From Marist Studies
2 January 1846 – Letter of Pierre Rougeyron to Father Gamon, bursar of the major seminary of Clermont
Translated by Fr Jack Ward SM, 2010
After the copy, APM ONC 208 Rougeyron.
Leaf forming four written pages.
- Letter of Father Rougeyron
- Missionary of the Society of Mary,
- To Father Gamon, bursar at the major
- Seminary of Clermont
- New Caledonia 2 January 1846
- Reverend Father Bursar,
- I promised you in my last letter to speak to you at greater length of the new mission of Caledonia. I am going to try today to keep my word. I shall not delay you with past misfortunes, they are inevitable at the commencement of a mission. The example of the Divine Master and of the Apostle of the nations, of all those who have gone before us in the Apostolic calling, were there to encourage us and strengthen us. To suffer is the glory of the missionary. I shall say nothing any longer of the physical works which we undertook, for one is only half a missionary, if at times and places one doesn’t know how to handle the spade, the axe and the pickaxe. What fired our ardour in our works, is that we did not work for ourselves, nor for the mission, but for Mary our mother and our superior. There is a rule in our society which commands us to possess nothing that we hold as farmers of Mary, also all our goods, all our houses in France or in other countries, belong to the very Blessed Virgin. Our very reverend Superior General, to satisfy his great reverence for the Queen of Heaven wished that we make a solemn dedication by which we recognize Mary as mother and mistress of all the Society and the mission. One is very keen to work under such a good mistress, one is assured of having a good salary.
- One believes commonly enough in our civilized countries that the missionary has only to appear in the midst of natives to win them for Jesus Christ, but that is not so, at least in our mission; we have found coldness and indifference in the hearts, to say nothing of more. Graces, we are convinced of it, from so many fervent souls who pry ardently and continually for our poor New Caledonia, today the hearts are changed for the better. They no longer ridicule the holy truths of our religion. They listen to us and love to listen to us, they no longer run away from us when we speak to them of their salvation. They even search for us. We still have no one Christian, for one needs to be well tested before receiving this important sacrament. We now have some catechists who would be worthy, but the good God has His chosen everywhere. Without speaking to you of a woman that grace has led close to us for us to use to instruct, and who now is an apostle of her locality, I wish to give you some edifying qualities of a young child of about 8 – 10 years. One day when I was speaking to him about the price of souls, He brusquely interrupted me : Father, he said, I feel in my heart the desire to go and make known the Faith to those who do not know it. I would like to go above all like the apostles and then to die like them for Jesus Christ. That is good, my friend, I replied, be faithful to your God who draws you to work for the salvation of your brothers. He has been faithful to that grace; from that moment burning with zeal, he looks for all opportunities to make known our Divine Master. He goes alone, this poor little child, neighbouring villages more than league distant, to catechize men, women and children. He accompanies me on my distant trips. Without him, how many children would be dead without baptism. But his zeal has served to make them all known to him. Occupied in chatting with the people without faith, I have just come to sit down for a few moments, I see the little catechist moving away from me. Where is he going? To find out if there is an infant to baptize or some sick to help.
- As if his zeal had not a sufficiently vast field, New Caledonia, he would have liked to accompany Bishop Epalle on his trip. Here, he said the good God is known a little, but in the Solomon Islands they do not know Him. I would like very much to go there, but I desire more to be baptized first, for that would enable me to be killed. Despite his great desire to set out, a kind of unease was seen in him. I guessed it, he would have wanted a fellow countryman whose language he understood; I offered myself and I was instantly accepted. He was going to say good bye to his parents whom he loved very much. We saw his zeal and his good will and that was sufficient for us.
- Recently he committed a fault which would have made us doubt the sincerity of his sentiments, had he not been repentant soon after. I had given him a rosary, which he gave to one of his friends some days later. The fault was not great so far, but he denied having given it to him and maintained that he had lost it. The matter rested there, when the following day being alone he admitted his fault, but in a way so touching that I was moved almost to tears; he said to me weeping: I am very much at fault! I have lied; I am so ashamed that I have not been able to sleep all night. I am sick in the tummy, pray that the good God may deign to forgive me, I promise not to lie again. He gave and will keep his word, even though this vice is inborn in our Caledonians.
- He is our shepherd, day and night. He watches over some goats and sheep which comprise our flock. If you come to New Caledonia you will see him seated in the middle of his flock piously reciting his rosary. I am teaching him to read, he already begins to share his knowledge with others.
- You see, my always well cherished Father Gamon, that the good God does not leave us without consolations. This child is a born leader; he will be able to be a very great help for us; already he has formed four catechist centres at different points on the island. The Lord shows us well in this way that the weakest instruments work wonders in His hands, when He so wishes. God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Cor. 1:27).A woman, child, we hope, are going to be the means of conversion of the island. After that cannot we say in truth: Not to us, o Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give glory. (Psalm 115:1). Yes, it is not us who convert, it is grace, and grace alone; we are only clanging cymbals in His hands. (1 Cor.13:1).
- I cannot end my letter without speaking to you of the good examples which I witness every day on the part of His Lordship, Bishop d’Amatha; his zeal is boundless; he seems to have wings to fly to the centre of problems. Some thirty miles a day do not frighten him, any more than the burning rays of the sun. His normal activity seems to have redoubled in New Caledonia. Often from morning till evening he bears the burden of heat and fatigue. He works with the brothers, and when they are worn out, His Lordship is not. If on a fine morning you found yourself transported to New Caledonia, you would see him digging, using the pickaxe, or carrying mortar or, axe in hand, cutting wood. I sometimes cannot hold back my tears on seeing a bishop in the midst of the brothers and natives, working at such difficult labours. We have been obliged to gain our bread by the sweat of our brows, but that has not saddened us for we have not forgotten that we are all condemned to work as a son of sinful Adam.
- I am happy to be with so fine a model; there is satisfaction for me in having passed my days with the first apostle of New Caledonia; I do not know what has been able to merit me such good fortune; to his gentleness and affability he knows how to join firmness; more than once he has made tremble the natives who were ready to attack us; not knowing the language, he spoke in French as if he had been understood; and these words did not fail to produce their result.
- I still speak the language badly but I know it well enough to make myself understood, having no books, no interpreters, there has been need for us to swallow up the difficulties, to compare different phrases one with another, to break them up, to examine, sound out, to guess as it were; each new word was a good fortune for us, as also each new rule that we discovered. Also we were expressing ourselves by inscribing on paper this new word, this phrase, this rule, for fear that it would escape us. This language, having no connection with those that we know, we have remained more than six months before being able to form a single reasonably good phrase. I experience often the truth of these words: The Lord will provide the word to those being evangelized. (Ps 67.12: The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those who bore the tidings). For myself who has difficulty in finding my words when it is a matter of speaking about unimportant matters; from the moment I begin to instruct, the words come to me in abundance, such are the graces of state. Let not the language of the islands then , unsettle new missionaries.
- You still believe perhaps, as I did formerly, that one is exposed in the missions as far as concerns customs, in finding oneself in contact with men who carry on in every way like beasts and are sometimes even worse than they. Well, not a bit of it, there are graces of state. That which in our country would be a distant threat, does not exist in the missions; you see natives naked like animals, without paying them the slightest attention.
- A couple of words concerning our daily rule. It is not as exact as it was in the novitiate or seminary. As the day is made for working and the night for repose, daybreak is the signal to get up, just as its close is the sign to rest. Apart from some exceptions, our exhaustion has demanded this routine till now. After rising, meditation, prayer in common, and Mass. After these first moments of the day have been consecrated to our good Lord, we ate breakfast, which doesn’t take long, for some yams (a species of potato in this country) and water make up our whole meal. The officers of the first naval vessel which has come to visit us wished to come to our lunch. They were able to witness without emotion, and what they had seen was the subject of their conversations long afterwards. What would they have said, had they been there in our times of distress when even a piece of yam was refused us. Our contentment, our real hilarity astounded them even more. They doubtless thought that we were demoralized, discouraged as people of the world would have been in our position; but that is not so of the Christian and for a greater reason of the missionary. He knows that to suffer is a grace, as also to die, and neither the one nor the other frightens him. He sees them coming with as much calm and joy as the person in the world sees rain on himself honours, riches and pleasures. Yes, I frankly assure you, we have never been more carried away to laugh and joke than when we come to the table and find nothing there to eat.
- After lunch, arming ourselves with the crucifix and our breviary, the Bishop and I set out each on his own way to go to spread the Gospel; this is not a little difficult, the huts of the natives being almost always isolated. For a population of about a thousand people, I make six stations. At each station we have to teach prayers, catechize and teach hymns. I spend the evening there, to speak so much. If we had a church we would be able to bring them together there, but our resources still do no permit it. In the evening we return home where we share our successes and our set-backs. I have said nothing to you of dinner, for that is not known in New Caledonia, and that for a reason….But we have supper in the evening and we eat as we did at lunch. The meal or rather the collation having been eaten, we take a little recreation in common with our dear brothers. Then we go to pray in common in our little house chapel, where we have the happiness of keeping our good Jesus. After the prayer those who have not had the time during the day to recite their rosary say it under the beautiful sky of New Caledonia. Then we retire to rest to recommence the same works on the following day. We now take some days off during the week. We spend them studying or helping our dear brothers in their physical work. That is in brief what we do in New Caledonia. For the particular exam, spiritual reading, the examination of conscience, we do them individually.
- You see, dear Father Gamon, that you can still become a saint in New Caledonia , if you wish. Yu have the time to do your spiritual exercises and to conquer souls. My God, how can it be that there are so many priests in our country, and that so few wish to sacrifice themselves to save souls, souls redeemed by the price of the blood of Christ. To save one soul the apostle ran to the ends of the earth. St Teresa would have consented to shut the gate of hell with her soul to save one of her brothers; St Ignatius consented to something similar. The missionaries of China had their throats slit to save souls, and here where there would be so many souls to save, so much happiness to bring, so few dangers to run, no-one comes, not one priest for Caledonia. The bishop and myself, two brothers, that is all. Oh yes, how many souls are lost by your fault, priests of the Lord, because you do not follow your vocation; these souls will cry out against you one day for vengeance. The souls in our country will not be abandoned, others will replace you. But those of which the Lord wished you to take charge in the missions, who is there who will take care of them? Who will snatch them from hell? Alas, no-one, they will fall there by the thousands. Nothing today can excuse priests called by the Lord to the missions. Rome has recently spoken and declared to a bishop (of Paris) who wished to oppose the departure of one of his priests, that he had no right to do so. To avoid the interdict which would be placed upon them, priests whom God calls to the missions have only to leave their diocese before the interdict binds them. Some priests in Lyons have so acted, and they have been strongly approved. I do not say this about the Bishop of Clermont, for Bishop Feron has given us many examples of the delicacy of his conscience on this matter I do not know if we have barricaded the road from Clermont to Lyon, but since our departure it appears that no-one has presented himself. You tell me in your dear letter, that what prevents entry into the Society of Mary is that one is not sure to leave for the missions. No one denies that. Our very reverend Father superior has assured us that he will always permit those to go who manifest to him a true desire. Encourage then every single one that there will be among you vocations to the missions, and do not forget the Society of Mary. A new Moses on the mountain, your prayers will give us the victory in the battles of the Lord. Do not forget any longer the souls which have been entrusted to me. It is unnecessary to tell you that I do not let a day pass without remembering you in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Say plenty of prayers for us. Please convey my sentiments of respect and greeting to all the directors of the major seminary. Your devoted friend in Jesus and Mary, Rougeyron.
- Louis Tadinan (cf. doc. 486, § 23).