saint Paul,
“‘I live – now not I – But Christ lives in me.'”