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Br Francois to Br Justin, (Our Lady of the Hermitage), 9 January 1857

LFF 2. 287-291

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


In the Chronology included in the thirteenth volume of the CSG, there is mentioned for 1857 a 'very interesting letter of the Rev Brother Superior to the Brothers of Oceania' (CSG XVIII, 460). This letter cannot be found in the Circulars, nor is it mentioned by Avit in the Annales. But it was included by the Abbe Ponty in his biography of Francois in 1899.[1] Ponty dated it 27 January, and his presentation suggests a reordering of material in the final version. The four paragraphs of the postscript in the draft in LFF (290-1) have been incorporated in the body of the text in his work, between paragraph 16 (LFF) on the Hermitage and the more personal section beginning 'Je suis entre dans ces details...' (par 21 here). In his recent biography of Francois, Br Gabriel Michel has followed his example. Since the exhortatory character of this part of the circular seems addressed, like the shorter messages attached, to an individual (Justin in this case), we are following the same procedure. [2] The messages themselves, of course, have not been reproduced by Ponty or Michel.

The other circular enclosed is the one Francois wrote a few days earlier, on 6 January, to encourage the brothers to read and reflect on the life of the Founder presented in Jean-Baptiste's newly published biography (CSG 2. 261-292). Paragraph 22 of our circular, in fact, is taken almost word for word from an instruction of the Founder on the missionary vocation found in Chapter XIX of the first part of the Life (p 210; Eng 204). Some of the persons mentioned in the circular, the countess de Grandville, Fr Douillet, Brothers Jean-Marie and Pascal, for example, also figure in the Life.

In his circular of January 6, Francois included a table showing the state of the Institute for 1856-1857 [4]. Avit summarises this in the Annals: '... the Institute counted 312 establishments, including the one in London, one in Belgium and 4 in Oceania,[3] 1106 Brothers were employed in these houses and educated 50,000 children. The novitiates of the Hermitage, Saint-Paul, La Begude, Beaucamps and Hautefort, numbering 430 postulants, novices or professed, were not included in these totals.' (AA 2. 215). Because of the rapid expansion, the superiors had long sought a more suitable site for the mother-house and purchased in 1853 a property at St Genis-Laval just to the south of Lyon. Building was still going on there, and the general administration did not move in until 1858. Avit provides a running commentary on developments during those years in the Annals.

Francois mentions three missionary brothers who had returned from Oceania [17], Pierre-Marie, Emery, and Aristide. The former had returned from New Zealand in 1846 (rf L 60) and, after a short period of recuperation at the Hermitage, had gone back to teaching and directing schools. He was director of the orphanage at Bois-Sainte-Marie for the entire life-span of that institution, from 1851-1860 (S2. 425). Emery came back from New Zealand in 1854 and worked at the Hermitage until he volunteered once more for the missions at the end of 1857. Aristide, who had returned from Sydney in November 1850, after the failure of the Melanesian mission, also went back to the Pacific, in 1859. Francois also mentions an encounter with Louis Rozet (rf L 22), who had been sent to Europe by Mgr Viard to treat with Colin and Rome about matters affecting his mission, and to complete his novitiate in the Society. After profession in 1854, Rozet did not return to Oceania. Stationed at Valenciennes between 1856 and 1859, he was one of the preachers at the Beaucamps retreat of 1856. [4] The visit of Bataillon [20] is described in almost the same words used by Avit in his record of the event in the Annales (2. 211-12). This, the second of the bishop's visits, according to Avit, took place on 22 September 1856. Avit also records his third and last visit: 'On his return from Rome, Mgr Bataillon honoured the Hermitage with a 3rd visit, during the first retreat. It took place without ceremony. His Lordship begged the Reverend Brother to give him brothers for Oceania whither he was immediately bound.' (AA 2. 217). Emery went with him, together with Augule, who had been working as shoemaker at the Hermitage.

At the head of the draft of this circular in Francois' letterbook in the APM (the first page reproduced in LFF opposite p 287), we can read the words: Au F. Justin, Missionaire catholique a Wellington. Voie de Londres (Nlle Zelande) . After moving to Wellington with the other Marists in 1850, Justin had been employed by Viard as his cook and housekeeper. These occupations did not please the brother and he requested to return to the Hermitage. Francois appears to be addressing these concerns in pars 23 and 24. But at the time he was penning these lines, Justin was already preparing to make the voyage home. Announcing his departure via Sydney in April, Viard wrote to Favre: 'The good brother has for a long time served the mission and everywhere in painful labours. His health demands that he make this journey. He has the permission of his Superiors in France. As Father Forest and Father Seon - the only priest at this moment with me - find that it cannot be opposed, I give my consent, although it costs me much to lose one more member of the mission' (Keys, Viard, 166). It seems his mental as well as his physical health was affected, since on his return to France he was admitted to the Antiquaille hospital in Lyon, where he died in 1871 (S2 310).

Text of the Letter

Dear Brother,
I have been wanting to write to you and taken a long time indeed to get around to it. I know what pleasure you get in receiving news of the Society, and especially of the novitiate, where you received your religious education, and of the senior Brothers to whom you are still so attached. But various circumstances have prevented me from satisfying my wishes and yours in this matter, and so I thought it would give you some compensation if I sent you some printed circulars. I have been pleased to hear you received them, and I propose to continue sending you all those which might be of interest to you.
Do not think, my dear Brother, that our good Brothers of Oceania are forgotten. Anything which calls them to mind is dear and precious to us. Their letters are read with the greatest interest. Indeed, they are family letters, and they are so much the more worthy of attention in coming from so far away, and because this is our only means of communication. Moreover, when we receive a copy of the Annals people quickly scan it for traces of letters or news from the missions of Oceania. Anything found is avidly devoured, just like family news. We are equally happy and interested when we receive the different things sent us from those far off places.
Oh! How curious everyone is about them! How they stare at and examine them! We have set up a sort of museum with them and it is already well stocked. It is wonderful to see both the amazing things created by the Lord and the various products of human industry, even in savage lands.
You can see from the circular I am sending that our Society is already very numerous and widespread in various departments of France, and that it is starting to spread overseas: in Belgium and in England.
This year I had the pleasure of assisting at our Brothers' retreat in the North Province. It was very edifying. The province already has a good number of Brothers: 150. I met several very promising English subjects. Mme the Countess de Grandville, who founded the novitiate, is having a beautiful chapel built and the house considerably enlarged. Apart from the novitiate, there is a boarding school of more than 100 pupils. Br Aidant is the present Director.
Br Louis-Bernardin was forced to leave the north on account of his poor health. We have sent him to La Cote St Andre where he had been before. He replaces the good Br Leon who died last March in the odour of sanctity , mourned by all. Br Louis-Bernardin's health has much improved in the meantime. That establishment is doing well. It has a large number of pupils and regularly supplies the Institute with good novices. Fr Douillet, its chaplain, also died there, a few months before Br Leon, and his death, too, was a saintly one.
Br Jean-Marie is still in the Midi. He is directing an establishment in Provence at present. There is much good to be done there, especially considering the people are not inclined to religion. However, the merits of the good Brother have earned him a great reputation for learning and holiness in the region, so he enjoys everyone's affection, esteem, and general confidence. This puts religion in a new light and adds more lustre to the virtue of this excellent Brother.
Br Leonide, his immediate successor, who had providentially replaced him as Director of the novitiate of St Paul-Trois- Chateaux, was also forced to relinquish his responsibility and offices two years ago because of a serious sickness he has had for a long time. He is much better now and successfully directing a very important establishment in the Ardeche. Br Ladislas has succeeded him at St Paul-Trois-Chateaux.
For several years now I have made the effort to assist at the Brothers' retreats in this province. I am very edified by their piety, docility, and dedication. At the last retreat there were more than three hundred. We have purchased a house and a little property right next to the Brothers' garden. Otherwise we would not be able to accomodate them all. During the year about 30 boarders occupy the house.
Br Malachie directs the novitiate of La Begude and does it very prudently, wisely and successfully. Each year he receives enough postulants, but he is strict in his choice, keeping only the ones with very positive qualities and clear signs of a vocation. So his house is remarkable for its piety, modesty, recollection, and regularity. These things make it a source of edification, delight and admiration for all who reside there or come visiting. Fr Besson is still there as chaplain. You know how fervent and zealous he is.
We have bought the Fathers' house and garden at Valbenoite and since then the boarding school has shown great development. There are now nearly 100 pupils. The house is full. The parish classes are equally full: about 400. At present they are building bigger classrooms.
We have also bought a house and a certain amount of land at Neuville for the boarding school. It was not getting on very well with the town school. There was a solemn blessing of the little chapel and the whole house on the octave day of the Immaculate Conception. Fr Pagnon, vicar general of Lyon, performed the ceremony, assisted by about fifteen priests and the dignitaries of Neuville. It was very beautiful and very edifying. The students' singing was wonderful and their behaviour perfect all through this holy and impressive ceremony. I was there with Br Louis-Marie and Br Pascal. Br Placide is director. Everyone was impressed.
The house is fully furnished and large enough to accomodate 150 pupils. One of the Marist Fathers from Lyon says Mass every Sunday, and the local priests say one twice a week. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the chapel. What a privilege for the Brothers and their children to have Our Lord in their house!
But the most important of all our acquisitions has been a beautiful property consisting of a great house and extensive grounds at St Genis Laval, two leagues from Lyon, where we can establish the main house of the Institute. It was quite providential the way we acquired it, and that is why I have always regarded it as a consequence of the Blessed Virgin’s motherly solicitude and benevolent protection for our Society.
What pleases me most about this property is that it is secluded and far from all noise and yet close to a great centre of communications for all countries. As well as a beautiful view and all the space necessary for a numerous community, we find there the tranquility, the solitude, the isolation we have at Our Lady of the Hermitage, and that stamp of modesty, humility, and religious simplicity which ought to be, in everything and everywhere, the distinctive sign and mark of our congregation. We already have the buildings there to accommodate more people than at the Hermitage and only half the general plan has been realised. It should do us for some years.
As for Our Lady of the Hermitage, which holds such beautiful and emotional memories for us, it is still the principal and largest of our novitiates. About a hundred candidates come each year and the establishments of this province multiply so fast that we are already faced with having to divide it and name another Assistant; Br Louis-Marie can no longer look after it by himself. We will soon have to do the same for Br Jean-Baptiste in his province of the Midi. Br Paschal has the northern province, the largest in area but the smallest in numbers. That is why we have combined it with the western one which was started two years ago and has its novitiate at Hautfort, in the diocese of Perigneux. Br Francis-Michel, Director of the novitiate, is distinguished for his piety, economy, and following the Rule, but he does not have any novices yet.
[5] And now for some more particular items of news which you may find of interest. Two of the three Brothers who have returned from Oceania are here: Br Emery who is hellping Br Hippolyte and doing the occasional commission, and Br Aristide, also a tailor and currently the porter. We love them very much, they are so edifying. Br Pierre-Marie is Director of Bois Ste Marie in the diocese of Autun. This establishment is a sort of Home for educating poor children as well as being the communal school. A rich and pious lady has consecrated part of her great fortune to it and become a nun. She is now Superior of the Sisters who are there, running not only the school and the home but also a hospital founded by the same lady. Br Pierre-Marie is very much loved and esteemed there.
The personnel of the Hermitage are as follows: Director, Br Philogone; Secretary, Br Marie Jubin; Procurator, Br Abrosime; Librarian, Br Benoit; Sacristan, Br Melit; Infirmarian, Br Emmanuel; Shoemakers, Brs Leonard and Augule; Laundry, Brs Jean-Claude and Adalbert; Draper and bellringer, Br Marcellin; Kitchen, Br Dace; Gardener, Br Casimir; Vehicles, Br Pierre-Joseph; Masters at the Scholasticate, Brs Sylvestre and Clair; Masters at the Novitiate, Brs Agricole and Marie Clarent; Brothers Pierre, Celse, and Honore are occupied with various tasks, Br Jacques is still looking after all the animals, large and small, and Br Arsene’s chief occupation is praying; he is a saint. And Br Dacien is making a wonderful clock with about 20 dials showing the years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, the phases of the moon, epacts, seasons, the time of sunrise and sunset, etc. etc. It sounds the hours and the quarter hours, plays a carillon, sets processions, files of soldiers in motion, etc. etc.[6]
We still have Fr Matricon as principal chaplain. His assistant is Fr de Lalande who does almost all the ceremonies and all the work in the house. Both of them are very devoted to the Brothers and pray for them a lot. So they are well loved. Fr Matricon is in reasonable health. Fr de Lalande lives on fruit and vegetables and has only one meal a day, but he sings wonderfully and does the work of four. He does the Stations of the Cross almost very day, keeps vigil a great part of the night, and is rarely to be found in his room. What a fine example of mortification, poverty, and humility he gives us!
On a number of occasions I have seen the Fathers who have returned from Oceania. You can imagine with what insistence and interest I ask for and receive news of the Brothers there, and anything they can tell us about the manners, customs, practices, and curiosities of the country. Fr Rozet told us some very interesting tales at the last retreat of the Brothers of the north. His listeners were wide-eyed, drinking it all in. We were also honoured with a visit from Mgr Batallion to he Hermitage. He arrived the day after the retreat ended. He celebrated Holy Mass and gave communion to the community. Then he conferred Confirmation on twenty of the Brothers. He was accompanied by three young Oceanians. They chanted in their language the canticle “United with the choirs of Angels”, while the community chanted the refrain in French. It was beautiful to see how the Brothers surrounded them in the courtyard during recreation, and with all that they seemed quite at ease. One of them served in the dining room at dinner and he did everything perfectly. I was very sorry I was not at the Hermitage at the time. I was at the retreat at St Paul-Trois-Chateaux. But I am hoping for compensation when His Lordship returns from his trip to Rome. He is there with the Rev Fr Favre, Superior General, who is going to set up a house of the Fathers there.
I have gone into all these details, my dear Brother, because I know that everything that concerns our Society is of great interest to you. I also want to make you some compensation for the distance and the type of isolation you experience in our regard. St Alphonsus de Ligouri[7] recounts how St Theresa appeared to one of her nuns and told her: “We in heaven and you on earth should be at one in purity and love.” I have been thinking of saying much the same thing to you: We in France and you in Oceania should be at one in piety, zeal, and charity, each one on his side working for the glory of God, our own perfection and the salvation of souls, according to our own strength and means, in the task and the offices we are required to carry out. For, when we unite ourselves with you, we hope to have a share in the merits of your sufferings, your works, your privations, and of all you are doing in Oceania. And in the same way, when you unite yourselves with us, and do what obedience requires of you, you will have a share in all the good our Brothers are doing in France and elsewhere by giving a Christian education to the children entrusted to them.
The good Father Champagnat used to tell us that Providence, in confiding the mission of Oceania to the Society, had made us at the same time responsible for procuring the salvation of all those poor savages who dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death. Don’t think, he would add, that this task is only for those who have the good fortune to be chosen to carry the faith to those distant lands. It is the work and the task of all the members of the Institute, and we should all contribute to it by our prayers, our good example, and by all sorts of virtues. If, therefore, we are good Religious, if we observe our holy Rule well, if we keep ourselves closely united to our Lord in all our actions, if we tell him often, with fervour, love, and confidence: “May your name be made holy”, he will grant us the conversion and the salvation of a great number of savages.
Let us endeavour, then, to conform to the wishes and intentions of our venerated Founder, each one in whatever concerns him. And, as Rodriguez says, let us in particular aim to carry out our employment perfectly, without being distracted by other things.[8] For, he adds, we have seen Religious, tired of their state and the employment in which God and obedience have placed them, desiring and zealously looking for another. They imagine they will harvest more fruit for themselves and their neighbour there, and eventually they succeed in forcing their Superiors to give them what they want. But they have found themselves so badly off with all these changes that they have themselves recognised it was a punishment from God.
All we have to do in this matter, then, is to strip ourselves entirely of our own will, to abandon ourselves to the will of God, and let ourselves be lead with humility and simplicity by means of obedience, because we will never be better off than where God is pleased to place us. So let us work in harmony at God’s work, under the powerful protection of the blessed Mary, our good Mother, in the consoling hope that we will be reunited one day in our common fatherland, to enjoy together the peace of eternal happiness.
Accept for yourself and for our Fathers and Brothers of Oceania, this expression of the sentiments of heartfelt affection and sincere attachment the Fathers and Brothers of France have for you, especially.
Your very devoted
Br F(rancois)


  1. Vie de Frere Francois par L’Abbe Ponty, Lyon 1899, pages 177-184.
  2. For the most recent biography of Francois, rf Frere Francois. Gabriel Rivat. 60 ans d’histoire mariste, Fr Gabriel Michel (1996), pp 239-242.
  3. The brothers in Oceania were working in 4 eccesiastical provinces, the diocese of Wellington (New Zealand), the vicariates of Central Oceania and New Caledonia, and the Archdiocese of Sydney (Australia). the table (CSG 2. 289) shows 14 teaching brothers working in Oceania – Francois may not have yet known of Marie-Augustin’s departure. Although Jacques is included on the mailing list, he was not considered a PFM.
  4. Freres et Peres de la Societe de Marie sous la generalat de frere Francois 1840-1860, Bernard Bourtot SM, Saint Priest, 1999, p 101.
  5. Paragraphs 17 to 20 inclusive appear as a postscript in the draft of Francois’ notebooks — Carnet de lettres No 7 pp 995-1003 (AFM).
  6. Dacien’s clock was completed and set up in 1859. In 1866 it was dismantled and its parts stored in the loft where they were destroyed or carted off by republican troops in 1870, much to the sorrow of the inventor and the other brothers (AA 3, 55-56).
  7. Alphonsus Ligouri, Italian moralist and ascetic writer much favoured by the Marists. Francois had a number of his works in his library (cf Introduction a la Vie de M.J.B. Champagnat, F. Lanfrey, Rome 2000, p 137).
  8. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a 17th century Spanish Jesuit, whose work “Principles of Christian Perfection” was a classic ascetical work and quoted extensively by Br Francois in his notebooks (rf Lanfrey, op cit. p 136).

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