CLUNY in the Caribbean "The

Holy Will

of God"

The Mother of Mana

The following excerpt describes the work of Anne Marie Javouhey in the French colony of Mana, French Guiana.  She was a pioneer, having been given the task of preparing the slaves for Emancipation.  This excerpt is taken from Chapter 11, The Good News on the Wild Coast - Highlights of the early efforts of the Catholic Church in Guiana 1650's to 1850's by John Bridges, S.J.

IN FRENCH GUIANA: 

BLESSED ANNE MARIE JAVOUHEY

"The greatest wealth of the country consists in its lovely forests: our drawing room is already well provided with furniture made by our colonists of their beautiful soods.  a fine ship and eight good boats, small or large, ply between here and Cayenne for our needs.  We brought with us 15 workmen, well chosen for their skill in the most useful trades.

I visit the workshops four times a day, sometimes more often.  I start with the carpenters and cabinet-makers, then go to the tanners.  I go on to the clog- and shoe-makers.  I visit the joiners and the sawmill: so to the forge, the locksmiths and the boiler-makers.  When I have finished with the mechanics, I come back to the farmers - here I am at home; first I visit the gardeners, then the men in the fields; after that I take a rest by the Sisters' yard - they work quite as hard as the men. In these Sisters' company I weed, plant beans and cassava: I sow rice and maize and the rest - all the time singing hymns and telling stories, and sorry that our poor Sisters in France cannot share these joys with us ...

Our meadows are watered by two fine rivers, large enough for ships and full of fish - fish that provide our food and cost us nothing at all!  We have plenty of fruit too - yesterday I cut down 24 big bunches of bananas, and I do that every week or more often."

So the Foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, Anne Marie Javouhey, wrote to her Sisters in France from Mana, French Guiana, in 1828.  She had landed at Cayenne on August 16th with nine choir and 27 lay Sisters, 50 men and women and 11 orphans.  The governor gave he in addition 25 Negroes, slaves from the King's workshops.

Anne Marie Javouhey was born in 1779 - she was ten years old when the French Revolution broke out.  As a teenager she already had the taste for a dangerous life.  For the Catholics of France the situation was much like that of Elizabethan or Carolean England.  The churches were closed, or in the charge of a clergy who had taken the oath that Government required.  So Nanette was to be found guiding a faithful priest in the night-time to the bedside of the sick.  When Masses were secretly said in barns or behind closed doors, she would keep watch for the spies and the 'sans-culottes'.  Once she went out boldly and delayed the soldiers by her charm and witty chat, giving the priest time to hide and escape.  She was fearless, and would call the children of Chamblanc and the neighbourhood to Catechism by beating the village drum (her father was the mayor).  On her 19th birthday (11th November 1798) at a House Mass behind drawn blinds, she vowed in the presence of her family to consecrate her life in chastity to the education and care of the poor and the sick.

A year later, while at her prayers, she thought she saw many children of different colours surrounding her - though she had not been aware before that there were coloured people.  A lady was with them who said: 'I am Saint Teresa: and these are the children God gives you'.

Her three sisters also entered the order she now founded in the diocese of Autun, in central France.  It grew rapidly.  After 1815, the Government of the Restoration took and active interest in the religious and moral renewal of France.  Mere Javouhey was invited, and helped, to establish schools and hospitals, first in France, and then in its colonies - La Reunion, Senegal, the Antilles and Guyane.  In La Reunion, rich and poor were taught together in her schools.

Mere Javouhey loved Africa:

"I love the Blacks: they are simple, good.  They have no malice except what they have learned from us; it would not be hard to win them through good example.  They easily imitate white people - alas! they don't find many virtues to copy! ... They cannot think much of us Christians, for they have a religion, but white people seem to have none!"

Mother Javouhey's work in Guyane had begun through her concern for the many orphans left behind by the long Napoleonic Wars.  Now they were growing up and needed help to make a living.  When she sailed for Cayenne, 200 were supposed to follow her there, to be granted land later on, once they had married and settled.  And she dreamed of turning the colony into a rich storehouse for her beloved Africa!

Before the end of 1828, under the direction and leadership of her nephew Louis, 15 buildings of local timber had been put up and furnished: a little house for her; a big two-storeyed one, 140' long, for the nun's use, a chapel, three schools, a hospital with ten sisters, workshops and a sawmill.  Another of her nephews, Pierre Javouhey, tilled the land all around Mana, while 200 cattle pastured in the savannah; and, indefatigable, Mere Javouhey went about, with an eye on everything.

By the end of 1829, everyone was in good health: no one had died.  There were 400 barrels of rice, and plenty of food in the store.  In this 'delightful spot', order, discipline and punctuality prevailed.  Every morning, Mass was said at 4.30 am - the colonists were not required to attend: Community Prayers were at 5 and 6; from 6.30 to 10.00 and from 2.00 to 6.00 everyone was at work.  However this was all too good to last!

" Oh! if only the men here were like the Sisters, it would be wonderful!  But they haven't the same goodwill: they must be cheered up and encouraged constantly.  They are disheartened by the smallest difficulty, because they are not working for God.  They have four hours' rest a day - that's part of the Rule they like best - whereas the Sisters never waste a moment."

Meanwhile, Mere Javouhey was not responsible only for Mana in Guiana: she was also the head of a growing religious Congregation.  It was her good fortune to enjoy the protection and trust of the French Government, and, what is more, of successive French Governments, though opposed to one another.  But she was far less lucky in her dealings with the local authorities, and alas! with some authorities also in the Church, her bold, broad-minded, vigorous views, her strong personality, and her success, aroused the envy of selfish and small-minded men.  Yet she did not flinch from the pursuit of what she saw to be God's Will ...

For the future development of her work, she planned the digging of a canal to link the Mana with the Maroni; and to secure money and workmen for this, she made her way several times to Cayenne - 150 miles' walk through forest paths where tigers might be lurking; several rivers to be crossed, perhaps on the back of an Indian, and many nights in native huts infested with mosquitoes.

One day in 1830, twenty maroons sought her out.  The police and their masters were on their track; they were liable to the death penalty: they came to beg for her protection.  She bought them from their owners.  Just then most of the French settlers were leaving her, some influenced against her by the jealous planters, others going to settle on their own lands after marrying girls brought up by the Sisters.  The 1830 Revolution put an end for a time to financial help from France.  Confident in God, with these new workers she began cane and cassava plantations; and, two years later, she invited the Governor to pay Mana a visit.

Monsieur Jubelin was dumbfounded - 100 acres cleared, 70 of them bearing crops, a sugar-mill, a rum distillery, profitable timber enterprises, provisions for a whole year in the store, everyone looking contented and happy.  He was won over.  He wrote to France, urging that the promised groups of orphans who had never been sent should now be allowed to come.  He also welcomed Mere Javouhey's offer to take charge of the lepers kept on the Illes du Salut in awful conditions, without beds and without pure water.  She had them transferred to a pleasant spot on the Acarouany River, not far from Mana.

In May 1833, Mere Javouhey went to France to speed up the negotiations.  Slavery had become the topic of the day.  England, Holland and Spain had taken the lead: France could not be left behind.  There was an additional urgency for Guyane - 500 Negroes had been captured from slave-ships engaged in contraband: according to the law of 1831, they must be set free immediately.  They had been assigned to the King's workshops in Cayenne; but the presence of these free Negroes alongside their slaves worried the colonists, who feared a general revolt.

When Mere Javouhey met the Minister of the Navy and the Colonies to discuss the orphans, he was favourably impressed with her manner, her talk of Africa, of the Negroes, her obvious experience of life in the colonies.  He questioned M. Jubelin, who was in France at the same time: and instead of the orphans, she was offered the 500 Negroes - to prepare them for freedom.

She agreed with enthusiasm, and at once drew up her plan:

"We will bring women from Senegal for them to marry: they will receive good religious instruction.  No more mixing-up between black people and white - they will be black - they will have black leaders from among themselves".

Their Protector alone - her nephew Louis - would be a white man.  She formally requested that no civil authorities, soldiers or police, should have anything to do with her settlement.  On this point she remained inflexible.

During the week before her return to Guyane, Mere Javouhey used to go secretly to the King's Palace every day.  The Royal family was most interested in her work.  On the eve of her departure she heard Mass  in the Royal Chapel in their company.  On 1st February 1836 she was back at Cayenne.

Her enemies in the colony were rejoicing at the thought of her taking over the charge of  the 500 Negroes.  These were divided into seven groups, to be sent to Mana at intervals in the course of the year.  She sailed with the first 50 on March 3rd.

One year later at Mana, a fine village could be seen, with its cane and cassava fields, its banana groves, its tobacco etc.  Everywhere else in the colony people were hungry; but at Mana the 700 people under her care had plenty of food.  Religious instruction was being given to everybody.  By 1838, 85 couples had been married.  The Negroes were happy to get some education.  They had leisure to fish and hunt, to work at their houses, to walk in the woods: and they were paid.  Mere Javouhey formed a Court of eight Negroes, presided over by the Captain of the ship, to deal with small offences - the most serious were some petty quarrels and a few thefts of bananas; these were punished by a short detention.  Once two men were condemned to be flogged; she had their sentence reduced.

On 21st May 1838, the Governor M. de Camper came to set 185 men free.  Mere Javouhey shared out 200 acres of land among them - it was already sown, and had a house for each one.  The Governor presented them with a certificate of freedom which they all at once gave her to keep for them.

She continued her work for five more years.  Her hope was to extend her educational work to all the black children of Guyane; and all the time Africa remained on her horizon, with its need for priests of its own race.  But in France there were new ministers in office, whose range of view was not so wide.  They were not prepared to go on backing her, and particularly financing her, if in doing so they were earning the displeasure of the persons of influence in their Colony.  Mere Javouhey now understood that her personal role in Guyane was at an end.  Her Sisters would carry on in her place; she had a world-wide Congregation to attend to.

On 18th May 1843 she sailed away.  At Mana, men, women and children crowded the quay as she embarked on the little ship, the community's property, that would take her to Cayenne.  Mothers held out their babies that she might bless them.  every-one had something to give her; a rare bird or animal, some fruit, vegetables, a piece of needlework or craft.  Everyone loved her.  Mere Javouhey - they said - li doux: passe.

The light canoes accompanied her by sea for more than seven miles.  Then they swept three times round the little ship - raised their paddles in the air.  A handkerchief waved from the rail.  She was gone!

She confided to a Sister a few years later, shortly before her death:

"That time of trial at Mana, I can tell you, was for me the happiest time of my life, I used to walk alone in the great forest and speak to God: 'Now, Lord, I have only you.  And so I come to throw myself in your arms and beg you not to abandon your child'.  How happy he made me feel then!  How often I have found how good God is for those who trust him alone.  When he is with you, you can never be unhappy, no matter what trials come your way".

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