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- Memoir - 2/7 -
application of this relic to his diseased and disabled limbs.
The next Prior of Petit Clairvaux was the dauntless and holy Father Francis, whose advanced age obliged him in 1858 to resign his office into the hands of the sweet Father James, a native of Belgium, and a religious eminently qualified for the position. Such was the success of his administration that in 1876 the community was raised by Pius IX of blessed memory to the dignity of an abbey--an abbey, which, with its forty-one fervent religious, now wisely governed by the worthy Abbot Dominic, presents an example of heroic abstinence, mortification and prayer, well calculated to put the characteristic dissipation, effeminacy and dissoluteness of the age to blush, and to bring home to our minds that "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." (I Co. 3,19).
JOHN CAMERON, _Bishop of Arichat._
[Some account of what befel Father Vincent de Paul, Religious of La Trappe, with observations made by him when in America, where he has spent about ten years, with the permission of his Superior, in obedience to whose orders he writes the following:]
The reverend Father Abbot, of La Trappe, Dom Augustin, (De Lestrange) foreseeing that Bonaparte would seek to destroy the communities existing in Europe, resolved on sending a party of his religious to America, in order that they might establish themselves there and preserve their monastic state.
In 1812, I, in company with two other brothers, was sent by him to the United States, there to found an establishment of our Order. We left Bordeaux on the 15th June, and on the 6th of the month of August we arrived at Boston. We had with us one of our Trappistines, whose object was also to found a community; with this intention she had preceded her companions, but now found herself alone, as passports were refused to the other sisters. We were welcomed by the worthy Mr. Matignon, parish priest of the town, who coaxed us to remain in the diocese of Bishop Cheverus. However as we had received orders to establish ourselves near Baltimore, after a few days rest I started for that town alone, leaving my brothers and the nun in Boston, intending to send for them when I should find a suitable site for the two projected establishments. I paid my respects to His Grace the Archbishop of Baltimore, who received me kindly, but appeared at a loss where to find a site such as we desired. After many unsuccessful efforts and researches, he established me temporally on a farm belonging to the Society of Jesus (of which he was a member) until such time as we could procure the sort of place we wanted; then as I thought that time might be long in coming, I summoned my brothers to me, and arranged for a suitable lodging for the nun.
During our stay, a rich man of Baltimore, who was once a Protestant and had been converted, offered us 2000 acres of land in the mountains of Pensylvania, near a river called the Delaware. He was even generous enough to offer me the services of his son, who was also a recent convert, and who came with us to point out the property which, however, I was not able to inspect thoroughly as I remained there only one day.
I returned soon after with two young men who were inclined to join our Order. They commenced a somewhat rude novitiate, for we fasted and kept silence on the way, going always on foot for want of money. After great suffering from fatigue and heat (as it was summer), we arrived at a little town, distant about sixty miles from Philadelphia, whence we had started on our tour of inspection. This little town, which was called Milford, was quite near to the land that was to be ours.
On the way we passed through many Protestant villages whose inhabitants appeared to be anxious for the light of the true faith, and this budding town of Milford did not look askance at us, as almost all of its inhabitants came to mass on Sunday. After mass one of the young men aforementioned, who knew English well, expounded the catechism to them, and they listened with attention. The Protestant minister came afterwards to preach, but we were told that none of the people went to hear him which without doubt annoyed him greatly. One of the principal men of the place, a Protestant, as indeed they were all, begged me to remain with them, saying that they would subscribe me a pension, and that he would head the list with the sum of fifty dollars. But we had not come to this country to be missionaries, so we left Milford to go and inspect our land.
Travelling through these immense and trackless forests was very difficult, and we often went astray. One day when I was alone with a child who served me in the capacity of guide, we were greatly puzzled. We wished to find a little hut that we had built in the woods in which to sleep; nightfall was coming on, and there seemed no chance of finding our camp before sundown. I said to the child: "here is a low, flat rock, on which I will spend the night." He replied that if I remained there I should be devoured by the bears, of which there were a great number on these mountains; we had already heard their cries and hideous howlings. At length, thanks be to God, we found the cabin, which was not a very safe refuge for us, as it was only a little hut built of young trees. The two novices and I slept there like Indians, either on the bare ground or on couches formed by heaps of the branches of trees.
Having no provisions with us we were obliged for the first few days to eat what we could find in the woods, such as certain little blue berries that they call "bluets," and other wild fruits, which the people of the country despise. On the third or fourth day help came. A Jew and a Protestant appeared on the scene, bringing us potatoes. This Jew showed a leaning towards our religion, and the Sunday previous I had said mass in his house. I do not doubt that if we had remained longer with these people many would have been converted. There was one entire family, of father, mother and three children, whom I had instructed, and who were to receive baptism and embrace the Catholic religion. Unfortunately the woman was the victim of evil counsel at Milford, and was deterred from her good purpose. There were many people in Milford who were bitter enemies to the truth.
I often said mass in our cabin. One day we made a cross and carried it in procession for nearly a mile: we sang psalms, and part of the way went barefoot, until we reached the spot where we planted the cross, which was our consolation and our safeguard, as there were in this desert a great number of rattlesnakes and other reptiles no less dangerous. When we left our retreat we would sometimes step upon them and would hear the noise that these serpents make with their rattles.
At last having walked over a great portion of these two thousand acres of land during the two weeks that we spent there, we left these solitudes and went down to Philadelphia. [Footnote: It was not deemed advisable to accept this property, it being almost entirely rock or marsh land. Besides which it was not suitable for one of our establishments, communication with other places being too difficult.]
Upon arriving at the town I told the Bishop how well-disposed were the people whom we had seen, and suggested to him to send some missionaries there, but he told me that he had none to send. If I had been free I would have returned at once to labor for the conversion of these poor people.
After a year of crosses and difficulties in the way of our discovering a suitable and convenient place for our establishment, we found ourselves in Maryland, an excellent province, producing all the necessaries of life in abundance. It is near the sea, and near to the Potoxen, and not far from the Potomac, two great rivers that add to its commercial advantages and render it more flourishing. We thought we had at last found the country in which to succeed in establishing our foundation. I consulted His Grace the Archbishop of Baltimore, and the reverend gentlemen of the seminary of St. Sulpice, and in accordance with their advice, I decided to go there and commence the work. Three more brothers sent from France by our Reverend Father Abbot, arrived at this juncture and joined us. We bought the land and set ourselves to work to cultivate it. We built a house for ourselves, which consisted of trees placed one upon another--what is called in this country a _loghouse_. It was small, being only eighteen feet long, and as many wide. We shortly commenced another which would serve as a chapel. The negroes of the country--who are all Catholics--gave us a helping hand in this work On arriving here we found lodgings in a private house near our clearing, in which we remained until our _loghouse_ was fit to receive us.
Maryland produces an abundance of Indian corn, the cultivation of which is the chief work of the negroes. We subsisted almost entirely upon this food, with potatoes and occasionally bread; wheat, however, and buckwheat grow very well. We arrived there at the beginning of the year 1813, and during the winter we were occupied in cutting down trees and preparing the land for work in the spring, so that when that season arrived we had an acre and a half of land under cultivation. Part of this we planted with potatoes, another part was a garden where we sowed different vegetables, and we also laid out an orchard of young fruit trees. So far everything looked well, but when summer came, and while we were working most zealously we all fell ill with fever, and many of us were attacked with dysentery. I attribute these maladies to many causes,--first to the miasma or poisonous vapors exhaled from newly cleared land, then to the great heat and the bad water that we had to drink, which, though it had been pure enough in the winter and spring, had become bad by reason of a multitude of little insects that were perpetually drowning themselves in it. Another reason that contributed to render us ill was the number of different sorts of flies by which we were devoured day and night. There were among others two species of flies which in this country they call _tics_. Some of them are large, others are small, they fasten themselves to the skin and so penetrate into the flesh that one can only remove them by pulling them to pieces, even then a part remains and causes an insupportable itching.
We were dying one after another in this place when our Rev. Father Abbot on his way from Martinique, with several religious, arrived at New York. He summoned our community to him, as well as that of the Rev. Father Urbain, which a short time previously had united with ours, so that these three little communities now formed but one, under our chief Superior, who thus in a moment effected a foundation such as we had spent years of fruitless effort endeavoring to establish. Our new monastery was established in the country near New York, and did much good. Thirty-three poor children (almost all of them orphans) were brought up there, and were given all the necessaries of life, even to their clothes. Protestants came to see the good work and two ministers were converted. These gentlemen came sometimes to see us, and assisted at our religious ceremonies. They
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