Pere Phillipe watched the young men until after he could no longer imagine that he still saw Trevung then he remembered his chore. He hurried to the storehouse to count the baskets of peas and beans available for the Lenten porridge. His lip curled in disgust as he carried about his task. He hated the unseasoned porridge. His disgust with his Lenten meals combined with his heartache until his mind began to search for an escape.
“Abbot Paul, I believe Our Gracious Lord has set it upon my heart to take a pilgrimage to convert the natives during Lent.” Pere Phillipe stood before his superior and discussed the call.
Finally, the abbot concluded, “Frere, I have long noticed your work among the poor and your compassion for sinners. You are named for a missionary. This call is from God. You must go. Take nothing with you except what you wear on your back.”
Thus it was that Pere Phillipe set out after Ash Wednesday morning mass to follow in the footsteps of Trevung and Gervung. He had some luck in finding them when he visited the last village on the road and enquired after the location of Gervung’s school among the natives. “Oh, you are looking for the S’TOs. They are married to the potter E’KuN’s daughters. Visit the potter and he’ll give you directions.”
Papa E’Kun gave Pere Phillipe directions, food, a blanket, and gifts for the S’TO family before sending him on his way. The path had become well marked over the years as the E’KuN family and the S’TO’s had visited back and forth. Thus it was after two nights on the road, Pere Phillipe crossed the summit of a low pass and entered into a broad valley leading toward the mountains.
As Pere Phillipe climbed the hill toward the first hut he saw, Devola came out to meet the black-clad stranger who recognized her as the woman with Trevung. “I am Pere Phillipe. I’ve come on a mission to your valley.”
Devola stood in the path leaning on her walking stick. “What do you want with us?” She hadn’t understood a word the man said.
Taken aback by the woman’s tone and military stance, Pere Phillipe tried again. “I am a man of God, come from the cathedral in the city. I am known to Trevung and Gervung. I’ve come to teach the people of this valley about God.”
Devola still didn’t know anything about priests or God, but she looked closely into the older man’s eyes and recognized what nobody else had seen before. “Oh. You have come to teach. Trevung will be pleased. We have too much to do. You are welcome. Come inside. This is my son, M’TW.” Devola sent M’TW to fetch sticks to build up the fire and rushed about making the priest comfortable.
Pere Phillipe sat on a low bench and ate the bit of berry cake Devola shoved into his hands while he congratulated himself on being where he wanted to be and avoiding the Lenten porridge. As he listened to Devola’s chatter, he became alarmed.
“Papa Pere, you may wash the dust off your feet in the creek just down that path. Do you want your noon meal before I take you down to the school? Trevung has not told me much about his family in the city. Mountain men killed my family, so I don’t have one. I’m happy to have you here. Where do you live?”
“Daughter,” it pleased Pere Phillipe to call this woman daughter. “I do not think you quite understand. I am a priest. I live with other priests in the rectory beside the cathedral in the city. My name is Phillipe. The word ‘pere’ is French meaning…” he paused not wanting to give this astute young woman any more ideas than she seemed to have, “…priest. Pere means priest in the French language so people call me Pere Phillip”
“Oh, I’m sorry we didn’t have time to visit you when we were near the cathedral. We visited Trevung’s aunt just a short time ago.” Devola puckered her forehead trying to figure out if she’d used the correct words Trevung taught her about things they’d done in the past.
Pere Phillipe saw Devola’s apparent confusion and broke into a sweat wondering what Trevung’s aunt had said about his family. He cleared his throat. “She is a generous woman. Very good to the poor.” He finally caught an inspiration. “I believe she and her husband have done well trading with the people from this valley. We have heard of the S’TO family even in the city. They are accounted to be very grand.”
“They are wise. Marina and Sabrina S’TO started the school here. They are very educated.” Devola sighed thinking of the two women who inspired her. “They have been very kind to me.”
Pere Phillip sweated some more as he remembered the twins who drove the nuns crazy by looking exactly alike. He remembered the E’KuN family. Where Marina and Sabrina E’KuN here? “I should like to meet the S-S-S-S’TO family. I w-wish to talk with all the people here. I’m here to teach about G-G-G-God.” The poor priest stuttered as he felt the mountains closing in around his secret.
Devola nodded, “Rest a bit and eat. I have a rabbit stew that is warm. We will get to the school just after their lunch. Gervung and Trevung will not want the morning lessons interrupted.”
Devola did arrive at the school with Pere Phillipe just before the afternoon classes started. “Look Trevung, Papa Phillipe has come to teach, so you can have the afternoon to clear more rocks from the garden.”
Pere Phillipe cringed at the introduction. Gervung and Trevung thought nothing of Devola translating the priest’s title into the common language and welcomed the man who’d often brought their mother gifts of food and clothing from the poor box.
Sabrina arrived to help with the afternoon classes and greeted the priest with caution. “Pere Phillipe welcome to our school and to our valley. Do you have a place to stay?”
Pere Phillipe shook his head just as Devola intervened, “Papa, you must stay with us. Where else would you stay?”
Sabrina caught the inflection in Devola’s voice and tried not to smile at her misunderstanding of the priest’s title. She resolved to visit Devola and explain the church to her, later. “Devola, you must share our visitor. Papa S’TO will want to meet him and hear what he has to say.”
Devola nodded to the wisdom of her idol and felt only slightly resentful over having to share Papa Phillipe. “I want to learn what he teaches, too. I want to learn more about the cathedral.”
“Marina and I will start a class on the church. It is a shame that we haven’t done so before now.” She turned to the priest. “Would that be helpful, Pere?”
Somewhat relieved that Sabrina took charge of the situation Pere Phillipe stopped sweating for a moment. “Yes, that would be helpful. Abbot Paul sent me to convert the natives.”
Sabrina remembering how the nuns beat her and Marina could only nod. She remembered this priest as having a reputation for kindness to the poor and to sinners. Maybe he wouldn’t be too bad.
Once again, Devola opened her mouth, “Trevung, I thought you could help me clear rocks from the new garden this afternoon, but perhaps you would prefer to spend time with Papa and help him learn what he needs to teach.”
Trevung tried to hide his amusement at Devola calling the priest Papa. “I’ll stay and teach my lesson and help Pere Phillipe get settled. He was good to my mama.” Trevung couldn’t know how his words reinforced Devola’s understanding of their family relationships.
Sabrina decided to walk Devola part way home and explain that pere did not mean the same as papa.
“Oh, I know that. Pere means a priest. Pere Phillipe is Trevung’s papa.” Devola continued on her way home not knowing that she’d shocked the educated, smart and wise Sabrina S’TO to her very core.