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Fr Servant to Fr Champagnat, Le Havre, 15 December 1836

(LO 1)


Catherin Servant (1808-1860), ordained in 1832, was another of the Marist aspirants formed by Champagnat at the Hermitage. He was there from 1833 to 1836 and thus knew at first hand of the Founder's difficulties obtaining the necessary finance and the cooperation of both ecclesiastical and civil authorities for his rapidly expanding congregation. He took his vows with the other Marists at Belley on 24 September, but presumably did not return to the Hermitage where Pompallier blessed the new chapel on the morning of Tuesday 4 October (S1 168). But, following the practice of the time, his name was one of those on a list placed in a silver heart on Mary's statue in that chapel, and it was also in the list of missionaries Chanel placed in a similar heart on the statue of the Black Virgin at Fourviere. Servant accompanied Pompallier to Paris and then via Rouen to Le Havre, where they joined the others at Mme Dodard's, the "modern Tabitha" (after the wealthy and charitable widow of Acts 9:36). They eventually sailed on Christmas Eve.

The manuscript copy of this letter in the AFM (Cahier 48 letters OCE 622.51 p 236) bears the date 15 Octobre, seemingly misinterpreting a 15 Xbre in the original (which has been lost). The text clearly confirms the December dating.

Text of the Letter

Sir and dear Superior,
The Hermitage recalls to me many precious memories, especially in the heart of Mary. How is that dear community going? Is its Superior still weighed down with financial worries? Does he still have his difficulties, his trials? Are those good Brothers increasing in numbers? Are there new establishments to keep one busy? Is the new chapel well appointed? These are the thoughts that come to me from time to time. I cannot forget the Hermitage. I was broken-hearted on leaving it. I prayed the good God would find the sacrifice he was asking of me worthwhile. Now I no longer consider the separation as a sacrifice; grace, if I am not deceiving myself, has made bearable what nature found painful.
Providence looks after us everywhere. At Paris we were welcomed at the seminary for the Foreign Missions; at the major seminary at Rouen we were received with open arms; finally in Le Havre we are lodged with a modern Tabitha. I never tire of contemplating the providence which feeds the little birds of the sky and looks after the lilies of the fields. Wherever we are, the hand of God is always bountiful. And when will I finally surrender myself entirely to this God of goodness? Before embracing my new vocation I thought everything would be fine for me spiritually once I left the country, but when I look at myself I can't help feeling depressed. Pray God he will perform a work of renewal in me. The prayers of our little Society give me great confidence. Speaking of the Society, I cannot hide my joy from you on hearing that things are shaping well. They tell me that the novitiate for the priests has already been set up in Lyon and that several candidates have come forward. Thanks to God, Mary is going to multiply her children beyond counting. We will have more missionaries for Western Oceania.
Your Brothers with us are doing very well. It would be wonderful if you could send us all you have. They would do much good exercising their zeal in the instruction of the poor savages.
The vessel that is going to carry us as far as Valparaiso is called the “Delphine”. I have been looking forward to it for so long. Already I have made preparations for departure in the little room assigned to me. When will this departure we have been waiting for so long take place? When the good God wills. The accomplishment of his will - that is the one thing necessary. Still, I think we will be leaving soon, a good north-easterly wind has come to tell us we must hold ourselves ready for departure. If it keeps up we will certainly take advantage of the opportunity. When that happy moment arrives I will invoke Mary's name with joy. The Star of the Sea, the hope of mariners, will, I trust, guide and protect us.
It is with pleasure I recall my name is written in the heart of Our Lady of the Hermitage. This circumstance will enable me to unite my intentions with the good works you perform so as to keep alive our affection for one another. We will be able at any time to contemplate in spirit the heart of our good Mother.
Sir and very dear Superior, I do not say goodbye to you for ever - we will see one another in heaven. While we wait for God to grant us this happiness, we will often be present to one another in the heart of Jesus. On the ocean of that heart we will sail in search of one another and find one another.
My warmest greetings to Frs Matricon and Besson {chaplains at the Hermitage}. The memory of the good Brothers is always very precious to me. I recommend myself to their prayers.
Please pass on my respects and farewells to the parish priest of St Martin and the ones at La Valla and Izieux. Be so kind too as to convey my sentiments of respect and affection to the priests of Valbenoite whom I love toto corde: ad majorem Dei gloriam.
Receive, my very dear Father, the assurance of the feelings of affection, gratitude, devotion, and respect with which I have the honour of being
your very humble and obedient servant.
Servant, missionary apostolic.
My confreres and the good Brothers present their respects and make you their farewells.

Bishop Pompallier to Fr Champagnat

Introduction to the Postscript

Pompallier was already looking forward to the next despatch of missionaries but this did not take place until September 1838. Of the three Brothers he had with him, Joseph-Xavier was certainly a Jack-of-all-trades, having worked in all sorts of capacities at the minor seminary of Marboz, where he first came into contact with the Marists, and then at the minor seminary at Belley, where he spent most of his formation. Marie-Nizier seems to have spent his short career in France teaching. There is no record of where Michel worked after his novitiate, but he also had a wide range of employments on the mission. The letter in question in the text is that of the 10 December 1836. Br Avit, in the Annales de l'Institut (1.10), summarises it as follows: "The 10 December the same year, Monsignor Pompallier told the good Father that he had been busy with the legal authorisation of the Brothers during his stay in Paris, that the matter appeared to him to be making good progress, that poor sailing conditions kept him at Le Havre with his seven companions, and that the parish priests of the town had taken good advantage of this. His Lordship asked the good Father and all the Brothers to recommend him, as well as those of his party, to the powerful protection of Our Lady of the Hermitage." We have no record of Fr Champagnat's reply.

Text of the Postscript

I am very happy, reverend Father, with the good Brothers you have given us. We are confident they will cooperate efficaciously for the success of the mission. I am certainly counting on a good number as you in your zeal prepare them for us. The Superior General tells me there will be priests coming to help us and that some are being prepared for this. I am sure vocations will be just as numerous among the Brothers. The Reverend Father Superior will be able to help you select good subjects for the missions. We have to have some Jacks-of-all-trades among them, or at least people with different skills in the group setting out, such as the three with us. Later on we will ask you for some for the schools. How much work, how much good, there is to be done among us in the future!
Be sure those you are sending us are, as far as possible, in perpetual profession. Let them be strong in their chastity and very much lovers of the interior and hidden life of St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin. In the ordinary course of things, they will not be highly visible in the missions, but how much good they can do by their humble tasks, by catechising, by teaching, and by prayer - the spirit of prayer. Isn't personal sanctity the best and most opportune means of saving our neighbour for those who set out to achieve it through the apostolic ministry? But for that, they need to be well formed in obedience, ready to set aside one thing to do another, to leave one place for another, to do what they find enjoyable at one time, and things they find uncongenial at another. How necessary it is for us to be in the habit of saying with Jesus Christ: my food is to do the will of my heavenly Father! May God bless your house and all your establishments more and more abundantly! May he fill with his Spirit those he intends for us!
May Mary, our divine Mother, protect you all, and us too.
I sent you a letter about a week ago. Did you get it? I would be pleased to get your reply. If you have not been able to send it yet, there is still time, for the wind seems to be going to keep us here for a few days yet. I recommend myself to your remembrance at the holy sacrifice and to the prayers and communions of all your Brothers. I send them once again my blessing, and also to their worthy Father. I am always, in the union of Jesus and Mary, reverend Father, your very humble and devoted servant,
Francois Pompallier
Bishop of Mar(onea). Vic(ar) apostolic Western Oceania.
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