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Br Charise Gras to Fr Colin, Upolu, 17 September 1853

Clisby Letter 103. Girard doc. 1283

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


After the blessing of the foundation stone of the church at Mulivai at the end of 1852, the missionaries returned to their respective stations. Charise renained at Mulinu’u to look after the sick Dubreuil. It is probably the latter the brother is complaining about in this letter [4], since the provicar was an impulsive and sometimes abrasive man who would not take kindly to being confined to bed (rf eg Hosie 59). The brother is not afraid to speak out about his problems, but he does so, as he says, only after proper and prayerful consideration during his retreat [1].

The question of a Rule [5] is tied in with the wider problem of Bataillon’s troubled relationship with the Society of Mary. The bishop had actually sounded out the feelings of some of his missionaries on the possibility of their leaving the Society and serving him as diocesan clergy. A group of them, meeting in Samoa this same year, 1853, wrote to the superior general about the matter. Their scribe, Xavier Vachon, passed the letter on to Dubreuil to transmit to Lyon. But it fell into Bataillon’s hands, with predictable results (Hosie 110). It is hardly surprising, then, that the minds of the Marists were not on their work at this period.

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
I am taking the liberty of writing you this letter to pay my annual debt to you. I have allowed a little time to pass so as to write to you during my retreat week, in order that what I have to tell you may be (stated) at the more appropriate time and considered before God, after prayer and meditation.
A short time after my arrival from Sydney with Monsignor, that is to say, he on one ship and I on another which was loaded with stone and wood for the church we have to build, His Lordship sent me to look after the very reverend Father Dubreuil who was very ill at Father Violette’s station, and I have been with him ever since. My daily work is to do the cooking and take care of the little domestic tasks in the house 7 or 8 hours a day. For 6 to 7 months now I have been suffering from rheumatism in my right leg. It nags me when I walk and the pain is very sharp when the weather changes or when I cough.
I follow pretty much the timetable prescribed by the Rule. I am not inconvenienced much and I am very much inclined to keep to it. My exercises of piety are still the same.
As far as obedience is concerned, I am indifferent as to whether I am required to do this or that. But I don’t like hearing impatient or angry shouts all day over little things not worth mentioning, things I have not understood properly or forgotten about. Moreover, when I am given a number of things to do at the same time, often two or three days in advance, and I haven’t been able to do them all, I am abused and treated as disobedient, and sometimes called other things as well. At last, I am beginning not to be too discouraged, especially when I have done what I have been told and what they wanted, and they complain just the same. The Brothers have many faults, it is true, but the Fathers have plenty of their own, too, and often there is no support.
We are certainly in need of a Rule in this country, very reverend Father, and that the Superiors are strict in seeing that it is observed as far as possible. The subjects would make better progress and the mission too. People in general are concerned only with the material things and looking after themselves. As a chief remarked to one of our Fathers one day: You have come here to look after yourselves, and you aren’t doing anything for us.
In closing my letter I think it is appropriate, very reverend Father, to let you know the resolutions I took at the end of the retreat I made at good Fr Violette’s station. I hadn’t made one for 22 months. You can see in a few lines what my dispositions are and how much I desire to improve with God’s grace. Here they are:
  • Cultivate a more modest exterior to help foster lowliness of heart;
  • conform myself better to the will of God;
  • abandon my will entirely to that of my Superior;
  • keep careful watch over my senses and my thoughts;
  • be very patient and say nothing, even when I am not given the justice I am entitled to, and
  • not to be obstinate in maintaining my opinions.
I have the honour of being, my very Reverend Father, in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Br Charise.

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