Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 09/Part 05

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The Death of Monsieur Gondree, One of the two Priests of the Congregation of the Mission, and the Later Work of Monsieur Nacquart, the Only Remaining Priest on the Island

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Although the judgments of God are inscrutable, as the holy apostle says, and his ways often unknown, we are still obliged to submit ourselves to his holy will and recognize and confess that all he does is for the best.

The two good priests of the Mission made good progress in their facility with the language and of their knowledge of many places on the island. They began to see the fruits of their work in the instruction and conversion of these poor infidels. Yet in the midst of their zealous optimism and hopes for the future, Monsieur Gondree was stricken with a fever which, together with some other complications, carried him off in a very short time.

Monsieur Nacquart wrote to Monsieur Vincent:

At the time of the Rogation Days, [1] Monsieur Flacourt, the governor, asked one of us to accompany him on a visit he was about to make to different parts of the island. Monsieur Gondree went with him, but suffered greatly on the journey because of the heat and the small amount of food he ate in observance of the eucharistic fast. He ate only a little rice cooked in water. In this weakened state he was stricken with a fever which caused much pain in all his joints. Amid his suffering he displayed great constancy and exhibited truly Christian sentiments.

The feast of Pentecost came, and although I was terribly concerned about the sickness of this good servant of God, our Lord gave me the strength to minister to the French and to the catechumens. I heard confessions and preached twice a day, sang the office, and looked after the instruction of these poor people. Among others, I received two adult women into the Church. They later married and brought their husbands to be baptized.

The sickness of Monsieur Gondree grew worse, so I administered holy viaticum and extreme unction, which he received with great devotion. He said that his only regret was to be leaving these poor infidels. He recommended to the French the fear of God and devotion to his blessed Mother, to whom he was so devoted. He asked me to write to you, Monsieur, to thank you most humbly in his name for the grace of accepting him into the Congregation, and above all for having chosen him among so many others more capable than himself to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ on this island. He asked that the members of the Congregation would join him in thanking God for this grace. He also said that I must prepare myself to suffer much for our Lord in this country, and he repeated this warning twice. After passing a part of the night in continuous aspirations to God, he died in peace and tranquility. Thus he gave back his soul into the hands of his Creator on the fourteenth day of his illness. [2]

The next day he was laid to rest, mourned by all the French. A large group of poor infidels were also present. They said that until our arrival they had never seen men who never became angry or cruel, or who taught them heavenly things with such affection and gentleness as the dear departed one.

You can well imagine the feeling in my poor heart at losing one I loved as myself, and who was, after God, my entire consolation. I begged our Lord Jesus Christ to give me a portion of the graces he had given to poor deceased, so that alone I might accomplish the work of two. After his death I felt the result of these prayers in a double strength of mind and body, to work for the conversion of these poor islanders, and for all that would contribute to the advancement of the kingdom of God in this country.

After this, afraid that death might overtake me, I felt driven to work on what I considered most necessary, which was to compose a catechism in the language of this country speaking of what is most necessary to believe and do for eternal salvation. I did this to make myself more aware of these things, and also to leave for the use of those who might come after me, should God call me from this life. [3]

After I had put this catechism in some order, I began to assemble the people of the neighborhood on Sundays and feasts. They were astounded to see how much of their language I had learned in such a short time, but in reality I was able only to stammer what I had picked up as necessary for their instruction. Among my hearers where the children of a chieftain of a region about two hundred leagues away, who had come here to conduct some business. They were faithful in attending my catechism lessons, and on the point of leaving for their homes they assured me they would report to their father what they had heard of our religion, which they found very acceptable. I gave them reason to hope that in time I might be able to visit them. After their departure I learned that their part of the country is better and more densely populated than the region where we now are. The people there are anxious to attend the prayer services of the French who go there on business. All this gives me reason to think that there may be a large profit to be gained in that area.

I take every opportunity to preach Jesus Christ, either by myself or by others, either to the blacks who come here or to those from more distant lands where the French have visited. Among these latter (after I exhort them to confess and communicate before leaving, and recommend that they avoid offending God at all costs and have a great concern to give only good example to the infidels) I ask those I find to be the most intelligent to let no opportunity pass when they might speak of our faith to the infidels. I give them written instructions on how to carry out this task.

Since the death of Monsieur Gondree, my dear companion in charge of our house here, I have not been able to take as many lengthy trips as I did before. I have to be here on Sundays and feasts to celebrate mass and the divine office, and preach to the French and to the inhabitants of the region. My trips now last only five or six days.

Last August I went to the nearest mountains where during the day I instructed those whom I met in the small villages. In the evening I would repeat the same instruction for those who returned from their work. I was very consoled at the docility of these poor infidels, who stated that they believed with all their hearts what I had taught. Tearfully I said to myself: Quid prohibet eos baptizari? ["What is to keep them from being baptized?"] [4] But, fearing they were not yet sufficiently grounded in the faith, and without a priest to develop their Christian piety they would possibly abuse their baptism, I put all into the hands of the Providence of God. I would have baptized their infants, but again I feared that with time they would become indistinguishable from the others, especially since they move about so much. It seemed to me there should be some discernible way to tell the baptized and the unbaptized apart. I was well enough acquainted with those who lived near the fort to baptize them. They began to be called by their Christian names, such as Nicholas, Francis, etc.

I would test your patience if I recounted all the trips I have made, the names of the places and the peoples I have visited, to announce our Lord Jesus Christ, and all the events that have happened to me along the way. I can tell you that you could not wish for better dispositions for receiving the Gospel. All those I meet complain that for as long as the French have been in the country no one has ever spoken to them of the faith. They are envious of those who live close to us, where they may hear more of our holy religion.

I will recount here only what happened in November, in a visit I made to a distant village, to which I brought a large painting of the general judgment. Paradise was represented at the top of the picture, and hell at the bottom. On my arrival in each village, I would call out that I had come so their eyes could see and their ears hear things important for their salvation. After I explained what they should believe and do to assure their eternal happiness, I would display the picture, to let them see the two eternal dwellings. I would urge them to choose either the one or the other, paradise or hell. These poor simple people cried out that they did not want to go with the devil, but that they wished to dwell with God. They complained that their Ombiasses never spoke to them of God, and never visited them except for some personal gain, or to deceive them. As for myself, I visited and taught these people completely at my own expense.

I went also, some time ago, beyond the mountains, to a region called the valley of Amboul, where I showed my picture to the lord of the region. I told him God would punish those for all eternity who kept several wives, since I knew well that he himself had five in his house. He was visibly affected, and I noticed that his face changed color. He composed himself somewhat and asked me to come to teach him. He also promised me that he would have his servants receive the Gospel.

Last Christmas I visited the region called Danos, which has a population of about ten thousand persons. I have visited almost all the surrounding villages, to give the people their first knowledge of Jesus Christ. I attempt to prepare his way, in omnem locum, in quem ipse Dominus est venturus ["to every town and place the Lord himself intended to visit"]. [5] I press ahead so that those who will come after me will find the ground at least a little prepared.

There is nothing more to say, Monsieur, except that these poor people I have begun to instruct await nothing more than aquae motum ["the movement of the water"], [6] and the hands of several good workers to lead them to the pool of baptism. How many times during my preaching in the countryside, have I not heard these poor people cry out, "Where then is this water that bathes our souls, as you have promised? Bring it to us, and help us pray." But I continue to delay, fearing that they make this request like the Samaritan woman in the gospel. To save herself the trouble of coming to the well, she asked our Lord for that thirst quenching water, not yet aware of the water that extinguishes the fires of concupiscence and engenders eternal life.

When we arrived here we found five children baptized. It has pleased God to add another fifty-two. Although there are many adults well disposed, still I hesitate to administer baptism until I can confer the sacrament of matrimony immediately after baptism, to remedy a vice which is all too common in this country. Still, I take great care that none of those sufficiently prepared will die without baptism. Some time ago I did baptize a poor aged woman who had become grievously ill, and God inspired her to show her thanks at his goodness towards her. She was the first of the county to pass to eternal blessedness, and her body was the first to be buried in the French cemetery.

I will await the help and the directives you will be pleased to send. If I cannot manage to do much more, I will at least strive to maintain what has begun. Alas! Where and who are the doctors and learned persons, as Saint Francis Xavier used to say, who waste their time in the academies and universities while so many poor infidels petunt panem, et non est qui frangat eis ["they cry for food, but there is no one to give it to them"]. [7] May it please his Sovereign Majesty in his goodness, to provide for the harvest. Unless we have enough priests to teach and to reap the fruit of their instruction, we will not be able to do too much more. [8]


  1. The three days before Ascension Thursday.
  2. May 26, 1649.
  3. Petit Catechisme avec les prieres du matin et du soir, que les missionnaires font et enseignent aux Neophytes et Cathecumenes de l'Isle de Madagascar, Le tout en Francois et en cette Langue. Contenant trente Instructions. Paris: 1657. Reprinted, Antananarivo, 1987.
  4. Based on Acts 8:37.
  5. Based on Luke 10:1.
  6. John 5:7.
  7. Lam 4:4.
  8. Excerpted from CED III:569-77.

This page:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Nine, Part Five
The Death of Monsieur Gondree, One of the two Priests of the Congregation of the Mission, and the Later Work of Monsieur Nacquart, the Only Remaining Priest on the Island

Index of this section:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Nine Index:
On the Mission to the Isle of Saint Lawrence, Otherwise Known as Madagascar

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Index: The Missions of Monsieur Vincent

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two