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15 December 1846 ─ Brother Charles (Charles-Edouard Aubert) to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Samoa

Translated by Peter McConnell, October 2010

Jesus Mary Joseph:

Samoan Islands 15 December 1846

Very Reverend Father Superior,
I hasten to accede to your request which you expressed in your last letter to receive details about what I am doing in Oceania and on the results that have been gained up until now with the poor Islanders from the help of my medical skill. I will not undertake to give you the names of all the cures that God in his goodness has seen fit to allow me to succeed in since I arrived in these islands but I will limit myself only to informing you about some of them.
First of all at Wallis where I stayed ten months I had the opportunity of treating several cases of leprous ulcers (western leprosy). The first case was that of a young man, eighteen years old. He was attached to the mission station and was recommended to me specially by the bishop. He was affected by one of those sores which gnawed away at the base of his leg and exposed the bone.
I treated this complaint with compounds of mercury, sulphur, frequent changes of dressings; dressings to clean the infected area were placed on the ulcer, and I obtained a satisfactory result in six weeks. Several others, also affected by the same sickness have been completely restored to health. I have also had the opportunity to treat deep chest infections, bronchitis, catarrh, head colds, serious wounds, bites from poisonous fish and finally a child who had the beginnings of a swollen abdomen. By the grace of God they were all cured in a short time. When I was leaving Wallis I left in the good care of Reverend Father Mathieu a young man called Daniel who was on the way to recovery. I had started to care for his leprosy which covered all the left side of is body from the shoulder to the toes; Here I found out by a ship bringing a letter from Reverend Father Mathieu for Reverend Father Roudaire that this man is completely recovered.
Very Reverend Father, I couldn’t describe to you my astonishment on the results that I have obtained up until now. How good God is in using me as a tool which produces so much ease of pain suffered by those poor people. I feel more than ever that I should not stop for a moment of the day offering him acts of grace, but work, distractions sometimes impatience (I admit it to you), prevent me perhaps serving him as I should. But in the end I remember as a consolation of the good and excellent advice you gave us before we left, namely offering the start of all one’s actions to God was a continual prayer. So I applied myself to putting into practice that holy exercise and today I am happier.
I have been in he Navigator Islands for six months. My arrival on this new land was marked by an occasion that won me the good fortune of sending a little angel to heaven to intercede for me with God for the success of my new work.
Having landed three leagues away from the parish of Father Violette, I walked along the sea shore with Reverend Father Calinon, who had taken me to Wallis. I heard somebody calling out behind me (alii famai), doctor; some natives who were escorting us (they were Catholics from Reverend Father Violette), told me that those people, having learnt who I was were asking me to go and see a child who was dying. I went to the hut and saw a little fellow seventeen days old about to take his last breath. I asked for a little water and hastened to baptize him. I found out the following day that he had passed away shortly after I had left the house. Several months later an event still on the same subject but much stranger occurred. An entire family of heretics comprising eleven people brought me a child who was very sick too and whom they said was four years old. Some women, curious as they are everywhere (but Catholic) followed the large crowd which entered the house. Having heard that I had said the poor little child was about to die, one of the women suggested to the family that the child should be baptized. They opposed that suggestion claiming that it was not their custom. I told the mother to wait for a moment and that I was going to prepare a remedy for the child. Not wanting to miss my opportunity, I stayed in the room to one side; I was looking for a ruse to realize my plan. I thought of rubbing the top of my thumb with a little oil of turpentine. I went back carrying a little bottle of spring water. I proceeded to the carry out the operation and when it was finished I made the father, mother and several people who were present smell my scented thumb and that made everybody cry out: what a good smell (in general they love strong smells) and I bent down low so as not to laugh in their faces. I then advised them to take the child away, to keep him nice and warm. And as it would be difficult for them to treat him as I had done, to be satisfied only in putting on his forehead some drops of cold water. The following day I found out that he had died.
Allow me now to give you a brief lesson in science. I don’t know whether you remember, very Reverend Father, the conversation we had regarding the effect of the well known mercuric chloride which you considered poison. I told you that every time that substance was administered by itself and by people not used to handling it, very serious problems arose but they were not fatal. I can give you today the proof of facts carried out on its usage. In my practice, since my arrival in these islands as much in Wallis and in the Navigators, I have had to treat fifty or more patients; all had skin diseases. I failed in one case only; it was a woman covered from head to toes and already of an advanced age. All the others were absolutely cured. Some had an arm, a leg, the finger, both hands; some women had their breasts covered in these hideous ulcers, which gave off a strong putrid smell. I found out that the Protestant ministers, two of whom were doctors, had treated these cases elsewhere and that in several cases the complaint returned. Having found out their method of treatment, it did not surprise me that they had not been successful; they had used heavy doses of mercuric chloride aggravated the complaint. After noticing the rapid result that this medication had on these Islanders, I combined it with opiates and medication which caused sweating. I made up doses of 5 centigrams and in pill form and administered one of them per day, recommending the patient to wrap up well and stay under a large piece of material in the shape of a mosquito net. While I was treating the sores, a twelve year old child came to me. He had a voice defect which meant that it would have been difficult to hear him five feet away. After asking him some questions he told me that when he was eight years old they had sexually abused him. I did not try to learn more on that line; I got him to take the same medical treatment for two and a half months. He recovered his voice and today the family of that young man, out of gratitude for the cure of their son, are asking for a missionary for their area. (He is a rather important chief).
Very Reverend father, here are all the details that I think I can give you relating to the patients whom I have had the opportunity of seeing since my arrival in these island.
Brother Jacques, whom you have asked me about, is very well now; he has regained the weight he lost for some time, as a result of a complaint which he had to endure, after using several old maids’ cures, because he lives twelve leagues away from me. He came to work on the chapel of Reverend Father Violette. I was quick off the mark to give him the necessary care and three weeks later he set to work as if he had had nothing wrong with him.
As for me, I couldn’t be better in Oceania, and in speaking to you, very Reverend Father, with complete sincerity of heart I will not change places with the so-called elite of the century, despite the shortages of all kinds which we sometimes suffer from but what balances my troubles, is the hope of an eternal reward, if I can succeed in accepting them always with resignation. Pray, very Reverend Father, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph so that our little brother who loves them perfectly and with all his heart that he may without ceasing imitate their qualities so that he may overcome courageously all the crosses that God cares to send him from heaven.
I end my letter, very Reverend Father, by asking you to accept my very hurried greetings and I am for my life time your very respectful and very obedient brother in Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Marist brother.
PS Please, be so good as to remember me to all the reverend fathers of the community including Fathers Cholleton and Favier.