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Rome on the move

Rome may have been silent, it had not been inactive. De Pins’ letter of 20 November had allowed Fransoni to take formal steps. A lengthy report on the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts (Picpus) in the Eastern Pacific had already been drawn up for the meeting of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fid'e that was held on 23 December 1835. Using letters from those missionaries of as recently as April 1835 the report went into great detail on what had been achieved, on the enormous problems of distance and travelling and on the resistance the missionaries had encountered. That resistance, the report said, is mostly instigated by the Methodists, who were already well established on the main islands. The report gives high praise to the courageous missionaries.[1]

The document mentioned that the Picpus missionaries and their Vicar Apostolic, Mgr. Rouchouze, wanted their mission territory to be extended, so that they could move to islands further to the West in case they were forced to abandon the islands on which they were holding only a precarious foothold. This is what Rouchouze had already asked for before he left for the Pacific. Propaganda had turned the request down at that time, and it was not likely to come back on its decision now. Father Coudrin, their founder and superior general, opposed it as well. He feared to become overextended.[2]

At the end of the report two paragraphs were added, evidently in haste, and badly researched.
  • The paragraphs mention the Society of Mary (una Società detta dei Maristi) as being able and willing to take up the new mission and to ensure continuity.
  • The report recommends the Society by saying it already had received a Breve Laudatorio, which technically was not correct.[3]
  • The superior is said to be a Signor Colai!
  • The Society is said to differ little from the Jesuits whose organization and rules they follow (a simple quote from Pastre's letter).
  • An application for pontifical approval of the Society is said to be pending in Rome, waiting to be acted upon. Again a quote, this time from Archbishop de Pins. Documents from the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Religious would have shown that in fact the application for approval had been turned down the year before but had then been withdrawn before the refusal was executed in an official document. Evidently, communications between Roman departments was not always of the best.
  • Finally, not knowing that Trinchant in the meantime had died, the report recommends that the agent of the Society in Rome (mentioned in Colin’s letter) take up the matter of the approval with the appropriate Congregation.

The report also notes that the name of the key figure among the Marists whom Pastre had dealt with, had so far been withheld.

As customary, the Relator then formulates the questions upon which the Sacred Congregation is expected to come to a decision.
  • The first question to the Congregation was, should the vicariate of Eastern Oceania be extended or should a new vicariate be established for Western Oceania? The Congregation opted for a new vicariate.
  • The next question was to whom the new vicariate should be entrusted. The cardinals decided to entrust this vicariate to ‘the priests of the Congregatio Mariana of Lyon and Belley’.

To encourage the superior of the said Congregatio Mariana to accept, he would be given good hope to obtain the pontifical approbation that, it is said, the archbishop in Lyon as well as Pastre had recommended (which de Pins had not, at least not yet!).

Cardinal Castracane, who presented the case of the new mission, apparently recalled now that this was the same group he had dealt with in 1833 and 1834 in the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars. It had then asked for the approval of a society with four branches under a single superior. ‘Madness’, un delirio, he had called it. Colin’s letter to Pompallier that Pastre had added to the documentation, and that wanted to include the Brothers, probably alerted him. But nothing would change his mind: approval would be for the priests only.[4]

On 2 January 1836 Castracane informed Mgr. Mai, the secretary of Propaganda, of the decisions taken. This time the staff had done their homework. Castracane now explicitly referred to the Summarium Regularum Societatis Mariae presented for approbation in December 1833, recalling that approbation at that time had been asked for a Society comprising priests, teaching brothers and sisters, all under one superior. He again specified that the prospect of approbation be proposed only for the congregation of priests.[5]

One other matter to be defined were the boundaries of the new vicariate. The eastern boundary was where the Picpus mandate, including what today are the Cook Islands, ended. To the west it had to cover all the islands as far as, and including, New Zealand. To the north the new vicariate included the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides (today Vanuatu) and was supposed to go as far as what today are the Marshall Islands, ‘until they meet up with the few Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish missionaries who could be in the Marianas, the Caroline Islands and the Moluccan Islands’. At that point, and not for the first time, Propaganda was getting lost on the oceans, creating a confusion that was to last for years as to the exact boundaries of this huge vicariate of ‘approximately 8,000 kilometers long from east to west and just as long from north to south’.[6]


  1. OM I, doc. 352
  2. Jaspers, Die Missionarische Erschliessung Ozeaniens, p. 184; Wiltgen, op. cit. pp. 95 – 97.
  3. OM I, doc. 352. The reference to the Breve Laudatorio must refer to the letter of Pius VII of 9 March 1822, although this was technically not a Breve. Cf. OM I, 74, and OM IV, p. 500, note ad p. 809.
  4. OM I, doc. 352.
  5. OM I, doc. 355
  6. These details are known from the relatio by Mgr. Mai for the Pope, OM I, 356 [3]. Propaganda had just invested in a huge new six-volume atlas, published in Brussels in 1827 (cf. Wiltgen, op. cit. p. 46). All the same, the writers of the different reports and decrees do not always seem to be well informed of the geography of those distant regions nor of what was happening out there. The same thing had happened in the late twenties when fantastic plans were worked out by de Solages and Peter Dillon to start a mission from Réunion in the Western Indian Ocean to Easter Island in the Eastern Pacific! Cf. Jaspers, op. cit. pp. 161 – 176, esp. p. 169 and further p. 181, n. 32; Wiltgen, op. cit. p. 126 & OM I, doc. 387 with note 1.

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