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Sister Marie de la Présentation

Our pioneers | The Vocation of the Pioneers

Marie Brait 1834-1886

Marie de la Présentation, the daughter of a naval officer, was already a Third Order member in Toulon, when she decided to make the radical gift of herself as a missionary in Oceania. The last of the pioneers, she left France in October 1860. Assigned to teaching in a school in the Ile des Pins, she spent twenty years there, about thirteen alone. In 1881 she was sent again alone, to Pouebo, where she ran an excellent school. Probably early in 1886, she returned to St Louis where she died the following June of throat cancer. All in all, nineteen of her twenty-five years of missionary life were spent alone, but isolation did not seem to have been too much of a problem for her. She even wrote to Fr Poupinel from the Isle of Pines: “I would love to be sent alone to a mission, very far away in the middle of a primitive people, for here we’ll soon be thinking we are in Europe” (Présentation-Poupinel, 11.11.1863, Letter 4, §3, OPS II, 320).

Marie de la Présentation expressed joy in belonging to the Society of Mary, the ‘family of Mary’, and of having given herself completely through it to mission: “ever since the day Very Rev. Fr General authorised my departure for the foreign missions” (Présentation-Marie du Coeur de Jésus, 08.09.1864, Letter 5, §2, OPS II, 344). However, there is no doubt that she longed for the day when they would be“constituted real religious,” (Présentation-Poupinel, 21.09.1865, Letter 10, §2, OPS II, 391). She became increasingly impatient with what she felt was a lack of organisation for the Tertiaries: “It seems to me that God cannot be pleased with the little interest that is taken in souls he has chosen to go to him by the way of a higher perfection” (ibid.). With Fr Poupinel’s encouragement, she became a novice in the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions but, for reasons that remain obscure, decided she was not called to that congregation. She encouraged local vocations and wanted the possibility of religious life for the young women of the islands desirous of this way of life.

Though rather serious and reserved by nature, Marie de la Présentation was capable of deep friendship as that with Marie de la Croix shows, despite the difficulties in the beginning in their relationship. The latter admired her gifts and appreciated her ability to think for herself (cf. Croix-Poupinel, 05.07.1866, Letter 76, OPS III, 427). However, some of the missionaries found her “uncommunicative”; others “obstinate in her ideas”.

Her relationship with Mary was one of love and confidence. Writing to Fr Favre after arriving in Sydney, she says: “I will content myself with proclaiming Mary’s power, pleased to say she took care of us beyond all our hopes” (Présentation-Favre, 02.02.1861, Letter 2, §1, OPS II, 221).

Marie de la Présentation was a natural leader and a good missionary with great energy and zeal, ‘excessive’ for Fr Rougeyron, when he thought she was taking over some of the work of the priest in the Ile des Pins! Her bishop acknowledged that she“possessed very great qualities(cf. Fraysse-Poupinel, 1881, OPS IV, 782). A gifted woman and well-educated for her times, Marie de la Présentation gave herself without counting the cost until God called her to Himself in August 1886.

SMSMYou are right in thinking that I left that much loved Ouzélie in tears. However, I could not say for sure which of the two feelings, sadness or joy, in the light of faith has been uppermost. I needed a good shock to make me come out of my apathy and spiritual lethargy. My bishop, very dear to me because he was the instrument of God’s goodness towards me, brought it about. I have thanked him for that, and again with you, Father, I am happy to bless divine Providence for this grace. Here in Pouebo I have a wonderful opportunity to gallop along the royal road of the Holy Cross. [...]
(Présentation-Poupinel, 03.03.1882*)