Br Louis-Marie to Fr Rougeyron, Saint-Genis-Laval, 1 May 1873
CSG. IV: 566-568
In June 1871 the Catholic parents of Noumea – including the former coadjutor, Jean Taragnat – petitioned the new governor, Captain Eugene Gaultier de la Riverie, to obtain teaching brothers to run a school for their sons in the colony. The governor referred the petition to the Ministry of Marine and Colonies, presuming he would approach the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Ploermel, already at work in Tahiti. But the man the Minister charged with finding brothers for the task, the director of Colonies, Baron Benoist d’ Azy, was the son of a notable benefactor of the Marist brothers, and it was to the latter that he turned. D’Azy was more than likely responsible for the substance if not the actual wording of the letter of 15 January 1873 sent to Louis-Marie, and which he quotes in this letter  and in his circulars of 25 January (SCG IV. 340-1) and 24 May (ibid. 414). In the former the superior general also includes his reply to the Minister readily accepting the request (341-2).
In the circular of May, Louis-Marie gives a very detailed account of the choice of brothers for the new foundation, the preparations for departure, and even the words he addressed to the four departing (411-20). There had been no shortage of volunteers and to prevent jealousy he had selected one from each of the four oldest provinces of the Institute: Louis-Antonio, from the Hermitage, Henricus, from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, Theobald from the North, and Felix from Saint-Genis. They had been formally farewelled on Sunday, April 27, Good Shepherd Sunday, at Saint-Genis, with Poupinel celebrating High Mass, and a community celebration in the evening. Mgr Ferdinand Vitte, newly appointed Vicar Apostolic of New Caledonia, and consecrated bishop on May 4, was able to send them a blessing by telegraph before they left Brest on the frigate ‘Calvados’ the following day. After a voyage of 5 months, they reached their destination on 27 September.
Their reception, however, was not a promising one. The governor had been expecting the Ploermel brothers and there was no house or school ready. The Marists left their luggage on board and stayed with the Fathers while Louis-Antonio put their case to the authorities, threatening they would leave by the same boat. A second petition from the parents forced the governor’s hand, and on September 30 he authorized the opening of the school and a salary for the brothers (CFMNC 22; also Delbos 224-5). Avit puts the salary at 1700 francs, equivalent to about 700 francs in France at that time (Avit 3. 108).
Although the initial wording might suggest otherwise, this letter was presumably intended to be presented to the provicar by the director of the new establishment. Rougeyron was to remain in effective charge of the mission until the vicar apostolic arrived the following January. In a subsequent letter to Vitte, 17 February 1874, Louis-Marie outlines the relations expected of the brothers towards the bishop and his clergy (CSG IV. 571-3).
Part of this letter is quoted in the publication, Centenaire des Freres Maristes en Nouvelle-Caledonie 1873-1973, 1974, pp 20-21.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I have the satisfaction of informing you that four of our Brothers: Brother Louis-Antonio, Director, Brother Henricus, Sub-Director, Brother Theobald, Assistant Master, and Brother Felix, Supplementary, will be embarking on May 5, on the warship ‘Calvados’, departing for Noumea in New Caledonia, to take responsibility for teaching in the schools founded and maintained by the local administration.
- This foundation is being made at the request of M. the Minister of Marine on the urging of M. the Governor of New Caledonia.
- The choice of our Brothers was made by M. the Minister for a reason which I am very happy to indicate as responding perfectly to the aim, spirit, and the whole past of the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary. “The service of public worship, says His Excellency, is assured in New Caledonia by the Marist Fathers. It appears to me natural that the education of the youth of the country should be confided to Religious who have a common origin and excellent relations with this Congregation. I am aware as well of the devotion and care with which you surround the students under your instruction, and for these reasons, I would desire that it would be possible for you to lend your assistance to the work of moral development undertaken by the Marist Mission in New Caledonia. Should the occasion arise, I would be obliged if you would consider henceforth, and advise me under what conditions you would be able to take it on.”
- There follow, in M. the Minister’s letter, details of the conditions made to the Brothers of Ploermel responsible for running the schools in our other possession in Oceania.
- We have accepted these conditions and everything has been arranged between ourselves and the Ministry of Marine for the foundation of this new school. I must add that everything has been done and accepted in accord with Very Reverend Father Favre, Superior General of the Society of Mary, and on the information provided by the excellent Father Poupinel, who is especially responsible for the work of the Missions and very much in touch with all their needs.
- They have promised to inform you themselves of all these negotiations and appear to be extremely satisfied with them.
- As for me, Very Reverend Father, in informing you of the definite departure of our Brothers, it remains to me to recommend them in a very special manner to your charitable care and those of the good Fathers of the Mission. I have every reason for hoping that you will be happy with the four subjects I have chosen. They are pious, capable, and very devoted. They leave for this distant mission with happiness and after repeated requests.
- Before their departure, they were able to receive the blessing and very fatherly encouragement of Mgr Vitte, bishop of Anastasiopolis, and Vicar Apostolic of New Caledonia.
- I am confident, Very Reverend Father, that you will receive them yourself with kindness, and if there are any steps to be taken with M. the Governor to ensure that they settle in well on their arrival in New Caledonia, that you will willingly extend them your kind assistance.
- I have recommended to them very particularly to come to a perfect understanding with you and with all the Fathers of the Mission, to follow your advice and instructions for the establishment and the good running of their schools, and to show themselves in everything and at all times very devoted, respectful and submissive in conformity with the spirit and the Rules left to us by our founder, the good Father Champagnat.
- As successor of the pious Founder, after the Very Reverend Brother Francois, I cannot tell you all the consolation I feel at seeing our good Fathers in France taking up again the chaplaincy of our Novitiate Houses, and, in the Missions, our Brothers going to work with them and under their direction in the work of the Schools. It seems to me that these dispositions are quite providential, and that it is our pious Founder who arranges them above, with our deceased Fathers and Brothers, around our common Mother, for the greater good of the Society of Mary and its works.
- You may be assured, my Very Reverend Father, that I will neglect nothing within my power, whether in France or abroad, to maintain this perfect accord and to take care that the Brothers keep to it by real respect, submission, and complete devotedness.
- Please accept, etc.
- Br Louis-Marie. Sup. Gen.
- Term denoting an extra brother, normally the youngest, who was to act as community cook while continuing to do on the spot teacher training.
- The Brothers of Christian Instruction of Ploermel were founded in 1819 by Jean-Marie de la Mennais (1780-1860), vicar general of St Brieuc in Brittany. They came out to eastern Oceania to open schools in Tahiti in 1860, and in the Marquesas in 1863.
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