Early in the 18th century, Pierre Taillandier, a Jesuit professor and astronomer, penned a letter chronicling his epic two-and-a-half-year journey from his home in Lyon, France, to his mission in French India. He sailed westward across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and eventually into the Bay of Bengal. Along the way he reflected upon the people and religions he encountered, particularly in the New World where the cultures and traditions of indigenous peoples clashed with those of the Europeans who discovered and enslaved them. These recollections are at the heart of the "The Devil Disguised as St. Elmo."
In those days, trade with India created unprecedented commerce for France, while conversion of the Hindus to the Catholic faith played out through letters composed by the most intractable and God-fearing men that ever ventured out of Europe, mired still in feudalism and never-ending religious wars.
Taillandier's letter was an extraordinary document -- unexpected like a comet that remained hidden in interstellar space and then blazed a visible trail through the darkness of space and time to our modern era. His recollections stimulate our curiosity to dig deeper to understand why men such as he set out across trackless seas to confront adversity and give freely of themselves for the salvation of souls.
"The Devil Disguised as St. Elmo" sheds light on the struggles and accomplishments of men who left their stories on foreign shores and their epitaphs woven into the substance of other men's lives. In all these, one can see the hand of Providence, for man cannot suspend his fate nor deny his will to take the fall and lay down his life for noble deeds ever unquenchable.