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Missed opportunities?

When Tripe and Pezant passed through Paris they heard that an organization in England promoting emigration to New Zealand, offered free passage to Catholic missionaries. Tripe told Colin[1] and two weeks later Colin wrote to Bishop Thomas Griffiths, vicar apostolic of London, to find out if there was any truth in the story.[2] Heptonstall, who answered on his behalf, had to disappoint Colin. Free passage was allowed only if Catholic priests accompanied Catholic migrants.[3]

Poupinel’s attempts to correspond with Heptonstall in English had given the English Benedictine the impression that, in view especially of their missions in the Pacific, the Society would be interested in having Marists learn English. He used his letter to Colin to offer a place for a Marist in the Benedictine college of Downside that was looking for a French teacher. In his answer Colin ignored the opportunity this opened up for the Society. He focused simply on the service he might have rendered to the Benedictines, but, unfortunately… ‘if one day our numbers increase, I would gladly help you with two priests’. Moreover, he adds, the rule forbids putting a man by himself.[4] It was evidently more important for the English to learn French than for the French to learn English.

Two months later, Heptonstall tried again. He offered to send a Benedictine monk to Lyon to teach English and learn French at the same time. Meanwhile an enquiry had come in from two English seminarians who might be interested in joining the Society of Mary: reason enough for the Marists to turn down Heptonstall’s second offer. The seminarians did not come and nothing further was done.[5]

A few months later Colin received a letter from Petitjean, who had become acquainted in Sydney with John Joseph Therry, an Irish priest working in Hobart. Therry had met with Captain Dumont d’Urville and offered him in writing 20 acres of land he owned 25 miles from Sydney with a good anchorage, and a fund of £100 to build a college to train mission workers for the Pacific. Perhaps he wrote, the French nation would support the project and find religious to staff the college. He sent Petitjean a copy and, as Therry intended him to, Petitjean forwarded it on 24 February to Colin for him and for the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon.[6]

Nothing ever came of any of these projects. Although the Society was engaged in a part of the world where, at that time, English was the only lingua franca, as Pompallier had repeatedly pointed out, the full importance of learning that language had not become clear to Colin. He even used the commitment to Oceania – the main reason for promoting English in the first place - as an excuse for not accepting the Benedictine offer! A few years earlier Colin he had spoken with great vision: ‘The whole world must be Marist’, but when windows opened up, all he had to say was: ‘We have all more than enough to occupy ourselves, without looking for other work’. [7] We can only observe that the Society missed out on several promising opportunities, in England, and in Australia.

Sailors and a stowaway from Oceania

In May the local paper of Le Hâvre carried a story of three native New Zealanders (the name Maori had not yet become familiar in France) who had arrived on the whaler Albatros. The national paper l’Univers took up their cause and reminded its readers of what had happened a few years earlier when two sailors from the same country had been whisked away to England by representatives of the Methodist missionary agency. Why does our government not do something? Does France not have its own missionaries in New Zealand? ‘In Lyon we have the head-house of the French missionaries who sent Mgr. Pompallier to New Zealand. What better way to make them look with favour on our compatriots than to give them the faith of France: Monsieur Colin, the superior general of the Marists would surely open his house for them and convert them while they are here’.

Éveillard and Meynis both wrote to Colin the same day (the Marists only read l’Ami de la Religion). Colin, or perhaps Poupinel, jumped into action, letters went to Vigneti in Paris, to Franques in Le Hâvre and to Langlois, the superior of the Missions Étrangères, in Paris, offering to take in the three Polynesians and look after them. However, in the meantime Franques had found out the three were not from New Zealand at all! Two were Hawaiians, one was from the Tuamotu Islands, countries where the Picpus Fathers were active. The last one had fled his island because the Protestant missionaries forced him to dive for fish every day. He had hidden on a French ship in order to get to France and become a Catholic! Once in port, the captain had just put them ashore and left them to fend for themselves. Franques had contacted the secretary of the Propagation of the Faith in Paris, presumably to alert the Picpus Fathers. What became of the three Polynesians we do not know.[8]


  1. CS, doc. 134 [4].
  2. CS, doc. 138.
  3. CS, p. 237, n.1.
  4. In a Benedictine monastery! CS, doc. 153.
  5. Heptonstall to Colin, 13.06.40. APM, 2276/11652. CS, doc. 178.
  6. Petitjean to Colin, 24.02.40, LRO, doc. 50. Therry mentioned the Jesuits as a possibility. Still, in spite of the fact that he knew the Society of Mary had no English speaking members yet, he must have had the Marists in mind as well. Otherwise, why send it to Petitjean? Therry remained a friend of the Marists. Later he tried to give the Marists a property in Sydney. Cf. Hosie, op. cit. pp. 17, 34, 49f.
  7. FS, doc. 2. CS, doc. 153 [2].
  8. CS, docs. 161, 162, 163, 165, 166, 168 & 169.

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