for the Archbishop, 1927
Death of Jean Marie Latour
Death of Jean Marie Latour:
During those last weeks of the Bishop’s life he
thought very little about death; it was the Past he was leaving. The
future would take care of itself. But he had an intellectual
curiosity about dying; about the changes that took place in a man’s
beliefs and scale of values. More and more life seemed to him an experience of the Ego, in no sense the Ego itself. This conviction,
he believed, was something apart from his religious life; it was an
enlightenment that came to him as a man, a human creature. And he
noticed that he judged conduct differently now; his own and that of
others. The mistakes of his life seemed unimportant; accidents that
like the shipwreck in Galveston harbour, or the runaway in which he
was hurt when he was first on his way to New Mexico in search
of his Bishopric.
He observed also that there was no longer any
perspective in his memories. He remembered his winters with his
cousins on the Mediterranean when he was a little boy, his student
days in the Holy City, as clearly as he remembered the arrival of M. Molny and the building of his Cathedral. He was soon to have done
with the calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for
him. He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his
former states of mind were lost or outgrown.
Sometimes, when Magdalena or Bernard came in and
asked him a question, it took him several seconds to bring himself
back to the present. He could see they thought his mind was failing;
but it was extraordinarily active in some other part of the great
picture of his life — some part of which they knew nothing
When the occasion warranted he could return to the
present. But there was not much present left; Father Joseph dead,
the Olivares dead, Kit Carson dead, only minor characters of his
life remained in present time. One morning, several weeks after the
Bishop came back from Santa Fe, one of the strong people of the old
deep days of life did appear, not in memory but in the flesh, in the
shallow light of the present; Eusabio the Navajo. Out on the
Colorado Chiquito he had heard the word, passed on from one trading
post to another, that the old Archbishop was failing, and the Indian
came to Santa Fe. He, too, was an old man now. Once again their fine
hands clasped. The Bishop brushed a drop of moisture from his eye.
have wished for this meeting, my friend. I had thought of asking you
to come, but it is a long way."
The old Navajo smiled. "Not long now, anymore. I
come on the cars, Padre. I get on the cars at Gallup, and the same
day I am here. You remember when we come together once to Santa Fe
from my country? How long it take us? Two weeks, pretty near. Men
travel faster now, but I do not know if they go to better things."
"We must not try to know the future, Eusabio. It is
better not. And Manuelito?"
"Manuelito is well; he still leads his people."
Eusabio did not stay long, but he said he would come
again tomorrow, as he had business in Santa Fe that would keep him
for some days. He had no business there; but when he looked at
Father Latour he said to himself, "It will not be long."
After he was gone, the Bishop turned to Bernard; "My
son, I have lived to see two great wrongs
righted; I have seen
the end of black slavery, and I have seen the
Navajos restored to their own country."
For many years Father Latour used to wonder if there
would ever be an end to the Indian wars while there was one Navajo
or Apache left alive. Too many traders and manufacturers made a rich
profit out of that warfare; a political machine and immense capital
were employed to keep it going.
The American doctor was consulting with Archbishop
S———and the Mother Superior. "It is his heart that is the trouble
now. I have been giving him small doses to stimulate it, but they no
longer have any effect. I scarcely dare increase them; it may be
fatal at once. But that is why you see such a change in him."
The change was that the old man did not want food,
and that he slept, or seemed to sleep, nearly all the time. On the
last day of his life his condition was pretty generally known. The
Cathedral was full of people all day long, praying for him; nuns and
old women, young men and girls, coming and going. The sick man had
received the Viaticum early in the morning. Some of the Tesuque
Indians, who had been his country neighbors, came to Santa Fe and
sat all day in the Archbishop’s court-yard listening for news of
him; with them was Eusabio the Navajo. Fructrosa and Tranquilina,
his old servants, were with the supplicants in the Cathedral.
The Mother Superior and Magdalena and Bernard
attended the sick man. There was little to do but to watch and pray,
so peaceful and painless was his repose. Sometimes it was sleep,
they knew from his relaxed features; then his face would assume
personality, consciousness, even though his eyes did not open.
Toward the close of the day, in the short twilight
after the candles were lighted, the old Bishop seemed to become
restless, moved a little, and began to murmur; it was in the French
tongue, but Bernard thought he caught some words, could make nothing
of them. He knelt beside the bed: "What is it, Father? I am here."
He continued to murmur, to move his hands a little,
and Magdalena thought he was trying to ask for something, or to tell
them something. But in reality the Bishop was not there at all; he
was standing in a tip-tilted green field among his native mountains,
and he was trying to give consolation to a young man who was being
torn in two before his eyes by the desire to go and the necessity to
stay. He was trying to forge a new Will in that devout and exhausted
priest; and the time was short, for the diligence for Paris was
already rumbling down the mountain gorge.
When the Cathedral bell tolled just after dark, the Mexican
population of Santa Fe fell upon their knees, and all American
Catholics as well. Many others who did not kneel prayed in their
hearts. Eusabio and the Tesuque boys went quietly away to tell their
people; and the next morning the old Archbishop lay before the high
altar in the church he had built.