Br Francois to the Marist Brothers in Oceania, Our Lady of the Hermitage, 29 November 1850
CSG 2: 428-431
Although the CSG dates this circular letter 29 September, Avit in the Annals has 29 November (AI 2. 128). This is the more likely date since it was written after the annual retreats which took place in October. The circulars on the Spirit of Faith to which Francois refers  are to be found at the beginning of the volume. When the brothers received this letter they would already have the first and second, those of 15 December 1848 and 16 July 1849, the one mentioned here, but the third and last did not appear until December 1851.
The statistics provided for the various provinces support the Superior’s claim that the Institute was continuing to grow. Only the Novitiate at Vauban was not flourishing. This institution and its accompanying boarding school had been more or less forced on the Founder and it had an unhappy history. In the early years the postulants and novices had been obliged by the priest directing the school to act as servants to the boarders. The brothers took over direction of the school in 1846 but the opening of boarding schools in the neighbouring towns of Charlieu and Digoin lead to a decline in numbers, and the school closed in 1852. The novitiate followed suit, despite Francois’ hopes, in 1855. During the 15 years of its existence, 88 young brothers were formed there, including two missionaries, Brs Hyacinthe and Optat. (S2 642).
In his previous letter Francois had informed the brothers that the health of Jean-Baptiste had been giving serious concern (L 82 ). Now it is Louis-Marie who has been seriously ill . Francois does not mention his own health problems but Avit draws attention to them in a comment on this letter: “Some might be surprised at the differences in thought and style between this letter and the two circulars on the spirit of faith. We must say that the latter were in the main the work of Fr Matricon and Br Louis-Marie. Br Francois, besides, was beginning to suffer from frequent headaches which made any serious work very painful to him” (2. 129). It is remarkable that the three men at the helm who, for all their differences, worked together so well that they were known by the brothers as the “Three in One” (S2. 349), should all have been men of indifferent or poor health. The long trips they were obliged to make cannot have been of much help. At the time Francois was writing, Louis-Marie was recuperating at La Cote-Saint-Andre and Jean-Baptiste was at St Paul-Trois-Chateaux, also for health reasons.
To help with the general administration, Br Jean-Marie had been recalled from Saint-Paul at the end of 1849. But he had only a few years at the Hermitage before being moved, at his own request, to a directorship in the Var. He was replaced as Visitor, of the Centre as well as the South province, by the annalist Br Avit. Avit (Henri Billon 1819-1892) had entered the congregation in 1838. An indefatigable traveller and assiduous collector of anecdotes and taker of notes, it could be said of him that by the time he retired for health reasons in 1880 he was “perhaps the only one who knew all the houses of the Institute” (S2. 62). His contemporary, Br Aidant (Etienne Feuillet 1820-1900), a novice in 1837, was now Master of Novices. It was he who was sent to Vauban a few years later in an unsuccessful attempt to save the novitiate there. As for Br Sylvestre (Jean-Felix Tamet 1819-1887), admitted to the novitiate at the age of 12 in 1831, he was already an old hand at teaching when he made final profession in 1843 and was appointed to a similar position at St Genis-Laval (S2. 477).
Avit says the Brother Superior ended his letter with a passage from the spiritual testament of “our pious founder” (2. 129). In fact, the last paragraph is a pastiche of quotations from the latter part of the Testament (rf Life pp 237-8). With an observation or two of his own included, Francois has the words off by heart.
The letter is found in draft in Francois’ notebooks of letters (LFF 1. 234-235), where the last part [7-9] is seen to be identical to that of a similar but somewhat shorter letter apparently destined for individual brothers (directors?) of the various provinces (LFF 1. 231-2). In the draft, some of the statistics for the Hermitage are missing, and there are significant differences between the figures supplied for La Begude and those published in the Circulars. Avit confirms the reliability of the latter. But in the main he has been content to reproduce only the main part of the circular (AI 2. 128-9).
Text of the Letter
- Very dear Brothers,
- A few days ago I sent off to you our little Circulars for the vacations of this year 1850. I think you have already received our last instruction on the Spirit of faith of 16 July 1849. As soon as the third is printed, I will send you a copy too. In this way there will be a more particular and intimate communication of thoughts, sentiments, affection and intentions among all the members of the Society, no matter how far apart they are.
- It is true that in our circulars there is a lot which concerns only the brothers employed in the schools. But the rest can be of great use to you, and in the same way that the letters you send us give us an opportunity to travel in spirit among you in the distant lands you are evangelising, to have a share in your labours, trials, joys and consolations, so too, I think, you are very pleased to be given a chance to travel similarly to our midst, and to recall those things you yourself once did, and which your dear confreres, who receive these Circulars each year, are still doing. I would, as well, have liked to write to you each individually in reply to your interesting letters, but circumstances have not yet allowed me. I will do so as soon as possible and I also wish you would continue as long (LFF: often) as possible to send us news about yourselves. We always receive such news with the most affectionate interest.
- Our little Society continues to expand and multiply. The subjects we are receiving generally give us plenty of satisfaction and our establishments are doing well. Requests are coming to us from all parts in greater numbers than ever, but we are obliged to hold back a little in this matter for fear of weakening ourselves through a too rapid expansion. Besides, if on the one hand we have the consolation of seeing many subjects coming in, on the other, as you will see from our Circulars, death carries off a considerable number every year, including sometimes our principal Directors. That leaves a big gap to be filled and we are frequently hard pressed to find replacements for such positions. Please continue then to unite your prayers with ours to ask the Lord to multiply the workers destined to tend his vineyard and gather in his harvest, as much in France as in Oceania.
- Here now are a few details of the Society. Last year at the Hermitage 11 Brothers made profession, 24 took the vow of obedience,  and 11 postulants were clothed in the holy habit. On the 8th December, feast of the Immaculate Conception, we had yet another vesture of 12 postulants, on 12 February 1850 another of the same number, and on the 27th May one of 14 postulants. This year, at retreat, 18 Brothers made profession, 28 the vow of obedience, and 15 postulants took the habit. We will have as many again for vesture this coming December 8.
- At Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, 8 Brothers made profession and 6 the vow of obedience at the end of the 1849 retreat. Five postulants took the habit on the feast of the Immaculate Conception and 7 on the feast of St Aloysius Gonzaga. This year at retreat, 7 Brothers made profession, 9 the vow of obedience, and there were 3 [A: 4] postulants to receive the habit. [A: Brother Leonida, the director of this house, has established it on a good footing, to the great satisfaction of all the Brothers.] At the retreats of 1849 and 1850 (at La Begude), 5 Brothers made profession, 8 took the vow of obedience and 6 postulants received the holy habit. [A: At La Begude, there were 11 Brothers admitted to profession, 12 to the vow of obedience, and 9 to vesture at the 1849 retreat, and at the 1850 one, 5 … etc]. On the 8th April the habit was also given to 3 postulants. At Beaucamps, in the province of Nord, at the retreat last year, there were 4 newly professed and, during the year, 3 postulants received the habit. This year, there was one Brother for profession, another for the vow of obedience, and I postulant for the habit. This novitiate has made some progress since dear Br Louis-Bernardin took over direction. The novitiate of Vauban has been in difficulties for a few years and has few subjects. We are going to take measures to give it a new lease of life.
- This year, in April and May, I made a visitation of our establishments in the Nord province for the first time. I was very pleased with the Brothers, the students, and the authorities in each of these establishments. It was an occasion of celebration for me, for the Brothers, and for their pupils. I received a very cordial welcome from the authorities, and they also manifested to me a deal of interest in and affection for the Brothers. My health has held up well enough during these trips and at the Mother House all year. Dear Br Jean-Baptiste is also getting along alright, but Br Louis-Marie was seriously ill in August and September. At present he is better and , with some care, can continue his activities. After the retreat at Our Lady of the Hermitage I went down to the Midi to preside over the retreats at La Begude and Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux with Br Jean-Baptiste who had already done the one for the Nord. I am heartened to inform you that all these retreats have been very edifying. All the Brothers present gave evidence of extraordinary piety, and zeal. They found pleasure in meeting with one another, lived together in family spirit, and went their separate ways full of fervour and zeal, enthusiastic to carry out their tasks religiously and conscientiously. I believe I will give you pleasure by introducing here the list of establishments and their Brother Directors, many of whom you will know [LFF: Province of Our Lady of the Hermitage ……..]
- There are actually about 120 of us at the Hermitage, as many Brothers as novices. There are about 30 Brothers at La Grange-Payre under Br Sylvestre. Here we have Brs Jean-Marie, and Aidant to help us. The latter is in the novitiate while Br Bonaventure is in charge of works, a responsibility he carries out perfectly. Everyone is happy and the work proceeds satisfactorily. Br Avit is almost continually on the road visiting the establishments, a practice he considers very important. Soon, I hope, we will be less burdened, and everything will go more smoothly. Let us ask the Lord to sustain and strengthen his work more and more, and let us pray the Mother of God, Mary, to keep her dear Society under her motherly protection., whose benefits we constantly experience. Let us try to show ourselves worthy of our beautiful vocation and the meritorious tasks we have to carry out by a way of life which is always regular, holy, and edifying.
- I conclude this letter, very dear Confreres, with the words of our saintly Founder: “I ask of the good God, and I wish with all the affection if my heart, that you persevere faithfully in the holy exercise of the presence of God, the soul of prayer, piety, and all the virtues. May humility and simplicity always be characteristic of the Little Brothers of Mary, and may a warm and filial devotion to our tender Mother animate you always. Ah! how consoling it is, when you are to appear before God, to recall that you have lived under the auspices of Mary and in her Society. The peaceful and edifying deaths of our Brothers provide convincing enough evidence of that. It is true that there are difficulties in living as good religious, but grace makes all things easy, and with its aid we easily overcome the obstacles put in our way by the enemies of our salvation. Besides, life is very short and eternity will never end.”
- I leave you with confidence in the holy hearts of Jesus and Mary, and I remain, in the union of prayers and work, and with the warmest affection,
- My very dear Brothers,
- Your very humble and very loving Brother and servant,
- Br Francois.
- Down to 1903 the brothers after their novitiate made a single vow of obedience which could be renewed each year. After five years they were usually accepted for the perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. After 1903, the vow of obedience was replaced by the three annual vows taken today.
|Previous Letter||Letters from Oceania: 1850-1||Next letter|