John Gabriel Perboyre was born in 1802 in the diocese of Cahors in France. From his earliest years he was noticed for his piety. As a young student in the minor seminary, he was loved and venerated by all his fellow disciples, who called him the Little Jesus. A year before he advanced to the Major Seminary, his vocation was decided upon: I want to be a missionary, he said, and he entered the Congregation of the missionaries of Saint Vincent de Paul at Montauban. One of the novices who later was confided to his care, said: For many years I had desired to meet a Saint, and when I saw Monsieur Perboyre, it seemed to me God had answered my wish. Several times I said, You will see that Monsieur Perboyre will be canonized.’ The two maxims of this Novice Master were: One does good for souls only by prayer. In all that you do, work only to please God, otherwise you would waste your time and effort.
John Gabriel was remarkable by his tender devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He returned to the chapel constantly and spent entire hours in adoration. I am never happier, he said, than when I have offered the Holy Sacrifice. His thanksgiving usually lasted for a half hour.
When sent to the missions of China, the young priest labored under the influence of a sustaining grace. Then, after four years of apostolate, betrayed as his Master had been, he was arrested and underwent the most cruel tortures. While they continued, this athlete of the faith, worthy of Jesus Christ, uttered not one cry of pain. Those in attendance could not conceal their astonishment and could scarcely hold back their tears. Trample on your God, and I will free you! the mandarin cried out. Oh! the martyr replied, how could I so insult my Saviour? And seizing the crucifix, he pressed it to his lips. In 1840, after nine months’ confinement in a fearful prison, he was strangled on a gibbet in the form of a cross.