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3 July 1853 — Father Xavier Montrouzier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Balade, New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, April 2011

Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Montrouzier

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A monsieur § Monsieur Colin, supérieur général des Maristes §Montée S(aint) Barthélemy no 4 § Lyon § Rhône France

[p. 1]

[J(esus)] M(ary) J(oseph) All through Mary!

To very rev Fr Colin

Balade 3 July 1853

Very Reverend Father,
I am writing you a few lines hoping on the off chance that they will reach you by way of China and because I don’t want to miss the opportunity of letting you know the bad luck which has struck our mission station. I wrote to you about two months ago; I don’t know whether my letter reached you. It had to go by way of Erromango, Isle of Pines and Sydney, and it had such a journey to make that it is quite possible that it is still getting to you.
We are orphans. Bishop Douarre has gone to heaven to receive his reward for his zeal, his kindliness and his deep humility.
It was on April 27 that the mission station lost its bishop after a short but very cruel illness.
On April 23 the bishop felt tired; in the evening he complained of paralysis of the jaw. The following day he celebrated Holy Mass, but he had a great deal of difficulty completing the service. Then he retired to his bedroom where we went to keep him company. He suffered paralysis down his left side. In the evening feeling tireder still, he waited for us to gather around him to make an act of humility which shocked us to such an extent that we didn’t know what to say in response. He asked us to forgive him his hasty utterances which may have upset us and then he added: I have not been a scandalous priest but a cowardly one and a poor bishop. Perhaps I would have made a good brother.
On the Monday the pains of our dear patient were extreme. The slightest movement, the merest emotion caused him to convulse. His sensitivity was such that he could not stand the warmth of a hand when we offered him a potion to take. He could not lie down any more. He sat in an armchair fixed to the floor with a rope, changing his position all the time and not finding a comfortable one. At ten o’clock, the bishop asked for the last rites. We carried out everything for that august ceremony in his room. The natives were allowed to come and see their bishop passing away. --- When I approached him to ask for his profession of faith, he earnestly took the book which contains it and he began it with such earnestness that he was physically unable to complete the words. Father Forestier had to continue it in his name. He received Holy Communion and Holy Viaticum completely conscious, answering all the prayers of the church. When the ceremony was over, he wanted to be left alone. A moment later, his confessor found him muttering some snippets of words. Fearing some assault of the devil, he asked him the reason for his emotion. I am chasing away the devil, he replied, he would not want me to be pleased by the thought that in Lyons they would be happy to learn that I made an edifying death.
Father Rougeyron arrived as we had just administered go the bishop the last sacraments and the pain which he showed so vividly caused a new crisis for the patient. When the latter saw him more calmly, more resigned, he offered him and asked him to accept letters from the provicar which he had signed a moment before receiving Holy Communion and by which he invested in him all the care of the mission station excluding all the other pro-vicars previously named.
Then they allowed into the bishop’s room several Christian and pagan chiefs to whom he gave fatherly instructions. But as we noticed that was tiring him, we had to restrict the excessive zeal of our converts from coming to see their pastoral shepherd on his death bed. One of them slipped past us and squatted on the floor in a corner of the patient’s bedroom. It was Augustin. The bishop saw him and spoke to him very touchingly. My dear child, don’t cry! I am suffering a lot and I feel that I am dying, but I do not fear death or suffering. Can you see that crucifix which I have before me: that is where I get my strength from. I know too that I am buying heaven. The previous evening he said to us: I have been thinking of death for ten years; I have become used to not fearing it any more. In another moment he added: it has been 25 years that I have been reciting a Pater Noster and an Ave Maria in honour of St Joseph so that he may gain for me the grace of making a good death.
On Tuesday 26 April nothing in particular happened. There were the same sufferings, the same calm, the same resignation.
Finally on April 27 while he was having a seizure, the bishop died in the arms of Reverend Father Rougeyron and Brother Joseph, a little after 3-30 in the morning.
Very Reverend Father, this is a really big trial for our mission station. You of course will understand that because it is impossible that despite his care in hiding his good qualities, you have not recognized and appreciated his zeal, his goodness and the true humility of the saintly bishop except from our tears. Everybody who knew him, loved him and that will not be an easy job for those succeeding him to acquire the same affection.
Father Rougeyron had to write to you two months ago. I don’t know whether he will be able to do so this time, not being warned of the opportunity that I am taking advantage of. He told you that we have kept the two settlements at Bainap and at Puébo. He is in the latter settlement with Father Gagnières and Brother Bertrand. I am with the other priests Vigouroux and Forestier and Brothers Mallet, Joseph and Bertrand. We are contemplating a new settlement at Touho, south of Hienghène as soon as a colleague arrives.
We have been sorely tested since the bishop’s death. An epidemic decimated the population at Bainap; the epidemic carried off a large number of Christians among whom was poor Augustin. Our converts are not all fervent but in a word the settlement is doing well and they are well above the pagans in the midst of whom they live and with whom they are too much in contact with not to retain some of their former notions. Father Rougeyron has a little squad of catechists whom he is training with as much success as trouble and who are at the moment being prepared for baptism. Things are much quieter where we are. We have indeed a little school for children who behave quite docilely, but their progress in reading is slow. That is no doubt because we do not know their language well enough and in our tribe there are rivalries which make our ministering really difficult. Yet we have just built a chapel in a settlement where they are favourably disposed to our religion but where they point out that they can’t become Christians seeing that our church is too far away for the women and children to be able to come to Mass on Sundays. In fact it is more than three leagues from where we are and there is a river to cross. We have established a permanent catechist there and seventeen natives have already decided to ask to be baptized.
Another word on what we are doing here. We have just finished our annual retreat. We did it together. There was a real sense of unity, love, peace and, I dare hope, the spirit of Jesus and Mary reigned in our little community. Father Vigouroux, at the end of the retreat, asked me to receive the renewal of his vows. He is now perfectly in order.
Excuse my scribbling, very Reverend Father. I have not had time to take greater care when writing. I was determined to give you some details. On this occasion I am not writing to my family. I am short of time. I would be very much obliged were you to give my family news about me. I am well and very happy.
Very Reverend Father, accept the assurance of my devotion with which I am your very humble and very submissive child.
Xavier Montrouzier
apostolic missionary
of the Society of Mary