21. BROTHER PIERRE-MARIE TO A MARIST FATHER
In his Circular to the Brothers of 15 January 1841, Francois includes this paragraph under the heading: "Missions of Oceania": "We have learned from a letter of dear Br Pierre-Marie that the Fathers and Brothers departing for New Zealand have arrived safely in London. The letter, dated from that city, the 5th December, announces their definite boarding on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Four priests, six Brothers, an artist, a distinguished engineer and two students make up this new missionary colony. Brs Pierre-Marie, Justin, Basile, Emery, Colomb and Euloge have been selected from among us to join the group. We invite you, dear Brothers, to unite your prayers to ours to draw down the protection of heaven on their voyage. Let us pray the Holy Virgin will sustain their courage and increase in the hearts of these dear confreres the holy enthusiasm with which they have set out on so glorious and meritorious a career” (CSG 1. 50-1)
The letter of Pierre-Marie referred to has not survived in any other form, but it does help us to give an approximate date for the letter we are dealing with, which, as the ending shows, was also written from London. We are also given a hint as to whom it was probably written in Pierre-Marie's next letter of 25 February 1841, where he refers to a letter he wrote from London to Fr Matricon. Since the missionaries left the city on 5 December to travel down river to join their ship at Gravesend, both letters must have been posted the same day, and since they were both destined for the Hermitage, there would have been no need for a separate heading.
Pierre-Marie (Pierre Perenon 1804-1873), a former seminarian, was admitted to the Hermitage by Champagnat in October 1832 and made perpetual profession in October 1834, just before being appointed Director of the new foundation at St Genest-Malifaux. It was from there that he applied to the Founder in 1838 to be sent to the missions (letter of 25 April 1838, CPC 138-9). But he was, in fact, Director of the two orphanages in Lyon before being appointed to the missionary group which left that city in November 1840. It was while he was at the first, Lyon Denuziere, that all the Brothers of the schools in the Lyon district gathered there on 19 February 1840 for an educational seminar in accordance with Champagnat's instructions in the Circular of 10 January (Sl 567-570). This might explain the major content of this letter, which has little to say about the missions. It is interesting, however, in showing how one Brother had assimilated some of Champagnat's educational ideals as we find them recorded, for example, in Jean-Baptiste's "Life" (see pages 538ff –1989 edition). Jean-Marie Matricon (1803-1882), a former Latin student of Champagnat's, according to Br Avit (AI 1. 90), was ordained in 1828 and moved into the Hermitage as chaplain in 1835. A member of the Society of Mary from 1839, he spent the remainder of his priestly ministry with the Brothers at the Hermitage where he died at the age of 78 (S2 376).
Text of the Letter
- Dear Father,
- I need to communicate to you some thoughts that preoccupy me just now. Here they are. I imagine two Brothers teaching some very troublesome children. The first thinks he can do it all by himself, makes a lot of noise in his class, punishes the children on the slightest pretext. He despises them because they don't do what he wants, shows them little or no affection, and often mistreats them. He never gives the children the impression that it hurts him to punish them; he does not look after them because, he says, he can do nothing with them. In short, this Brother treats his children in a way he would not wish to be treated himself and without a doubt arouses dislike not only for himself but also for religion. Far from correcting them, they only become worse and they will never have any liking for priests, religious, or religion, because this Brother does not understand that the sicknesses of the soul cannot be cured in this fashion.
- The second, on the contrary, treats his children with kindness, love, and encouragement. He knows adults need encouragement, children even more so. It is true he has very difficult children, but far from striking them, or treating them in a demeaning way by harsh words or too severe punishments, especially at the time the fault is committed, he simply makes a gesture at that time, he does not lose his temper. He starts by letting the culprit see he has a real affection for him, but he would like him even more if he corrected this fault. He will take care not to think he can cure this child's problematic behaviour with blows or by means of humiliation. After all, when a mother has a sick child, what means does she use? I won't name them because they are so obvious. She doen't strike him or punish him or despise him, she does first what she can, and if the sickness gets worse she calls the doctor. So this Brother with a mother's compassion for the children in his care does for his part all he can. He employs love, kindness, and encouragement, he says special prayers to Jesus and Mary, his guardian angel, his patron saint. He regularly places all his children in the very holy and immaculate heart of Mary - the good ones to obtain from her their continuing spiritual good health, the bad ones to obtain their restoration to good health. Mary, the best of Mothers, seeing this multitude of children in her heart and knowing how much they cost her son on the cross, and herself at the foot of the cross, will present them to him with the words: "My son, you loved children so much when you were on earth, you won't despise these ones! They are sick or in danger of falling sick." And the Son will surely reply to his Mother: "You know, mother, you have a completely free hand in my pharmacy - give them everything they need." I ask you: won't these children receive what the Brother wishes? Often enough, it will take time, but if the Brother perseveres in using these means he will obtain for himself and for the children everything he wants. When the Blessed Virgin receives from her Son the response she received at the Wedding Feast at Cana, she will say to the Brother and the children: "Do whatever he tells you." I am convinced the second of these Brothers is much better than the first. If all the Brothers imitated him, they would frequently spare themselves many miseries and spare others too. I would certainly have wished to act in that way when I was teaching. I am taking the resolution to imitate this Brother when I am among my poor savages. I will earnestly pray to our good Mother so she will answer me just to get rid of me. Father, give this advice to the Brothers - these means are infallible. Forgive me, Father, if I have the effrontery to offer you advice.
- I find, dear Father, that most of the Brothers do not have a great enough familiarity with their mother. It seems to me, we ought to behave towards our good mother like little children. That would be very appropriate for us, since we are only Little Brothers of Mary. What does a little child do when he is out of sight of his mother and has hurt himself, or been hurt by someone? He runs to her crying and calling for her. On hearing his cries, the good mother drops everything and comes running, takes him in her arms, treats his sore, and the child is immediately consoled. Or again, if the child is afraid of asking his father for something he wants very much, he begins by telling his mother that he would like to have it but he dare not ask his father. What does he do? He asks his mummy to ask his daddy. The mother, who does not know how to refuse her child anything, does it with pleasure, and obtains what the child wants so much. It is my conviction that if all the Brothers acted in this way towards Mary, we would not see any vocations foundering, nor so many wavering, and their work would be much more fruitful. They would consider themselves happy in their sublime vocation, for I do not believe there is any vocation more beautiful than to work for the salvation of souls, especially those of children whom Jesus Christ loved so much while he was on earth.
- His Lordship, the Bishop of London, has just received a letter from His Holiness the Pope in which he warmly recommends to him the missionaries of Oceania. In fact, he has taken great interest in us. He has the kindness, the tenderness, and the affability of an angel. An English captain has asked for at least two missionaries for a very important island which is already almost all Catholic. It is 200 leagues from the Bay of Islands.
- Dear Father, we can communicate by letters and by prayers. Do not forget us, I beg you.
- Grapes are readily available in London. They cost only 5 francs a pound, and ordinary table wine costs 7 francs a bottle.
- I beg you, in your fervent prayers, don't forget one who has the honour of being your very humble and obedient servant,
- Br Pierre-Marie.
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