Letter from Dom Pierre NAU(1)
to Mister François VEUILLOT
+ Pax Saint. Paul's Abbey, Oosterhout
9 juin 1941
The initiative of the parish priest of St Geneviève and your plan to respond to it will be well received by all Daniel's friends. I would like to express my gratitude to you.
I hope to be repatriated to France soon because of my injury and, either when I am in Paris or in Solesmes, I will be at your disposal to complete the few memories you have asked me for.
First cousin of Daniel and older than him by a few years, I have known him since his early childhood and I have always had a great affection for him. A more intimate friendship united us especially for the last fifteen years and the hazards of war enabled us to meet several times in Flanders shortly before his death.
Daniel had often spoken to me about your son Peter, whom he loved very much. No one is in a better position than he to collect the memories that will interest the parishioners of St Geneviève. Those of his stay at Solesmes are of less interest to them and would deserve only a brief mention if they were not closely linked to his vocation and the progress of his soul.
God's call dates from his college years. As early as the holidays following his final high school years, in the summer of 1926, Daniel sought to answer it. In september he told me of his first desires for a monastic life and came into contact with the rule of St Benedict. At the beginning of november of the same year, he made a retreat of a few days at Solesmes. His vocation was studied and encouraged, but his entry was postponed to allow him to strengthen his health. Two more years were to pass before he could fulfil his desire. He devoted the first year to extending his knowledge in the sciences he preferred, while at the same time sparing and strengthening his health.
The second was spent almost entirely in Rome at the French Seminary where he began his philosophy. After the summer holidays of 1928, his health then appearing sufficient, he was received into the novitiate of Solesmes on 9 november and the Reverend Father Abbot gave him the clothing the following month. One must have written to you from the Abbey to tell you how he is remembered there. His easy and cheerful character, his simplicity and his liveliness won him the sympathy and affection of all. The spontaneity of his childlike soul, his ardent faith and his piety were also noticed by those who got to know him better during those four months. The novitiate was unanimous in its surprise and regret when they learned of his departure. Health problems, aggravated by a tendency to worry, made it impossible to prolong without imprudence the generous attempt he had just made. He left Solesmes on 11 March 1929, if my memory serves me well(2), to go and rest with his family until his military service. This failure was a very heavy trial for Daniel which he accepted with courage without completely renouncing the ideal which had attracted him to the cloister.
His visits to the Abbey were repeated several times over the next ten years, though briefly enough not to reopen a barely closed wound. He would even send his friends there willingly when he did not accompany them himself.
His last contact with Solesmes was in December 1938. He had very much wanted to make his annual priestly retreat there that year. It was likely the last one of his life.
I have a very precise and moving memory of the talks we had then. I found in Daniel the same generosity and the same attraction as before for the cloister, and he was ready to settle there again if a second attempt seemed possible. He tasted fully, and this time in complete peace, the joy of recollecting himself there for at least a few days and of drawing new strength from it for his already fruitful ministry. With his usual simplicity and frankness, he readily acknowledged these successes, which, he assured me, gave the impression to those around him of his true vocation.
Last year, in february, he told me a similar story about his post-war plans during a conversation we had in Hazebrouck, where our regiments were located. Through this intimate attraction to a more contemplative life, the Lord was preparing him, unbeknownst to him, to unite himself a few months later to the perfect praise of the angels and the saints.
The interest of these last confidences, which cannot be mentioned in his biography, is only to put in its true light Daniel's "monastic vocation", which did not fail to surprise his friends at times. Far from being an ignorance of his gifts for the apostolate and of the zeal which animated him, it was a dominant attraction from the beginning and still alive ten years later for an ideal which he could only glimpse. It was only a stimulus for him in his ministry to souls to which his first failure had led him to devote himself.
"To truly seek God": this is the program that St Benedict proposes in the rule to the future monk. It was also Daniel's throughout his life. To be convinced of the fact that he gave a prominent place to prayer and the divine office, the work par excellence, the opus Dei, it is enough to have attended his mass from time to time.
With the complete detachment of those who have left everything behind and the humility of young children, Daniel found in these virtues, both in the world and in the cloister, the secret of his heart which was so free and so widely open to the souls he wanted to give to God.
I apologise for giving you so little information that you can use for your work. I have deliberately neglected what others will have reminded you better than I. I wanted to note only these few memories of an episode which was also a trial for Daniel and of which he rarely spoke even to those who witnessed it.
I believe that it was to Father LEBRETON, his former teacher at the Catholic Institute, that Daniel confided most willingly during his last years. He admired and loved him very much and often spoke to me about him. His testimony would be invaluable to you for all that concerns the more intimate attractions of his soul.
If I can still be of help to you in clarifying a few points, I will do so gladly. I share your "devotion" to Daniel and his friends will always be mine.
Please accept, dear Sir, the expression of my respectful sentiments.
b. Pierre NAU
(1) Pierre NAU (1902-1978), Daniel JOËSSEL's first cousin, entered Solesmes Abbey on 20 December 1924.
(2) February 26, according to the chronicle of the novitiate.