From the Diary of a Country Priest in France

Source: American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol 36, page 443

In the last issue of the Review we published a schedule of the relative income allowed the French clergy under the Concordat regime. The table shows how very modestly the average parish priest had to live if he would make ends properly meet. Since then a writer in the Boston Evening Transcript publishes an interesting account of expenses, from the budget of a poor ecclesiastic in France, for the month of February. It is taken from a lost manuscript he accidentally found some time ago, on a road overgrown with wild brier and rural Easter daisies. It gives us a charming glimpse of an obscure life. Here it is, literally transcribed :

  1. This morning I received my salary as cure in the lowest rank: 62 fr. 50. My old housekeeper, Gertrude, has not had a gift since Easter, and she wishes a silver cross to make herself attractive for Mass. Coquetry of an old devotee! I gave her 10 fr. — balance, 52 fr. 50.

  2. The first of the children’s conferences is on. My poor little aspirants need emulation. I sent to Paris, to Dopter’s, for some holy pictures. They sent back word “on receipt of payment.” Alas ! we ministers of religion do not have a standing account ; our credit is not in this world. Six fr. for assorted prints; my pupils are happy. Balance, 46 fr. 50. Had I been richer, I would have had colored pictures.

  3. Wood from the forest, vegetables from the garden, water from its source — such is my substance. One needs little to live!

  4. Received a fat pullet from the chateau ; my servant carried the broth to Father Mathew, who is sick. We ate the chicken by itself.

  5. More of the chicken. Fifty centimes worth of soap for Gertrude to go to the washhouse. Balance, 46 fr.

  6. Last of the chicken ! All things come to an end, even the carcasses of birds !

  7. Gave 3 fr. to have the bread for consecration made. Balance, 43 fr.

  8. To the cobbler 1 fr. 75 for repairing my old shoes. Balance, 41 fr. 25.

  9. Delivered a sermon on “The Disadvantages of Having Too Much.”

  10. Thorough cleaning of the house for the coming of monseigneur the archbishop, who will give Confirmation.

  11. Arrival of monseigneur; ate his dinner at the rectory; cost, 19 fr. 75. One ought to honor his superiors. Balance, 21 fr. 50.

  12. Just before leaving, monseigneur said to me : “Monsieur I’abbe, your soutane is very shabby.” “Black cloth wears out quickly,” I replied. The prelate smiled. “ There is not a spot on it,” he answered, “ but it is worn at the neck. We shall see about hiding that.” What did he mean?

  13. Received from the deputy of the department four bottles of old wine; sent it to the church for altar service.

  14. That young Gendras, while drunk, broke a pane of glass at the Lion-d’Or. I went there; they laughed at me a good deal at first. I paid for the glass and that noisy fellow Gendras wept. It brought him to his senses. He promised to go to his duties Sunday. One pane of glass, 2 fr. Balance, 19 fr. 50.

  15. The frost is here; the vegetables from the garden are going fast. We have still some potatoes and nuts.

  16. Gertrude is ill; a vegetable diet does not agree with her; bought a little meat for a soup — 2 fr. Balance, 17 fr. 50. I had no end of trouble making her take it. These good women are so obstinate ! St. Ambrose said, “ Mortify yourself without ceasing.”

  17. A letter from monseigneur asking if the hole in my soutane has increased. This is only a jest! His manner is gentle, like that of the apostles, whose worthy successor he is.

  18. Replied to monseigneur that a sufficiently large patch has been put on my soutane. Expression of devotion and filial obedience. Sending letter, 20 centimes. Balance, 17 fr. 30.

  19. Shoes worn out and beyond the hope of repair; would that I might go about in sabots as Gertrude does! One could follow the road to salvation just the same. One pair of shoes bought at the fair, 6 fr. Balance, 11 fr. 30.

  20. The picture of Mary on the Virgin’s altar is becoming defaced, the paint is peeling; a picture-frame maker from the city asks 3 fr. for varnishing it. Such an expense gives joy. To honor her who intercedes for us is a feast for the soul. Balance, 8 fr. 30.

  21. Nothing left in the garden. Cost of bread for a month eight francs, which I paid to the baker. Balance, thirty centimes.

  22. I am vegetating in the fields that Gertrude may have the bread which still remains in the chest.

  23. Thirty centimes for bread. I have eaten dried nuts with a small loaf, which makes water seem delicious. Am I in danger of becoming sensual! Gertrude dined with her niece. Left in the cashbox — zero. Little Nicholas is convalescing; the village doctor has ordered fowl for his weak stomach — fowl ! They have not the wherewithal to buy bread.

  24. Invited to dine at the chateau; a splendid repast — venison, pastry, truffles. I hid my piece of fowl in a snowy handkerchief that I might give it to Nicholas, the gleaner’s son.

  25. One more tedious day to pass. To-morrow is the day for the payment of fees. A package from the bishop! Gertrude loaned me forty sous, which she found and has had since Confirmation. I shall return it to her this evening when the receipt comes.

I open the parcel. Oh! surprise! there are two things here, the hood of an honorary canon of the cathedral and a word from his highness:

“Dear Abbe — You have a patch on your soutane ? Well, here is an ornament that will prevent its being seen. Moreover, the generosity of some good Catholics permits me to send you a sum of money which will help you to finish out the quarter.”