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Br Francois to the Brothers in Oceania, Our Lady of the Hermitage, 26 June 1849

CSG 2. 415-20


This is the first news from the Hermitage the missionary Brothers have received since 1845 and the first letter from the Director General since 1840. Colin’s embargo on further Marists for the Pacific meant that regular communication with those there became even more important. Douarre’s return to New Caledonia offered an opportunity for sending this long letter and the accompanying circulars (all of which are included in the second volume of the CSG). The Bishop had made a visit to the Hermitage in May 1847 when he presided at the clothing of 13 novices (Avit mentions the visit but attributes it to Batallion, Annals 2: 91), but his departure for his new vicariate in October 1848 appears to have caught Francois unprepared. The correspondence was then entrusted to the last group sent out by Colin which left for Central Oceania on 17 July 1849. This group included two Marist Brothers, Charise Gras of the Province of St Paul, and Sorlin Gentes of La Begude (13).

The revolution of February 1848 which overthrew the “Bourgeois King”, Louis-Philippe, caused the Brothers some apprehension in the beginning but did them no harm (cf AI 2: 100-1 also note p 149). It even allowed the Superiors to do some pruning after a period of unrestricted growth (6). The election of the government of Prince Louis-Napoleon in December gave the religious-minded more confidence and lead to a campaign for freedom of teaching, which was granted by the Falloux Law of March 1850. Francois took advantage of the favourable climate to continue the quest for the legal authorisation of the Institute (AI 2: 110-11). Avit thinks he may have exaggerated the number of brothers in the interest of pleading his case (4) (cf AI 2: 114). It was Louis-Napoleon who sent French troops to help restore Pope Pius IX after he was forced to flee Rome at the end of 1848 (rf L 83).

Francois mentions some of the writings of his assistants directed to improving the professional and religious formation of the brothers and their students (25). Both Jean-Baptiste and Louis-Marie devoted a very considerable amount of time and energy to writing. The former, in particular, is remembered for the texts he prepared to be discussed and approved by a succession of general chapters - the Constitutions, The Common Rule, “The Teacher’s Guide”. In the biographical notes in the companion volume to the Founder’s letters, Sester and Borne state Jean-Baptiste did this preparatory work between 1850 and 1853 (S2 290 Eng.), but, as Francois informs us, he was already busy working on the Rules and Constitutions in mid 1849. We might assume that the work in hand was the manuscript the Marist historian Paul Sester has entitled “The Apostolate of the Marist Brother” an essential source of the 1852 Rule, the “Teacher’s Guide”, and the Life of the Founder. [1] For his part, Louis-Marie had already composed for use in the schools a grammar as well as the spelling exercises. He was very meticulous in his work, perhaps too much so. Avit claims that later, when general himself, he allowed to be printed only what he had written or at least corrected himself, thus depriving the Institute of a steady source of income (AI 3: 147). On the other hand he was the one who in 1851 drew up the report which finally obtained official approval for the Institute (S2 349).

Avit reproduces this letter in the Annals (2 : 111-14) albeit in condensed form. There are some minor discrepancies, notably in the statistics. The annalist attributes these to a certain inflation of numbers on the part of Francois to make his appeal for legal authorisation more compelling. The figures provided in the Circular are, in fact, those given by Francois in his letter of February 28 to the Comte de Montalembert (AI 2: 111), whereas in the draft in his notebooks we find the figures as Avit gives them. [2] Avit’s reservations and comments are accommodated in the notes in the text.

Text of the Letter

Very dear Brothers,
I have been wanting to write to you for a long time. I was waiting impatiently for opportunities but, when they came, I often found, to my regret, I could not take advantage of them. But at a meeting with Fr Poupinel, I have taken steps to have easier and more frequent communication with you. I know how much you welcome news about the Hermitage and everything which concerns our dear Society.
I was awaiting the departure of the Bishop of Amata in order to send you a letter. He was gracious enough to pay us a visit and gave us a very interesting account of the missions of Oceania. But he left during the vacations and you know how extremely busy I am at that time. Retreat is not even over in one house when I have to go to another to begin a second, a third, etc. as you can see in the Circulars for the vacations of 1847 and 1848 I am sending you. I am including with them the one on the Spirit of Faith of 15 December 1848, convinced you will find it worth reading. I think I will now be able to send you our Circulars in Oceania just as anywhere else. This will help further strengthen the bonds of union and fraternal charity between all the members of the Society.
You must certainly have already heard of our union with the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux and those of Viviers who bear the same name.[3] These two Institutes were authorised by the Government, the former for the three Departments of Drome, Isere, and the Hautes-Alpes, and the latter for Ardeche and the Haute-Loire. You will appreciate how helpful this has been for us in gaining exemption from conscription for oue subjects.
But as these Brothers were not very numerous, the Congregation did not appreciably increase. We actually have about 900 Brothers and 140 establishments. [4]
The novitiate of Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux is still under the direction of Br Jean-Marie, while Br Malachie is in charge of La Begude (Viviers), Br Leon of Vauban, and Br Sulpice of Beaucamps (Nord). Br Louis-Bernardin is still at the Hermitage. Br Apollinaire had a fall from a carriage and broke a number of bones. It is a miracle he survived it.
In recent years subjects have been coming to us in great numbers. In some novitiates we were receiving no fewer than a hundred a year. But in February 1848 the Republican government was set up in France and people were afraid of persecution as under the previous Republic, so the number of postulants was reduced to a trickle. We also used the opportunity to get rid of some subjects who were not very fervent or committed, and that was to the advantage of the Society.
These minor defections and, in a special way, the number of Brothers who have died or had to give up their work because they are worn out, have not allowed us to open many new establishments this year. [Avit: did not allow us….last year. It will be the same this year]. We are receiving numerous requests from all sides, but we are forced to put them off, to our great regret. You see, then, very dear Brothers, that labourers are lacking in France as well as in Oceania. Let us all pray together to the Father of the family that he will send labourers into his harvest.
The new Government shows respect for religion. The President of the Republic, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the Emperor Napoleon, is much in favour of it.
The postulants are slowly coming back. In May we gave the religious habit to 20 at the Hermitage., 14 at La Begude, and 8 at Saint-Paul, making 42 in all. Some more are going to receive it at Vauban on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, July 2. We had already had one vesture of 14 at the Hermitage since the vacations.
I urge you all, very dear Brothers, to redouble your prayers for our common homeland. Although everything is very quiet at present, there is always worry because of malcontents who try to stir up trouble and cause disturbances.
The Holy Roman Church, our mother, will always be the object of your most fervent prayers. Her glorious Pontiff, the immortal Pius IX, has been in exile for many months Some evil Romans and a rabble of rioters from all over Europe forced him to take flight. He has gone to Gaeta, in the Kingdom of Naples. Now French troops are off to Rome to drive out the insurgents and restore the Supreme Pontiff to his throne.
There has been a severe outbreak of cholera in Paris and in the North. In Paris a short time ago the plague was claiming up to 600 victims a day. In the Pas-de-Calais, in one parish of 1200, up to 800 cases of this sickness have been recorded. Our confrere Br Didyme, director of the school of Lens, has been affected, but we hope he will recover.
Some new confreres are going to join you to assist in your labours. The houses of Saint-Paul and La Begude are beginning to provide their contingents, like the Hermitage and Vauban, and we hope they will continue. There are still many others asking to follow those who have been fortunate enough to be selected, and they are envious of the latters’ situation.
We have also some novices who told us when they entered of their attraction to the work of the foreign missions. So you see you are not forgotten!
If you are so pleased to receive our letters, be assured that all the Brothers are no less pleased to receive yours. If only you knew how avidly they peruse each new number of the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith in the hope of finding some news about Oceania, and how pleased they are when they see the Society of Mary feature there! If only you could witness how attentively they listen to the reading of your letters, and with what holy impatience they wish to learn all their contents as soon as the reading begins. If only you could see how happy that are to hear of the good you are doing, how they share in your trials and joys, your consolations and sufferings. You would readily judge the degree of attachment and affection they feel for you.
The difficulties you encounter, the hardships and privations you have to put up with, weigh them down too. They would like to spare you them, or at least share them with you.
The reading of a copy of the Annals or of a letter from Oceania provides the ordinary matter for conversation during recreation for many days. People speculate about the progress of the mission, and its hopes, or express concern about its difficulties and setbacks. Everything about the Brothers of France, in a word, shows their deep interest in the Brothers overseas.
We frequently recommend the Brothers and the novices to pray for the conversion of sinners and unbelievers. For this purpose we recite special prayers every day at the morning and evening Office.
The Brothers in the establishments also get their pupils to pray for the success of your labours. All, in fact, associate themselves with your work to the best of their ability, and, as I have mentioned, many long for the good fortune of taking a still more active part in it. We learned with much joy and consolation that Mgr Bataillon set up the novitiate of Our Lady of the Hermitage on Futuna in October 1847, and that already a number of young islanders have come to enlist under the standards of the Queen of heaven. [5] We pray this good Mother to protect, increase, and strengthen this new foundation more and more so that it may become a real nursery of good religious.
This is a cause for zeal and emulation for all the Brothers and novices of the Society. It is with inexpressible pleasure they look upon this new establishment promising to provide Brothers so far away. Most of them will certainly never see these Brothers, but they will all regard them with great affection and hear news of them with unfailing satisfaction.
The Reverend Father Superior General came to the Hermitage to urge on us the departure of the Brothers to Oceania, and he was gracious enough to spend four days with us. He sang a Solemn Mass with deacon and subdeacon on the feast of St John the Baptist, and in the evening he gave a beautiful talk to the assembled community, and showed a most fatherly interest in us. He had just visited the novitiates of Saint-Paul and La Begude where he had also spent a few days. He told the Brothers and novices that, as they were at the Mother-House they should be even more fervent and regular than those in the secondary novitiates. But he added: “You will certainly have to work to achieve that’, for he was very pleased with the novices of Saint-Paul and La Begude.
The hope that our novices of Futuna will do just as well as those of the other novitiates is a source of consolation to us.
We wept and grieved with you on learning of Mgr Epalle’s death, or rather his martyrdom, and of the Fathers and Brothers who have been murdered by the pagans. [6] But we have also rejoiced with you in the consoling thought that they are so many illustrious martyrs and patrons of Oceania, and that their blood will bring forth a rich harvest of new Christians.
Finally, very dear Brothers, whatever the times, circumstances and events, whatever the country, condition, or position in which we find ourselves, and whatever our role, let us not forget that it is God who rules everything, disposes everything, gives everything, who does everything, for his own glory and the good of his elect. Let us not forget, that without him, we are nothing, we have nothing, we can do nothing. Let us never attribute to ourselves the good he does in us and by means of us. On the contrary, let us become the more humble and the more modest the greater the things he works in us. And if we are put to the test, let us redouble our zeal, trust, and love. Let us always show ourselves the true children of Her who was at the same time the most lowly and the most exalted of all creatures; in that way we will be worthy of having her prove herself our good Mother always.
The Brother Assistants join me in assuring you of their affectionate remembrance and sincere attachment. Dear Brother Louis-Marie has just sent to the printer a collection of dictation exercises for our schools. This work is a sequel to the exercises in spelling. Dear Br Jean-Baptiste is very busy with the Rules and the Constitutions of the Society. His health has been giving us cause for serious concern for some time. But at the moment he is well enough.

I leave you all with confidence in the hands and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph. In the union of prayers and works I remain, with heartfelt affection,
My very dear brothers,
your very humble and very devoted Brother and servant,
Br Francois.
PS. We. received the curios you have sent us from Oceania with the keenest pleasure. If one day we should see arrive a young Brother from Our Lady of the Hermitage in Futuna, what a cause for celebration that would be! What a source of happiness! Goodbye for now. (Send us) some news from time to time. I will write to you as often as I can.


  1. Br Andre Lanfrey, “Aim of the Brothers according to two instructions contained in the manuscripts of Brothers Francois and Jean-Baptiste”, Marist Notebooks No 13, July 1998, p 92.
  2. Frere Francois, Lettres Personelles 1, presentees par Fr Paul Sester, 1996, p 218. Referred to hereafter as LFF.
  3. Rf L 52. Br Apollinaire, one of the writers of that letter, is the brother mentioned in [5] as having had a serious accident (rf S2 50).
  4. Avit has 800 Brothers and 135 establishments, as has Francois in his draft of the circular. Avit tells us that Francois was not at that time in possession of the figures for the Midi (2: 114).
  5. For this institution rf esp Letters 71, 73, 78. Avit comments: ”As for the projected novitiate on Futuna of which he speaks, time has taught us it did not succeed.” (AI 2: 114)
  6. “The Brother Superior seems to say that there were Fathers and Brothers massacred with Mgr Epalle. Two Fathers and a Brother were injured, but Mgr was the only one massacred by the savages of the island of Isabelle in the Solomons. The Superior was doubtless alluding to Br Hyacinthe, eaten on San Christoval, Fr Chanel martyred on Futuna , etc. “ (AI 2:114)

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