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Br Elie-Regis to Fr Champagnat, Valparaiso, 12 January 1839

CPC 156-7


The second group of Marists left on the “Basque” from Bordeaux on the 9th September 1838. It consisted of 3 priests, Fathers Baty, Epalle, and Petit, and 3 Brothers, Elie-Regis, Marie-Augustin, and Florentin. Elie-Regis (Etienne Marin 1809-l872) entered the Hermitage as a postulant in 1835 and made perpetual profession in October 1837. A carpenter by trade, he probably spent the time from the end of the novitiate to his departure for the missions studying and working at the Hermitage where Champagnat would have made good use of his skills in his building programme (S2 211). They made the crossing from Bordeaux to Valparaiso in about 3 months and spent over a month in Valparaiso with the Picpus Fathers. At the end of January 1839 they sailed for Mangareva in the Gambiers, centre of Monsignor Rouchouze's vicariate, on his schooner, “Notre Dame de Paix”. In the bishop's absence, Fr Baty, their leader, made an agreement with Fr Maigret that the two vicars apostolic should share the services of the “Notre Dame de Paix” half a year about. It was on this schooner they completed their voyage to New Zealand after calling in at Wallis and Futuna.

Text of the Letter

Dear Reverend Father
I find it a great consolation to be able to express once again my sentiments of respect and gratitude to you for all the kindness you have shown me, and to let you know the pain I feel at being separated forever from you and my confreres. I will never forget you. I cannot listen to your instructions any more; I cannot witness your good example. But if I cannot be with you in person, I can try at times to be with you in spirit so that together we can adore our Supreme Father who sees us always, wherever we may be. How awe-inspiring the thought of his Greatness when I consider I am going from one end of the earth to the other without ever leaving his presence! But how sad, too, to see so many people who know him only to offend him!
We reached the open sea on the 11th September. We had a favourable wind the first days out. On the 20th we passed Madeira, so famous for its wines. Until then we had not seen any large fish, but then we saw some porpoises. These fish have snouts just like pigs. They caught one which must have weighed 150 pounds but they say some reach 300 to 500 pounds. It does not make good eating. The sailors put it in the same category as dog or wolfmeat. We have only eaten the brains - they were delicious. We have seen them frequently on our voyage, sometimes all the same colour, and sometimes black and white.
We crossed the Equator on the 18th of October. That is where the sailors have a good time, because any passenger crossing the line for the first time has to submit to baptism. Since we didn't want to be baptised a second time we asked to be excused. Our wish was granted in return for a donation. The ceremony goes like this. On the evening before, the old man of the line announces his presence from the top of the mainmast through a loudhailer. He fires a pistol twice and demands if there are any passengers aboard and what is the captain's name. Then he pours beans down on everyone's head. This is to advertise his coming next day. We didn't see what happened in the morning because we stayed in our cabins. But the main thing consists in getting a ducking. The candidate for baptism is seated on a plank placed over a tub of water. The plank is gently pulled away and one suddenly finds oneself in the tub, to the great glee of the spectators.
At the equator the sun rises at 6 o'clock and sets at the same hour. We were becalmed there for a period. Not far south of it we buried at sea a baby about six months old. We had already lost a sailor after a week's sailing. He was taking in the sails when the wind blew him into the sea.
On the 2nd of November we nearly went up in flames. Then there was a storm which lasted until the 5th. On the 26th we rounded Cape Horn which is notorious for its freezing weather and storms. We were lucky, the weather was calm, and it was not cold. We could see the mountains of the Cape. We were fortunate enough to be able to celebrate Holy Mass without the weather giving us any trouble. You could say there is no night in that region, or at least very little. The whole night consisted of about two hours of twilight. Once I stayed on deck until midnight. Day was beginning to appear and it seemed it had disappeared only a moment before.
If we did not experience any storm at Cape Horn we certainly did so later on. In the Pacific we had two days of dreadful storm, from the 3rd to the 5th of December. Mountains of water, extremely high, were all around us; occasionally they broke over the ship and sometimes covered it completely. One came with such force that it carried off one of the boats and filled the cabin with water. The ship was heeling so much you could not stand on the deck without support or holding onto some rope. Such moments are frightening, but when you have entrusted yourself into the hands of the Almighty you are afraid of nothing, since all you desire is that his holy will be done. Of course, they are fearful for those whose outlook is merely human. They have no expectations of another life so this one is very dear to them.
Not far from there we encountered a whaling ship and the captain paid us a visit. The same day, we saw three whales together passing quite close to our ship and the whaler. I thought they would catch them but they made no attempt - they were the wrong species. Still, they were remarkable for their great size.
On the 12th December, we reached Valparaiso. The Picpus Fathers heard of our arrival and came to meet us. They took us back to their house and we stayed there. They treated us just as if we were members of their Society. I will not say much about Valparaiso, only it is the height of summer, the time of fruit, the corn has been harvested long since. The people are very religious; they are keen on using the discipline. [1] I heard them once right through the “Miserere” and they were laying it on.
We hope to leave in a fortnight on Monsignor Rouchouze’s schooner from Sandwich (Haiwai’I) to Valparaiso to collect Fr Mayret (Maigret). He is leaving with us and another priest of their Society.
Br Elie Regis


  1. A short whip or scourge people used on themselves as a penitential practice while reciting Psalm 50 or a similar psalm.
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