Bolivia: Noviciado de la Región América Sur
Santos: Fidel de Sigmaringa, Leandro y Alejandro
It was a great pleasure for Fr. Champagnat to share all the news he received from the priests and brothers who had gone to the missions in Oceania. On 1st January he had already shared Bro. Marie-Niziers letter (L. 79). He had had Fr. Servants letter for at least three weeks (Cf. L. 158). We do not know what caused this delay. The date of Fr. Servants letter does pose a problem. According to Bishop Pompalliers biography, the missionaries would have arrived in Valparaiso on 29th June 1837 (cf. Chronologie, p. 75). In Mgr. Bataillon et les missions de lOcéanie centrale, by Fr. Mangeret, S.M., we read,
The Delphine [the ship carrying the missionaries] entered that port [Valparaiso] on 28th June 1837. Since the following day was the feast of St. Peter, Bishop Pompallier celebrated a pontifical Mass in the chapel of the Picpus Fathers. (Vol. I, p. 48)
So how could Fr. Servant have dated his letter, Valparaiso, 14th June 1837? This is all the more confusing since two pages further on we read,
The crossing had already taken six months; the stay in Valparaiso also lasted far beyond all their calculations.... This involuntary stay in Valparaiso turned their hearts toward their far-off homeland, and each one spent his spare time writing letters. (Ibid., p. 50)
So we cannot really rely on the dates...and there is no longer any trace of the original letter.
Our very dear Brothers,
We had the consolation of receiving news from our dear missionaries to Polynesia in the form of a letter from Fr. Servant. It contains some items of great interest to our society. At present we can only give you extracts from it; we will share it with you in its entirety when a suitable occasion presents itself.
Valparaiso, 14th June 1837
Dear Father and Superior,
I am taking advantage of this opportunity to give you reason to bless Divine Providence which is watching over us with very special goodness. Here we have been roaming the seas for six months, while three or four are usually enough for the crossing from Le Havre to Valparaiso. You knew about our stop in Santa Cruz (Tenerife Island). Contrary winds held us back a very long time at Cape Horn, but we are finally getting closer to the islands we so much desire, and therefore we are joyful. We long for these islands, which Gods will should make us consider as our true homeland.
To tell the truth, from time to time we encounter various tribulations, some of us fall ill, the elements oppose our crossing, we are apprehensive about storms and accidents, but it is Gods will that these evils are light and easy. The annoying elements, whatever they may be, are beautiful if seen in the light of Providence.
Among the crosses I am speaking about, there is one which required of us a very costly sacrifice. Father Bret, who began to feel ill towards the end of our stay in Santa Cruz, was feverish when we weighed anchor. We redoubled our care and concern for him, and his illness seemed to diminish for a few days, but it soon became more serious than ever. During the morning of Monday in Holy Week, he got up briefly as usual, and said to Father Chanel, Im sure this is the end for me. He was not mistaken. That evening he slipped into a gentle death struggle and at seven oclock he fell asleep in the peace of the Lord. How admirably patient he was during his sufferings! He preferred to say nothing of his discomfort and was so grateful for everything we could do for him, and how exact he was about taking his medicines, even those which were foul-tasting!
However, God sends us blessings in our trials, and knows how to console us and lessen our pain. From time to time, fortunately, we can celebrate the holy mysteries and receive the Holy Eucharist, the bread of the strong. How happy I am in my vocation! How consoling it is to dedicate onself to the conversion of souls which are worth more than all the worlds wealth. I can almost see, dear Superior, the good brothers of the Hermitage, who by their prayers and their actions done under obedience, put holy pressure on Mary and thus contribute to the work of the mission.
While awaiting our departure from Valparaiso, which will come when God wills, we are living at the supply center of the missionaries of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It reminds me of the secluded house of those good brothers whom I love so much; and of my name, written on a list which bears the representation of the heart of the best of mothers; and of those feasts of the great protectress of our dear Society of Mary.
We were the privileged children of Divine Providence all during our crossing from Le Havre to Valparaiso and we continued to be
so blessed when we entered this city. Did the bishop of Maronea need information about our different islands? The vicar general of the bishop of Nilopolis arrived from Tahiti. Did he need someone to help him right away with preparations for the departure? Brother Colomban of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who is experienced in that sort of negotiations and can be very useful, arrived from California.
What I have to say about our loving Mother is beyond all telling.
Please take note of just one thing: Saturday was always a special day; the wind almost always became favorable.
Each of the brothers with us has had his minor problems during the crossing: Bro. Michel suffered a lot from toothaches; Bro. Marie-Nizier had headaches, but on the score of illness, he was one of the best off. Now they are all in excellent health; they asked me to tell you that they are happier than they could possibly put into words. They send you their most humble respect, and their regards to each of the brothers.
Yours devotedly in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
Servant, apostolic missionary
Last 27th November, a solemn mass was celebrated in the chapel of N.D. de lHermitage for Fr. Bret, who died on 20th March 1837 during the voyage from Santa Cruz to Valparaiso. Please carry out what the Rule prescribes for a professed brother, and recommend to God the mission and the missionaries of Polynesia.
I embrace you in the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his most holy Mother.
Your very affectionately,
N.D. de lHermitage, 12th December 1837