Br Louis-Marie to Bp Bataillon, Saint-Genis-Laval, 18 December 1867
CSG 3: 565-567
In August 1866 Bataillon wrote to Louis-Marie requesting brothers for a school at Saleufi. To encourage a ready response, he offered to allow Abraham and Lucien to join their confreres in community when they arrived in Samoa. At the time of writing both were well and making their retreat at Saleufi. In this letter, the superior general lets him know that the congregation is willing to respond but does not have the personnel for a foundation in the near future.
Louis-Marie gives as one reason for the current dearth of vocations the unsettled political situation in France . While it is true that the 1860s saw the anti-clericals and republicans becoming more aggressive, the more serious problem for the brothers, which he also mentions, was the decline in perseverance among the young professed. In this, the Institute was, in a way, the victim of its own success. By helping raise the general level of education in the countryside and small towns, it gave young males the opportunity of considering a variety of careers hitherto closed to them. And the industrial revolution made possible employment even for the youngest. Thus, while the congregation continued to grow in numbers overall, so did the number of brothers who left before profession or a few years after. In 1867 the number of professions was only a third of the number of receptions of the habit. For the period 1860 to 1869, of the 1765 admitted to the novitiate, 627, or just over a third, died in the congregation. Departures and deaths posed a particular problem for the superiors when dealing with requests for personnel for the missions, since it was from among the professed principally that these were chosen. The problem of perseverance, which Louis-Marie tackled in his circular of 9 February that year (SCG 3: 331-378), was one the Marists shared with other male teaching congregations in France at this time. Nor was it quite as crippling as he makes out in this letter. The congregation was still able to open 8 new establishments in 1867, one of them in southern Africa, at the Cape of Good Hope.
The Cape establishment, the fifth founded in an English-speaking country, was requested by Cardinal Barnabo, prefect of Propaganda, in May 1865. Five brothers left France in November 1867, two French, one Belgian, an Englishman and an Irishman (Avit 3. 54). The superiors hoped the Cape establishment would serve as a staging post towards the missions of Oceania (rf L 192 ), but the South African mission expanded itself to employ all the personnel sent there.
This letter and the following are to be found in the Appendix to the Circulars, Volume III, 1860-1869.
Text of the Letter
- My Lord,
- It is only today that I have found time to reply to the letter Your Lordship was good enough to write me on the 1st of August 1866. I regret I am still not able to grant your request as promptly as you wish.
- When we received Your Lordship’s letter on the 29th December last we had no subjects available, still less any subjects prepared for the missions. I wished to wait until the time of the recent retreats in September to find out who would be available.
- During that time the Holy See imposed on us a foundation at the Cape of Good Hope which took five of our first subjects engaged in learning English. Death has claimed thirty others, among them my second Assistant, Brother Pascal, precisely the man I had made especially responsible for the work of the Missions.
- The political troubles, as well, have made vocations more rare, and there has been an appreciable sifting out of our less settled subjects, whether from uncertainty about the future, or for other reasons, with the result that today we can scarcely do more than keep our established foundations going.
- It is, therefore, impossible for us at present to provide Brothers for the missions, or even to fix a time when we will be in a position to do so.
- I realize, moreover, My Lord, that to respond fully to your wishes and establish a stable and lasting work, we can and ought send you only subjects of proven virtue, thoroughly imbued with the spirit of their state. That is the fundamental consideration which restrains me. For to have such subjects we must choose very carefully and have plenty of time to prepare them.
- So, although I desire to continue in the islands a work begun by our Founder in concert with the Marist Fathers, and although I can only be grateful for the confidence Your Lordship shows in us for preferring us to other Congregations, I would not wish that the good you intend should be prevented or delayed simply because it is impossible for me to give you Brothers immediately. I would not be unhappy, therefore, to see another Congregation supply you immediately with the subjects you need.
- Since we are not well informed about the state of the locations and the prices of commodities, we find it difficult to comment on the conditions proposed by Your Lordship. But I am sure you will offer ones very acceptable to us.
- That question will be resolved in concert with the Superior General of the Society of Mary. At first glance, it appears our Brothers will be able to make do with the resources you are offering us. But I repeat, it is your paternal solicitude above all that we would always prefer to rely on.
- I thank you, My Lord, for the happy idea you have had of establishing our teaching Brothers in community. They will be much more useful to the mission in this way, seeing that they will better preserve the spirit of their state by living together according to their Rule than if they were left by themselves and scattered among the various stations.
- We will be very happy to see dear Brothers Abraham and Lucien join those we are going to send. Apart from being a great help to the new arrivals, they will provide mutual support and find strength in the religious state in their company. It may be that, in coming together, they will succeed in forming the beginnings of a novitiate, an excellent means of assuring the future of the schools in a Mission.
- So, My Lord, we desire most sincerely to respond to Your Lordship’s good intentions. We are preparing ourselves as best we can by asking God to provide us soon with the means. But we do not wish that our good will should set back the projects you have in mind and which you could realize more quickly with other Brothers.
- While we are waiting for the designs of Providence to became more evident, we will remain devoted to you heart and soul, praying God will support you in the midst of your apostolic works and reward your zeal with all success.
- Please accept, etc.
- Br Louis-Marie.
- Please accept, etc.
- Rf A. Lanfrey, Une Congregation Enseignante: Les Freres Maristes de 1850 a 1904, Rome, 1997, p 66.
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