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Brs Marie-Jubin, Evagre, Victor, Andeol & Apollinaire to their conferes of Polynesia, Hermitage, 20 Jan 1845

CSG 1. 384-8


In the Annales for the end of 1844 Br Avit writes: "On the 26th December Fr Poupinel notified Br Francois that Monsignor Epalle, Bishop of Sion, was leaving from England on the 25th January the following year. He asked him to prepare Brothers Gennade, Aristide, Bertrand, Hyacinthe, Amaranthe, Gerard, Optat, Paschase, Lucius, who were to accompany His Lordship to Oceania.[1]

Those who were already in Polynesia had sent us some news of themselves. They apparently wished to know what had been happening in the Institute since their departure, especially those who had left in 1836 and 1838.

Wishing to profit by the voyage of their 9 confreres who were going to follow Mgr Epalle, Brothers Marie-Jubin, Evagre, Victor, Andeol and Apollonaire addressed the following long letter to their well-beloved Brothers of Oceania" (AI 2.58).

The group of writers is probably representative of all those who had known the various missionaries either in formation or in community. Marie-Jubin (John-Baptiste Merigay 1820-1897) had not yet turned 14 when he received the habit at the Hermitage in December 1833. He made perpetual profession in October 1837.At the time of writing he was working in the secretariate (S2 360). Victor (Benoit Lay 1816-1852), whom Avit believed to be the guiding spirit behind the letter (AI 2.61), received the habit in 1831 and also made his profession in October 1837. He appears to have been at the Hermitage between appointments (S2 513). Apollinaire (Francois Ginet 1814-1880) received the habit in March 1833 and took perpetual vows on 10 October 1836. He had been appointed Visitor after the 1844 retreat (S2 50). Andeol (Annet Blanc b 1812) entered in November 1836 after some time in the seminary. He was professed in October 1838. But he left the Institute, or was dismissed, a few years later, probably in 1847 (S2 43). Evagre (Xavier Bourdat), received in 1840, also left the Institute later, in January 1849. We have few details about him. Biographies of most of the senior Brothers resident at the Hermitage at this time and mentioned in [9] can also be found in the reference volume to the Founder's letters (S2 - with the English translation giving different page numbering from the French version used in this work).

With a big increase in numbers of entrants since 1840, accommodation at the Hermitage had been stretched to bursting point. Colin, always uneasy about Champagnat's building projects, had refused to sanction any further building there after his death. So in 1844 the younger novices (there were 79 novices that year at the Hermitage alone) were sent off to the Juniorate at La Grange-Payre in nearby Izieux.

The union of the Brothers of Mary with the two other congregations of Brothers mentioned ([10] and [11]) was not, however, an important factor in the numerical growth of the congregation. Both were comparatively small (their combined numbers only 80 or so) but had the great advantage of being recognised by the government for their respective departments, as well as having establishments in areas which would contribute substantially to growth in the future. The union with the Brothers of St Paul-Trois-Chateaux, which had been under consideration since before Champagnat's death, became official on 31 March 1842, and in April Br Jean-Marie (Jean-Claude Bonnet 1807-1888) was sent to take possession of the mother-house as Visitor, Director, and Master of Novices, positions he held, despite ill-health, until 1849. The union with the Brothers of Viviers followed two years later, on April 15 1844. Francois chose Br Louis-Bernardin (Joseph Fayolle 1813-1884) as its Director-provincial and Master of Novices. He went there at the beginning of May and stayed until the end of 1848. With him went Fr Claude Besson (1802-1883), a Marist since 1838 and chaplain at the Hermitage until his appointment to La Begude, where he was to stay for twenty years.

As Avit's addition to [11] and Jean-Marie's correspondence with the Superiors (S2 293-5) show, the two unions were not as free from difficulty as Br Jean-Baptiste presents them in the Life of the Founder (pp 252-5 1989 English edition). Jean-Baptiste, however, does mention one disagreement about administration which was to have repercussions in the future. Fr Mazelier, the Superior of the Brothers of St Paul at the time of fusion, wanted the province to be governed by a Brother Provincial responsible to the Superior General, whereas the General Administration of the Brothers of Mary, that is Brothers Francois, Louis-Marie and Jean-Baptiste, felt this was contrary to both the Founder's wishes and his practice (Life 252). This is why Jean-Marie and Louis-Bernardin, for all their titles, were directly responsible not to Francois but to Jean-Baptiste, the Assistant whose sphere included St Paul and Viviers. This degree of centralisation continued to cause unease among some of the Brothers of those areas, and was found unacceptable by Rome when approval was being sought for the Constitutions in the 1850s. But it remained the practice in the Institute until the beginning of the 1880s, although the Superiors could only justify it by concealing the existence of the Constitutions Rome wished to impose on them for almost 20 years.[2]

Before setting out his version of this letter, Avit adds: "We are rectifying certain inexactitudes" (AI 2. 58). Avit was Visitor for St Paul-Trois-Chateaux and La Begude from 1846 and we might expect he had information not available to the writers. We do not have the original of the letter but apart from some minor variations and a major interpolation, there is not much to choose between his version and that published in the Circulars. Even the table ;[13]:, which he claims is simply a summary of the original, is exactly what is found in the Circulars, as well as the closing paragraph. There is nothing to indicate which is the earlier copy, though the addition to [11] might lead us to suspect the annalist's attempt to improve on the historical accuracy of the text. I have included most of Avit's variants in the text as [A:].

There is no extant copy of the list of establishments and postings mentioned in [13], though parts of it may be reconstructed from references in replies from the missions (eg rf the letter of Claude-Marie of 6 January 1846 - L. 61[10] ff). The Brothers assigned to Eppalle's missionary group took the letter with them to England, which they left on 2 February 1845 (highlighting the erroneous dating given in the Circulars).

By the end of 1844, most of the Brothers in Oceania had written to Francois or Colin, or both, either themselves or through intermediaries. Avit includes summaries of some of these letters grouped together under 1862 in the Annals (3. 22-8).

Text of the Letter

Very dear Brothers,
Our charity for you has not been diminished by distance or time. This letter we address you will serve as proof, as well as satisfying the wishes of our respected Superiors.
How many times have our thoughts turned towards you since your departure from Europe! How many times have we shared in our hearts your sufferings and labours! How many times have we asked God to sustain your courage and reward your dedication. It fills us with joy to hear how ardent your zeal is and to learn of the success of the missions of Oceania. Every time we read the Annals of the missions or the letters you send us, we experience a pressing desire to share your glory, braving like you the perils of the seas and the hostility of the cannibals to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ. But as God's will has not revealed itself to us in this regard, we must resign ourselves to remaining at home, content to admire your generosity and associate ourselves in prayer with your glorious efforts.
In response to your wishes and the interest you show in our affairs we are sending you some news of the Society of the Brothers of Mary to which we have the honour of belonging.
The Reverend Brother Francois, the inheritor of our venerable Father Champagnat's zeal and virtues, continues to direct the Brothers and the establishments with the tenderness of a father and the holiness of a saint. He is supported in his important task by dear Brothers Louis-Marie and Jean-Baptiste whose abilities and commitment you are aware of.
With such prudent and enlightened Superiors, the Society could not fail to make progress, and there has been astonishing growth since 1840. Last year 42 Brothers made perpetual profession and 55 took the vow of obedience. Since the retreat of 1843, more than 120 novices have received the habit, 84 of them at the Hermitage.
You can see, very dear Brothers, we have reason to congratulate our Superiors and bless Providence for sending us subjects. Let us be confident that the one who multiplies armies [A: years] will also multiply the Little Brothers of Mary, so that, with these new recruits we will be able every year to found new establishments, continue those we have already, and replace those Brothers time delivers into eternity. We have lost through death 23 Brothers or novices since the 1st of January 1842. We recommend them all to your prayers, especially the good Brothers Caste, Julien, Abbon, Simeon and Damien, who were perpetually professed. You know these Brothers were all good religious. Let us strive to imitate their virtues and to prepare ourselves, like them, for a good and holy death by a truly religious life.
Since 1840 [A: your departure] there has been little building at the Hermitage, but a lot of repairs have been done, mainly in the novitiate, in the courtyards, dormitories, etc. We have also extended the path to the woods about 20 metres and planted two fine rows of trees along it.
There are 50 good young fellows in the novitiate at the Hermitage. The Superiors have just sent the youngest off to Grange-Payre in the charge of Brothers Photius, Arsene, and Fidele. The rest are being formed in virtue by the worthy Brother Bonaventure, whom the Society continues to value for his zeal and dedication.
The senior Brothers of the Hermitage often speak of you. They all love you. We think you will be pleased to hear some news of them. Starting with the doyen of them all, we can tell you that Br Louis has become such a trader that if it did not cost any more [A: were no more difficult] to go to Oceania than to Lyon he would be around every month to sell you books and paper. The good Brother Stanislaus is still dreaming of beautiful statues of the Blessed Virgin, fine ornaments and splendid ceremonies. The venerable Br Jean-Joseph handles his shuttle as if he were a young man of 30, Br Hippolyte is still responsible for soutanes and trousers, and Br Jacques is always to be seen rounding up his cows and fowls. As for Brothers Pierre and Honore, they have not lost their skill with stone and bricks. Br Jerome can still manage the horse, Brs Marcellin, Jean-Claude, Colomban, and Pierre-Joseph are still occupied with the same employments. You will certainly be pleased to hear that Br Spiridion would love to bring you shoes and pay Br Basile a visit, but his health is not equal to his courage.
We will say a few words about our provincial houses. You have probably heard of our union with the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Saint Paul-Trois-Chateaux. This Congregation has grown considerably under the direction of good Br Jean-Marie. Today it numbers 16 establishments and 75 Brothers and novices. There has been a noticeable increase in regularity and piety among the Brothers of the Province. Our Brother Visitors as well as our dear Brother Director General have nothing but good to say about it.
During May last year, the Brothers of Viviers also united with the Brothers of Mary under the same conditions as those of St Paul. The Mother House of this Institute was at Viviers. His Lordship, the Bishop of that city, had it transferred to La Begude near Aubenas (Ardeche). For that purpose he acquired a vast house with its property. Br Louis-Bernardin has been sent there as Provincial (Director) and Rev Fr Besson as chaplain. The latter has been replaced at the Hermitage by Rev Fr Declas, the senior father of the Society. He is an excellent old man, full of zeal and learning, the perfect assistant for Rev Fr Matricon.
[A: Several members of this congregation were not at first well disposed towards this union, but thanks to the zeal of Fr Epalle, the Bishop of Sion's brother, who preached the retreat, and to the Brother Director general's spirit of reconciliation, all have shown an admirable fidelity. The success of this retreat was so complete that the good God cannot be thanked enough; 9 Brothers took perpetual vows there, 22 the vow of obedience, and 11 novices were given the holy habit.]
This province numbers 53 subjects and has 11 establishments in the Department of Ardeche.
You see, very dear Brothers, how pleased Mary is to bless and extend the Society. In the same way she has known how to supply the authorisation we have been so consistently refused by the French government by means of the union with the Brothers of Saint Paul and those of Viviers. Yes, Mary is indeed our good Mother, so let us be truly her children. The novitiate at Vauban is also beginning to take on importance. At present, it houses 32 subjects showing much promise. Our establishments in the north are also doing very well, but the novitiate is not exactly flourishing.
Very dear Brothers, if we thought we were boring you we would finish our survey here. But as we are convinced you find as much pleasure in reading this information as we do in providing it, we are sending you the statistics of the brothers currently in each province, the list of establishments, and the present postings of the main brothers of your acquaintance.
Names Hermitage St Paul La Begude Nord Vauban Totals
Perp Professed: 171 20 9 2 0 20
Temp Professed: 130 19 22 1 13 185
Novices: 93 21 12 0 7 133
Postulants 50 15 10 3 12 90
TOTALS 444 75 53 6 32 610
The authors of this letter would thus encourage their missionary confreres. They praise their life of hardship and their sublime apostolate. They would like them to know that His Holiness, Gregory XVI, has just accorded the Little Brothers of Mary a plenary indulgence on each of the feasts of the Blessed Virgin and on the chief feasts of the year.
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  1. Of this group, only the first four actually accompanied Epalle to the Pacific at the beginning of 1845, while the last four departed at the end of that year (although it was Lucien, not Lucius, who completed the list). Amaranthe (Fleury Billiemaz 1818-1847), who does not appear in the PFM Register but only in the Register of Coadjutors (where he is recorded as entering the novitiate in October 1837), did not leave for the missions, probably for reasons of health, since he died only two years later.
  2. rf Andre Lanfrey, in Marist Notebook No 6. p 50