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Visiting Futuna

On Wednesday 8 May the Reine de Paix reached Futuna. The rain was so dense that the ship was about to drop anchor before it was seen. The missionaries went ashore near Alo, no less than seven of them! It was the first time, after a year and a half, that Chanel and Nizier received visitors. They were speechless, ‘a joy beyond expression’, as Chanel put it.[1]

They got colourful ribbons out of the boxes on the ship and decorated a corner of Niuliki’s house to use as a chapel. Next day, Ascension, was celebrated by five Masses, said by each in succession. The last of the five was a solemn High Mass, to the accompaniment of a small organ donated by a kind lady in Lyon.[2] Bataillon presided and gave the sermon in Wallisian. No wonder a large number of Futunans attended, as did Niuliki himself, and they behaved in a most respectful manner.

The missionaries’ house had not yet been rebuilt after the last cyclone but they were both in good health. The unexpected arrival of four priests and three brothers, and on a ship of their own, made a similar impression on Futuna as it had done on Wallis. It undid the damage that the missionaries’ credibility had suffered by the broken promise of Pompallier.[3]

While Br. Marie-Nizier was admired by the newcomers for his fluency in the Futunan language,[4] they found Chanel – to his own frustration - still struggling. Bataillon commented later on to Colin that due to the constant warfare on Futuna, Chanel had not had much opportunity to devote himself to study of the language.[5] Very kind of him, but not true. Even in times of war, Chanel was in daily intensive contact with the people and, as his diary shows, he devoted nearly every day several hours to language study.[6]

For both of them there were gift parcels and letters but these were exciting days and most letters were put aside for later perusal. Two letters Peter Chanel answered immediately. His mother’s letter would have confirmed what the confreres had already told him, i.e., that his sister Françoise had died on 24 April 1838. He wrote to mother immediately and gave the letter to be taken to New Zealand for mailing.[7] Because Françoise had been the beneficiary under his former will, he now made another will, and, on Colin’s request he made out a document granting somebody power of attorney.[8]

On Thursday 16 May, three days before the schooner sailed for New Zealand, he took time to write to Colin. That Colin’s letter to Chanel was in the same spirit as the one to Bataillon[9] seems clear from the reaction:
‘Accept, my very reverend father, our sincere feelings of thanks for the wise advice that you have been so good to give. May it bear fruit in our hearts! Please have the kindness not to deprive us of your good counsels.’[10]

The visitors walked all over the island, visited all the spots and were received by several chiefs. They learned to drink kava and were entertained by dancing groups of men and women well into the nights. It so happened that just these days Peter Chanel said Mass for the first time in Singave, with Claude Baty and Maxime Petit in attendance.

The Wallisians who had come with Bataillon became unruly and wanted to return. To the annoyance of Chanel the Wallisian chief Tuugahala used his time well by obtaining another wife from Singave. The Futunan people too were anxious to see the Wallisians depart, but all the time Futuna was lashed by unseasonable strong northerly winds and constant rain. On Saturday returning to Wallis became impossible when the wind veered to the north-east.[11]

The missionaries gathered for a council meeting on their ship. The north-easterly was just right for a fast sail towards New Zealand so the new missionaries decided to leave. Bataillon would wait on Futuna for another occasion to return home. It possibly was when Chanel and Nizier handed the others their mail, that they discussed the difficulties with Pompallier, especially his insistence that all letters, even those to the superior general, should pass unsealed through his hands. Most likely the new missionaries also heard of his officious behaviour in Valparaiso and of his tantrum in Tonga. From later events we can conclude that they decided not to make an issue of it. They also agreed that some of the new men should come back to Wallis and Futuna, and they – rather imprudently - promised that the ship would soon return.[12] They sealed their resolutions with a fraternal drink.[13]

Petit had decorated the make-shift chapel, using, among other things, a beautifully embroidered robe of Our Lady of Fourvière, that had the Futunans rush in for an admiring look. Next morning, 19 May 1839, Pentecost Sunday, all five priests said Mass, the first one a solemn High Mass, with singing and organ. While the ship was readied they had breakfast together on board. Chanel gave Maxime Petit some rare shells to be sent to his friend Bourdin. Bataillon made final additions to a lengthy report on Wallis for Fr. Colin. Then, they embraced – le baiser fraternel – and Chanel, Marie-Nizier and Bataillon went ashore, the anchor was lifted and the ship sailed off, direction New Zealand. The three looked at the sails dropping behind the horizon, expecting it to return soon.[14]


  1. EC, doc. 45 [1], un plaisir indicible. The visit of the missionaries is described by Chanel in his letter to Colin of 16 May, cf. EC, doc. 45, in his diary, pp. 430 – 434 (from 08.05 to 19.05) and by Bataillon writing to Colin later, LRO, doc. 38 [3 & 4].
  2. The organ was a gift for Chanel and stayed in Futuna (CE, p. 435, 22.05.39; p. 480, 15.12.39). There is also mention of an accordion, but it is not clear whether this refers to the organ or to a second instrument. Chanel knew how to play it. Marie-Nizier, much later, denies that there ever was an organ on Futuna, but that is a lapse of memory, cf. EC, p. 434, n. 5. To Pompallier’s annoyance it did not go to New Zealand, LRO, doc. 37 [8].
  3. EC, doc. 45 [6].
  4. Ronzon, FMO, p. 30.
  5. LRO, doc. 38 [4]. He must have said the same to the newcomers. Baty repeats the remark, LRO, doc. 32 [1].
  6. A few years later Fr. Chevron wrote to Colin that when one is over thirty, the exhausting climate affects one’s ability to learn another language (LRO, doc. 126 [4]). Rozier rightly points out the weakness of the argument. We must simply accept that Chanel was one of those people who even with a good passive knowledge of a foreign language (and Chanel did understand Futunan very well) just cannot get themselves to start speaking it. Cf. EC, p. 230, n. 6.
  7. Pompallier put the letters from Wallis and Futuna together with his own of 18.08.39 on a French whaler, the Pallas, that was not to reach France until thirteen months later. The mail was forwarded from Le Havre on 24.09.40. Chanel’s mother never got her son’s letter. She died on 13 September 1840. Neither her letter, nor Peter’s answer have been found. Cf. CS, doc. 200 [1].
  8. EC, docs. 43 & 44.
  9. Cf. above, p. 82, CS, doc. 44.
  10. EC, doc. 45 [7].
  11. Wallis lies north-east of Futuna.
  12. For the promise to send the ship back soon, cf. LRO doc. 55 [10].
  13. EC, p. 433f, 18.05: on boit la goutte pour fortifier la decision prise.
  14. EC, p. 434, 20.05 : en attendant ceux qui reviendront partager nos travaux. On the way to New Zealand the shells were washed overboard! Cf. LRO, doc. 48 [6].

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