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Marie Françoise Perroton

Our pioneers | The Vocation of the Pioneers

Sr Marie du Mont Carmel (1796 - 1873)

Sr. Marie du Mont CarmelMarie Françoise, the woman whom we esteem and revere as the one ‘who gave the initial impulse’, left for Oceania at the age of 49, prepared to make the radical gift of herself for mission for the rest of her days. In her letters we get glimpses only of the faith that sustained this gift - a faith lived in the ordinariness of daily life in nineteenth century Wallis and Futuna and expressed in a great love of the Eucharist, in daily prayer and in confidence in God and Mary.

In humility, she could acknowledge God’s gifts to her in her call to mission. She mentions “having received special favours at my departure,” some of which she seemed able to identify and for which she was always grateful. She has shared something of her faith in God’s providence and in Mary’s protection. In asking Captain Marceau for passsage to Oceania, she is confident in the God who provides. “Once I have arrived God will provide for my need” (Perroton-Marceau, summer 1845, MFP Letter 1, §1). Later in life she writes of “counting on Providence who has never abandoned me” (Mont Carmel-M. du Coeur de Jésus, 07.09.1866, MFP Letter 25, §2).

She gave herself in mission despite the loneliness and the isolation. No doubt her faith was refined in the depths of such suffering. Solitude weighed heavily on her. She actually left Wallis in 1854 for Australia but the boat brought her to Futuna where, with renewed courage, she spent the rest of her life. Some of the Fathers had suggested she return to France - they felt it was too lonely a life for a woman (cf. Junillon-Colin, 1853, OPS I, 30). Fr Poupinel sensing her pain wrote: “She alone knows all she had to suffer in body and soul during those twelve long years with solitude as her constant companion” (Poupinel-Vauthier, 15.06.1851, OPS I, 81).

The gift of herself to God was made in times of joy as in times of inner anguish as she faced her own inadequacies and even failures. “I can do nothing but fall and pick myself up again” (Mont Carmel-Poupinel, 30.10.1859, MFP Letter 11, §3). Others saw the witness of her life, including Sara, the young Futunian woman who took her name when she became a religious.

Often faith is put to its severest testing in human relationships. Marie Françoise knew this kind of testing – she had difficulties with Bishop Bataillon (ibid., MFP Letter 11, §8), with some of the Fathers and sometimes with her sisters, though she speaks positively of them in her letters.

Marie Françoise’s gift of herself was lived to the end, perhaps even more profoundly in the physical pain and suffering of her later years. Certainly, it was lived in trust in the infinite love and mercy of God that she knew could be relied on absolutely to bring her to her final destiny: “I abandon myself toGod. He is my Father although I am his unworthy daughter” (Mont Carmel-Poupinel, 04.07.1870, MFP Letter 50, §1). Marie Françoise speaks of herself that way; at this distance we see her as one who radically lived for the God she loved, and for the Oceanians she served. Her life bore within it the living seed of a future for those who would follow in her footsteps, both from her native France and many other countries.

Sr Marie du Mont Carmel (1796 - 1873)

Oh! yes, my honoured Sisters, I feel deeply the happiness the highly esteemed and Very Rev. Fr Poupinel obtained for me in admitting me, unworthy as I am, to the honour you yourselves have of belonging in a special way to the Blessed Virgin. You fervent women of Lyon could not give the lie to this title, for great is your devotion to the Mother of God by which you have always been distinguished. Oh, how wholeheartedly I unite myself to your fervent prayers, wishing also to share in your merits. I congratulate you too, on the happiness you so often feel in that holy chapel of Fourvière, where it is especially consoling to pour out your heart into that of our loving Mother, who is pleased to listen to the requests of her devoted children and makes it a duty to grant them, […] (Mont Carmel-TOM, Lyon, 26.06.1859, MFP Letter 10, §2).