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From France: a third group

When, in October 1838, Colin received the first letters from New Zealand,[1] he set his mind on sending ten to twelve missionaries[2] as asked by Bishop Pompallier. This third wave would nearly double the numbers: seven divided over Wallis, Futuna and New Zealand, and the six still on the way. Writing to Cardinal Fransoni on 10 November he speaks of sending eight to ten priests in the course of 1839.[3]

During the following months enough volunteers came forward for Colin to write to the Propagation of the Faith on 12 April 1839 that he could count on eight to ten missionaries, priests and brothers. They could leave in June.[4] However, the directors advised against sending such a large group. Given the hazards of travelling and of transferring too much money by one and the same occasion, they would rather see Colin divide his missionaries over two groups, which he did. Some Marists expected them to leave again from Bordeaux,[5] and thus to Valparaiso, but, possibly again on advice of the directors of the Propagation of the Faith, Colin sent them via London and Sydney.

He wrote to Cardinal Fransoni at Propaganda to notify him of the pending departure of the third group of missionaries and of Pompallier’s September letters, without however enclosing copies. Nor did he let on about his annoyance at Pompallier.[6]

Colin appointed four priests and one Brother. The first one he assigned was Joseph-André Chevron. Born in 1808 in Nantua, Haut-Bugey (Ain), diocese of Belley, he entered the seminary and was a brilliant student, earning a cum laude for his end essay. Being too young for ordination he taught among other places in Belley under Colin as principal.[7] He became a priest for the diocese in 1831 and although oversensitive and of precarious health[8], he asked to be sent to the foreign missions. Mgr. Devie asked him to serve for ten years in the diocese which he did. When, in 1838, he was the parish priest of Montanges he applied again and was given permission to join the Society of Mary. Colin accepted him and immediately assigned him to Oceania. After his departure Colin confided to a friend of Chevron that he admired his strong character, his courage and his generosity so much that he would not hesitate to propose him if a second bishop had to be appointed in Oceania.[9] Until he moved to the Marist community Chevron had kept his plans a secret but when it became known that this highly regarded priest was going to Oceania, a man in his parish who had made no secret of his distaste for anything religious, publicly converted.[10]

From Lyon there was Philippe Viard, born in 1809. He had studied at the minor seminary of l’Argentière together with Pierre Bataillon. As a seminarian, he several times served Mass for Pompallier, for whom he remained le petit Viard.[11] Ordained for the archdiocese in 1834 he was (as of March 1836) a curate in the town parish of La Guillotière, in easy walking distance from the Montée St-Barthélémy when the Marist novitiate of Puylata opened there. He was a man of limited ability, but a devout priest with a reputation of successful pastoral work. He had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fourvière and was considered a bit of a saint. He arranged his transfer to the Marists in all secrecy and joined the novitiate on 1 January 1839. He was professed after less than five months.[12]

A second Lyonnais was Jean-Baptiste Petitjean,[13] born in 1811 in Mornant, near Lyon and ordained a priest for the archdiocese on 28 February 1836. At one stage he had thought of mission work in Madagascar but he entered the Society and was a novice in Puylata until his profession.

The choice of the fourth man illustrates that interest in the Society was extending beyond the dioceses of Lyon and Belley. He was Jean-Baptiste Comte, born in 1810 in Silenzin, Haute Loire, in the diocese of Le Puy. He joined the Marists as a seminarian shortly after the founding chapter of September 1836, and entered the novitiate in Belley, 30 November. He was ordained a priest in March 1838 and continued his novitiate in Puylata in 1838/1839.[14]

There was only one Brother this time. He was not selected by Marcellin Champagnat but had made his own decision: Jean-Baptiste Grimaud. He was born in 1809, as the only son of a rich family of St.-Cassien, near Grenoble. At an early age he already expressed the desire to enter religious life. His parents did everything they could to talk him out of it, but at the age of 29 he went his own way and joined the Marist Brothers in the Hermitage. On 15 August 1838 he received the religious habit from Marcellin Champagnat under the religious name of Brother Attale. When his parents made a last attempt to make him change his mind by offering him immediate transfer of their estate, he asked to be sent to Oceania and was professed 15 May 1839, just before leaving.[15]

As the new missionaries were to leave shortly after their profession Colin gave them a forceful dose of spiritual direction in a letter nearly identical with the two letters he had written to the first and the second groups of missionaries.[16] He wrote this third letter with the first and second one in hand. It is nearly the same as the second one with a few phrases taken from the first one. There is one minor but not insignificant addition: he gives explicit permission to write directly to families and friends. He maintains the reference to Pompallier being their bishop and superior, and repeats the warning never to go out alone. Nothing in the letter betrays the feelings he had earlier shared with Claude Mayet.

In the above mentioned talk to the community of the Capucinière after receiving the first letters from New Zealand, Colin had also mentioned the possibility of dividing the vast diocese of Bishop Pompallier and appointing other bishops.[17] These remarks must have become common knowledge. If Colin did not take the initiative of bringing it up with his new missionaries, they will have asked him about it. He confirmed his intention of having Rome erect a new vicariate. Once in New Zealand, they naturally shared it with their confrères.[18]

As had been done with the second group, Colin used the opportunity to send letters to the missionaries. Colin’s letter to Bataillon is a testimony of his deep concern.[19]

Sadly, how long we have to wait before we hear from you. Since you have been left on the islands of Wallis we have heard nothing from you, nor from monsieur Chanel. Console our hearts and use the first occasion to write to us. We pray the Good God for you without ceasing, and we entrust you often into the hands of Mary, your loving mother. Even among the sauvages and in the midst of all sorts of dangers, she will be with you and protect you. Keep yourself tight between her loving hands (serré entre ses benignes mains). Be courageous and full of confidence.

Judging from Servant’s reaction he got a similar letter.[20] and we can assume letters went to the other men. He wrote to Pompallier to tell him among other things that the Propagation of the Faith had given permission to buy a ship.[21]


  1. Written 14 May 1838, LRO, doc. 24, cf. above p. 90.
  2. CS, doc. 52 [1].
  3. CS, doc. 54 [3], cf. above, p. 92.
  4. CS, doc. 62.
  5. CS, doc. 58 [11].
  6. The letter is dated 26.04.39. CS, doc. 63.
  7. As a member of the staff he signed a declaration in favour of de Lamennais against the wishes of Colin and the bishop, cf. OM II, p. 424.
  8. In the beginning he worried a lot about his health and refers to it on nearly every page of the letters he sent during the journey.
  9. A Girard to Alphonse Chevron, brother of Joseph, 14.09.1839, APM, personal file Chevron. Cf. Rozier, S. Pierre Chanel d’après ceux qui l’ont connu, doc. 6.
  10. MM,V, p. 499. Biography of Chevron in Monfat, Les Tonga, pp. 47 - 82.
  11. Keys, op. cit. p. 30.
  12. In the margin of the Mémoires Mayet, Ia, p. 84 - 86, he is described as being not of the brightest: peu de moyens! His fellow curates once sewed the sheets on his bed together to see how he would react: he just slept in a chair! Talking of bishops Denavit wrote to Colin, 26.06.41 (APM, Bataillon, personal file): Ils pensent que la meme charge ne pourrait convenir en aucune façon au Père Viard. Il est trop minutieux et a l’esprit trop embarassé. In 1846 Colin was annoyed when Viard was made a bishop without consultation of the Society. Cf. MM, IV, p. 551.
  13. APM, personal file. Petitjean to Auguste Paillasson, undated letter from Sydney, 1839, APM, 1405/20043.
  14. APM, personal file
  15. Ronzon, FMO, p. 39.
  16. CS, doc. 68. For the first one, of 13.10.36, cf. CS, doc. 4, above p. 32. For the second one, of 02.09.38, cf. CS, doc. 48, above p. 83.
  17. above, p. 91, CS, doc. 52 [6]: puis la cour de Rome, et moi-même je serai le premier à le solliciter, fera de nouvelles nominations d’évêques, qui se partageront le vaste diocèse de M(..)gneur Pompallier.
  18. A few months after their arrival Maxime Petit wrote to Colin: ‘Now that I have heard of your project to have a new apostolic vicariate erected..’, LRO, doc. 56 [1].
  19. Dated 19.05.39, CS, doc. 69. Cf. LRO, doc. 38 [1].
  20. It was dated 21.05.39, Servant to Colin, 05.03.40, LRO, doc. 52 [1].
  21. On 24.05.39, CS, doc. 72 and LRO, doc. 33 [5].

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