Br Claude-Marie to Fr Poupinel, Nelson, 10 February 1864
When Poupinel arrived in Sydney on March 14, 1864, he would have found this letter among those awaiting him. Claude-Marie was impatient to learn what decision, if any, had been made concerning his request to return to France. But if he was expecting a prompt visit from the visitor general, he was to be disappointed. Poupinel did not come to New Zealand until the following year.
In an attempt to keep the brother for the mission, Viard had promised him an assistant at Nelson to relieve him of the heavy work . According to Claude-Marie, the bishop was expecting two or three coadjutors to arrive for the mission. But in the period 1859 to 1864, while half a dozen priests arrived, only one brother was assigned to the New Zealand mission, Athanase Broyer, who was now at Napier with Forest. In the decade 1860 to 1870 only five coadjutor brothers came out to Oceania, and it was in the latter year that the next to be appointed to this mission, Cyprien Huchet, left France. The decade saw the death and retirement of a number of the ‘anciens’. It is not at all clear why more brothers were not sent out to assist or replace them.
Claude-Marie had an additional reason for delaying his departure; his concern for Garin’s health. The latter had been seriously ill the year before and had to spend some months with the Redwoods before he was well enough to return to his parish. He was apparently offered a trip to Europe to recuperate, but is said to have refused to give younger missionaries an example of what he considered to be cowardice (Goulter 92). This attitude may explain why he consistently found reasons to keep the brother in Nelson (rf the following letter, L 175).
Claude-Marie’s suggestion of a retreat for the brothers  raises an important question. Alone of the brothers on the mission, he had not seen a confrere since his appointment to Nelson. The values of community and mutual support were obviously very important for him and it would appear that even an occasional meeting or gathering would have left him more settled and reduced the number of requests for a transfer. They might well have helped Euloge, too, and prevented his tragic end the same year (rf L 179). As early as 1860, Reignier had pointed out that Basile and Florentin felt they were in danger of losing their religious spirit because their work allowed them no time for recollection (L 155). They appear to have had only one retreat up to then, when Seon stayed a few months in 1856 and gave them all one. Even Garin, who had been provincial himself, seems to have neglected this basic requirement for the brothers, as Claude-Marie insinuates in his aside in parentheses.
Strictly speaking, it was Viard’s responsibility as religious superior of the Marists to see that they had the opportunity to carry out the requirements of their rule. But it would appear that he did not concern himself with oversight in this area, leaving it to the visitor general to handle the problem. In Claude-Marie’s case, anyway, he later arranged a retreat with Forest in Napier in 1866 (L 181).
This translation and the next were made from photocopies in Jessie Munro’s collection.
Text of the Letter
- Very reverend and well-loved Father,
- I greet your happy return among us in this new world with inexpressible joy. I like to think that you had a good and swift crossing and will be most satisfied with your voyage and your stay in the mother country as well as the other places you have travelled through. Several times you had the pleasure of seeing and conversing with our good superiors. You heard from their own mouth what you are now going to communicate to us. Oh! May your return be for us, for me in particular, a happy date on which I may soundly congratulate myself.
- You have certainly not forgotten, very rev Father, that I wrote to you a few days before your departure for Europe. Later, in the month of May last year, I had the honour of addressing you another letter to the Mother House in Lyon in which I let you know what His Lordship told me. (He said) that he promised to send another brother here to help me, and that having less to do, I would remain in the mission. He was soon expecting to receive some he had asked for in France. He was almost certain that at least two or three brothers were going to arrive for him. I told you of my disappointment at seeing no one arrive. Then the sickness of good Fr Garin which prevented me from carrying out my resolution, having neither the ability nor the right, to leave him behind in the state he was in, etc. etc. I asked you then to kindly make known to my superiors the position I was in and the permission to be able to return soon to France.
- Knowing your kind heart, the interest you have always taken in me on different occasions, I do not doubt that you spoke much in my favour and that you have brought back a response favourable to my wishes. That is the reason I take the liberty of writing to you again this present letter so that as soon as possible we may carry out what I have requested so many times… But if such, however, was not the will of God, and if my superiors do not judge it fitting that I return, in that case, my good Father, I must say that it is impossible for me to do it by myself. My strength is completely gone… and since in Lyon they refuse to send brothers to come to the help of the old ones who can no longer be active, the fathers will have to take on servants who will cost them a lot and who will not take the interest in the house a brother does, who works and acts only for the greater glory of God and the good of the station where he is.
- So, my very rev. father, I have no idea of the instructions you have for me on the part of my superiors but I wanted to make sure this letter reached you so that on your arrival you see what your generous heart might prompt you to do for your poor little servant. No, oh! No, I would be desolated in going against the will of my good superiors. But you also know that I am old, infirm, and consequently incapable of continuing without someone taking charge of the cooking and the heavy work of the station. In that case, if you find my return to France too inconvenient, I consent to remain to carry out the will of my superiors, which will be the will of God. But if you think that it will be better for me to go and finish my days at the Hermitage in quiet retirement, happy fiat!… In that case, you will greatly oblige me by asking His Lordship to send me in writing – without my needing to write to him – the permission I will have to present to my superiors on arriving in France. I have just written to him in this sense and told him that I was proposing to address you a letter by the February mail.
- I don’t know, very rev. Father, if it will be given me to see you again. But if I had this good fortune, ah! What joy I would have to have news of you, of my very dear confreres, of the Society, etc. etc. Perhaps you would have a word for me from St Sauveur of which I have heard nothing more. Heaven grant that I have this honour once again.
- I am finishing. I hope you have understood me. Arrange that my transfer be made soon in one way or another. You will be doing me the greatest service, I assure you. I will be grateful to you all my life and beyond, if I have the good fortune of being in the number of the elect.
- I have another favour I wish to ask of you. It is that if I stay in New Zealand, it may be granted us (I am talking about the brothers) to all meet in Wellington to make a spiritual retreat under the direction of a father. How happy we would be to see one another again once more after 14 years of separation all reunited under the same roof and mutually encouraging ourselves to spend the rest of our declining years well. It would be easy, I think, to accord us this grace, and we would all be able very easily to make it to the rendez-vous on the fixed day by means of the steamers which leave regularly from all the places where we have stations. If this plan pleases you, very dear father, please recommend it strongly to the Father directors. The happy date determined, and I hope that a very great good will result from it, especially for me because for a very long time I have hardly made a retreat (don’t say that I have mentioned this to you).
- Farewell, then, very reverend and very good Father, you know as well as I do everything that concerns me. I place myself entirely in your paternal hands. Whether for returning or for staying, I hope everything of you. I like to think that my trust in you will not be in vain. Pray and have many prayers said for me, and believe me to be always, very rev. Father,
- your very humble and obedient servant,
- Brother Claude-Marie.
- your very humble and obedient servant,
- Underlined in the text.
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