Father Servant to Father Champagnat, Valparaiso, 14 June* 1837
(CSG 1. 19)
Servant wrote this letter at the mission supply centre of the Picpus Fathers at Valparaiso in Chile where the Marists stayed while Pompallier endeavoured to find a ship to take them to his vicariate. Since they did not reach Valparaiso until the end of June (the vigil of St Peter, as Chanel records in a letter to his family on 23 July - EC 166) the month given above * is certainly wrong; one can only assume the copyist - for the original letter no longer exists - misread June for July. They were to spend over a month in Valparaiso. They had earlier had to stay 50 days at Santa Cruz in Tenerife (Canary Islands) to have their rudder repaired. Within three weeks of leaving Santa Cruz they lost Fr Bret through sickness. Claude Bret (1808-l837), the fourth priest in the group, was a close friend of Chanel. Ordained in 1832 he had been one of the first volunteers for Oceania. He died on 20 March and was buried at sea. At Valparaiso Pompallier had the good fortune to encounter two Picpus missionaries to advise him on possible routes to his destination, Fr Desire Maigret, vicar general to Mgr Jerome Rouchouze, Bishop of Nilopolis and Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Oceania, and Br Colomban Murphy. He had hoped to find a ship heading for New Zealand or Tonga, but in the end was forced to take passage on an American whaler, the “Europa”, sailing for Hawai'i via the Gambiers and Tahiti.
The letter had reached Champagnat by mid November for he mentions it in a letter to Br Sylvester towards the end of the month (S1 305). He included "extracts" from it in his Circular to the Brothers of 12 December (S1 319-321), but as the “extracts” correspond in every detail to the text we possess, it is clear the original was lost before a full copy could be made. The same Circular announced that the community at the Hermitage had already celebrated a solemn Mass for Bret on 27 November, and asked all the other communities to do the same. By this time Servant, Pompallier, and Michel were in Sydney, Australia.
Text of the Letter
- Dear Father and Superior,
- I am taking advantage of the present opportunity to offer you the chance to bless divine Providence for the very special way in which it is watching over us. We have been sailing the seas now for six months, whereas it usually takes only 3 or 4 months to cross from Le Havre to Valparaiso. You have heard about our sojourn in Santa Cruz (Tenerife). We were held back a long time at Cape Horn by contrary winds, but now we are nearing the islands of our longing. That gives us reason for rejoicing. We are really looking forward to those islands. It is God's will we look upon them as our true homeland.
- It is true we encounter difficulties from time to time - some of us get sick, the elements obstruct our passage, storms, accidents arouse apprehension - but it is God's will such trials are mild and easy to bear. However trying the elements may be, how beautiful they are when seen in the light of providence.
- Among the crosses I am speaking of, we have had one which required of us a very costly sacrifice. Fr Bret had the beginnings of a sickness at the end of our time in Santa Cruz and was in a fever when we set sail. We gave him twice as much care and attention, and the sickness even seemed to abate for a few days, but then it returned more serious than ever. On the morning of Monday of Holy Week he got up briefly as he had been doing and said to Fr Chanel: "This is the end, I'm sure of it." He was not mistaken. In the evening he entered his death agony, which was not a painful one, and at 7 o'clock he went to sleep in the peace of the Lord. The patience with which he endured his sufferings was truly admirable! He made no complaint about his discomfit, and was so grateful for all the services we were able to do for him, and so scrupulous in taking the remedies prescribed, even the most distasteful! Still, how God blesses us in our trials. He certainly knows how to console us and compensate us for our pains. From time to time we are fortunate enough to celebrate the holy mysteries and receive Holy Communion, the bread of the strong. How happy I am in my vocation. How consoling it is to give oneself to the conversion of souls which are worth more than all the goods of the world. It seems to me, my dear Superior, I can see the good Brothers of the Hermitage forcing Mary's hand, as it were, by their prayers and work done under obedience, and so contributing to the service of the mission.
- While waiting to leave Valparaiso, and that will happen when God wills, we are staying at the procure house of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It reminds me of the retreat of the good Brothers I love so much, of my name on the list enclosed in the replica of the heart of the best of Mothers, and of the feastdays of the great protectress of the dear Society of Mary.
- We were the privileged children of divine Providence all the way from Le Havre to Valparaiso, and we didn't stop being blessed when we entered this city. Did the Bishop of Maronea need information about our various islands? The vicar general of the Bishop of Nilopolis arrived from Tahiti. Does he need someone to help him in making preparations for departure? There arrives from California the good Br Colomban of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a man experienced in these sorts of negotiations who can perhaps be most useful.
- What I have to say about our tender Mother is beyond words. Just note one thing - Saturdays are privileged days; the wind almost always turns in our favour.
- The brothers who are with us have had their little trials during the crossing. Br Michel has suffered a lot from toothache. Br Marie-Nizier has had headaches, but suffered the least of all from other infirmities. Now they are all doing marvellously. They ask me to tell you they are all happier than they can say. They send you their very humble respects and their regards to each of the Brothers.
- Yours most devotedly in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
- missionary apostolic.
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