Rough Stone and Chisel

Etienne Robo

Rough Stone and Chisel

Father Robo takes us to mid nineteenth century rural Brittany to explore his roots and the influences that shaped him.

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Paperback - 236 pages, with illustrations
St Joan of Arc Archive Team, 2022

Back Cover . Contents

Back Cover

“To most people, even to his parishioners, a priest is something of an enigma. They wonder what made him choose to become a priest. They know nothing of his real, interior life. They imagine him to be all of a piece, ready made, always acting the same part – like most of Dickens’ characters who from the first chapter to the last move, speak and act with as little change as if they were wooden puppets.
“In order to follow the development of my character, I have chosen three crises which have certainly stamped their mark on my life. Three times I found myself at the crossroads, and if the choices I made then were already due to my character, these happenings contributed nevertheless to shape it further into a more definite trim.
“Hence the title of this book: ROUGH STONE AND CHISEL — YEARS OF FORMATION.”


Preface to this Edition
Publications by the same author
List of Illustrations
Foreword by the Bishop of Southwark
I – The soil and the roots
II – Life at home
III – A school in Brittany in the nineties
IV – Vocation
V – A French seminary in 1895-1900: Material conditions, the daily routine
VI – Masters and studies
VII – Young men and rigid authority
VIII – Country parishes and country clergy in Brittany, 1895–1900
IX – A Jesuit school and the Jesuits
X – An incursion into Roman Law
XI – A broken friendship
XII – A day of trial
XIII – They were right after all
XIV – How I came to England
XV – Wonersh Seminary
XVI – Surbiton – I am introduced to the world
XVII – Norwood – Convent chaplain?
XVIII – Barnes – A new parish in formation: 15th May 1909 – 15th August 1910
XIX – Brighton – Three years: On the road. Years of idleness. The ordeal
XX – Epilogue – The next fifty years
XXI – “Peace”?

Preface to this Edition

Little was known of Father Robo's early life or indeed of his time prior to arriving in Farnham in November 1913 as rector of the Catholic Mission - St Polycarp's in Bear Lane. Finding this autobiography, this gem, along with a hoard of Robo memorabilia was an epiphany moment for St Joan of Arc's Archive Team; somehow, through the tenure of seven Parish Priests it had escaped discovery.

Father Robo was a well-known figure in his day. As well as Parish Priest of St Joan's, the church he envisaged, built and 'furnished', he was a highly regarded writer - at least one of his books, Mediaeval Farnham, found its way to prestigious libraries worldwide. He was much sought after as a public speaker. He was a man prepared to stand up and defend what he held to be right and condemn where he saw the need.

The biography was written during his retirement, over the 1960s. Much has happened, much has changed since the writing of the document, not just in the Catholic Church and inter-church relationships but in society itself, in our attitudes and in the way we interact. The beauty of this book is in its honesty. Etienne Robo directs the camera on himself and shares with us the experiences that shaped the man - the chiselling of the rough stone. It is a good story brimming with social history; a story to be shared. Any editing was out of the question.

We owe enormous thanks to John Sheard who undertook the task of transferring a manuscript – much graffitied by the author with additions and amendments – into a document suitable for typesetting. We are indebted to him. Tricia Knight lent herself, her talent, her knowledge and her good humour to the Archive Team and without her this book might never have come to print.


Baisemain – The custom of kissing a lady's hand.
Berlin – A closed carriage.
Benedictines – The Order of St Benedict (480-547) O.S.B. Monks or nuns following the Rule of St Benedict (written between 535-540).
Bombard – Double-reed wind instrument belonging to the oboe family. The reed is placed between the lips and blown into to create the instrument's characteristically loud and powerful low register sound. It is most common in Brittany where - usually at weddings and fairs - it has traditionally been played in duet with the biniou, a type of bagpipe.
Bossuet – Jacques-Bénigne 1627-1704. French bishop and theologian, renowned for his sermons. Famous for his theory on the divine right of kings. Court preacher to Louis XIV. Tutor to the Dauphin from 1670-1681.
Bourdaloue – Louis 1632-1704. Jesuit and preacher. His sermons in their simplicity and coherence appealed to all classes. Known for his eloquence he was called many times to deliver the Advent and Lenten sermons at the Court of Versailles.
Carcel lamp – An efficient lighting device invented by French watchmaker, Bernard Guillaume Carcel 1750-1818; a lamp in which the oil is pumped up to the wick by clockwork, giving a steady light. Known also as The French Lamp.
Carthusians – An enclosed religious order founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084. There is still one foundation in England - St Hugh's Charterhouse at Horsham.
Catechism – For four centuries up to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the Church relied on question and answer books to transmit the essential Christian teach-ings. These were called catechisms. While the word is still used, as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, teaching now includes contemporary educational methods.
Celebret – A letter from a Catholic bishop or religious superior testifying that the bearer is a priest and asking that he be permitted to say Mass in dioceses other than his own.
The De Profundis – Psalm 129/130 (Out of the Depths I have cried to You, O Lord ….).
Deus, qui inter – Deus, qui inter apostolicos Sacerdotes famulum tuum N. pontificali fecisti dignitate vigere; praesta, quaesumus; ut eorum quoque perpetuo aggreg-etur consortio. Per Dominum…. (O God, who didst raise Your servant N. to the dignity of bishop in the apostolic priesthood; grant, we beseech You, that he may be joined in fellowship with Your apostles for evermore. Through our Lord…). (from the Office for the Dead - the Collect for a deceased bishop).
Douillete – An overcoat covering a cassock.
Hospes and hostis – Guest and stranger or enemy.
Incardinated – Incardination is the formal term in the Catholic Church to describe a priest's obligations and responsibilities to his bishop and vice versa.
Jansenism – A religious movement in the 17th and 18th centuries based on the writings and teachings of Dutch theologian Cornelis Jansen (1585-1638). His controversial interpretation of St Augustine's teaching was condemned by the Church.
Jeanne la Flamme – Joanna of Flanders (1295-1374), Duchess of Brittany defended her husband's position during the War of the Breton Succession; a skilled military leader she is a possible influence on Joan of Arc.
Jesuit – A member of the Society of Jesus (S.J.) founded in 1534 by St Ignatius Loyola.
Jubés – Rood screens.
Judica – Psalm 42/43Judica me Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me. (Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause against an ungodly nation: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man). Intoned by the priest at the beginning of the old Latin (Tridentine) Mass before ascending the steps to the altar.
Nulla dies sine linea – "Not a day without a line drawn" - refers to the 4th century BC Greek painter, Apelles of Kos and his commitment to work. (source: Pliny the Elder's History - Pliny regarded him highly).
Renan – Ernest Renan 1823-1892. French Orientalist, Semitic scholar; biblical scholar; prolific writer and scholar. His 'Life of Jesus' depicted Jesus as a man and not God and rejected the miracles of the Gospel.
Reveillon – A festive supper commonly eaten in France following Christmas midnight Mass.
Soutane – Cassock.
Solesmes – Benedictine Monastery of St Peter, Solesmes. The Solesmes Choir has set the world standard for both the performance and authenticity of Gregorian Chant.
St. Cyr – Military Academy - training school for officers of the French Army.
Summa – The best known work of St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), theologian and Doctor of the Church; a compendium of the main theological teachings of the Catholic Church.
Thabor – A raised table on which the monstrance containing the sacred host is placed for veneration: the name possibly derives from Mt Thabor, the posited place of the Transfiguration.
Veillées – Traditional evening social gathering of a family or a community.
Verbo potens et opera – Strong in word and deed.
Visitandine – An order of nuns founded in 1610 by St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal.
White Fathers – The Missionaries of Africa founded in 1868, known as the White Fathers because of their long white habit.


Amigo, Bishop, 160, 180, 186, 201, 202
Angers, Catholic University of, 122, 150
Arrêts, 38, 44
Bande/Bande system
(Fayots, Gallos, Grésillons, Moutons Pourlets, Pontyviens), 26, 41, 76
Barnes, 102, 177, 180-84
Benedictines, v, 84
Beuvron, Père de, 112
Billot, Père, 134
Bochet, M, 68
Bourne, Bishop (later Archbishop of Westminster and Cardinal), 160, 216
Boxer rebellion, 80
Brennus, 4
Breton language, 9, 13, 27, 28, 63, 71, 85, 109
Brighton, 70, 160, 185-200, 201, 210
British Museum, 98, 169, 190
Brittany, 24, 25-36, 89-99
Buléon, Jerome, 35, 80, 122
Butt, Joseph Mgr. later Bishop, 157
Carthusians, v, 75
Castelnau, 182, 189
Celia, 191-200
Cintré, Père de, 110, 114, 132
Cistercians, 216
Compagnie de l'Orient, 4
Compagnie des Indes, 4
Cormier, 127
Corven, 85
David, 51, 82, 133
Decker, Theodore, 33, 83
Dieulangard, M., 67, 73, 134
Dorz, M. Le, 152
du Plerny, Fr., 161, 163, 164, 165, 168, 173, 189
Dubot, M., 73, 133, 136, 141, 143, 150, 157
Duparc, Adolphe, Mgr. Bishop of Quimper, 35, 70
Ecclesiastical dress, 56
Elven Towers, 86
Games (la Tèque, la Soule, tonnet, football), 40, 44, 119
Theatre & Music, 36, 39
Walking, 159
Farnham, mission of, 201, 215
Fitzgibbon, Father, 158, 160
French Revolution, 8, 36, 68
Garrec, le, 36, 141
Groix, 5, 17, 27, 77
Guémené, 25
Guillevic, M., 70
Guillon, 'le petit', 61
Haiti, 80
Hammersly, 153
Hennebont, 20, 26, 109
Hervé, 38, 153, 155
Hirgair, 51
Hogan, Canon, 180
Holidays, 7, 22, 38, 75, 77, 84, 89, 90, 104, 109, 136, 142
Jansenism/Jansenist, vi, 48, 62
Jeanne la Flamme, vi, 21
Jesuits, vi, 73, 99, 107-21, 126, 128, 133, 142
Johnson, Canon, 187, 189
Ker-Anna, 29
Kerdaffret, M., 145
Kerfichant, 11, 17
Keroman, 17
Knox, Ronald, Mgr, 1
La Croix Sunday newspaper, 79
Locminé, 26
Lorient, 3, 5, 6, 13-23, 48, 57, 62, 77, 84, 88, 152
Louvain, 67
Lycée of Pontivy, 3, 28
Mellec, 31
Merlevenez, 91
Metz, 67
Middle Ages, the, 38, 57, 85, 86
Modernism, 66
Molesey, 166, 168, 189
Gulf of, islands, 77, 108
Mortlake, 177, 180, 182, 184
Moussier, Père, 110
Neulliac, 27, 90
Ordination, 137, 139, 150, 161
Paramé, 161
Pen Mané, 20
Penboch, 119
Petit, M., 67
Picaud, François - Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, 60, 82
Place Alsace Lorraine, 7
Place d'Armes, 4, 13
Plédran, M., 52
Ploërmel, 108, 126, 129, 151
Plouay, 84
Pluvigner, 25
Pontivy, 25, 81, 90, 94, 145
Port Louis, 5, 20
Priellec, M., 69
Quelven, A., Mgr., 44, 81
R. Scorff, 17
Refectory, 30, 32, 44, 58, 62, 157
Renan, vii, 54
Robo, Etienne
   aunt Elise, 11, 20
   baby sister, 17
   cousin Jeanne, 22
   father, 3, 7, 11-13, 16, 48, 54, 124, 149
   grandfather, 3
   grandmother, 9, 19
   great grandfather, 8
   great grandmother, 9
   Jean-Marie, manservant, 18
   mother, 3, 11, 12, 18, 20, 185
   sisters, 7, 12, 17
   uncle Louis, 17
Rorbacher, 62
Rue des Postes, 110, 117
Saint-Mars,, 123, 124
Schliebush, M., 56
Schools and Seminaries
S. François Xavier, 6, 84, 100, 107, 122, 132
St. Anne d'Auray, 25-36
St. John's, Wonersh, 153, 156-61
St. Louis, Lorient, 22, 152
Vannes, 49, 56-64 
Senne, le, M. Bishop of Beauvais, 69
Sesmaisons, Père de, 110
Sheppard, Father (later Canon), 185
Sister Eulalie, 19, 22
Sister Mechtilde, 177
Sister St. Paul, 19
Society of Jesus, vi, 107, 115
Solesmes, vii, 42, 84
St Caradec, 109
St Joan of Arc Church, Farnham, 106, 203, 214, 220
St John the Baptist Church, Brighton (Kemp Town), 194, 201
St Raphael's Church, Surbiton, 101, 157
St Thomas Aquinas, vii, 65
St. Anne d'Auray, 25
St. Avé, 86
St. Brieuc, 27, 63
St. Cyr, vii, 23
St. Donatian, 19
St. Polycarp Mission, Farnham, i, 202, 220
St. Teresa of Lisieux, ix, 58, 147, 221
Sundays, 7, 26, 42, 61, 79
Surbiton, 110, 154, 157, 161, 162-73, 185, 189, 196
Taboureux, Abbé, 23
Thabor, vii, 30, 33, 37, 44
Thames Ditton, 166, 185
Thymadeuc, 81
Time-table, 30, 36
Tré-Auray, 40
Two Portraits of St Teresa of Lisieux, ii, 147, 221
Upper Norwood, 174
Vannes, ix, 25, 27, 31, 56, 63, 66, 73, 79, 81, 88, 95, 99, 107, 149, 161
Vauban, 4
Visitandines, vii, 58
Walton-on-Thames, 168, 173, 189
White Fathers, vii, 80
William of Wykeham, 43
Winchester College, 39, 43

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