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Bypassing Colin

From the very beginning Cholleton had been a warm supporter of the Marist cause. As a professor at the seminary of Saint-Irénée, he had encouraged Courveille and the little group that Courveille gathered around him. As vicar general he looked for some years after the Marists’ interests at the archdiocese. He shared their desire for the pontifical approbation that would make them free to develop as an autonomous congregation, independent from the bishops. He too must have been worried by the fact that more than a year after Colin’s return from Rome (March 1834), no answer had come to the request for that approbation. As a seminarian he had volunteered for the missions in Kentucky, which explains his special interest in the foreign missions. He was held back for higher studies.[1]

When Pastre told him of the letter from Rome, Cholleton probably already knew from the archbishop. As an experienced administrator Cholleton would have seen a golden opportunity to get the papal approbation. He had no doubts that the energetic and able Pompallier was the right man to lead the venture and that the enthusiastic young Marists perfectly fitted Fransoni’s description of the good priests needed for the mission. Cholleton was familiar enough with the Marists to know that in an eventual official election Colin would, in all probability, become their superior general. He could have referred Pastre to Colin, but he did not. Pastre had approached him as the vicar general and Cholleton went to see Archbishop de Pins.

Like Cholleton, de Pins was a warm supporter of the Marist project. No sooner had he taken over the administration of Lyon than he gave Champagnat’s teaching Brothers the status of a diocesan congregation. He did what he could to obtain their approval by the civil authorities. For the priests too he had a warm heart, but only in the perspective of a diocesan institute under his authority. Cholleton proposed to the archbishop to mention Pompallier to Pastre as the man to put forward for the mission in Oceania. De Pins, who liked the gifted and charming Pompallier, enthusiastically agreed.[2]

At this stage at least, the obvious thing would have been to involve Colin. However, unlike his vicar general, de Pins did not want the Marists to become a pontifical congregation and the Marists had proceeded to elect Colin to be their central superior without his permission. As to Pompallier, he was a priest of the archdiocese of Lyon and Colin was a priest of the diocese of Belley without any official standing in the matter. One can understand that de Pins would not have wanted to involve Colin and Cholleton could not do so without the bishop’s agreement.

Moreover, Cholleton had other good reasons to leave Colin out. He was possibly the only one to know that Colin had on one occasion (probably after his stay in Rome in 1833/1834) already been asked to accept a foreign mission, but had turned it down because the Society had not yet been approved: a good reason to fear that, left to himself, Colin might do the same thing again. As to Pompallier, Cholleton must have known that he would most likely not be Colin’s first choice.[3]

What did Colin have against Pompallier?

When Pompallier joined the Marists after his ordination in 1829, all of them, including Colin, would have welcomed him as a great asset to their Society. He took part in preaching parish missions and was sincerely committed to the Marist project. However, it did not take long before he did things that irritated Jean-Claude Colin. Although the junior priest in the Hermitage community, he took it upon himself to write detailed rules and regulations.[4] When Pompallier and the other priests, against the wishes of Marcellin Champagnat, decided to leave the community of the Brothers and form a community of their own in Valbenoîte, Colin agreed,[5] but, again, Pompallier took it upon himself to write a rule.[6] Colin was not happy. He felt they should live Marist religious life before codifying it, ‘running faster than Providence’ he called it.[7] Also, composing a rule should not be done by one man, but by the whole group.[8] Consulted about the choice of a superior, his confreres in Valbenoîte preferred Étienne Séon to Pompallier,[9] after which it did not take him long before he accepted, be it with Colin’s agreement, an appointment to chaplain of the Tertiary Brothers of Mary and of the school that some of them had founded in La Favorite. The position was offered him by the Brothers themselves, on suggestion of Cholleton.[10] He went to live in the so-called Tour, near Fourvière, not far from the archdiocesan offices[11] and immediately started writing rules for The Tertiary Brothers of Mary.[12] Not long afterwards he got into conflict with one of the founders, who was also the director of the school, Jean-Claude-Xavier Colard, who was forced to hand over the institution, leaving Pompallier in charge.[13] Everything taken together, no wonder Colin had his doubts about Pompallier’s abilities as a leader of men,[14] and about his endurance in the face of adversities, as surely would come his way in Oceania.

Eleven years later, when problems with Pompallier were mounting, Jean-Claude Colin, then superior general of the Society of Mary, in the confidentiality of his council, snapped that it was the administration of Lyon that had proposed Pompallier to become vicar apostolic. He, Colin, had had nothing to do with it, ‘je n’y suis pour rien!’. [15]

In any case, after seeing de Pins, Cholleton, without contacting Jean-Claude Colin, went ahead and told Pastre that he knew a zealous priest who was keen to go to the missions and whom he would be pleased with (il vous conviendra bien) : it was Monsieur Pompallier, chaplain at the boarding school of la Favorite. And, not unimportantly, he belonged to a new Society. Cholleton arranged a meeting between the two, Pastre was very impressed with Pompallier (fort content), and, if we must believe Mayet’s notes of twelve years later, presented Pompallier to Cardinal Fransoni.[16] Here again, Mayet (or Cholleton in his oral account to Mayet) skipped a few things. Pastre may have been inclined to pass the good news immediately to Fransoni. Perhaps Cholleton and de Pins expected him to do so, but somebody convinced him to wait, and under the circumstances that can only have been Pompallier himself, wanting to assure himself of the support of his confreres.

Immediately after the interview with Pastre, Pompallier, also bypassing Colin, rushed to consult his fellow Marists.[17] He went to Valbenoîte, where he could meet with Pierre Colin, Claude Bret, Jean Forest and Claude-Marie Chavas. It is not excluded that he also went to Saint Chamond, just twenty km. further, where his friend Terraillon was the parish priest and to the nearby Hermitage, where he could meet with Marcellin Champagnat and Catherin Servant. He received an enthousiastic response, but somebody must have reminded him that they also had a superior. In any case, he rushed back to Lyon to keep Pastre a bit longer from writing to Fransoni, and addressed a letter to Jean-Claude Colin. The fact that, at this crucial point, instead of going to Belley personally, he wrote an awkward letter, confirms that relations between the two were not easy.


  1. M. Catet, Vie abrégée de l’Abbé Cholleton, p. 14.
  2. Kerr, op. cit. p. 281, simply takes the account of what happened as written down by Mayet in 1847 (OM II, doc. 657), and leaves it at that. From the fact that de Pins took no action other than forwarding the letter, we can infer that it was not the archbishop who picked up the project or first thought of Pompallier. That leaves Cholleton. Colin repeatedly said he consulted Cholleton on all matters (OM I, doc. 358, 1 and footnotes). We can therefore safely assume that Cholleton knew of the earlier offer of a foreign mission, even if the other Marists did not. We only know it from Colin’s later letter to Pompallier (OM I, doc. 340 [1]). Hence the conclusion that Cholleton bypassed Colin for fear that Colin might again let the opportunity slip by. This was not the only time people did this to Colin. Mother Saint Joseph is known to have done the same thing (Anon. Recueil Mère Saint-Joseph {RMJ}, p. 197, n. 7). Colin`s pronounced supernaturalism (cf. Greiler, Inspiriertes Leben {Colin Studies I}, pp. 1 – 26) made him see the immediate hand of Providence in anything that happened or that others did, and making him reluctant to take the initiative himself, for fear of acting – as he often said – humano modo (cf. FS, doc. 14 [18] & doc. 175 [27]). We can also be sure that Cholleton did not propose Pompallier to Pastre without the consent of de Pins. Firstly because no vicar general would. Secondly, de Pins would not have given the mission project his warm support, had he not been properly involved from the beginning. Therefore only Cholleton can have been the first one to lay the link between the approval of the Society and the acceptance of the mission. Nothing else explains the emphasis given this linkage from the beginning. It could not have come from de Pins (who did not want it!) or from Pastre (who until then barely knew the Marists). And, at least in Mayet`s account, Cholleton already hinted at it to Pastre before the latter had met with Pompallier. The latter’s extraordinary emphasis on the link makes more sense if we assume that Cholleton was behind it. This reading of history comes nearest to the account of Benoît Lagniet, a contemporary of the events, in 1878-1881 (OM III, doc. 854 [37f] & final note on p. 768). Cf also Gobillot, Vie du vénérable Jean Claude Colin, I, p. 144, and F. Chovet in Maurey, Physionomies maristes d’un premier siècle, vol. Cholleton, p. 3). That is also how the origin of the mission was understood by the Picpus missionaries, cf. Lestra, Le Père Coudrin, III, pp. 425ff, and by Catet, op. cit. p. 20. Marist history has perhaps not sufficiently acknowledged the crucial role of Cholleton at this all-important moment in the Society`s history. Interestingly, years later (1850), in his Notice historique et statistique de la Mission de la Nouvelle Zélande, p. 17, Pompallier himself ascribes the initiative entirely to Archbishop de Pins, without even mentioning Cholleton, who, in 1840, had joined the Society, with which Pompallier was then in conflict.
  3. A. Greiler & J. Taylor (PeterChanel, p. 10) think that, given a chance, Colin would have presented Peter Chanel for the leadership position. Many things indeed point that way, e.g. the fact that Colin took him as a companion to Rome in 1833, and appointed him vice-superior of the minor seminary of Belley. Rozier (S. Pierre Chanel d’après ceux qui l’ont connu, Rome, 1991, p. 31, n. 3), concludes from a remark made by Colin, that he would not have considered Chanel the ‘caractère ferme’ needed for the position. We can only guess.
  4. OM I, doc. 209 [1]. OM II, doc. 625 [23].
  5. OM I, docs 242 [2] & 255 [1].
  6. OM I, doc. 224 (cf. introductory note); also, OM II, doc. 625 [25].
  7. OM I, doc. 227 [2]. OM II, doc. 625 [25].
  8. OM I, docs 222 [4] & 225 [1].
  9. OM I, doc. 255 [1]. OM II, doc. 625 [24 - 27].
  10. Les Perret, anonymous biography of family Perret, p. 6. APM 1485/21152.
  11. OM I, doc. 857 [8].
  12. OM I, docs. 392 & 393. OM II, doc. 625 [27]. OM III, doc. 878 [20]. cf. LM, docs. 14 & 15. It is worth noting that especially the texts submitted by Pompallier in Rome show a remarkable affinity to early Colinian spiritual themes; e.g., in doc. 392: siècle present [1], la Très-Sainte Vierge et St. Joseph, qui ont été si religieux, au milieu du monde, sans paroître ce qu’ils étoient [17].
  13. Although written in the heat of later controversy: OM IV, doc. 909 [4].
  14. Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 122 is of the opinion that ‘Colin was in favour of Pompallier, having encouraged him as early as 3 August 1835 to accept responsibility for heading the mission, because “at the present moment I can think of no one else but you who can fill the position that is offered to you”’. A rather glum recommendation that, in my opinion, taken in the total context, rather betrays Colin’s unease. Given that the prestigious position was already offered, what else could Colin do or say?
  15. OM II, doc. 641. Around 1840 - when the first indications of problems with Pompallier reached France - Colin confided to Mayet: ‘I am happy that he was sent to Polynesia; he would have become an embarassment in Europe. MM, 1S, p. 23.
  16. OM II, doc. 657 [2].
  17. This is exactly how Pompallier himself, many years later, described the proceedings: ‘I approached my confreres of the Society of Mary’, mes confrères de la Société de Marie cf. Pompallier, p. 6f.

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