Chapter XXVII: Illness — The Pyrenees — Spain — Pilgrimages
The last course of lectures — The Pyrenees — Notre Dame de Burgos — “The land of the Cid” — The Corniche Road
The stay at Sceaux, and particularly the sea air at Dieppe, had improved Ozanam’s health, at least temporarily. After an enforced extension of holidays, he felt himself bound, towards the end of December, to resume his lectures in the Sorbonne. His brother, the priest, endeavoured to dissuade him: “No,” he replied, “I have a duty to perform. What would you say of a soldier who refused to go into the breach for fear of death? I ought to be at my post. I shall die at it if necessary.” He assured his doctors that inaction would be more fatal to him than sickness. “I am a worker and I must do my day’s work.” But his day’s work was done, and the hour was approaching when he would receive his wage.
Warned, but not cured, he ascended his Professorial Chair. But if we are to credit one of his letters to Ampère, he looked after himself a little: “I am careful to incur less fatigue in speaking. I do not seek to be impassioned when there is no emotion. I remain seated, and the audience does not object. Some pretext is occasionally sought for applause in order to stir me. But the young men are mostly quiet and studious.
The short winter term of 1852 was passed in this manner. Carried away by his desire for work, he wrote on the 12th February: “Although my strength is slow in returning, I am nevertheless getting on much better.” He even attempted to resume the revision of his Cinquiente Sikle: “But, as soon as I attempt to do any work, my terrible weakness is apparent. I do not know how I shall finish, if I do not regain some strength. . . . But God Who sent me the sorrow of ill-health, leaves me the joys of the heart. I bless Him for that lot.” The pen drops from his fingers, yet he writes again: “One of my greatest griefs is that having studied deeply, I believe I have some ideas, without the power to reproduce them.” It was in that anguished state of mind that the end was to find him.
Easter vacation provided a period of repose. He was delighted with the prospect of going with his wife and child to Lallier at Sens to spend Easter week. On Easter Sunday he wrote as follows: “My dear friend, the Holy Communion in Notre Dame this morning was magnificent. Nearly two thousand were present, praising and blessing God and joining in the holy mysteries. It is indeed the truth that the merits of that Sacrifice are never exhausted, and that the Saviour is present to the faithful in His Church to-day, as in the early days of Christianity. I did not forget you, my dear friend, at the altar, and I am sure that you did not forget me.”
He did not go to Sens. He was down with fever almost immediately after Easter Sunday, and had to endure sufferings that put his virile courage to the test. He was obliged to take to his bed, and it was from there that, at the last moment, he requested the Dean to notify the postponement of his course of lectures. M. de La Villemarque, who came to see him, gives an account of the pathetic scenes which took place at his house and in the Sorbonne.
When the students read on the notice-board that they must give up for the time being the idea of hearing Ozanam, there was first a feeling of disappointment which turned quickly into one of dissatisfaction. “Indeed the Professors take things easy and make no difficulty about dropping lectures, for which they are well paid.” They ignored the fact that the master was ill.
Ozanam was much upset when he heard of it. The lecture had been written out. He did not hesitate: “I shall deliver it,” he said; “the honour of the profession must be upheld.” As the time approached for the lecture he got up out of his bed, in spite of the protests of his friends, the tears of his wife, and the command of his doctors. He was driven to the Sorbonne where he got out leaning on a friend’s arm. He appeared quite unexpectedly in the lecture-hall, emaciated and white as a sheet.
Seized with remorse and pity, the students gave him a splendid reception. Having obtained silence, he said in a deep, clear voice:
“Gentlemen, our age is charged with selfishness, and professors are stated to be affected with the general complaint. Yet, it is here that we wear out our health, and use up our strength. I do not complain, our life is yours; we owe it to you to the last breath, and you shall have it. As for me, if I die, it will be in your service.”
He delivered his lecture with unparallelled eloquence and power. It would not be possible to describe the enthusiasm and emotion of the audience. There was a presentiment that they were listening to him for the last time. When he had risen from the chair, and was leaving the hall amid the congratulations of his friends, one of them shook his feverish hand saying: “You were wonderful.” “Indeed,” said Ozanam with a smile, “now I must see about getting a night’s rest.”
He did not get that night’s rest. He took to his bed at once, showing symptoms of the most alarming character. It was indeed a farewell which he had just given to an audience who had loved and acclaimed him for twelve years.
Lacordaire’s fears were aroused when he heard of what had occurred. He was then in his monastery at Flavigny, to which he had betaken himself, after giving up the pulpit in Notre Dame and residence in Paris. He wrote to Ozanam “scolding him for his imprudence, ordering him to confine himself absolutely to his lectures for some years to come, and to use the rest of his time for travel and relaxation.” Was that not even too much? He continued, “Remember, my dear friend, that you are one of the small number of Catholic writers, who have done honour to the Church in our country by their talent and character; you have kept yourself free from the excesses and tergiversation which trouble us in so many others. Do stay with us. Alas! we pass all too quickly, and even if life is a poor thing for itself, we must yet cling to it for the sake of others.”
The illness grew worse. “I have been at death’s door,” he wrote afterwards. “Pleurisy was running its course violently and would have carried me off, but for the skill and attention of my brother, the care of my family, the prayers of my friends, and the mercy of God.” His physical strength, failed completely after that attack, but neither his charity nor his apostolic zeal, as will be clear from a letter dated 16th June, 1852. It is a monument to both.
While he was ill, Ozanam had had a visit from one of his former fellow-students on a mission of charity. The latter writing to him, recalled their former discussions when as he said, “Young, and loving truth, we chatted together with Lather about things eternal.” But the friend admitted that his former doubts still tormented him, and he confided his trouble to his dear comrade who was happy and enlightened.
Though he rarely left his bed, and his room not at all, Ozanam risked everything for the salvation of his friend. His reply is nothing less than the demonstration of the fundamental Catholic principles. It opened by insisting on the importance of the element of mystery in the unfathomable depths of the infinite. He answers the objection of cruelty raised against the dogma of eternal punishment: “Do those who regard that dogma as inhuman, argue so because humanity is dear to them? No, but because they fail to realise adequately the malice of sin and the justice of God.” Ozanam insists further on the proof, which his own experience furnished him, of Christianity: “through which had come to him the faith of his youth, the light and strength of his mature years, the sanctification of his domestic happiness and consolation in his suffering.” It is here that occurs the passage which has been already quoted: “There is, in the inexpressible sweetness of Holy Communion, and in the tears which it brings, a power for conviction which would enable me to embrace the Cross and defy unbelief, should all the world have abjured Christ.”
For ten years Ozanam had been examining the history of Christianity independently of that interior evidence. Each step in that examination confirmed his conviction. So much for the proof from History. Then the Social proof: “I have proved to my own satisfaction that it is to the Gospel that we owe Liberty, Fraternity and Equality; that the greatness and the happiness of society in the mass, as of individuals, depend on it. You do not perhaps sufficiently appreciate, my dear friend, to what an extent that belief in Christ, which is represented as extinct, still actuates humanity; or how much the Saviour of the world is still beloved; or how He continues to raise up examples of virtue and devotion not surpassed in the early ages of the Church.”
Then the following ardent, personal supplication: “Ah! my friend, my dear friend, let us not lose ourselves in endless discussion. We have not two lives, one to seek truth and another to practise it. Therefore, Christ does not oblige us to look for Him; He shows Himself living in Christian society around us; He is before you, He is inviting you. You will soon be forty years of age, it is time for you to make up your mind. Surrender to your Saviour, Who is calling you. Give yourself over to belief in Him as so many of our friends have done; you will find peace in that. Your doubts, like mine, will be dissipated. You are so little short of being an excellent Christian; merely an act of the will; to will to do so, is to believe. Wish for that; wish for that at the feet of the priest, who will bring down the blessing of Heaven on your wavering will. Have that courage, my friend, have that faith. Will your salvation, be a Christian, be happy. That is the prayer of your friend for you.”
I am assured that the wish was granted. How could the urgent prayer of a breaking heart be refused, a heart which even here sends this farewell: “I am so little better that I am to be sent to the springs in the Pyrenees. I shall pass the autumn by the seaside and the winter probably in the South.”
Three weeks after the date of that letter, on the 16th July, Ozanam left Paris, as soon as the state of his health permitted, not without regret. “It is a great trial for me to see my work suspended and my career interrupted, at a time when I have to canvass for membership of the Academy. But we must learn how to make sacrifices when God demands them, and to ask Him for the grace to do His will on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The journey from Paris to Eaux-Bonnes was made by easy stages in ten days. Ozanam made a stay at Orleans, Tours, Poitiers, in which he was interested from a religious point of view. Afterwards he visited the South, from Bordeaux to Pau, and never failed to pay a visit to the Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in each city.
The establishment of a Conference at Eaux-Bonnes was his chief occupation during his month’s stay there. It would be, as he visualised it, a rallying-point for members of the Society from all parts, who would come there for treatment. At the same time he initiated the idea, and canvassed for the foundation of a hospital for the sick poor who would be obliged to resort there for the same purpose. Each local conference would bear its share of the travelling expenses of the sick poor to Eaux-Bonnes, while the well-to-do patients there would, of their charity, undertake the maintenance of the sick poor while in the hospital.
“Here I am then at Eaux-Bonnes,” he wrote on his arrival to M. de La Villemarque, “wandering between two mountains, drinking deep of the sulphur-springs. To be quite frank, my dear friend, I prefer your cider. Then I climb the rocky hills after the goats to digest that beverage which my stomach rejects. I bring all my clan with me. When we shall have finished camping on these altitudes, we shall take the sea-baths at Biarritz. Then I am to be exiled in the South for the winter.”
He describes elsewhere the grandiose charm of that slope of the Pyrenees: “One never wearies of admiring the beauty of the light gilding the rocks, the delicate outline of the mountain ridge, and, above all, the streams bejewelling the mountain side, purling and limpid. The Alps themselves have nothing comparable to the Cirque of Gavarnie. Imagine, not a Cirque, but the apse of a cathedral, eighteen hundred feet high, crowned with snow, furrowed with cascades, the foam of which arises and hangs over the rocks in the warmest tints of colour; the walls are as if they had been hewn out of the rock. When clouds are floating overhead they appear to be the drapery of a sanctuary: should the sun shine, nothing could make that edifice more resplendent. One would say that it was begun by angels and interrupted by the sin of man.”
In the course of this “truant” trip through the Pyrenees, the pilgrimage to the shrine of Betharam took place, and there Ozanam prayed to the Virgin of the Golden Branch: “That Golden Branch,” says the legend, “was presented by a young girl who fell into one of the mountain torrents. She made a vow to our Lady, and found immediately at her hand a branch to which she clung, and by which her life was saved. I am clinging with all the might of my soul to that Branch which we call the Comforter of the Afflicted and the Refuge of Sinners.”
At the springs Ozanam met what was better than beautiful scenery, beautiful souls. I do not know if he could possibly have found two more congenial companions than the two young, pious, and distinguished priests, the Abbé Perreyve, one of his own students, and the Abbé Mermillod, future Cardinal Bishop of Hebron, who was then Vicar of Notre Dame de Geneva.
The Abbé Perreyve was the chosen disciple of Lacordaire, of Pere Gratry, and of Ozanam. He too was sick unto death, he too made the offering of his life to the Divine Master. Sad and sweet visions of the future gave to their conversation the charming characteristics of a joint sacrifice: “When the sky was clear,” the Abbé Perreyve relates, “we set out early for one of those smiling walks surrounding EauxBonnes. It was generally a crawl. We sought there the evening’s calm. We left for home when the sun was quitting the purple tops of the Pic de Gers, what time the fresh vapours of the Laruns were beginning to rise. When at the last corner of the road we saw the roofs of the houses at Eaux-Bonnes it was already night. The mountain crest appeared sombre and clear cut against a starry sky: the moon rose silently above the fir-trees over the hill-tops, and the breeze, regular as the breathing of a sleeping child, swayed the woods gently. At such an hour, in such beautiful surroundings, our souls ascended naturally to God. We spoke little, but the long intervals of silence made me feel that it was rather a time for prayer; a prayer, not of words, but of silent contemplation in the presence of God! Oh, dear Lord, Oh, dear Master! I give Thee thanks for having granted me such moments!”
When his leave was up the Abbé Perreyve was called back to Paris. Ozanam accompanied him as far as Bayonne: “That hour in the carriage,” writes the young priest, “was the last which I was to pass with him on this earth. God permitted that he had that presentiment. He spoke during that hour of grave matters relating to himself, to me, to the Church; of hopes and fears for the future. He spoke to me as if for the last time and I listened conscientiously.”
“When we reached the high road for Spain and the towers of the Bayonne Cathedral were drawing near, he changed his conversation. He told me that he was sick unto death, and that we should not see each other again. I shared his fears, but with more hope, that is to say, with more illusions, I argued in good faith against his sad forebodings. But he persisted, and spoke to me of his approaching death with a certainty which overcame all my reasons for hope. When the carriage stopped at the post-chaise which was to take me to Paris, he held my hand for a long time. We got down: the moment for parting had come. Embracing me closely, he said, ‘ Henri, say farewell.’ My heart was breaking, but no tears came. I followed him with my eyes as long as that was possible: a turn in the road cut off the view. I never saw him again.”
The Abbé Mermillod was the same age as the Abbé Perreyve, and was then in the flower of his talent, his charm, and his reputation. He had appeared for the first time in the cathedral pulpits of France to appeal for funds for the building of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Geneva. The principal promoter of that undertaking was, with him, Dr. Dufresne, of Geneva, President of the local Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and son in-law of M. Foisset. The young Abbé had also come to Eaux-Bonnes for the benefit of his health, which had been impaired by his activities in preaching in Paris and elsewhere. He has not left any record of his heart-to-heart talks with Ozanam. But one of Ozanam’s unpublished letters, written to that friend, recalls a walk in his company to the Bridge of Spain, as leaving “one of the most charming impressions which he brought back with him from the Pyrenees.” His whole soul, humiliated, tried, but patient, submissive and generous, is in the following letter: “Pray for me, Father and dear friend, for illness does not do good to my soul: it makes me more irritable, selfish, and self-centred than ever. I welcome suffering, if it is to sanctify me: but God grant that it may sanctify me.”
This religious disposition appears in a still more Christian light in the following letter, dated the 14th September, to the Abbé 111aret “God wishes to save me, and grants me further time to become better. May He be praised and blessed. Whether His design for me is to give me back my health, or to make me do reparation for my sins by prolonged suffering, may He be equally praised and blessed I Let Him only give me courage and send me the suffering that purifies. May my cross be that of the penitent thief. Continue, Reverend Father, to be so good as to remember me in your prayers. Give me a good place in them, just as the best place at the fireside is given to the invalid; he may not deserve it, but he needs it.”
Those letters are written from Biarritz. Much to my regret, I am unable to reproduce here Ozanam’s description of those coasts, and, in particular, of Biarritz, “one of the most beautiful places in the world.” He enjoys the scene not without remorse, condemned as he is to spend many months in idleness at a time when not a single day was to be lost. “My heart does indeed find occupation, but my mind none. When the end of the day arrives with nothing done, my idleness fills me with remorse, and I do not seem to deserve the bread which I am eating, nor the bed in which I am resting.”
Biarritz did him good. Ozanam attributed that in part to a visit from his brother Charles who tore himself away from his patients for three weeks to look after him: “He came to me as a rainbow appears after a downpour of rain, a symbol of hope.” He also expressed his great consolation at seeing his wife and child happy and well and also “at being able to devote some time to the education of my daughter, Marie, which I have not been able to do hitherto.” But what was to become of them? He gives way to “the sad thought of my ruined career and of my family exposed to all the difficulties of a dark future. My imagination is filled with melancholy at that picture. I grow very sad and I stand in greater need than ever of your kind prayers. Faith does not suffice to save me from those gloomy forebodings. Not indeed that religion is powerless over my poor heart, it saves me from despair. But I cannot control myself altogether, I am not Christian enough. I do not think, however, that I offend God in thus unbosoming myself to a friend who is stronger than I, and who can lend me his aid.”
It was to Lallier that he wrote, and he continues: “I have regained some strength here by the seaside. But I need much more, before I shall be cured. Winter is coming and I fear that my restoration to health will be postponed to next summer, if indeed God wills that I shall ever be myself again. This separation leaves me desolate. I cannot grow accustomed to the thought of not seeing for five or six months more, you or Cornudet, or excellent Pessonneaux, or any of the others whom God has given me as travelling companions on this earth.”
M. Dufieux had also been the confidant of the invalid’s uneasiness for the future of his family. His reply is too beautiful not to find a place here: “My well-beloved Frederic, my own strength is ebbing away. I have just had another severe illness, and I have scarce sufficient strength left to write these few lines. I often thought of you in my. recent illness; I made enquiries about you, through a friend, from the doctor at Eaux-Bonnes, who has good hopes of you. As to the interests of your family, leave all that to God; He will take charge of it . . . . My dear friend, what should not I have to fear on that score if I did not know that Divine Providence is at hand? I have seven children, all of tender years. My whole fortune consists of twenty-three thousand francs, made by grinding work which has worn out the remnant of my youth, my health, and my life. I have neither relatives nor friends, nor inheritance, nor place, nor favour to expect from any quarter whatever; nothing but my own work to depend on, and my strength not enough to complete it. Yet, my wife and I sleep easy on the pillow of poverty. I know that God’s hand will only abandon me and mine, when I shall first myself have loosed the grip. Courage, therefore, my good friend, health will return prosperity will come with it, genius and glory will survive, that will be the inheritance of your family. Mine? My dear Frederic I can tell you this: I have never been unhappy except when I wavered in my trust in God. On the other hand, as often as I have come back to Him in humility and submission, like a little dog that had been punished by its master, I have felt the caressing touch of that all-merciful and all-powerful Hand.”
Ozanam found a flourishing Conference in existence at Bayonne, filled with the early spirit of the Society, indefatigable in its good work. Its president was Dr. Franchisteguy, who became a friend of Ozanam’s later years and to whom he said: “When I think that it is only within the last seven months that you have come to know me, and that you bestow on a newly-found acquaintance such hearty friendship, I conclude that it is only Christian charity which can work such wonders.”
Ozanam was glad to be living amidst a Christian people who afforded him the joy of seeing that faith is not extinguished in France. A visit which he paid to the Community of the Cistercian Penitents was an edifying sight: “but recently founded in the Landes, at the edge of the ocean, about five miles from Bayonne in the middle of an immense desert of sands, where the dunes rise and fall like the waves of the sea. There suddenly appeared in that desert an oasis such as the Thebaide in Upper Egypt, two rows of cabins of straw and twigs, and between them a chapel with its thatched roof. Around were all forms of cultivation, maize, potatoes, madder, castor-oil plant, etc., to which a belt of poplars afforded protection against the cold winds from the sea, and against the drifting sands. It is at once the work and the dwelling of heroic penitents1. The story of their recent foundation is still more supernatural than even the sight itself. Young Dr. Ozanam has given an account of it. “As for Frederic,” he wrote, “his heart, sensitive to every moral impression, was so moved at the sight that his physical health derived benefit from it.”
To be so close to Spain without actually entering on Spanish territory was a trial and a temptation. He felt better one day, and taking his wife and his brother with him, made his way as far as Fontarabie, Irún, St. Sebastian, so that he could return triumphantly after having passed a day on Spanish soil. It was the 22nd October, with a temperature more suitable to July. M. Eugene Rendu has given an account of the trip, in which the following reference is made to the piety of the people: “The good Spanish people pray very piously. I noticed neither coldness nor extravagance. On Sunday, quite a number received Holy Communion, particularly young people of manly bearing, wearing the beautiful red sash. They received, with all the devotion which is to be found in Notre Dame or St. Sulpice.” Ozanam found in that experience reasons for hope in the assistance of the “God of ruin and of resurrection.”
The dash into Spain tired him very much, but did not cure him of the growing desire for a full excursion into that country of glorious memories. After a few weeks of enforced rest, the beautiful dream of our ancestors returned—A Pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella. “How many times,” he wrote to M. Eugene Rendu, “while sitting at the fireside with Madame Ozanam, and replacing a half-burnt log, have I not set out for the Holy Land! On one side I reached in my thoughts the Columns of Hercules, and on the other, the shores of Palestine. Yet, here I am in Bayonne, a city half Spanish, where many of the signboards of the shops are in the pure tongue of Castile, and I fear to push on to Seville.”
He received permission from his doctor to make an attempt to reach Burgos. He set forth with his wife and child on the 16th November, at the beginning of the season, described in the following words of the Spanish proverb: “Six months winter, six months hell.” It rained incessantly during the thirty-three hours’ ascent to the high plateau on which stands the Mother of Kings, 2,100 feet above sea level. Ozanam found consolation for the inclemency of the weather and the loneliness of the route in the following thought: “How many poor French and Italian pilgrims walked in tears, begging from St. James the remission of their sins, the cure of an invalid, the delivery of a captive! Through what perils did they not advance when Saracen bands scoured the country and floods swept away bridges and paths!”
About three o’clock in the afternoon of the 18th November, the towers of Notre Dame de Burgos caught the eye. One hour later he was on his knees giving thanks in the magnificent cathedral already in gloom. He passed almost all the next day in the very heart of the Spanish Middle Ages, alternately recalling, honouring, and praying the Queen of the place in the following ardent terms: “Oh! Holy Virgin, my mother, what power you have! What admirable mansions your Divine Son has had erected in your honour, in exchange for the poor little but of Nazareth! I myself know many, from Our Lady of Cologne to St. Mary Major, and from St. Mary of Florence to Our Lady of Chartres. . . . Here the Castilians, laying aside the proud sword for the trowel and chisel, have worked continuously in your service for three hundred years, in order that you should have a worthy dwelling place in their midst! Good Virgin, through whose intercession such miracles have been wrought, obtain something also for me and for mine. Strengthen the habitation of our tottering bodies. Build up to Heaven the spiritual edifices of our souls.”
We shall not further describe the visit, because it has all been told by Ozanam himself, and published after his death, in the masterpiece entitled: Un Peierinage art pays du Cid, which constantly occupied and consoled the closing days of his life. He seemed to have a new life again at Burgos: “Notwithstanding the inclement weather,” he stated to his friends, “I had never felt better, and the only fault to be found with the three days at Burgos was that they were too short: three clays only, spent with the Campeador, with Ferdinard Gonzalez, the great Count of Castile, with the great Isabella! I had at Burgos the whole epic of sacred and heroic Spain. I saw three hundred years of history in a stay of three days. I brought from there noble thoughts, beautiful descriptions in embryo, pieces of poetry, notices of monuments, ballads and legends. Amelie found old song-romances, she bought mantillas, she won grace from Heaven for herself and for me. I have only to thank God for giving me the strength to make such an entertaining and useful trip; and to thank my dear wife, who had all the trouble and anxiety.”
In that hurried trip to Burgos, Ozanam did not forget to visit the Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Proud Catholic Spain, rich in ancient works of Catholic Charity, had been slow to admit one which was modern and foreign. St. Joseph’s in Madrid and St. Joseph’s in Burgos had been the only Conferences so far aggregated to the Society. The end of that same year, 1852, witnessed the aggregation of many others, Callela, Holy Cross of Madrid, Santander, Huesca, etc. Ten years later, out of two thousand Conferences outside France, Spain numbered five hundred.
Ozanam was back in Bayonne on the 24th November. He had thought of first returning to Paris in order to further his membership of the Academy of Inscriptions: “But what would be the use? That Academy will be able to get on for a while yet without me. I could console myself easily for the loss, did I not fear that my light was about to be extinguished.” In a few lines later: “I know candidates who were brought into the Academy, merely for what was expected from them. Cannot as much be expected of me? Besides, may I not leave a vacancy soon?”
Winter was coming on; where would he pass it? The choice lay between Bayonne, Spain and Italy. Italy won. “Our beautiful Italy.” Hippolyte Fortoul, his former college churn in Lyons, had become Minister of Education under the Second Empire, and had remained a loyal friend. To break the ennui of complete rest, he entrusted Ozanam with a little work to do in Pisa on the Origines des Republiques italiennes, for which he was to receive out-of-pocket expenses.
Ozanam would not leave Bayonne and the Pyrenees without paying a visit to the birthplace of St. Vincent de Paul: “I do indeed owe that to the beloved patron who saved me in youth from so many dangers, and who has showered such unexpected blessings on our little conferences. His native village is situated about 2o miles from Bayonne, a short day’s journey. We came first to the village of Pouy, which is now named St. Vincent de Paul, after its glorious son. We saw the old oak under which St. Vincent, the boy shepherd, took shelter while herding his flock. That fine old tree is now held to the soil only by the bark, which is eaten into with age. But the branches are superb and, even at the advanced season when we were there, the foliage was beautifully green. I saw in it the type of the foundations of St. Vincent de Paul, which have no apparent bond of union with earth, but which nevertheless triumph over time and grow strong during revolution.”
A later letter stated: “The Cure of St. Vincent de Paul had a branch of the venerable oak cut for us, which I am sending on to the Council General. Amelie made a collection of leaves, twigs, and acorns, which she intends to share with you. Marie was delighted to see in the fields sheep, that must of course be the great-grand-children of those which the saint used to herd.”
” We resumed our journey from Pouy for Notre Dame de Buglosse, two miles further on, through a frightful country, uncultivated and intersected with marshes. The old sanctuary is made venerable by a statue of the Virgin Mary which attracts many pilgrims. We finished our pilgrimage there on Saturday morning, and had the consolation of receiving Holy Communion, asking God for the cure in which we all three are concerned. It is a very long while since I was so moved.”
What affected him most, however, was an incident which he related in a letter to Lallier: “I believed myself cured at that time, and it was rather for the purpose of thanks than for petition, that I made that pilgrimage. However, without wishing to attach any supernatural importance to anything that concerns me, I admit that one incident made a very deep impression on me. I went to Confession to a holy priest who does duty at the chapel of Notre Dame, and whose simplicity and great charity recalled at once our St. Vincent de Paul. Now, that man of God, in the remarks which he made, spoke only of sufferings to be endured patiently, of resignation and submission to the will of God, however hard it might be! . . . Such language surprised me very much, as I was feeling well.” That took place in the confessional of the little chapel; and the priest knew nothing of his penitent, whom he had never seen2. “At all events I felt somewhat unwell on my return from Buglosse; and the feeling of illness was aggravated by the farewell visits which I had to make at Bayonne. I fell back into my former state of intense weakness.” The time for departure had come.
Ozanam set out early in December by the mail-coach which conveyed him rapidly to Toulouse, where St. Thomas Acquinas and the Conferences of the Society detained him two days: “Our good little Society of St. Vincent de Paul is not idle anywhere,” he wrote. It was the same story at Montpellier. “Thus the work of God is being done amid human vicissitudes.” Madame Soulacroix joined them at Marseilles for the rest of the journey which was to finish in Rome, where her son was: “My wife’s isolation was ended, and hearts were brought together that were desolate asunder.”
Marseilles offered him “the delights of Capua “in the hospitality of M. and Madame Magagnos, who were near relatives of the Soulacroix. There was a great family gathering at Christmas. He had also been nourished that morning at the Divine Table: “We spent the Feast-day together,” he wrote. “I remembered you in my prayers at the altar, and ask you to do the same for me; you will find that, with the help of your prayers, we shall have a good journey. We are starting to-morrow for Toulouse which we should reach in five hours. We shall place ourselves under the protection of Notre Dame de la Garde, whom we visited a short time back.”
What was most noticeable about Ozanam at that time was his gaiety: he was the first to enjoy everything. “God has indeed heard my request: Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui.”
He was enthusiastic about the naval greatness of Toulon. “The Mediterranean squadron was there to receive us. We paid a visit to the giant of the fleet, le Valmy, carrying 30o guns and r,ioo men. I have seen nothing more imposing than that floating giant, with its obedient thunderbolts and its disciplined courage.” Toulon, on the other hand, tired him He spoke of swollen feet, frequent spasms of pain, and dilation about the heart, which he had had before and which had to be treated with digitalis: “I hope that this little check will not last, and that God may have sent it to me as a New Year gift, so that I may say: Volo quomodo vis, volo quandiu vis!”
The pleasure of seeing, contemplating, admiring, feeling, blessing everything from Toulon to Nice was balm to his spirit: “A special carriage took us to Cannes for the night, the following day to Nice, passing, on the way, Frejus, the Esterel mountains, Antibes, a delightful route fringed with olive trees and orange trees, all laden with their golden fruit, and palm-trees waving over a Roman ruin in the distance, at a chapel gate, or by the side of some modern villa.
“All that is magnificent, but it is as nothing to what is seen when, near Antibes, the ridge of the maritime Alps suddenly bursts on the sight and shuts out the horizon, their peaks covered with eternal snow, their bases bathed in the shimmering sea. Then, and then only, are the Pyrenees and the Coast of Biscay forgotten. All creation is represented in that scene, the majesty of the glaciers and the luxuriance of the tropics; forests of olive trees, and oleanders flourishing in the dried-up beds of streams, aloes and cactuses as in Sicily; belts of lofty palm trees waving a foliage worthy to find a place in the welcome to the King of Kings on Palm Sunday.”
That domestic trip had pleasant interruptions at intervals along the route. Ozanam wrote: “Of all the products of Provence the best are cousins, both male and female. Amelie found all hers in Marseilles.” In Toulon another band of Magagnos! “At Cannes we found M. Coste, an old cousin, almost blind, a dear relative of our fond mother, with whom we celebrated the arrival of the New Year. Indeed, my dear friends, I part company with the year of grace 1852, which had separated us, without regrets, and I welcome 1853, which will bring us together again.”
After remembering his mother, then comes the thought of his father: “We are to set out to-morrow morning at four o’clock from Nice for Genoa by the splendid Corniche route. Ah! How all that road recalls the memory of my father! How often he spoke of it! It was the scene of his early campaigns, during which he had often fired on the Piedmontese mountaineers. I often think of him and of you with him.”
The crossing on the “Marie-Antoinette” from Genoa to Leghorn was very rough. A downpoar of rain on their arrival drenched the travellers through and through. Ozanam arrived on the loth January at Pisa, suffering from rheumatic pains and weakness, but still sound. Full of hope, he saluted Italy.
He went immediately to the Cathedral. “After a month’s journey, fatigue, and but little rest in France:. he wrote, “I cannot describe your friend as a Hercules; he has had his share of sufferings. But now that I am in port, I have hope and I thank God. That is what we did in the admirable Cathedral of Pisa, which radiates faith, beauty, and love.”
- Dr. Ozanam, Le pays des Landes, une Thebaide en France, 8vo. 1857—See also La vie de l’Abbé Cestac founder, by Monsignor Puyol. I had the privilege and the happiness of hearing the very edifying account of the foundation of that work and of the edifying lives of the penitents from the lips of the holy Abbé Cestac, whom I met at Buglosse in 1862.
- I am inclined to think that the holy priest was none other than the Abbé Cestac, who was at that time undertaking the construction of the new sanctuary of which Ozanam speaks. I met him there after its completion in 1862, and spent the best part of a day with him, to my great edification. Supernatural powers in the direction of souls were attributed to him.