Br Ambroise Staquet OSB,
Abbey of La Pierre-qui-Vire (France)
P. Mayeul de Dreuille, OSB (1920-2014)
The AIM owes a great debt to Père Mayeul de Dreuille, who died on 31st July, 2014. These pages outline his valuable and remark- able missionary career in five continents.
Let us begin at the end. Our brother was prepared for eternity by a long period in the monastery infirmary. The infirmarian saw in it a journey of holiness: ‘Today, Ash Wednesday 2014, P. Mayeul can no longer read, no longer write, no longer telephone. He can hardly see, hardly hear. He cannot walk, can move only with difficulty in his wheelchair. After a first stroke in August 2010 he lost the power of speech. By his personality and the grace of God he recovered it, but since a second stroke in October 2013 he can no longer feed himself and has to be fed morning, noon and night; he drinks through a straw, all the necessities of life are done for him, lack of visitors leaves him in a life of silence.’ When a visitor did come his welcome is unforgettable: ‘I am so glad to see you! I was waiting for you!’ He had a great rhythm of hospitality, was always meticulous about his room and the quality of his welcome for family, relations and other guests, even in the infirmary. His difficulty in hearing meant that he had to see his guests, though how much he actually saw it would be difficult to say. Let us go back to the beginning.
Léon de Dreuille and Alix de la Celle welcomed their first child on 3rd December, 1920, a boy whom they named Francis. The date of his birth decided his patron, St Francis Xavier, apostle of India. The missionary dimension of his life was built into his birth. He received his primary education at the family chateau of Dreuille, his secondary education at the school of La Pierre-qui-Vire from 1933 to 1935, and then with the Jesuits of Dôle and the Sacred Heart at Moulins.
Entering the noviciate at the age of 18, according to the custom of the time, he was clothed in September 1939, only to be overtaken by events. He left La Pierre-qui-Vire with the students in 1940, returning later to serve in the school as teacher of mathematics, classics and sport; this last was very important to him. The archives of the monastery also show that he was in charge of drama for the students, an important task in a boarding-school. He lacked neither imagination nor initiative. Temporary profession at the age of 20, solemn profession at 23, ordination to the priesthood at 24 in 1945.
His missionary career began at the age of 34. He was sent to Massina Maria, Mahitsy, Madagascar (1954-1964), then to Asirvanam, India (1965-1977), then La Bouenza, Congo (1984-1988). Then in the service of the Order, he was appointed Procurator of the Subiaco Congregation 1988-1998, returning finally to the monastery in 2006 at the age of 86, dying on 31st July, 2014, at the age of 93.
Re-reading the articles in the Bulletin of the AIM we can glimpse the difficulties which P. Mayeul, the founder and prior of the monastery at Mahitsy had to face, even at the level of comprehension. Br Paul Ravaogo tells of a meeting in 1977 at San Silvestro, Italy: ‘At the time of the foundation (1954) Madagascar was a French colony; the language of schools was French. So we understood French, but it was not our own language and we had difficulty really expressing ourselves for spiritual direction; this sometimes led to uncomfortable misunderstandings. The French were at that time our masters, and treated us as colonizers treat natives, with resultant superiority and inferiority complexes. Fear dominated, and we were afraid of the brusque and rough manners of the French. The ordinary events of life could be sources of tension. Our ways of behaving, the result of an environment of poverty, were often considered clumsy or even evil by our instructors. I can give my own testimony: I was in a cold sweat when I went to P. Mayeul for spiritual direction, fear of not knowing what to say, of being misunderstood. I remember being treated as stubbornly disobedient when I took a table-knife for cutting brack-en – to my surprise, for with us a knife was a knife for any purpose.’ Madagascar was the melting-pot for P. Mayeul’s formation, and he was marked by it for life in his resolute meetings with other cultures.
India and the monastic world
After ten years in Madagascar P. Mayeul spent twelve years in India. It was there that he formed himself for meetings between religions. Near the Catholic monastery of Asirvanam, not far from Bangalore, were Moslem and Hindu families who worked in the monastery. After taking part in the Congress of Bangkok in 1968, P. Mayeul began the work of the Indian monastic association and other initiatives in the framework of interreligious dialogue. His first journey to Dharam Sala occurred in 1975. During this period he did great work for the AIM by visiting monasteries: ‘Thus I had the opportunity, unexpected for a monk based in Asia, of being able to share, at least for some hours, in the life of nearly 300 European monasteries’ (Bulletin, no. 15, 1973). ‘It is difficult to condense into a few pages my visit to nearly 125 monasteries of the United States and Canada in the course of two journeys, one of three months in the spring of 1973, the other from April to November of 1974. The purpose of these journeys was to develop in the name of the AIM relationships between monasteries of mission lands and those of the West. Very few of our houses were aware that there existed about 200 monasteries of Benedictines and Cistercians, spread over Latin America, Africa and Asia. Still less did they know that more than 100 of these houses, founded since the end of the Second World War, were recruiting well. We could see arising a young African, Asian and Latin-American monasticism. This was a development at once vigorous and difficult, for which we carried joint responsibility, and which we could assist in a thousand ways of which we were unaware. My task was to present this problem to the consciences of the monasteries I visited, and offer them the means of arranging to meet it’ (Bulletin no. 18, 1975).
P. Mayeul kept several passports of his countless visits over five continents. On the occasion of a report on a visit to Africa in 1976 he wrote with great humour, ‘It would be possible to fill a book with the stories, no less charming than surprising, of adventures in the course of the journey. As in the stories of days gone by, there were children’s dances and popular festivals, permissions miraculously arriving at the last moment, lovers reconciled, intrepid sisters, holy monks, drunkards and brigands; the tropical climate added flaming skies, savannas and virgin forests, weird birds, giraffes, monkeys, crocodiles beside the path, zebras so friendly that they earned the saying, ‘Walk on the zebra crossing’! (Bulletin no. 21, 1976). He kept his humour right to the end, and it was an inexhaustible resource for the challenges of daily life in a wheelchair. His ability to laugh at himself enlivened community life.
Monastic Interreligious Dialogue
After this long ministry in India, stretching episodically as far as 2005, P. Mayeul served the monastery of Bouenza. Then he moved for ten years to Sant’ Ambrogio, the headquarters of the Subiaco Congregation, as Procurator to the Abbot President. There he edited the history of the community of Sant’ Ambrogio. When he presented his life’s work, La Règle de saint Benoît et les traditions ascétiques de l’Asie à l’Occident, to the Congress of Benedictine Abbots in September 2000 he said, ‘Since 1954 it has been my task to explain and bring to life the Rule of St Benedict for young monks, first in Madagascar, then in India, then in Africa. At the same time, working for the AIM, I have visited many monasteries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America. The same problems are encountered by monks of these varied continents, particularly in two spheres:
Firstly, practically everywhere we meet monks of other religions, and feel a certain relationship with them. What do we share with them? What distinguishes us as Christian monks?
• Often there is no Christian monastic tradition in the region, but only active Orders and missionary Congregations. What is our identity as Benedictines?
A similar problem arises in our changing Christian West. Our tradition must evolve, and we must re-invent Benedictine life in a new environment. What are the aspects of our tradition which must essentially be retained, and what should change? To study these problems Providence has shown me that our brothers and sisters in the young Churches were often more at ease in the imaged style of the Fathers of the fourth century than in the abstract literature of the modern Western world. Therefore I set about studying the Fathers and noting all the links with the Rule of St Benedict. Thereafter in India I met Muslims as well as Hindu and Buddhist monks. So I set about studying their religions, and also other monastic systems in history which existed before Christ in Asia, Palestine, Egypt, always comparing each of their aspects to the Rule of St Benedict. This has issued in the book on the Rule which I now present to you.
In studying these monastic systems I have seen that they were only partially known, without any overall view which situated them in the history of spirituality. Hence the little book on monastic systems (History of Monasticism) where I try to give a maximum of detail in a minimum of space. Finally there is a general view of Christian monasticism, monks and nuns. This constitutes a minimum history of the Order which every novice should know. Since this presentation of Christian monasticism was so elementary, I have produced another book on the founders of Christian monasticism from Origen to St Bernard, showing the spiritual journey of each and their contribution to monastic spirituality. Thereby the Rule of St Benedict receives an unexpected depth.
Finally the study of monasticisms, which are sometimes a thousand years older than ours, allows us to evaluate our institutions and discover the sociological laws which are the same in all religions and can guide us in our development today. Thus, for example, the modes of governance, the ways of accepting advice and of deciding, the relationship between sacred texts and contemplation, the formation of young monks and fraternal relationships. To conclude, I would like to thank the superiors, the brothers and sisters of the very numerous monasteries visited which enabled me to share their community life and their aspirations. Travelling the world over, I have found that the children of St Benedict form a real family’ (Bulletin no. 71, 2000).
This presentation, made by an octogenarian, may be read as a sort of last will and testament. His monastic life is reflected in the book which accompanied most of his monastic life on the five continents. He was glad to recall that in his editing of the book he was the first monk of La Pierre-qui-Vire to use a computer!
In 2004 he produced yet one more book, published in 2005, tracing his intellectual and spiritual journey, what he calls his ‘formation’, Chemin de paix, pratiquer en chrétien la méditation bouddhique ? There he writes, ‘In October 1968 I arrived in Bongkok, accompanying the prior of the Benedictine monastery of Asirvanam in India, to take part in the first Congress of superiors of Christian monasteries in Asia. At that time I was in charge of the formation of young monks of that monastery. I had already spent ten years in Madagascar, whose culture I much admired, based as it was on a harmony among people, reflecting the harmony of nature and of the magnificent skies of that island. My formation in the monastery of La Pierre-qui-Vire in France had been classic, and this period in Madagascar had begun to open my eyes to the existence and the value of cultures other than those of Europe, but those of Asia were almost unknown to me. In the course of a stay in Oxford to learn English before my departure for India, I had met an Indian Jesuit who had initiated me a little into Hinduism, but of Buddhism I knew practically nothing’ (Mayeul de Dreuille, Chemin de paix, pratiquer en chrétien la méditation bouddhique ? [Médiaspaul, 2005]. In numerous articles published in the Bulletin we can see his thought evolving under the impetus of Vatican II. Thanks to the age of the Council he opened himself in India to what he had lacked at the foundation in Madagascar. We may conclude with a few lines from the book:
‘Dialogue begins with listening in order to understand and establish a climate of confidence in which each partner can speak sincerely. Error comes from a very common phenomenon, namely that each partner uses the thought patterns habitual to himself, so that it is difficult for him to conceive how a normal person can think differently. In this system there is place neither for God nor for a relationship with him in prayer – such things simply do not exist. There-fore there is no difficulty in blanking them out, and the Buddhist normally assumes that everyone shares his point of view. So, faced with a difficult question or a discussion-partner whom one cannot master, the simplest solution is to suppress the partner, either physically if that is possible – it occurs daily in the media – or morally, by contempt or disregard. How often I have in India had the experience of asking for information on a religious group from another religious group, only to be told that this group does not exist! It is, however, important to remember that, until Vatican II, Christians often had the same contemptuous attitude to ‘pagans’. In dialogue each party arrives with its own cultural conditioning, and the first thing to do is to become aware of it.’