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Br Pascal to Brs of Oceania, Saint-Genis-Laval, 8 December 1863

CSG 3. 538-542


Pascal’s appointment as liaison with the missionary brothers in 1862 was an appropriate one. Before becoming assistant for the Hermitage province, he had been responsible for the province of the North. This included those establishments which had been recently founded in Belgium (Fleurus), England (London), and Scotland (Glasgow) which were expected to provide vocations for the missions. In June 1861 Pascal and Theophane, the new assistant for the North, had visited Ireland to look at sites for a possible novitiate for English-speaking candidates for the congregation. For the moment they found nothing suitable, and, although a school was opened at Sligo the following April, young men seeking to enter the congregation had to do their novitiate at Beaucamps until 1874, when a novitiate house was set up at Dumfries in Scotland.

In this long letter (dated incorrectly in the CSG as 8 December 1868), Pascal informs the missionaries of the most important recent events in the life of the Institute: the approbation by Rome in January 1863, the two sessions of the 4th General Chapter in 1862 and 1863, the official election of Louis-Marie as superior general, and the election of his five assistants. Francois had retired to the Hermitage where he occupied the post of director of the house. During his generalate of 20 years he had founded 331 houses. When he handed over the reins to Louis-Marie, the congregation had 379 houses with 1445 brothers working in the schools, boarding establishments and houses of formation. With the sick, retired, scholastics, novices and postulants included, the Little Brothers of Mary now numbered 2086 members (Avit 2. 250).

Pascal includes with this letter the three circulars of Louis-Marie written during the year, those of 2 February, 29 June, and 8 December. The latter gives further details of the fire at St Genis-Laval on the night of 6/7 September and the deaths of Brs Joseph and Maxime [13-15](CSG 3. 207-8). Avit also included the story in the Annales (3. 3-4). He also includes a story of the death of Jacques Peloux [16] which he found in the writings of Charise (AA 3. 101). On a visit to Futuna, Jacques “ran out of Mass one day and went and threw himself from the top of a rock 2 leagues away.” The truth, however, appears to be that the brother, while saying his rosary on a height overlooking the shrine of St Pierre Chanel, collapsed and fell to his death. He was buried on Futuna.

This is the only letter Pascal wrote to the brothers of Oceania. He died after a long illness on 19 June 1867. Jean-Baptiste included his life in the collection of Biographies de quelques Freres (English Our Models in Religion, pp 342-406).

Text of the Letter

Very dear Brothers,
I can tell you sincerely that I felt very moved when I was made responsible for the correspondence with the good Brothers of Oceania. It seems to me I will have, in this way, a very special role in the work of the missions in which you are so directly engaged. I will be able to regard as my own, in some small way, the services you are continually providing the Rev. Fathers with whom you are fortunate enough to be associated. From the hands of a good correspondent the Brothers would receive plenty of comfort and great encouragement. Alas! What will they get from me? … I simply don’t know, my good Brothers.
From me you will get nothing, absolutely nothing, perhaps less than nothing. Good God, what a misfortune! I pray constantly, and will continue to pray to our good Mother, Father Champagnat, our first Brothers, to cooperate in inspiring in the letters I must write to you, the piety, grace, and charity indispensable to you in carrying out, in a holy way, the duties of the wonderful mission you have embraced. For your part, you will pray too. Then we can expect of the good God, of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the abundant blessings he so delights in bestowing on the faithful workers in his vineyard.
Since the Rev Br Louis-Marie wrote to you, the good God has favoured us with very great graces. Thus, you know that the General Chapter convened a short time ago. It was suspended while approaches were made to the Holy Father to obtain positive and special approbation for our beloved little Congregation. As a result of the Reverend Brother Louis-Marie’s two trips in the course of 1862, our Holy Father, the Pope, became acquainted with the Congregation, its spirit, its purpose, as well as the basic elements of its organization, and the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars examined our case in detail. His Holiness gave us definitive approbation on the 9th of January 1863. Since that date we have had the signal favour of being able to call ourselves sons of the Holy Roman Church in a much more specific sense than before.
Our spirit, our purpose, our vows, our organization under a Superior General chosen from among ourselves – all have been definitively approved and blessed by the Holy Pontiff, Pius IX. It is a favour we value very highly and one which filled all the members of our dear Society with joy.
Following the authorization, the General Chapter was reconvened so that the first proclamation of this great grace might be received with all appropriate solemnity. The Chapter then proceeded to the election of the first Superior General whose authority derives directly from the Holy See. There was no division of votes, it was Rev Br Louis-Marie’s name which emerged from the urn. The venerable Brother who has already given us such great example and proof of love, solicitude, and zeal for the development and consolidation of our Society, was proclaimed Superior General of the Congregation of the Little Brothers of Mary. The whole community immediately chanted the Magnificat to thank God for giving it, through Mary’s mediation, a man who is at the same time, a Father all heart to love it, a Superior full of wisdom to govern it, and a Teacher replete with knowledge to instruct it. The following day the Assistants were elected. Dear Br Jean-Baptiste was elected 1st Assistant and assigned the province of Saint-Genis-Laval; dear Br Pascal, 2nd Assistant, for the province of the Hermitage; dear Br Theophane, 3rd Assistant, for the province of the North, comprising Perigord, the houses of Belgium, England, Scotland, and Ireland; dear Br Philogone, 4th Assistant, for the province of La Begude, and dear Br Eubert, 5th Assistant, for the province of Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.
The Rev Brother Francois continues to take his retirement directing the house of the Hermitage and finds particular pleasure in the company of the hundred or so Brothers there, whether for study or for the service of the house.
Once the Chapter was finished, the Capitulants conveyed the good news to the provinces and the establishments. All the same, the Rev Br Superior was able to attend all the Retreats except Scotland to announce this blessed approbation himself.
It is good that I can share with you another favour the Rev Br Superior General has obtained from the Holy See. It is a novena to which is attached a plenary indulgence and some very special blessings, which he may propose to the Brothers, either personally or through his Assistants, whenever he judges it suitable. I am sending you the conditions and I propose you make one at the earliest opportunity in order to draw down on yourselves the particular graces you each need in your employment to do the good God asks of you, and to obtain perseverance in your holy vocation.
I will be able in future to offer you the same opportunity once a year should you find yourselves in some difficult situation.
As you would expect, my very dear Brothers, these favours have contributed greatly to increase the spirit of union, of piety, and of regularity among us. I have no doubt it will be the same for you when you receive this reassuring news.
For the same purpose I am sending each one the last three Circulars of the Rev Br superior General. You will not only read them but I am sure you will draw profit from meditating on them. You will draw abundantly of the spirit which ought constantly to give us strength and which should lead us to heaven.
And now for some news of another sort. It will sadden you, but as true children of the family you ought to share its sorrows as well as its joys.
The 6th of September, the day before the opening of our second retreat at Saint-Genis-Laval, was marked by a disaster which plunged us all into great sadness. A fire broke out at 10 o’clock at night in the section of the buildings where the hay was stored. There was scarcely time to sound the alarm before the flames covered the whole surface of the barns. Controlling the fire became the first priority for everyone. After 8 to 9 hours of very strenuous activity, water and human labour gained the upper hand. The firemen from four or five of the nearest communes came hurrying and rendered us immense services.
The fire began to die out. The burned buildings had been destined to be replaced. Though they were not insured, considering they were soon to be demolished, the material loss proved to be the least. We were all starting to reassure ourselves and thanking the good God that nothing serious had happened. But while they were raking out the half-burned timber of the bakery, someone came across two charred corpses. Everyone was overcome with shock. Who is it? Who is it? Was the question going round. A search was made, heads were counted, and eventually it was discovered one was the good Brother Joseph, whom you all knew, one of the first Brothers in the Institute, and the other Brother Maximin, the house baker. The two had suffocated while trying to save some of the movable items. They were both holy religious. But what a purgatory! The ways of God are beyond understanding; they had not a hope of being saved. People had seen them, exchanged words with them; no one could have suspected they were in the flames. We believe they have passed from there to heaven. Since everyone knew their virtue we have no doubt about that.
This disaster was a vivid reminder to us, my very dear Brothers, as you might expect, of how true and wise are the words: “Hold yourself ready, for you know not the day, nor the hour, etc.” [ cf Matt. 25: 13 ] No one has been able to find out how the fire started.
We have heard of the same sort of misfortune that happened to good Brother Jacques Peloux. That also caused us great sadness. The very edifying account Fr Eloy (sic) wrote us about it, and what Fr Poupinel has just told us, have filled us with admiration for the good Brother’s virtue. We hope, with you, that he is also in heaven.
I will stop here for now, my dear Brothers. For the rest, you will have abundant news from Fr Poupinel. He will tell you that the Congregation continues to prosper beyond our hopes. Our houses in England, especially, seem to promise great fruit. It may be that they will succeed in supplying good subjects for the schools in the missions of New Zealand. Fr Yardin tells us that there is much good to be done there, but we need more time for that.
Let us confide its success to Providence. We can debate, we can plan, but in the last resort it is Providence which conducts all; it always achieves its ends, but usually with tranquility, that is, slowly.
My very dear Brothers, let us always be, in a union of work and prayer, the little children of Mary. It is with these sentiments that I embrace you with all the ardour of my heart in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Your very humble and devoted servant,
Br Pascal. Assist.

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