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Paying a visit to Canon Jean Pastre

The same day Colin went with Cholleton to see Pastre who showed him the letter he had received from the Cardinal. Together they drafted the answer that Pastre wrote and signed.[1]

The Marist superior, writes Pastre, is determined to continue along the direction taken (in sua propositione constans). He will give full support to what has been agreed between Propaganda and the archbishop. In other words, Colin understands and accepts that so far dealings were between Fransoni and de Pins, but also intimates that he now takes over: the superior will let the Bishop know of five priests and two brothers for the mission.

In a few days, he has Pastre write, the Bishop will let you know which of the priests should, in his judgment (!), be in charge of the mission in Western Oceania. Once Cholleton had proposed Pompallier to Pastre, and Pastre had judged him eminently suitable, the appointment of Pompallier was a foregone conclusion. Naturally de Pins would also want to actually propose him. Colin steps back to let the archbishop take the honours. He there-by skilfully evades taking responsibility for something he does not support but can do nothing to stop. By having Pastre insert it, but not mentioning it in his own letter, he also carefully avoids waiving his right to propose a candidate.[2]

From the day, in July 1835, that Pastre had approached Cholleton outside the cathedral, he had been anxious to propose to Propaganda someone to take his place as head of the mission in the Western Pacific. For seven months he had been kept back. This was his hour. Colin had no reason to stop him from doing what in fact was stealing a march on the archbishop. Cholleton may have tried. In vain. In any case, Pastre writes: ‘Monsieur Pompallier is the man I have in confidence spoken to from the beginning’. Colin will have held his breath at the eulogy that followed: ‘a man of godly science, prudence and zeal for the salvation of souls’ (hominem Dei scientia, prudentia et zelo animarum). Science and zeal, certainly. But prudence?

Forging the iron while it was hot, Colin had Pastre add that Pompallier would not desire anything more than that the priests of the congregation be approved and allowed to elect a superior general before departing, which, as we know, indeed was very much in Pompallier’s mind.

Vicar General Cholleton, Pastre adds, is looking after the expenses and I am getting further information about the route around Cape Horn. It must somehow have become clear to him that this was the route that Propaganda wanted.

Pushing his own role in the proceedings he adds - in a footnote that looks as if it is thrown in after the two visitors left: ‘I hope to send the chosen one (electum) to Rome’: Pastre still feels he is running the show.

A personal appeal

Not satisfied with the appeal to Fransoni, Colin sent a letter, on the same 10 February, also to Cardinal Castracane, who was a member of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars as well as of Propaganda. In spite of his rude rejection of Colin’s project of a Society consisting of priests, men and women religious and laity, the two had become friends and Colin had a lot of confidence in him. Colin probably did not know that Castracane had been the relator at the meeting of the Propaganda. He tried a personal appeal.

Referring to the letter of Fransoni he tells Castracane that the priests of the Society are ready to accept the offer of Oceania with joy and gratitude. It is one of the aims of their Society.

Their joy would be incomplete, he writes, if they did not receive from the Holy See the brief they were still expecting (que nous osons toujours solliciter) allowing them to be united by religious vows. He refers the Cardinal to the statutes he had presented two years before, which the Cardinal can amend as he sees fit. This time, remembering the negative reactions he had received in Rome two years earlier, he adds, we ask for a brief of approval for the priests of the Society alone. For the good of the mission, says Colin, and before missionaries can depart, their Society that today is still subject to two bishops, and has only a provisional superior, urgently needs a superior general recognised by both bishops. And this, he says, cannot be achieved without an answer from the Holy See.[3]

The appeal was no longer necessary. The crucial letter of Cardinal Sala arrived shortly after Colin’s return to Belley.

Getting into action

Colin`s day with Cholleton, the chance to talk with Pompallier, the visit to Pastre and, probably the visit to Archbishop de Pins, allowed them all to compare notes and to become clear about the steps to be taken next. Colin left it mostly to Cholleton and Pompallier to finalize the selection and the assignment of the priests in Lyon.[4]

No sooner had Colin`s letter, accepting the mission on behalf of the Society, and Pastre`s letter mentioning him for the leadership position, been dispatched to Rome, than Pompallier openly began acting as the chef de mission. He again rushed to visit the Marists at Valbenoîte. There he saw to his great satisfaction that with the prospects of the new mission and the promise of speedy pontifical approval, the doubts about the future of the Society had melted away. All eyes were now on things to come.[5]

Back in Lyon, at the urging of Cholleton, Pompallier could write to Champagnat that feelings in Valbenoîte had improved and that doubts about the future of the Society had disappeared. He expected two or at least one man to volunteer for Oceania. He asked Fr. Catherin Servant (in the Hermitage), who must have made his intentions known earlier, to put in a formal application to the vicar general, Cholleton.

Taking over the broader perspective introduced by Colin, Pompallier asked Champagnat to think of three or four Brothers from whom two could be selected for the first group to leave for Oceania.

In the same letter Pompallier informed Champagnat that a letter of Cardinal Sala, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars, and competent to deal with the approval of religious orders, had reached Archbishop de Pins. Not unwilling to get the credit for a success, Pompallier is elated, that he had taken the challenge right from the beginning and drawn the Society into this mission, knowing all the time it would assure the approbation everyone had been anxious about for so long.[6]


  1. OM I, 369. Apart from the style and the presentation of Pompallier, we can recognise Colin`s hand in the wording ‘the priests of the Congregation’ instead of the ‘congregation of the priests’ as Fransoni put it to Pastre: erectionem Congregationis Presbyterorum.
  2. According to the editors of Origines Maristes (OM I, p. 844, n.2) it was up to Archbishop de Pins to propose to Propaganda a candidate for the leadership position, in fact for the person to become the vicar apostolic. This is a misunderstanding. Admittedly, it was Fransoni’s own unusual approach that had aggravated the ambiguous situation in which not only Colin, but also de Pins and Pastre found themselves. By asking Pastre to propose someone for the mission, he had indirectly given him (and hence de Pins) the opportunity to propose a vicar apostolic, thereby infringing upon the privileged position of the superior general. The mission was entrusted to the Society of Mary on 10 January, conditional on Colin’s acceptance. Cf. below, excursus A: ‘The ius commissionis and the diarchy’, p. 43f.
  3. OM I, doc. 367.
  4. As is clear from the fact that Pompallier asked Servant to apply formally to Cholleton, OM I, doc. 370 [4].
  5. Cf. above, p. 11. OM I, doc. 370 [2].
  6. OM I, doc. 370 [3].

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