117. Br Francois to Br Marie-Nizier, Hermitage, 4 April 1856
LFF 2. 273-4 Frere Francois, Lettres Personelles, presentees par F. Paul Sester, 1996, T 2.
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Towards the end of his circular of 29 January 1856, Francois informs the brothers: 'I recently received a letter from Br Marie-Nizier giving me some details about the Fiji islands, and describing some acts of cannibalism carried out by the savages who live there. The good Brother ends his letter thus:
"Allow me, Rev Br Superior, to let our dear Brothers know here of my sincere gratitude for the attachment and affection they show for us, which you expressed in your letter. May they continue to pray for our poor converts, for the devil has unlimited means for turning them from the right path. For my part, I cannot, and will never forget them. It makes me happy to hear of the good which the good God is doing through their agency. But I will not be truly happy until the day when, having crossed the numberless reefs scattered throughout the stormy seas of this life without shipwreck, we will be able, reunited at the feet of our good and tender Mother, to enjoy the unchanging repose which, it is to be hoped, God in his mercy will give us as the reward for our feeble labours (Futuna, 23 May 1855)." ' (CSG 2. 247-8).
The original of this letter has not survived but its content is clear, not only from this extract from the circulars and Francois' reply, but also from references elsewhere (rf L 120-5). It is also clear that the brother's chief reason for writing was to ascertain whether the formal separation of the two branches of the Society, the priests and the brothers, in 1852, meant that the missionary brothers were no longer one with their confreres in France. Francois is at pains to set his mind at rest on this score. When the question was raised at the session of the general chapter on the morning of 14 June 1852, the superior general had pointed out that the brothers of Oceania, although under the guidance of the Marist Fathers, still formed part of the Institute of the Brothers (Registre Capitulaire 1852-1853, p 41, AFM). The concern the delegates had shown for their confreres is also expressed in the superior general's sending a long circular with personal messages attached to them at the beginning of 1857 (L 120). In Marie-Nizier's case, the letter is accompanied by a number of the books he had been asking for for years including some, such as the School Guide and the Manual of Piety, which were among the fruits of the chapter. In fact, Francois' January 1856 circular is largely devoted to a study of these works (CSG 2. 241-6).
The general chapter had also recommended an increase in the number of Assistants to help in the governing of the Institute. One had already been appointed, Br Pascal Gaudin, to look after the province of the North. Later, as assistant for the Hermitage province, Pascal was to become responsible for the missionary brothers.
The translation has been made from the copy in Br Paul Sester's presentation of the letters of Br Francois, Vol 2. It is likely that a correction should be made to the closing sentence . 'Pour vous et vos Peres' makes better sense in the context than the text in Sester.
Text of the Letter
- Very dear Brother Nizier,
- I received the letter you wrote dated 23 May 1855 with great interest and satisfaction, and I have communicated to our Brothers the sentiments of gratitude, affection, and attachment you express for us there in so tangible a manner. The joy you experience on receiving news of the Society may give you some idea of what we feel on hearing news of you.
- No indeed, our good Brothers of Oceania are not forgotten. If only you knew how attentively people listen when the question rises, when there is mention of them in a letter, in the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, and even more when they write themselves, and you imagine you can hear them speaking! The General Chapter discussed the matter in one of its sessions, and was most eager to know the position of the Brothers of Oceania and their relations with the Society.
- I have been wanting for a very long time now to write each of our Brothers a personal letter, but various circumstances have prevented me up to now. I hope that in future our contacts will be more frequent.
- Since the Society has grown considerably, as you can see from the following table, the General Chapter has judged it fitting to give me a third Assistant, Br Pascal. He has special responsibility for the Nord province. But already Br Louis-Marie, responsible for the Centre, and Br Jean-Baptiste, in charge of the Midi, find themselves overloaded with work because the number of establishments in those two provinces has greatly multiplied. We are busy dividing them and naming another two Assistants.
- I am sending you 15 Circulars which, I hope, you will find of great interest. I am also including a grammar, a copy of Chapsal's dictionary, a Manual of piety, and a School Guide. I think you already have your book of Canticles. The life of Father Champagnat is with the printer. As soon as it is ready, I will make sure you are sent a copy.
- You will notice in the Circular of 15 May 1852 the name of Br Raphael among the Brothers composing the General Chapter. This good Brother is still Director of Firminy. The establishment has prospered under his direction. There are now five classes, so he is not short of work. You are familiar with his zeal and dedication. His health has suffered a bit for some time, but now he is well enough. He is still very attached to you.
- I know too, my dear Brother, that for your part, you do your best to follow your apostolic calling. You have experienced some harsh trials, but you know that the apostles taught the first Christians that it is through much tribulation that we must reach the kingdom of heaven. You wrote to me before leaving Le Havre that you would not exchange your place for a throne. I am sure you still feel the same, and that, following the example of St Francis Xavier, you cannot get enough pain and suffering for the salvation of souls which have cost a God's blood.
- The circulars I am addressing you contain much interesting news and advice you might find useful. I hope it will be a consolation for you and a compensation for the hardships your distance from the Brothers causes you. But if we are separated in body, we are united in spirit, in heart, and in affection. We love one another, we have a common Mother, the good Mary, and we join our prayers, works, and intentions on earth in the fond hope of being reunited one day in our common homeland to enjoy there rest and never-ending bliss.
- Accept for yourself and for your [Fathers] and our Brothers of Oceania, the expression of the very warm affection and sincere attachment which the Fathers and Brothers of France bear you, in particular
- Your very devoted
- F. F.
- Your very devoted
- Not included in the draft but doubtless a summary of the state of the Institute like that included in the circular of 25 December 1858.
- Raphael, Jean-Baptiste Chol (1818-1892), was from the same town as Marie-Nizier and had entered the novitiate with him. They had received the habit and taken their vows together (S2 438).
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