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Fr Joly to Fr Favre, Villa Maria, 20 February 1873

AM 3: 197-205


The same volume of Annales des Missions which provides the account of the death of Elie-Regis in New Zealand (L 211) also includes a full account of the last days and death of Joseph-Xavier contained in a letter Joly wrote his superior general ten days after. Poupinel has added a little tribute of his own to the published version.

Bataillon returned from Rome if not chastened, at least showing himself much more conciliatory, at least in the beginning. This must have been what prompted his invitation to Joseph to return to Wallis if he improved [3], something he would not have considered previously. It is not surprising, then, that this became something of an ‘obsession’ with the brother. Poupinel, in his postscript, gives some idea of what sort of reception he would have received on Wallis [11].

Marie-Nizier looked after him in his final days and his funeral took place on February 11. Ludovic brought some of the pupils from St Patrick’s to assist at the burial of his venerable confrere. Both Joly and Poupinel make reference to the esteem of the local parishioners for the brother. He was buried at St Charles, Ryde, in the Marist plot. On the marble stone commemorating the centenary of the laying of the church’s foundation stone in September 1967, he is listed as ‘Brother Joseph Luzy, Pioneer Missionary of Wallis Island, 1837’, but his date of death is given erroneously as February 19. His own confreres proved no more reliable. On the list of deceased in the circulars (CSG IV, 429), his entry reads: ‘Brother Joseph-Marie-Xavier, professed, deceased at Villa Maria (New Holland), 14 February 1873.’ A serialized biography appeared in the Sydney Province Newsletter (May 1996 to June 1997) under the title: ‘A Forgotten Pioneer: Brother Joseph-Xavier Luzy.’

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
I informed Father Poupinel in my last letter to him that Brother Joseph Xavier Luzy was dangerously ill and that the doctors offered no hope of a cure. Out fears were not long in being realized. The good Brother died on 10 February, at 8.45 in the morning.
His illness was cancer of the liver. The first signs of it showed up six to eight months ago in occasional vomiting and a decline of appetite. However, he did not have to interrupt his ordinary activities. It was during December that he began to take to his bed at intervals, but at the beginning of January he had to resign himself to keeping to his room altogether. More than three weeks before his death, the doctor had warned us the danger was certain and could be near, and so I told him to prepare himself. The good brother was not afraid of death and, moreover, wanted to know everything the doctor thought about his condition. From then on there was a remarkable change in his disposition.
In passing through Villa Maria, Mgr Bataillon had promised him that if he recovered he would arrange for him to be sent to Wallis to end his missionary career where he had begun it. This idea became an obsession with him, and the desire of seeing it realized deluded him and gave him a strong hope of being cured. His patience and his resignation seemed to suffer a bit. But as soon as he understood that this was not God’s will, he thought only of conforming to the designs of Providence. He wanted to prepare for the reception of the last sacraments without delay, and, although his sufferings increased daily, his patience and resignation never deserted him. We were all very edified by his good dispositions, by his desire to be well prepared. For this purpose, he confessed often and had read prayers which helped prepare him more and more for a saintly death. He constantly expressed his gratitude for the services rendered him. It is true that all the brothers showed him all possible devotion, surrounding him with care day and night, and doing this of their own accord. I cannot help seeing that as a well-earned reward. Brother Joseph had received an intuition of the needs of the poor, of the sufferings of the sick, and he had used this gift to full advantage. The Prophet tells us that the good God takes particular care, in their trials and illnesses, of those who devote themselves to the service of the sick and the needy. He did this in a wonderful way through the mediation of our good brothers for their dying confrere.
During the last days he could take neither food nor rest; he could only swallow with difficulty a few drops of cold water to lessen the heat which burned inside him. He constantly invoked Our Lord to show him mercy, called on the Blessed Virgin and his patron saint to come to his aid. The last three days were almost one drawn-out agony during which we gathered several times around his bed to recite the last prayers. He retained full consciousness and could still say a few words. The morning of the 10 February I visited him several times before leaving for Sydney, and as there seemed no real change in his condition, I set out at 8 o’clock, expecting to find him still alive on my return. But a little while later, while the community was at breakfast, Brother Marie-Nizier, who was with the sick man, noticed a sudden change. He rang the bell; Fathers and Brothers had scarcely time to arrive and say a few prayers. The good God had put an end to the sufferings of the good Brother Joseph.
His body was exposed in the room which had previously served as a chapel, on a bed suitably adorned and surrounded by candles. At its head were placed a large crucifix and a picture of the Sacred Heart; at its feet were the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph. We watched all night in prayer around the body. His funeral took place next day with all solemnity. Father Monnier and the Brother Director of the Brothers came from Sydney with about twenty pupils to assist at the burial.
Brother Joseph was well loved and esteemed by our parishioners. He was better known to them than the other brothers because of his long residence at Villa Maria and also because he had been sacristan for many years. Hence, during his sickness they often asked after him, and after his death they were quick to come and pray in the room where his body was exposed. There was a good crowd at his burial. The mortal remains of the good Brother lie in the cemetery of St Charles at Ryde, beside those of our pious Victor Joella [sic], behind the tombs of Fathers Mathieu and Schahl. All these died, like Brother Joseph, having given themselves generously to the service of our missions, and having given touching proofs of their filial affection for the Society of Mary.
I thought it my duty, Very Reverend Father, to give you some details on the illness and death of our dear departed. Apart from the fact that your paternal affection for all who work in the missions leads you to want to know everything that could render their deaths precious in the sight of God, Brother Joseph has a right to a special remembrance in our Society. He was one of the first missionaries sent to Oceania and during the thirty-six years he spent, either in the islands or at the procure in Sydney, he was always remarkable for his unlimited devotedness to the Society and to the missions. He leaves a great void at the Sydney Procure. He was the one who looked after the sick, and we had them often enough. For that he had the know-how and the constant attentions of a well trained infirmarian, or rather of a sister of Charity. All the same it was only one of his occupations and fortunately not permanent. He had several other more regular ones which provided him with the opportunity of exercising his devotedness and rendering us many services. Thus he had care of the sacristy and the church, of the house linen, of keeping the rooms reserved for those passing through or for guests. He was in charge of the cellar, of preparing and packing the altar wine which had to be sent to the missions. Finally, he had another responsibility which was not the least and which allowed him a special opportunity for rendering real services to all the missions. He was in charge of the supply depot where we keep all the things for worship and other purposes sent to us from France to be dispatched to the different missions, according to opportunity and need. He had to unpack the cases on arrival, sort out the various objects, take care that they did not deteriorate, and pack them anew when the time came. In this role he was an important help to the Procuror and in it he made intelligent use to the full of the zeal and affection he retained for the missions of Oceania.
For all these reasons, Brother Joseph has deserved well of the Society, of the Procure of Sydney, and of the missionaries of Oceania. His departure, I repeat, leaves a real void among us. He was the man of devotedness. You could employ him at anything and call on him at any time, he was always ready. The infirmities which prevented him in recent times from moving quickly and walking properly made no difference to him. The force of his will provided ample compensation.
This is not to say that he was without fault. He had those of his intelligent, active, and devoted character. He saw everything, heard everything, knew everything. He did not conceal what he thought when things did not go according to his will. He was inclined to scold everyone; he had acquired the right to say anything. Nothing was beneath mention, and while one might find him rather forward, one submitted with good humour to his censure. From the religious point of view, he left nothing to be desired. Not only that, but he edified and encouraged the others by his regularity in all the exercises of piety, by his fidelity to the practices of devotion, the Way of the Cross, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, to St Joseph’s chapel, etc. When there were a number of priests at the procure, he was always ready to serve the Masses, despite the difficulty he had in kneeling. During his illness, he loved to be surrounded by pious objects, to hold them in his hands, to see them hanging round his bed, to have read to him books of piety. He had constantly on his lips invocations to Our Lord, to the Blessed Virgin, to St Joseph. As a consequence, everything in his life and his death leads us to believe he has gone to receive the reward of a good and faithful servant.
Accept, Very Reverend Father, the assurances of my deep respect.
C-M. Joly. S.M.

A tribute from Father Poupinel.

Father Joly had cause to state that Brother Joseph had won the esteem and affection of the people who attended the Villa Maria church. He was hardly dead when they afforded a proof of it which deserves mention. They wished to contribute to have a tombstone erected. When one generous lady took this expense on herself, the others then decided to give the church, in memory of the good Brother, a beautiful polychrome statue of St Francis Xavier, his second patron, since St Joseph already had an altar. The commemorative statue, made in the workshop of M. Gousset in Lyon, has just been dispatched to Sydney.
There are people one does not forget. Brother Joseph Xavier enjoyed this rare privilege. In 1865, on my last visit to Central Oceania, I told the Fathers of Wallis how much he had desired to accompany me to see once more that island which was always so dear to him. They assured me that his memory remained very much alive among their converts, even among those who knew him only from hearsay. ‘If he had come with you’, they added, ‘you have no idea the sort of reception they would have given him.’
What a good heart this dear Brother had! That without doubt is the reason why people have religiously preserved such an affectionate memory of him. He was always so devoted to everything I love most, that I cannot forget him. Hence I am fulfilling a duty in recommending him in a special way to the prayers of our Society.
V. Poupinel. S.M.

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