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From Lyons to Rome

Pompallier gave Colin’s letter to Pastre and also told him of the positive reactions of the confreres. There must have been at least four promising responses. Pastre judged that five men was just right for the first group. Anything bigger could provoke Protestant resistance.[1]

Pastre or Pompallier must have informed Archbishop de Pins at this point and been given the impression that de Pins was prepared further to support the project. Hereupon Pastre, on 7 August, wrote again to Fransoni to tell him that after his letter of refusal he had spoken in confidence of the new mission with a priest of a certain Society of Marists that is expecting Roman approval, and that in many ways differs little from the Society of Jesus. That priest had spoken to his colleagues and had received the written support of his superior. Pastre decided that for the sake of the other matters mentioned by Colin to Pompallier, it was best simply to enclose Colin’s letter. A clumsy move that Colin had not intended at all!

Cardinal Giacomo Fransoni
Strangely, Pastre did not mention Pompallier by name and he removed the covering sheet of Colin’s letter, the only place with Pompallier’s name on it. Proposing a replacement was so important for Pastre that this cannot have been an oversight. Whatever the reason, it meant that Fransoni for some months did not know whom Pastre had in mind to propose.[2] Before this second letter could reach Rome, Fransoni, on 15 August, answered Pastre's first letter (of 17 July) and asked him to help Propaganda by at least looking around for suitable workers for the new mission. The answer was already on the way. He could not have been served more promptly.[3]

In answer to Fransoni's letter of 15 August, Pastre wrote on 2 September, outlining the different possible ways to travel to the Pacific, each with its advantages and disadvantages. He expressed a clear preference for the Eastern route, i.e. around the Cape of Good Hope, preferably by French naval vessels, but if necessary by English ships, that further on one will need anyhow. The British may not be very keen on helping Roman Catholic missionaries, but with letters of recommendation of the English ambassador one can get reasonable conditions. Unfortunately, as we shall see, neither Rome nor Pompallier listened to this experienced man.

‘As to the missionaries, I thought that five would suffice for the first party. A larger number might complicate the first contact with people, which because of the language will be difficult enough as it is. Heaven forbid that the English Methodists arouse persecutions. This small number I could get together without even going outside of the diocese.’

Pastre got carried away to the point of forgetting to mention the Marists, so he added in a footnote: ‘He (= the bishop) approves the offer of the Marists for the mission under consideration’.[4]

Then something odd happened. Having received Pastre’s second letter with the enclosed letter of Colin to Pompallier, Fransoni broke off the correspondence. Was there something in Pastre’s or Colin’s letter (that he should never have had in the first place), that put him off? Was it that the name was withheld? Did he get a whiff of Colin’s misgivings about the unnamed person to whom the letter was addressed? Whatever it was, on 12 September Cardinal Fransoni approached Marin Ducrey, whom he already had contacted for Oceania in 1833.[5]

On 22 September Cardinal Fransoni just as suddenly came back to the Lyon option, probably because he had in the meantime found out that Ducrey had died already in 1834. As if still a little uneasy about the Marists, he bypassed Pastre and ignored the Marists. He wrote to de Pins as if the whole affair was something between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Lyon, which canonically speaking was the case anyhow. He thanked de Pins for his readiness to support the new mission and, with an implicit referral to Pastre’s letter, adding that this could be done from that diocese alone (ex sola ista Diocesi). He promised to bring the archbishop’s good intentions to the knowledge of the Sacred Congregation, ‘which surely will be very pleased and grateful’.[6] Fransoni's letter was mislaid in the archdiocesan office. When, six weeks later, it turned up, Cholleton notified Pompallier who informed Champagnat.[7]

On 20 November de Pins wrote to Fransoni that he would do his utmost to furnish very good workers (d'excellens ouvriers) for the Western Pacific. Having noticed that Fransoni ignored the Marists, and seemed to think that the diocese of Lyon alone could carry the full load, he now took it upon himself to involve them, adding that ‘the Society of the priests of Mary that works with so much success in the dioceses of Lyon and Belley, and has applied for pontifical approval, could supply five or six good men immediately’ and would ensure continuity. The Association for the Propagation of the Faith would give financial support. De Pins had evidently come to see that taking on the missions of Oceania was too big an undertaking for the archdiocese itself. It would take a religious congregation, and one of pontifical right. The mention of ‘five or six’ indicates that the news was spreading and that by then other names were circulating, also from outside the archdiocese. The mention of Belley, where at least Chanel had earlier on shown an interest in the foreign missions, points in that direction.

In spite of this explicit mention of the Marists, the clerk at Propaganda, in the usual summary, underlined the assurance of the bishop and left the Marists out.[8]


  1. That Bret and Servant already showed a readiness we can guess from the fact that shortly later they were considered firm candidates. Forest was kept back by Colin, so he too would have shown interest (FS, doc. 172 [14]). Chavas was a very close friend of Bret, son très intime ami (LRO, doc. 19 [1]).
  2. OM I, doc. 341. The editors of Origines Maristes (doc. 340, introduction) suggest that it was by accident that Pompallier’s name was left out, and the covering sheet with the letter removed. As Pastre was very keen to propose a replacement for himself, that does not seem very probable. More likely Pompallier, having sensed something of Colin’s reticense, was becoming less sure of himself, and had asked Pastre to withhold his name for the time being.
  3. OM I, doc. 342.
  4. OM I, doc. 343.
  5. Wiltgen op. cit. (p. 107) thinks that Fransoni may have been displeased with the way acceptance of the mission was linked to approval of the Society. As Fransoni himself would a little later offer approval to get Colin to accept the mission, that is not very likely. Kerr (p. 283) cannot think of any reason why Fransoni would have changed course so suddenly in a matter that was very important to him. Origines Maristes I, p. 777, n.2, thinks that Colin’s letter ‘ne fît pas mauvaise impression à la S.C. de la Propagande’. Mauvaise may indeed be too much, but something must have put Fransoni off. On Ducrey, cf. Kerr, op. cit. pp. 282ff.
  6. OM I, doc. 344.
  7. OM I, doc. 347.
  8. OM I, doc. 349.

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