Br Joseph-Xavier to his brother, Sydney, 30 December 1869
This is the second of two letters Joseph wrote his priest brother in 1869 which are preserved in his personal file in the Marist archives. Jean-Marie Luzy (1806-1870) had preceded his brother into the seminary at Marboz but, unlike him, had gone on to ordination as a diocesan priest. He became parish priest of Moncet in the diocese of Belley. Joseph was taking advantage of Poupinel’s imminent departure for Europe at the end of his second term to send him some news. He was aware that his brother was ill, but it was not until the end of February the following year that he was to learn that Jean-Marie had died in Lyon even before this letter was written, on the 16 December (rf his letter of 24 February 1870 in the APM).
The main item of news is the death of the young Samoan, Victor Ioela at villa Maria on 7 December. Victor had been there since 1857 and was Joseph’s chief assistant, mentioned in several of his letters. A universal favourite, his death left a deep impression on all who had known him and particularly on those close to him such as Joseph and Marie de la Merci, who nursed him through his fatal illness. His memory was not soon forgotten. Writing almost 10 years later to record the entry of the two island girls, Sara and Silenia, into the Third Order of Mary, Joly surmised that the latter had taken the name Marie St Victor “partly in memory of Fr Poupinel, and partly in memory of Victor Ioela, who died at Villa Maria some years ago.” (Joly to Germain, 5 December 1878, cited in ‘Nos Pionnieres’ T. IV, p 71). Victor was buried at St Charles’, Ryde. His name, against the designation ‘Samoan catechist’, is listed with those of Marists originally buried there on a commemorative stone in the grounds of Villa Maria.
Joseph also mentions the new church . Started in September 1867 it would not be finished until the beginning of 1871. At the beginning of 1869 they had solemnly installed a statue of St Peter over the main entrance to commemorate the First Vatican Council, due to open in Rome on the 12th (Hosie 215).
Soakimi Gata had arrived back in the Pacific as a priest in April 1867. The communities of Villa Maria and Clydesdale combined at Villa Maria to celebrate a solemn Mass, with Gata as celebrant and Poupinel and Monnier as deacon and subdeacon respectively (Hosie 180). After a triumphal procession around the islands, he was assigned to Tonga. At this stage he was with Joseph Breton at Vava’u in the north.
Poupinel was going back to France to present his reports and also to take part in the general chapter of the Society. For these reasons and his desire to return quickly to Oceania, he did not think he would have time to pay his usual visits to the families of his missionaries. So he has added a postscript to the brother’s letter explaining this . The translation was made from a photocopy of the original in the APM.
Text of the Letter
- My very dear brother,
- Since the opportunity is offering and we are at the end of the year, I am taking advantage of it to wish you a happy new year and all our relatives as well, sister, brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces, etc. etc. You will be seeing the very Rev Father Poupinel again. He has been recalled to France for different matters relating to his administration of all the different missions of Oceania. I don’t know if he will be able to see you, for his many occupations don’t allow him to make long journeys. He thinks he will be back in Sydney for Christmas. But try to see him in Lyon and have a talk with him. I am very disappointed he is away so long and I am not the only one. May the good God let him come back as soon as possible.
- I would like to tell you about the death of Victor, a native from Samoa. You have his photo – he is the first on your left when you are looking at them facing the three who are in a line. He died the death of a saint. To give you all the details would take too long. Fr Poupinel will be able to tell you, or you will read the accounts in the ‘Echo of Purgatory’. A subscription costs only 3 francs a year. For a priest, he wouldn’t want to be without it.
- This young man was with us for almost 11 years. He was always very pious and worked as well as one could wish for a native. His conduct was beyond reproach. During his illness, which lasted more than three months, he never uttered a single complaint. But he prayed continually. As well as these prayers he made the Stations of the Cross every day, he recited his rosary 12 times a day, and made continual invocations. As he had done a lot of work on the new church he wanted very much to see it once more. Two days before his death, while everyone was at Mass except for the native looking after him, he got up and dressed and came to Mass and to have a look at the chapel and the fine statue of St Peter which has been placed over the main door. But it should be noted that to get there from his room takes more than 8 minutes. He had made this trip, going and coming, without tiring himself. The doctors couldn’t believe it when they heard about it. They said it was a miracle.
- He died at 5 o’clock in the morning when the angelus bell was ringing on the 7th December, to be with the Mother of God whom he had so often invoked on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. He had insisted that the Sister and I should assist him in his last moments and this was granted him. As I watched with him that night he kept embracing me. At 11 o’clock he told me to get his clothes ready for making a voyage. I told him to wait until daybreak. What time is it? It’s 11 o’clock. Oh, yes, it’s too early. He asked me some other questions about getting ready for it, then he said his rosary. The poor lad couldn’t say it any longer. However at 3 in the morning as I was saying my rosary he wanted to take it from me, thinking it was his own. No, I told him, you have yours around your neck. Oh, that’s right, he replied. He took it up and then replaced it saying, I can’t say it any more. He spent nearly the whole night sitting on a couch with me beside him, sometimes leaning on me and sometimes on a pillow. It was not until half past three that he wanted to move. I helped him onto his bed but his strength failed him. He lost consciousness and I thought he was dead. I ran to call everyone. The Sister, who looked after him as a mother looks after her child, arrived very quickly. But I told her, he is dead. She called his name, she prayed, and Victor came back to life. He began to laugh and embrace me as well as the others. Then he said to us, let that child approach. See how beautiful he is. I am going to bring him to you. Yes. Tell me who it is. But look, he said. He stretched out his arms. He is so beautiful words fail me. Some moments later he held out his arms, bade us farewell, and then said, ‘Let this beautiful girl and her lovely child come near. Come, come, he said, come , his arms still extended. It was half past four. Day had come, the sun was shining. The apparition disappeared and he lay back on his pillow and lost all consciousness. His eyes closed and we had time to say all the prayers for the dying and the litanies of the saints. Then the angelus rang and at the second Ave Maria he rendered his beautiful soul to God. He is in heaven, my dear brother, praying for you and me. For I often told him not to forget you before God and I have no doubt his influence with God is great. During his great sufferings he found his consolation at the foot of the altar. I couldn’t understand how he could remain a whole half hour or more praying for everyone, for all of us at Villa Maria, for our relatives, for those who had let us come to their shores to teach them to love the good God. He prayed for his relatives, for his island, where there were still many pagans, he prayed for all the missionaries and for their relatives, etc. etc. I am certain you wouldn’t find a more pious person in your parish. Pray for him, he will recompense you.
- You see, my very dear brother, how many good people there are in our savage lands. I will say nothing of my health. I am well enough. Nothing new in Sydney. We are in the season of tropical heat while you are freezing with cold. Some places have had hail storms but they have not lasted long so they have not done much damage. The harvests have been good. There have been no floods in our parts. Everything is going fine at present. Father Soakimi Gata is well. He has just written to me. He hasn’t forgotten you or the other relatives he saw. Don’t forget me in your prayers and look after your health. If I don’t see you in this world, I hope to see you in the other. My greetings for the new year to all who know me, especially the priests of Marboz. I greet you, my dear brother, in the sacred hearts of JMJ.
- Your very devoted brother,
- Luzy Br J.M.X.
- Your very devoted brother,
- Pass on the letter to Marboz for them to read if you wish.
- Sir and very dear confrere,
- When you receive this letter I will be in France since I am the bearer. I don’t expect to find a good opportunity to send it to you from Pointe de Galles [ Ceylon ] where I will have to wait more than 15 days for the imperial mail steamer. As your brother has told you, since I wish to return to Sydney as quickly as possible, I will have to give up any idea of making many visits and journeys – but for that, I would be very pleased to do so. Still, I hope I will be able to meet you and see some of your family in one place or the other.
- Our dear Brother Joseph gets older every day. If it weren’t for his legs his health would be very good and the strongest of all. He is so active he is very afraid of losing the use of his legs. That would be a real trial for him and a real loss for us. But he is still fine.
- Accept, sir and dear confrere, my very respectful compliments and please pass them on to your sister, your brothers-in-law, etc. V. Poupinel SM.
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