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Br Charise to Br Francois, Upolu, 19 January 1860

LO 85

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


Charise was still at Amaele with Verne when he received Francois’ letter, but it appears that Bataillon may already have been considering him for the staff of Clydesdale (rf L 157). Poupinel’s letter [4] shows that he had discussed the brother’s situation with the bishop.

Bataillon had also once more aired his views on the subject of the relative uselessness of brothers (and sisters) compared with priests for the mission [3]. Seeing ministry and mission solely from the clerical viewpoint as preaching and sacramental service, he begrudges spending funds on lay religious for work which he believes native catechists and servants will do for free. Charise is quick to point out, though, that for the sort of skilled work Jacques does routinely, the mission would have to pay European workers a considerable amount. As for local catechists, his letter of October of this year shows how far they have yet to go in taking the place of a religious brother or sister (rf L. 157). But his own experience is enough to show how shortsighted the Vicar Apostolic’s policies are in this area. With the priest often absent on pastoral visits elsewhere or in Apia for various reasons, it fell to the brother to carry on much of his ministry at the station itself, including baptizing and giving instruction [6]. He adds a little more in the Memoirs he wrote on his return to France, sections of which Avit reproduced in the Annals: “During Fr Verne’s absences, I had occasion to baptize, to give instructions to the faithful, catechumens and protestants on Sundays and feastdays. He was ill one year during Lent and could only say Mass and hear Confessions. I had to give the instructions, even in Holy Week and on Easter day. My audience was neither learned nor hostile and I did my best in the Samoan language. The numerous protestants present found nothing to complain about…” (AA 3. 100-101).

A copy of the letter is to be found on pages 79 to 82 in the Cahier in the AFM (2).

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Brother,
I have just received your letter of January 1859, as well as your Circular dated December 1858. I have read them with much consolation and great satisfaction. The pleasure I experienced in reading them was dew for my heart, a heavenly salve, a wholly divine benediction.
A short time ago I also had the consolation of seeing Monsignor Bataillon and Br Abraham arrive in Samoa. We had been waiting for them for a long time and the sisters too. He has left them on Uvea and Futuna.
At a meeting of the priests in Samoa he mentioned he did not want to ask for any more Brothers or Sisters, saying they cost him more than they were worth in this country, and that priests were much more useful to him. He is perfectly right. But His Excellency was forgetting perhaps that to bring a simple mason to the Navigators to build a church would cost him at least 2400 francs a year. Add to this the food for him and his child 6 or 7 years old, and you are talking about at least 3000 francs. While the good Br Jacques does twice the work and, after working at building during the day, still works at night making bread or doing the washing for the community, and asks for nothing. That is a real saving. It is true that the Brothers are not all that useful on the mission, except for teaching, and that is not a priority for His Excellency. But the priests certainly like having Brothers to serve them.
I received a letter recently from Fr Poupinel in reply to the one I wrote asking to go to Sydney to recuperate. At the time I was frequently ill with an ailment common in hot countries, a swelling accompanied by fever. His letter flattered me too much, much more than I deserve. He said he knew better than I what good I could do in this country and that Monsignor had told him of the esteem and affection he had for me, and Fr Verne’s too, the one I am with. He would be very happy if I wanted to stay and if His Excellency judged it fit to bring me back, I would be very welcome at the Procure. I don’t want to go anywhere except where it pleases the good God to send me and do something for his glory by conforming myself to his holy will.
For about a year I have been taking some Epsoms salts from time to time and a drop of wine every day – a bottle lasts me a fortnight. I no longer have the sickness. I think people are praying for me. That is the best remedy for this sickness for it is clear to me that this year it has been different from other years. I am not strong but I can still work at many sorts of task.
We have a little Christian domain of about 200 with some baptized in this station where I am and it is now giving us some consolation. The priest often has to go to the port, which is quite a distance away, to get supplies and to see his confreres. In his absence I must take his place at prayers and giving the people a little instruction on Sundays and baptizing the dying. I often find myself alone for a fortnight or a month. I have already baptized 8 infants and almost all of them died. One of the others was a poor boy covered with ulcers aged 8 or 10. Everybody appeared to despise him because of his diseased body, but the good God did not abandon him. He had a burning desire for baptism. I often went to see him to give him some consolation and help him die well. I baptized him about midnight after he had recited all the prayers with me with a joy I cannot express. From that moment until the hour of his death, which took place about 8 o’clock in the morning, he never stopped repeating the words: “Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, have pity on me. Our Father, who art in heaven, holy be your name, your will be done.” He died fully conscious, repeating these words.
My very reverend Brother, if I were not afraid of going on too long, I have things of interest to tell you, but I will confine myself simply to saying I am happy where I am. After the storm comes the calm; after the days of tribulation come the days of consolation.
The good God and the holy Virgin are with us. My favourite ejaculatory prayers are: “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, have pity on me. Take away from me, most holy heart of Jesus,…” I find a lot of strength in these prayers. In this land years, months, days pass without one noticing.
I commend myself to the prayers of all our dear Brothers, and particularly those I have the good fortune of knowing. I often think of good Br Jean-Marie who instilled in me the first principles of religious life.
I am, with deep respect and sincere affection, my Very Reverend Br Superior,
Your very humble and very devoted servant,
Br Charise, catechist.

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