Summary: The Bishop of Leavenworth writes to Latour of the need for a priest in the area around Pike’s Peak, where gold has recently been discovered. The gold-miners and settlers flooding into the area need spiritual guidance. Latour and Vaillant begin making plans for Vaillant to accept this new, final assignment.
Analysis: “You have been complaining of inactivity, Father Joseph; here is your opportunity” (p. 246). So Latour informs Vaillant of his new assignment; and, characteristically, Vaillant is eager to begin his new work, even though he and Latour both know it will be their final parting. No other priest but Vaillant will be suitable for the work. As he told Latour previous in VII.1, the work of assisting Latour in Santa Fe “can be done by intelligence. But down there [i.e., in the mission field] it is work for the heart” (p. 207)—and certainly Latour possesses the heart needed for such work. The Bishop of Leavenworth’s letter indicates that “among all the wanderers and wastrels” who have come to Colorado looking for gold, “were many honest men, hundreds of good Catholics” (p. 245). Vaillant has already expressed his desire to find lost Catholics, to return them to the fold of the Church. That task requires a priest “who would be at his ease with all sorts of men” (p. 245), as Vaillant certainly is; remember, this is the missionary priest whom the Pope treated as an equal, the priest who, “to communicate with peons… was quite willing to speak like a peon” (p. 225). (Compare Vaillant’s response in the present chapter: “So now I must begin speaking English again,” p. 246). He is even at ease among criminals, as the anecdote regarding Ramón Armajillo illustrates (pp. 247-248). And we are told that “the discipline of [Vaillant’s] life [was] to break ties; to say farewell and move on into the unknown” (p. 246). This chapter, then, is a fine complement to the previous one, for it shows us how both of these men are continuing—and, by this point, culminating—the work to which they were sent to the New World, the work of reviving and renewing the faith of its people. Latour plans to build a cathedral; Vaillant’s “cathedral” will be the lives he touches in Colorado.