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14 June 1837 — Father Catherin Servant to his parents, Valparaiso

M Servant, in the village of Grézieu le Marché, canton of St Symphorien sur Cloise, Department of Rhône, in France

Valparaiso, 14 June 1837

My dear parents
May God be blessed! You have been waiting a very long time for news of me. Perhaps you began to fear for us, but if that was so, you would have been wrong; what do we have to be afraid of, what can we lack with God? It is not easy to answer to the haste with which you wanted me to write to you. We are already four thousand leagues [20,000 km] away from France. We have been staying in Valparaiso for a few days, and always in a religious house; there is nothing more pleasant than a retreat after a long sea journey. During the voyage I was unwell more than once. That may surprise you, but don’t you have to carry your cross if you want to get to heaven? First of all I was attacked by fever. The loving care of my confrères and Brothers succeeded in getting rid of it. Then there occurred an irritation of the nerves, and finally a feeling of oppression which was pretty uncomfortable, but thanks be to God the sickness gradually went away. You know that during this present life we must expect to [….] or we have to be conformed to Jesus Christ crucified, we have to suffer with God our saviour if we want to reign with him. What is more certain? Now I am in very good health. I see myself as perfectly happy, and would not want to give up my life as a missionary for a kingdom. What joy it is for me to think that soon I will be able to contribute a little to the conversion of the pagans! This good thing is worth infinitely more than all the good things in the world: creating the world required only a single word, but to redeem it our divine Saviour had to die on a cross! Pray, dear father and dear mother, pray to this divine Saviour for the conversion of the savages. They have become very dear to us since the good God has entrusted them to our care.
Before getting to Valparaiso, where we are now, we were often impeded by winds that opposed our direction of sailing. This difficulty delayed our arrival in Valparaiso, but with patience we got through everything; there is nothing for you to be astonished about. In the situation willed for us by divine providence, we must expect some little adversity. However the time spent on the journey in no way was long for me. When my health was perfectly recovered, I was able easily to give myself to study, to walk and take the air; it was even possible for us to celebrate holy Mass from time to time; usually it was our Bishop who said it, the others had the blessing of communicating. It is a great advantage for you people to be able to assist at the august sacrifice when you wish. When you are deprived of it, the heart suffers, and you understand better in a way the value of this blessing when you find it impossible to get. You are well aware that in those happy moments when it was possible to celebrate the sacred mysteries, I did not forget you. It is something agreed with you.
The month of May was a very precious month for you; we came together each day in a little chapel which our Brothers had taken care to carefully adorn. What gave greatest pleasure was a pretty picture of the Blessed Virgin. At that time you had the most beautiful season of the year and we, we had cold, snow and rain.
Sailing is not as awful a thing as you think; it doesn’t worry me very much. You get used to it easily enough. Up to now we have done the most unpleasant part of this journey. The rest of our journey offers pleasant experiences, the heat will be moderate, the winds on the way to our islands are usually favourable, and as well, the voyage will not be as long as the one we have just done.
It was the twenty-eighth of June when we arrived in Valparaiso.[1] The inhabitants of the town rush in crowds to our church, confessions there are frequent, fine music is heard there sometimes; I am edified by the conduct of these good people who keep recollected in the church, who do not have to be asked to come there when their tasks allow them to do so. There is faith in these countries and I think that if the clergy were more numerous, they would do a lot of good. While awaiting our departure, I am so happy in the house for religious in which we are staying that I do not have the least desire to see anything else.
From what I have just told you, you can believe with good reason that God is blessing us very much. We are privileged children of kind Providence; be very grateful to him. I would like each of you to be as happy as I.
When this letter gets to you, we will be in the country where the divine Will wishes us to be; then my wishes will be fulfilled. I hope that helped by the grace of God and assisted by the prayers of good faithful people, everything will go well. At the least, if success does not measure up to our desires, we will accomplish the will of God, and when we do what God wants, even if we don’t have any success, we will not fail to be content. Help us, I beg you, with your remembrances at the foot of the altar. We can be missionaries through prayer and good works. I do not know whether Providence even wants us to see each other again on earth. That would give you real pleasure, but we must be resigned to everything. A consideration which we must really take seriously to mind is that down here everything is passing, while in heaven everything is lasting. It is there, at least, that we will enjoy perfect happiness without ever being separated. Oh, dear father and dear mother! Do not ever worry about your son. He is too firmly in the hands of God whom he has taken for his sole portion. If he does not fail God, God will never fail him, and he will have everything with God. There is one single thing on which he would like you to fix your attention: it is to commit yourselves to helping provide the needs of his soul through fervent prayers. That service would be the crowning of all those that you have given me, and they would give you a quite special right to my gratitude.
I like to think that it has already been a long time that you have been suffering from my long absence; the early stages were no doubt painful for you, it has been costly for you to be separated from him whom you love so much, but be very sure that you have not lost any of my affection, so often I think of you. I commend you to Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin. How much your sacrifice, made from kind hearts, could be useful to you and attract to yourselves the blessings of heaven. Now that you are aware of the happiness of my situation, which is beyond any description, wouldn’t you thank God a thousand times for having chosen me in preference to so many zealous priests who would have succeeded better than I, for having chosen me to preach the gospel to the poor savages who are still in the darkness of idolatry?
As I finish, I strongly urge my two sisters to always be on guard against the dangers of the world, and not to forget me in their precious remembrances in God’s presence. I beg them as well to never conceive the smallest concern for me. Oh, if they knew how happy I am under the protection of Jesus and Mary! Dear father and dear mother, I still keep in my wallet the letter you sent me in Paris; it is a delight for me to see on it both your signatures. I will try to keep it always. There is one thing which I must not forget, and which will console you: when you go to Fourvière you will see the model of Our Lady’s heart which contains a list in which the name of your dear son is included. That cannot fail to be pleasing to you. Kindly, please, present my humble respects to the parish priest of Grezieux, and assure him of my real gratitude for all the kind services he has given me. I will try to write to him when we get to the place Providence has destined for us; I cannot tell you exactly which island we will go to. What I can tell you, right now, is that the island which our Bishop has in mind, presents great advantages by reason of the goodness of the character of its people, the welfare of souls, and communications with the other islands. The island I am speaking to you about is called Ascension Island.[2] My fondest love to my uncles and aunts. Greetings to my former acquaintances.
I am and always will be, dear father and dear mother,
Your totally devoted, obedient and respectful son,
Mi(ssionary) apost(olic)


  1. Servant’s statement that they arrived in Valparaiso on 28 June 1837 is in contrast to the date given at the beginning of the letter which says “Valparaiso, 14 June, 1837”. Pompallier’s journal of the voyage, kept by Bataillon, says they dropped anchor in the Valparaiso roads at 1pm on 28 June (Doc 12 [170]). On 14 June they had just begun sailing north after rounding Cape Horn (doc 12 [160]). The whole of the letter seems to have been written after arrival in Valparaiso. A little mystery? - translator’s note.
  2. Ascension Island – now called Ponape. Not the Ascension Island of the South Atlantic.

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