The Faith of Malagasies

Untitled 1Fr. John Brady, M.S. (1907-1970), a Missionary in Madagascar welcomes Bp. Francis Dantin, M.S. (1870-1941) in 1935
One of the chief obstacles to the cause of our Catholic Foreign Missions is very often the apathy of our good Catholics "back home." The question is oftentimes asked by these well-meaning folk; "Is it not a hopeless task to try and convert an unbeliever? Why all this waste of our finest youth? Money? Time? Why these lives of exile and hardship in primitive lands?"

A thousand answers might be given to these queries, fully justifying the foreign mission movement, if the words of Christ Himself were not enough: "Go and teach ail nations." The opinion seems to be quite common that the natives in uncivilized lands never really imbibe the true faith, even after years of endeavor on the part of the missionaries.

Perhaps the following short sketches of little incidents that took place here at our mission of Morondava, Madagascar, within the past month may help to convince the skeptic that the faith is really taking root and making progress in foreign lands. These examples are typical of a thousand other proofs we witness daily around us, showing that our Malagasies treasure the same faith of which we are so proud.

A Simple Envelope

The first incident I quote took place the day after the feast of St. Joseph. Our good lay Brother was removing the temporary altar which we had erected in the sanctuary as a shrine in honor of the saint. As he took down the statue, a small white envelope fell to the floor. Not knowing what it might contain, the Brother brought it to the house and laid it upon my desk.

Returning to my room about two hours later, I found the envelope with two or three other Ietters. Ignorant of its origin and contents, I opened the envelope indifferently and read with amazement the following:

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Promises Kept

In November 1941, three newly ordained La Salette priests boarded the S.S. President Grant in San Francisco, California, to sail to the La Salette Missions in Burma. On December 8, Pearl Harbor was bombed and America was at war with Japan. The passengers of the ship were ordered to disembark and sleep on the shore. At night, the ship slipped away with all the passengers' luggage to Australia.

Untitled 1On their way to Burma, in fall of 1941, they were captured in Manila: (from left) La Salette Frs. Frederick Julien, John Doherty, and Joseph Decoteau.
Manila was occupied by the Japanese who placed all foreigners under house arrest. The three La Salette priests: Joseph Decoteau, John Doherty and Fred Julien sought and found refuge with the Jesuits. In 1944, Fathers Decoteau and Julien were moved to Los Banos, in the hill country about 40 miles from Manila. There they joined other internees, including two bishops, 243 priests, nuns and brothers plus 2,000 Protestant Missionaries and their families. Father Doherty remained in Manila.

Having discovered the Japanese plan to execute the internees, General Douglas MacArthur mapped out a daring rescue. In the early morning of February 23, 1945, while the Japanese were doing their calisthenics, some 200 U.S. paratroopers dropped from the heavens and separated the Japanese from their guns. As the first paratrooper touched the ground, the Filipino guerilla scouts, hidden in the nearby mountain, surrounded the camp and began their attack.

A Battle Around Us

"A fierce battle took place," said Father Julien. "Bullets flew over our heads. We all lay flat on the ground praying the rosary. I was convinced some of us would die. Trembling from head to foot and unable to control my head pounding on the ground, I promised Our Lady of La Salette to erect a Shrine in her honor in the Philippines should she help me survive."

Amphibian tanks broke through the fences and the internees were herded on even as the Japanese continued shelling from the hills. Miraculously, not even one internee was killed. The camp went up in flames.

Soon the three La Salettes were reunited and deported to the United States where they petitioned the Seven Dolor Province to allow them to return to the Philippines. Back in Los Banos in 1944, Bishop Constance Jurgens invited Fathers Descoteau and Julien to come to Isabela, a province up north, to help when the war was over.

Patiently Seeking Permission to Fulfill His Promise

A postulatum, therefore, petitioning to accept the Philippine mission and signed by all the La Salettes in Texas and Louisiana was presented in the Provincial Chapter in 1948. But the decision was to maintain Burma. Henceforth, all ensuing correspondences were addressed to Father Elmeric Dubois, the Provincial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Province, eventually paving the way to the acceptance of the Philippine mission.

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Untitled 1A mosaic of Icelandic martyred Bp. Jón Arason (c. 1484-1550) In an issue of "The Catholic Missions," an interesting article, entitled "Scandinavia and Baltic Countries," describes the vicissitudes of the Church in the land of the Norsemen, from the days of the Vikings, through the sad period of the Reformation, down to the present day. The author, Viggo F. Rambush, President of St. Ansgar's Scandinavian Catholic League in New York, in the limited space of a magazine article could do no more than trace this history in its larger lines.

Called to Ministry in Norway

The subject, however, is of more than passing interest to the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, for Norway was their first foreign mission field. A few months before the Holy See had set her approval on the Community, raising it from its diocesan status to that of a religious Congregation of pontifical right, the Congregation of the Propaganda had already, by a decree dated March 6th, 1879, confided to the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette under the leadership of Monsignor Bernard, the evangelization of Norway and Lapland.

A Time of Violent Persecution of Catholics

No mission could have been more difficult for the young and struggling Community, since, to climatic hardships there was added the hostility of the greater part of the people who resented what they considered foreign intrusion. In the days of the Reformation, Lutheranism had been established by violence as the national religion and was strongly entrenched in the hearts of the people. Craft and force brought about the victory of Protestanism so rapidly and so completely that in 1550 Jon Arason, the last Bishop of Holar, in Iceland, was executed for his beliefs and died a martyr . . .

For centuries Norway remained as sealed to the Catholic Faith as Thibet. It was only in the nineteenth century that all "dissenters" (including Catholics who had come into the country) were released from control of the Lutheran State Church. The Catholic Church had waited long. At once, as soon as the doors of Norway were ajar to her, she recommenced her age-long struggle for people's souls. . . . "The first priests to settle in the country in recent years (1859)," continues “The Catholic Missions”, "were Frenchmen, the Abbés Bernard and Baudoin."

Challenges for Fr. Bernard Bernard

Father Bernard Bernard, one of the first missionaries of the North Pole region was appointed Prefect Apostolic of Norway and Lapland in 1862. He established his official residence at Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and thence was accustomed to set out on his mission tours to all parts of this great and desolate field.


Fr. Gardner Gave His Life

On August 14th, 1937, Father Philip J. Gardner (1905-1942), Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette, bade fond farewell to home and country, and set sail from New York, one of a pioneer mission band of five, whose destination was far away Burma (now Myanmar).

A Sad Passing and Too Soon…

Untitled 1Fr. Philip J. Gardner, M.S. (1905-1942), Missionary to Burma
Eight years to the day after departure, another scene, mournful yet hallowed with resigned faith, was enacted in the Church of St. Theresa, Manchester, New Hampshire. Religious confreres, parents and friends, mindful of Father Gardner's heroic sacrifice at the hands of Burmese bandits, attended the Pro-Burial Mass which was being offered to his revered memory. A message from His Excellency, the Most Rev. Timothy Crowley, C.S.C., Bishop of Dacca, Bengal, India, had officially confirmed the report of Father's tragic passing, more than three years ago, in the early days of Japanese conquest in the Far East.

Death came to the young missionary some five years after he had set foot in Burma and begun his strenuous work among a benighted people. Few yet fruitful had been these brief years in the darksome land of pagodas. The sudden closing of a promising missionary career brought a crowning glory to Father Gardner's cherished dream – that of laying down his life for his people. Blessed was he with the words of the Master, "Well done", as he appeared before him to report "Mission Completed".

An Unfortunate Situation

The sad Odyssey of Father Gardner's death trek began in Mandalay, in central Burma. When he learned that the storm of war was approaching his favorite mission in Prome District, he bravely set out with his companion, Father Joseph A. Proulx, M.S., to make his way back to one of his Catholic Chin villages near Prome.

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Breton Lay La Salettes

Untitled 1The Chapel and Grounds for the Augustinian Sisters in Morlaix, FranceThis place became a meeting place for the Laity Salettins of the West. Together with Sister Anne-Marie and another sister, regularly four times a year, the group prays, reads and shares its experience in community, in light of the Gospel and the Great News entrusted by the Beautiful Lady. It is in this rereading that the life of laity and religious sisters finds breath and is excited by the mission entrusted to them by Mary: "Make this message known to all my people."


The eldest daughter of La Salette

By the concluding days of 1846, the Great News of the event of La Salette found a special resonance at Morlaix among the Augustinian Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus. In her message the sisters immediately discovered a God who, through Mary, came to tell the world not about God’s vengeance toward the sinner, but of God’s infinite mercy. The Beautiful Lady confirmed "her people" in her ability to pray for change – "if they convert..."


Augustinian Sisters of La Salette

In 1834 the first community of the Augustinian Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus arrived in the area of Morlaix (Saint Martin des Champs), France. They managed a hospital and boarding school, carrying out by their ministry as caregivers their mission to testify to all of the Mercy of God.

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