From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search


Back at sea Servant fell ill and a few days later showed symptoms of suffocation. Claude Bret`s headaches got worse by the day and he developed what Pompallier described later as a cerebral fever. Chanel took special care of him and left him as little as possible. He was given quinine but the fever did not go down. On 12 March, Passion Sunday, the sea was calm enough for the bishop and Chanel to say Mass on board. The two sick confreres were not getting any better. Servant was diagnosed as suffering of a throat infection and after receiving an emetic he began to improve, but Bret was only getting worse. On Palm Sunday the sea was calm enough to say Mass again and Claude Bret received H. Communion. Nobody suspected it would be the last time, his viaticum. The next day his condition suddenly changed for the worse and he frightened his companions by saying he felt the end was near. He fell into a coma. The bishop administered the last sacraments and at half past seven in the evening, on 20 March 1837, Claude Bret died, 0°40‘ North, 24°30‘ West.[1]

They transferred his body immediately to the stern of the ship and took turns all night in twos to pray with his dead body. They celebrated a funeral Mass, and because of the heat of the day, they buried him in the early morning at sea. The bishop said some moving words, probably in the same sense as he wrote in his diary: we have lost a dear companion, and gained an intercessor in heaven.[2]

With heavy hearts the missionaries continued their long and trying voyage. Their early optimism thoroughly shaken, they now had to go through the worst part of it: the terrifying seas around Cape Horn, and at the worst possible time of the year: the southern winter.

There was no way to let Claude Bret’s parents and the Marists in France know. Only about four months later, from Valparaiso, could Pompallier write to Colin:

I have to tell you something that will console you as well as put your sensitivity to the test concerning one of your spiritual sons whom the Lord has surely crowned in heaven while we were in mid-ocean. Dear Father Bret has died of an illness of nineteen days, that began two days after he had gone aboard in Santa Cruz until we reached the equator. First undefined and passing headaches, then fever. After a bloodletting he seemed at first to recover but then things got worse and he did not get up any more. He was conscious until the last day and he himself told us the end was near. We could not believe it. We tried everything but God had decided to take him away in heaven and crown him in advance. Alas! That his designs be adored and his Holy Name be blessed. Let us hope that this dear collaborator will hence be an intercessor with God and Mary for the mission to which he had consecrated his life. Be consoled, dear Father, and may the peace of Jesus-Christ be with you.[3]

Peter Chanel, Claude’s best friend, who had shared his cabin, who had cared for him and had not left from his side in his illness, could even four months later not bring himself to mention his friend’s name:

… The brig Hudson that has just left for Bordeaux is bringing you news that is going to cause you very great sorrow when you read of the loss we have sustained in one of your beloved sons. Fortunately, every circumstance that can offer consolation on such an occasion attends upon the blow we have suffered. He has left us, this beloved confrere to return to the bosom of his God (dans le sein de son Dieu). But he cannot cease to be our friend, our confrere. He has merely exhanged his title of missionary for that of protector of our mission…[4]

To his family Chanel wrote: ‘The Good Lord was satisfied with his generous sacrifice and was pleased to crown him before he had reached the field of combat. (...) His death came as a thunderbolt’.[5]

Bataillon, writing to Étienne Séon, also from Valparaiso, expressed the hope that Claude Chavas, Bret’s personal friend, would do everything possible to console his parents and help them cope with their grief.[6]

Not wanting to hurt the missionaries’ feelings the sailors did not hold the traditional sea-baptism for those who crossed the equator for the first time.[7]


  1. LRO, 12 [67 – 87]; 19 [1]; EC, 35 [2]; EC, p.162 n.4. In the case of Servant the diary of Bataillon, LRO, 12 [81], speaks of an esquinancie, a word that old dictionaries define as a popular term referring to a variety of anginas and throat infections, or infections of the tonsils, cf. LRO, footnote by doc. 12 [81]. On Bret Pompallier wrote later on: ‘maux de tête qui dégénerèrent en une fièvre cérébrale’, Pompallier, op. cit., p. 11.
  2. LRO, doc. 12 [86-87].
  3. CS, doc. 13 n. 2. LRO, doc. 15 [2].
  4. EC, doc. 34 [1].
  5. EC, doc. 35 [2]. P. Chanel cut a strand of his hair and treasured it: EC, doc. 53 [3] & 54 [9].
  6. LRO, 19 [1].
  7. LRO, doc. 12 [88].

Previous Section A Piety Able to Cope Next Section