The Vow Of The Mariners
When I was very young, I heard my mother tell the story of the vow that mariners had made while they were out at sea, battling against a severe storm. They vowed that if they were to be saved and be able to return home, they would go to church on the first Sunday, dressed as they were then in their oilskin suit, and attend Mass at the banisters in front of the altar, to give thanks to God for having saved their life. Their prayer was heard, and, as soon as they reached land, they fulfilled their vow to the letter. That is all that I remember of what my mother had told me.
Fortunately, many years later, I came across a booklet entitled "Chez les Ancients Acadiens" [sic] (Among the Ancient Acadians), written by Antoine-Thadee Bourque, from Memramcook, N.B. in which he tells with many details the story of the vow of the mariners. He had been there personally in church, when the mariners fulfilled their vow. This was taking place in Church Point. It was in the month of May, although the year is not given. Nevertheless, Mr. Bourque seems to say that it took place about the time that he arrived in St. Mary's Bay, where he taught school for five years, from 1874 to 1879 in Little Brook, and in 1879-80 in St. Bernard, when he left to study for the priesthood.
They had left St. Mary's Bay with a load of boards for the West Indies, in a brigantine whose name is not given. The captain is said to have been Jean Babin. He could have been related to my maternal grandmother, Geneviève Babin, from whom my mother would have held this story. They had had wonderful weather all the way down the coast, up to the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico. All of a sudden, an awful storm broke with all its fury, which developed into a real cyclone, with hurricane winds and torrential rain.
The vessel withstood the storm for a while, when suddenly a huge wave tipped it on its side, the masts and the sails touching the water. The crew, who were holding to what they could, managed to climb to the other side of the deck. One of them succeeded in cutting with an axe two of the masts, which were carried away with the sails and riggings. The vessel was then able to right itself.
This is when everybody tied himself with a rope to the ramps, so not to be washed overboard. This ordeal was to last five days and five nights. Without practically anything to eat and drink, getting weaker and weaker, they thought for sure that their last day had come.
That is when their Captain told his crew that they should prepare themselves to appear before their Maker. Nevertheless, hopeless as the situation was, he said that God could make a miracle and save them if they were to ask Him. He told them that it was their only chance to survive. That is when he asked them if they were willing to make a vow, which would consist, if they were to be saved, in going to confession as soon as they would reach their parish, and then on the first Sunday, they would go all together to church, bareheaded, barefooted, dressed in the old suit they now wore, with a rope around their waist. At Mass, they would all receive Holy Cummunion [sic]. Also they would have sixteen High Masses to be sung for the Souls in Purgatory. In one voice, all agreed to fulfill such a vow.
During the evening which followed the storm abated considerably, and next morning the sea had lost its fury. Around the middle of the afternoon, they noticed a large schooner coming in their direction. By miracle or by chance, it happened to be people of St. Mary's Bay whom they knew. The name of the schooner is given as being the "Dauphin."
Meanwhile, at St. Mary's Bay, anxiety had started to mount, even though they might not have learned of the storm in the Gulf of Mexico. But the brigantine was overdue by two days, three days, even five days. The crew consisted of sixteen men, ten of whom were married and fathers of a family. One of them was just a lad of 12 years of age. As they arrived home safe and sound, there are no words to describe the joy of the families, when they flung into the arms of their loved ones, who had been pulled out of the abyss, as to say, though ragged they might have been, tired, but still healthy and vigorous notwithstanding their ordeal.
Their first duty was to go to confession, and when Sunday came, they marched two by two towards the church, the Captain in front reciting the rosary, with the rest of the crew answering in a loud voice to the Pater's, the Ave Maria's and the Glory be's. As promised in their vow, they were bareheaded, barefooted, dressed in their heavy oil clothing, their loins girded with a rope.
Mr. Bourque, in his description, says that they arrived at the church, in Church Point, as the bell was announcing the beginning of the Mass; the whole congregation stood outdoor in front of the church, waiting for their arrival. They were greeted at the door of the church by the pastor, who blessed them with holy water and led them in front to the chairs which had been prepared for them.
Mr. Bourque says that never had he heard a "Te Deum laudamus" (We praise You, O Lord) which is a hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord, sung with such devotion, fervor and liveliness. Many a tear was shed at that Mass, especially when the pastor, from the pulpit, congratulated those brave mariners for their faith to which was due their survival. At a time when nobody received Holy Cummunion at late Sunday Masses, on account of the Eucharistic fast that one had to keep, all sixteen of them approached to receive their Saviour in the Eucharist.
And that is the story that I heard in parts for the first time from my mother, when I was still a child. And that is when I realized that miracles could still happen, even in our midst.