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Chapter eight : 1840-1 Wave after wave

A series of waves,

each one breaking upon the coral ringed shores of the South Seas,

each one overtaken by the next before its energy is quite spent

J.W. Davidson

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The fourth group

The second group of missionaries, Baty and companions, left France in September 1838, circling the globe in westerly direction, around Cape Horn. Letters sent in January 1839 from Valparaiso reached France in April.[1] The same month Baty wrote from Tahiti and that letter reached Colin in November.[2] The missionaries landed in New Zealand in June, 1839, but this was not yet known to Father Jean-Claude Colin by the beginning of 1840, where this chapter picks up the interlocking stories in France, in New Zealand, in Wallis and Futuna and on the high seas.

The third group, Petitjean and companions, left in June 1839, via London, eastwards around the Cape of Good Hope. Letters sent in July from Cape Verde reached France in December.[3] By that time they themselves had reached New Zealand, but news of their arrival did not reach France until many months later. Early 1840, three full years after the first departure, the superior general knew of only the first group that they had reached Wallis, Futuna and New Zealand. Understandably, he was inclined to put off further departures.

However, the work of Victor Poupinel was bearing fruit. On 16 September 1839, Mgr. Raphaël Bonamie, superior general of the Picpus Fathers, wrote to Colin to let him know that a naval vessel was preparing to leave for New Zealand from Brest.[4] On 16 December 1839, Nicolas Soult, minister of foreign affairs and president of the cabinet in Paris, offered free passage for four missionaries on the supply ship the Aube, going directly to New Zealand.[5] As the news got around, a few older priests in Belley volunteered, but Colin did not release them: ‘As a good pater familias, I have to look after the continuity of the family. If I let the senior members leave, what would become of the house, of me, and of the Society?’[6] Colin assigned two priests who had recently joined in order to go the missions and Champagnat selected two Brothers.

Poupinel composed a gracious and substantial letter of thanks to the minister. While reminding him that their first purpose was to work for the salvation of souls, he wrote, the missionaries retain a great love for their mother country and will in that spirit always promote the good of France. As the Aube was sent out in the context of the planned French settlement on the South Island of New Zealand, for which a royal commissioner was being appointed, the letter assured the minister that the missionaries would always conform to what the royal commissioner determined for the good order, the policing and the governance of the French settlements. ‘Great respect for the law is the spirit that will guide us everywhere, and I am sure that our missionaries will recommend submission and good order to all people by their example and their influence’.[7]

Who were they?

On 23 May 1839, Jean Pezant, a twenty-eight year old priest of the diocese of Clermont, took the coach at Clermont and found there were two older priests already on board: Jean-Claude Colin and Etienne Séon. The two had left Lyon after seeing off Viard and Petitjean leaving Lyon for Paris, London and Oceania,[8] and were on their way to Bordeaux and Angoulême where two Marist priests had become informally involved in a parish.[9] Pezant had been dreaming of the foreign missions but his parish priest strongly opposed it. He got into a conversation with Séon: Pezant talking of his dreams, Séon telling him about the missionaries who had just left. Pezant asked if he could enter the Society and Séon referred him to the older man in the company, Colin, who had kept quiet until then. Whatever Séon and Colin told him of the Society of Mary and its Oceania missions, Jean Pezant immediately knew where his vocation lay. His parish priest acknowledged the workings of Providence and Pezant entered the novitiate. He was assigned to the missions, professed on 7 January and appointed superior of the group.[10]

Jean-André Tripe had already been in charge of a parish in his diocese of Fréjus (Var) when he joined the Society. Later on he claimed that he never had the intention of committing himself permanently to the mission. He was somewhat older, had the habits of a settled parish priest and was rather set in his ways. Colin later described him as: ‘full of virtue, but hot-headed, a man from the South’.[11] It did not stop Colin from accepting him for the Society. After a short novitiate he was appointed to the Oceania mission.

Brother Claude-Marie (Jean-Claude) Bertrand. Born in 1814, in Saint-Sauveur-en-Rue (Loire), he was a second cousin to Champagnat. As a boy he wanted to be a priest and began seminary studies but had to abandon them to help his mother run the family shop when his father died. He entered the Hermitage in 1835 and made perpetual profession on 10 October 1836. He was a well educated man, a qualified teacher and was in charge of an orphanage at Saint-Chamond when he was appointed to Oceania).[12]

Brother Amon (Claude) Duperron, was born 1811 in Chauffailes (Saône-et-Loire). He entered the Hermitage in 1837 and, probably without a period of temporary vows, made perpetual profession on 10 October 1838. He later said he only entered religious life to avoid having to marry a rich girl instead of the poorer one he was in love with. Whatever the truth of that statement - possibly an excuse for his later behaviour – he was accepted for profession and selected for the foreign missions.[13]


  1. CS, doc. 63.
  2. CS, doc. 101.
  3. CS, doc. 114 [6].
  4. Bonamie to Colin, 16.09.39, APM 2231/10449.
  5. CS, doc. 119 [1].
  6. CS, doc. 130 [3].
  7. CS, doc. 119 [4].
  8. Cf. above, p. 135.
  9. Cf. J. Coste, The Chanut Case, FN, 10 (2008), p. 373.
  10. CS I, p. 123, n.1. The meeting with Colin in the coach left a lasting impression on Pezant, he mentioned it in a letter during the voyage to Oceania, Pezant to Colin 30.01.40, APM, 1405/20047, and again, thirty-three years later, 22.07.1873, APM, personal file.
  11. ‘habitudes de curé’, ‘ pas très docile’, ’Tripe to Poupinel, 01-08-44, APM, personal file. MM S1, 24*.
  12. FMO, pp. 41 – 45.
  13. FMO, p. 60, LC I, doc. 318.

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