Br Louis-Marie to Fr Poupinel, Saint-Genis-Laval, 20 December 1867
CSG 3: 567-571
This letter, like its predecessor, was written to explain why the congregation was unable to supply brothers for the missions at present. Unlike the other, it also provides information about the progress of the brothers and their relations with the Marist fathers.
Louis-Marie offers the same reasons to Poupinel for the dearth of vocations as he had to Bataillon, while noting that the English brothers had been particularly affected . Some of them were claiming that the Rule and the Teacher’s Guide were not entirely applicable in England and needed to be adapted. Pascal, the assistant responsible for Great Britain and the missions, had already warned against these tendencies (rf Our Models in Religion 394-5). Louis-Marie hoped that by mixing the English novices at Beaucamps with as many French ones as possible, they might be more deeply imbued with the spirit of the Institute, while at the same time helping prospective missionaries to acquire familiarity with English [24; rf also Circulars 3: 451]. As the Aubenas province was the best-off with suitable personnel, its assistant, Philogone, had been appointed to replace the recently-deceased Pascal as assistant responsible for the Oceania mission. He was to hold this position until 1873 when the missions became part of the new province of Great Britain and the Isles.
The superior general gives the names of three brothers sent to the British Isles to learn English with a view to becoming missionaries in Oceania . Deodat (Jean-Pierre Seon b. 1825), a Marist since 1848, had already written to his step-brother Antoine in New Zealand telling him they would be coming the following year (rf Reignier to Poupinel, 16 July 1867, APM). But Deodat certainly jumped the gun there and, moreover, did not reach the missions at all, leaving the congrgation in 1871. Ezechiel (Jean Baptiste Ducray 1832-1871), who entered in 1849, had been teaching in the British Isles since 1862. Named as founding director of Sydney, he left London for France at the beginning of 1871, only to die of smallpox at Beaucamps on 2 February (Doyle 27). The only one of the three to actually reach his goal was Emiliani (Marcellin Pontet 1840-1900). After teaching in England and South Africa, he was appointed to Sydney in 1878 and remained there until 1890. His biography can be found in the Australian necrology, “In the Favour of Mary”, under the date 16 June and the name Emilian Pontet.
At this time the brothers appear to have been inclined to make their first school foundation in Oceania in New Zealand . This was probably because of the pleas and presence of Forest, a former chaplain at the Hermitage (rf Circular of 2 February 1869, CSG 3: 492), and Reignier’s offer of the property at Meeanee as a good site for a novitiate (rf L 182).
A significant portion of this letter [14-21] is devoted to relations between the brothers and the fathers in France. Louis-Marie makes mention of “refastening the bonds”  and of “rapprochement” . In fact, the two congregations had been at odds for several years. From 1862 to late 1865 the Society had supplied no chaplains for the brothers; while Matricon remained in residence at St-Genis, he did not provide a chaplain’s services. Avit places the blame for the cooling of relations on the high-handed behaviour of some of the priests (Annales 3: 33-4), but the real reason appears to have been an unease among the fathers (shared by some brothers) over the strict interpretation by the superiors of the account of conscience in the Rule. After the death of the chaplain at St-Genis at the beginning of 1865, Matricon negotiated for the return of his confreres, and the arrival of de Lalande signaled the beginning of a thaw (Avit, 3: 45). By 1867 things were back to normal. But it was to help restore this relationship that the superiors broke with tradition in supplying two of their brothers for secondary teaching in the Marist college of St Chamond .
Louis-Marie records that the general chapter of October had elected an additional assistant to help Jean-Baptiste in his province . Avit comments that the latter did not make use of him, and he subsequently found better use for his talents as secretary-general (AI. 3: 63). Jean-Baptiste had just sent off to the printers another book, Biographies de quelques freres, a collection of lives of deceased brothers the superiors considered would be good models for their confreres. Pascal was the last included. An English edition was published in 1936 under the title: Our Models in Religion and included the biography of Francois who died in 1881.
Text of the Letter
- Reverend Father,
- My long delay in replying to your last two letters was caused only by my desire to do what was most in conformity with your wishes. I wanted to ascertain our resources once the retreats of 1866 were over and our Postulants, normally quite numerous, returned at All Saints. Unfortunately, the results hardly met my expectations, and I find myself once more obliged, to my great regret, to give you the same reply as I have given Monsignor Bataillon, who is also asking us for Brothers.
- Even by putting off most of the new foundations requested of us in France, we are still short of subjects. We are just able to maintain our existing posts and found a few new ones which we have been forced to accept.
- This embarrassing situation is the result of a quite noticeable decline in vocations because of the unsettled nature of the times, and our need to send away subjects who were not fully committed, for the same reason, as well as human frailty which has taken some others from our ranks.
- This sifting out has been especially noticeable among the English Brothers. Moreover, on its side death has contributed to the gaps in our ranks by taking no fewer than thirty Brothers in the past year. It even took our excellent Brother Pascal, my second Assistant, who was especially responsible for the Brothers working in the missions.
- In the meantime the Holy See has imposed on us a foundation at the Cape of Good Hope. This has taken five of our first subjects knowing English, so that, very Reverend Father, I find myself today no further on the way to foundations in Oceania than I was a year ago.
- Moreover, I understand you need subjects carefully chosen and of proven virtue. Without that, they would not preserve the spirit of their state and could not persevere in the Missions.
- You know better than we do the dangers they run there and the sacrifices they must expect, and that solid virtue alone can help them support such things or at least persevere through them.
- Since such is the case, Reverend Father, I find it impossible to give you at this time Brothers to set up your schools. It is difficult for me even to fix a time when we could do so, although we are always very desirous of furthering a work begun by our Founder in concert with the Marist Fathers. I must repeat, however, that it is our intention to follow this through in preference to all others as soon as Providence supplies us with the means.
- It was in order to achieve this goal that, in sending Brothers to the Cape, we chose five good subjects, all capable of soon becoming Directors. So on their departure I told them: ‘From now on the Cape will be a step on the way to Oceania. Prepare yourselves therefore to become five Directors for this Mission. I will not be replacing you at the Cape except to send you on to the islands.’
- From what you told us and what the Fathers say, New Zealand, of all the parts of the Mission, offers us the resources and advantages which incline us to make a beginning there rather than elsewhere. What would be desirable is that not only schools but even a novitiate could be founded there and this would feed the first foundations once they are made.
- Such is our situation, my Reverend Father, and such are our intentions. If Providence is pleased to hear us and furnishes us with the means to realize them, I think we will be able to send you Brothers to run the schools without keeping you waiting too long. We much prefer that they live in community and are only for the schools. They will support one another much better and it will be much easier to replace them as the need arises, since, apart from the language and the distance, they will be in the same situation as all in our other Houses.
- I am very grateful to you, my Reverend Father, for the news you have kindly given me of each Brother individually. I have been very interested to read what concerns them. I note with the greatest satisfaction that you seem to be content with the services each endeavours to render the mission, despite the weaknesses inherent in our poor human nature. May it please God and our good Mother to sustain them, to strengthen them, and to protect them in their life of devotedness and sacrifice. I beg you to remind them again, when you have the opportunity of seeing them, of the tender affection I have for them in Our Lord.
- I join you, Reverend Father, in blessing God for the excellent efforts produced in them by the annual retreats you have been good enough to give them or have others give them. What a happiness for these good Brothers to find themselves together again after such a long separation, to be united for the exercises they were so happy to perform together in France! Those sorts of reunions can only benefit the mission.
- Fathers Matricon and de Lalande are very appreciative of your remembering them. They send you their regards and from their hearts unite themselves to your zealous work by offering you the help of their prayers. Fr de Lalande’s are so fervent that they spread the fire everywhere.
- Since I am on the subject of the Fathers I must tell you, Rev Father, that Providence seems to be arranging things to refasten the ties which unite the branches of the Brothers and the Fathers, and thus bring us to found schools in Oceania more quickly.
- Our chaplain, Fr Sautollier [Santailler], has just been appointed Parish priest of Saint-Bonnet-le-Troncy, and the Rev. Father Superior General wants to replace him with the Fathers. Fr Vioulleau has just come to join Frs Matricon and de Lalande at present. So today the only chaplains we have are Marist Fathers.
- The Brothers have been very pleased to see them come and it appears that the Fathers themselves are equally satisfied, especially the Rev Fr Superior.
- For my part, I am very happy with this rapprochement. I wanted it so much the more because the bad passage we have been through was the product of quite exceptional circumstances, springing from individual rather than basic causes.
- It was the Marist Fathers who gave our retreats in the different Provinces last year and this year Fr Reculon preached an outstanding first retreat at the Mother House. It was most edifying.
- What gave me particular satisfaction on this count was that when other missioners preached the retreats at Saint-Genis, the Rev Father Superior General was willing to promise me the Congregation would supply confessors.
- For our part, we are also disposed to do what depends on us to accommodate the Fathers. Thus, although it goes against our customs, we have provided two Brothers for the French classes at the College of Saint-Chamond. They live with the Brothers of Charity, and go to the College morning and afternoon to give their classes.
- As I informed you at the beginning, we have been putting off these last few years all requests for foundations which do not appear to be urgent. That resolution was taken by the General Chapter seven years ago as a means of consolidating the existing houses by ensuing they had good subjects. However, requests of high priority are continuing to multiply and come in from all sides. If we had the subjects we could found thirty to forty houses a year. The ones we have been forced to accept this year are: Pierre-Benite and Sainte-Foy-L’Argentiere in the Rhone, Rive, Chatte, and Renage in the Isere, Saint-Loup in the suburbs of Marseille, and Ribiers in the Hautes-Alpes.
- Further, two Brothers have been sent to the British Isles to learn English and later go to Oceania. They are Brother Deodat, an intelligent Director and brother of Fr Seon, and Brother Emiliani, a young professed full of promise. Brother Ezechiel, a former Brother of the Hermitage, is also there, burning with desire to leave for New Zealand as soon as we can replace him. At present he is attached to the school at Saint-Anne in London.
- I admit that these prospects are inadequate but they would be much greater if our English subjects were more constant. Unfortunately many leave us after a few years and it is difficult for us to replace them with Frenchmen because it takes time for the latter to learn English. However, we are counting on the novitiate for young Englishmen we have at Beaucamps (Nord). We intend that as many young Frenchmen as possible join them so that they can gradually become familiar with English by speaking it.
- It was with this in mind that I have chosen our dear Brother Philogone, Assistant for the Aubenas Province, to replace Brother Pascal in our dealings with the Brothers of Oceania. This province has the greatest number of subjects, as regards the number of its houses. Consequently, I have charged him with building up the reserves for the new missions for which he becomes Assistant.
- In conclusion, Rev Father, I am going to give you the results of the elections our General chapter has just had. Dear Brother Euthyme, Secretary General, has been elected Assistant of the Hermitage Province, replacing dear Brother Pascal, and dear Brother Felicite, Visitor of the Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux Province for the past four years, has been elected to assist dear Brother Jean-Baptiste, whose health is declining day by day, both from age and overwork.
- We are just now having printed the biographies of some of our deceased Brothers, Brother Pascal among others. As soon as the work is completed we will be sending a copy to our Brothers in the islands. For the present, I am addressing each our latest Circulars, which they have not yet received, and some individual commissions we were asked for.
- Permit me, in closing, my Reverend Father, to commend myself to your prayers and Holy Sacrifices, and to the prayers and Masses of all the good Fathers of Oceania.
- Please accept, etc.
- Br Louis-Marie.
- Please accept, etc.
- Another mistake of the copyist. In this case the man meant is Francois Roulleau, the former missionary who had returned to France in 1855. He served as chaplain to the brothers at the Hermitage 1857, at Beaucamps 1858, and at St-Genis 1866.
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