20. Br Francois to the Marist Brothers of Polynesia, Our Lady of the Hermitage. 20 November 1840
CSG 1. 333-7
With another six of their number being sent out, the congregation now had 15 Brothers working in the mission of Oceania. With the changes following Champagnat's death on 6 June 1840, Francois decided it was time to bring the men in the field up to date with events in France and allay any fears they might otherwise feel as news filtered through to them from other sources. Apart from the natural doubts about the future of the congregation once its Founder had gone and in the hands of a youthful and not very experienced administration, there was also the question of their status, and perhaps even their name, now they were working with the Fathers. The year before, Colin had finally separated his Joseph Brothers from Champagnat's Marist Brothers, but this had meant that some of Champagnat's men professed at the Hermitage who continued to work in the houses of the Fathers found themselves assimilated to the Joseph or Coadjutor Brothers, not to the satisfaction of all (eg refer Champagnat's letter to Brother Timothee, 1 February 1840 Sl 543-4). Though this policy does not appear to have formally applied to those working in the missions, it nevertheless raised problems and was to have repercussions there, as will be seen. In this letter Francois and his two assistants, Louis-Marie and Jean-Baptiste, informed their missionary confreres of the death of the Founder and the smooth transition that had been effected despite that traumatic event. Colin had appointed Father Jean Cholleton as provincial with special responsibility for the Brothers, a role he fulfilled until 1845. Cholleton (1788-l852), former professor at the seminary of Saint-Irenee and confidant and director of the first Marist aspirants, had also been later, as vicar general of the archdiocese, responsible for Champagnat's community. But day-to-day authority resided in the hands of the Director General and his two Assistants. Louis-Marie (Pierre-Alexis Labrosse 1810 - 1879) had come to Champagnat from the Saint-Irenee seminary in 1831 and made profession in 1834. Elected Assistant in 1839, he was to succeed Francois as Superior General in 1860. Jean-Baptiste (J.B.Furet 1807-1872) was 14 when he arrived at La Valla in 1822 to begin his life as a Marist Brother. His work as a writer, notably of the Life of Fr Champagnat but also of influential works on education and religious life for the Brothers, has tended to obscure his equal competence as an administrator. The six Brothers going with the new group of missionaries were Brs Pierre-Marie, Colomb, Justin, Basile, Emery, and Euloge. The last three at least were specialists, Basile a bootmaker, Emery a tailor, and Euloge a smith.
The documents this group were taking to their confreres in the Pacific were, apart from this letter, the Circular of 6 June 1840 (CSG 1. 41-2) and the Spiritual Testament of Father Champagnat, which he had dictated to Louis-Marie on May 18. Of the letters from Oceania mentioned, it is barely possible they included those of Servant and Michel written in May, but there is no record of any written by Pompallier to the Hermitage that year. The portrait of the Founder was that made by Mr Ravery of St Chamond immediately after his death. We do not.know if copies of it were among the effects of the Brothers who departed with the group that left a year later.
Text of the Letter
- Very dear Brothers in Jesus and Mary,
- Today six of us are setting out from Our Lady of the Hermitage to come and share your labours and have a glorious and meritorious career with you in the great mission divine Providence has entrusted to the Society of Mary. They are committing themselves confidently to the painful and arduous path you were the first to blaze with such courage and devotion. We hope that Jesus and Mary will also guide this new spiritual colony and help it arrive safely in those far off lands where you have begun to harvest with such success. How we rejoiced on learning that the good God was pouring his blessings in abundance on the work of our good missionaries in Polynesia and that you, our very dear confreres, true imitators of our good Mother, were cooperating wholeheartedly in this work of salvation and redemption. Your last letters reached us this year the day retreat closed. You can imagine with what joy and excitement all our Brothers gathered here listened to such interesting and edifying news. The account of your labours and successes, the encouraging words of good Fr Servant, and especially the stirring appeal of your holy bishop, Monsignor Pompallier, have caused a great revival in zeal and enthusiasm for the mission of Oceania. There was hardly one who would not have liked to enlist in the company of the holy priests of Mary to go and labour with them and with you for the conversion of the poor savages of New Zealand and the surrounding islands. But our needs here are also very numerous and very pressing. We had to make a choice, and in concert with Fr Colin, Superior General, we selected those who from their state seemed most suitable for providing service to the mission. May the good God confirm our choice and give it his blessing.
- It doubtless comes as a surprise to you, very dear confreres, that you have not seen any mention of the man who was up to quite recently our Father and our Superior. It is now six months since the good God called him from this world to his eternal crown, so we hope, and to recompense him for his long labours and great sufferings. He went to sleep in the Lord on Saturday 6 June, the Vigil of Pentecost, at halfpast four in the morning after a mild agony of three quarters of an hour. His final illness left him so exhausted and drained that he was no more than a living skeleton. His death, like his life, was full of edification. We don't doubt that it was precious in the eyes of the Lord.
- We don't need to tell you, very dear confreres, how much regret and sorrow such a painful loss has left in all our hearts. It is a wound that will take a long time to heal. He was for all the Brothers of Mary such a good Father, such a reliable guide and such an understanding consoler.
- The good God has not, however, abandoned us. Already we have come to recognise that if he is no longer our visible protector on earth, he continues to watch over us from heaven. Peace and union, obedience and regularity, have not diminished among the Brothers of Mary. Our retreat this year has perhaps been more edifying, more prayerful than at any other time. In addition, Providence, which directs the work of Mary, has provided for everything. Fr Cholleton, former Vicar General of the diocese of Lyon and a Marist Father since the departure of Archbishop de Pins, has been made responsible as Provincial for the Brothers in a special way by Fr Superior General. The election of the Brother Director General and his Assistants by all the professed Brothers in assembly and by the Council of the Fathers of the Society had taken place before the death of Father Superior. All has continued on the same footing as before and it appears that the good God daily showers new blessings on all the branches of our Work. This last year, 1840, we received 60 postulants, and at least as many the year before, 1839.
- During the holidays we have seen nearly 300 at the Hermitage. On the other hand, requests for foundations are constantly increasing and it is difficult to refuse all the appeals coming to us from all sides. May the good God and the divine Mary be ever blessed for all these favours.
- We have no doubt, very dear confreres, that it is the Mission of Oceania that draws down on us such grace and protection. We regard our very dear Brothers of Polynesia as the mainstay of our Work. For everyone who sacrifices himself for the salvation of those poor savages and goes far away from us, we are convinced that the Blessed Virgin sends 10 others to replace him, and some of them will later go and join him in his labours and sacrifices. Although nature shrinks from the thought of total separation, we count ourselves happy as well every time we need to recruit new workers for this cherished Mission from our ranks. How spontaneous our appreciation of your courage and the joy you experience amid so many trials. The world, your homeland, nature - all is dead for you, but your heritage is not the less distinguished for that, nor the part you have chosen less precious. To live hidden in Jesus and Mary, to form the children of the Church, disciples for Our Lord Jesus Christ, to snatch souls from unbelief and eternal death, to prepare for and begin the conversion of a whole world - isn't that already the hundredfold in this life? And in the age to come, what glory, what reward awaits you for your total and irrevocable gift of self? Take courage, then, dear confreres, it is the same Lord we are all working for, it is the same Mother who looks after us all. Distance and separation do not affect those whose only home is in the heart of Jesus. You have been made members of that household by the generous sacrifice of everything which might lead you astray. Stay there with joy and with love. Blessed are we if for our part we are all faithful to the heavenly rendezvous.
- In expressing our regards to you, very dear confreres, allow us also to offer, through you, our profound respect and gratitude to your worthy and saintly bishop. The memory of his virtues and benefits remains engraved on all our hearts. Please ask His Lordship for his apostolic blessing for all the Brothers of Mary, and the assistance of his prayers. We ask you also to pass on our respects and best wishes to Fr Servant. All the Brothers are appreciative of the fatherly advice he offered in his letter, and they recall with pleasure his spirit of zeal and his devotion here in our house of the Hermitage. We do not know the other Fathers of the Mission so well, but we venerate them all in Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are one with them in the union of the same Society and we are all disposed to hasten to their assistance as soon as the good God calls us there. Be so good, then, as to pass on to them too the expression of our respectful devotion. We are including with our letter for each of you a copy of the Spiritual Testament of our good Father Superior. We are sure you will receive with gratitude these last instructions given out of his concern for us. The Circular we addressed to our Brothers in those sorrowful circumstances will tell you also what we have done for the repose of his soul. You will consult with your good Fathers to find out what you can do yourselves. We will not be able to send you his portrait and the details of his last illness until the next group departs.
- We hope, our very dear Brothers, these few lines we have put together for you will quickly cross the immense distance which lies between us. May the Fathers and Brothers leaving today arrive among you without misfortune or accident and find you too in peace and good health. We all offer prayers every day recommending this precious mission to God. Unite yourselves with us in this pious accord of prayer and sentiments. Rest assured of the tender and religious affection with which we are all in Jesus and Mary,
- our very dear Brothers,
- your very humble and very devoted Brothers and servants,
- Br Francois
- (Br Director General)
- Br Louis-Marie, Br Jean-Baptiste.
- (Brs Assistants).
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