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Chapter two : Launching the mission

Printer-friendly version of Chapter Two

No lack of volunteers

As told above, Pompallier, immediately after his first interview with Pastre, in July 1835, rushed to consult his fellow Marists in Valbenoîte. He probably went to Saint Chamond and the Hermitage as well. On his return to Lyon Pastre could write to Cardinal Fransoni that five missionaries would in his view be enough for the first team. Evidently, five had already presented themselves: probably Bret, Forest and Chavas in Valbenoîte and Servant in the Hermitage. Bret and Servant would in fact leave in the first group for Oceania. Forest was to leave at a later stage. Chavas went many years later to Louisiana.

Although the pontifical approval of the Society was promised in January and issued in March, the priests were until their profession in September under the authority of their respective bishops, and needed to be appointed by them. In Lyon, the appointments were arranged by vicar general Cholleton.[1] In Belley Colin himself would deal with Bishop Devie. After 10 February Pompallier began lining up the men. He again went to Valbenoîte and came away with the assurance that Claude Bret would indeed be available.[2] He found out that Servant was ready to sign on. He asked Champagnat to have him apply formally to Cholleton.[3]

Champagnat had agreed to the participation of the Brothers. Pompallier asked him to propose three or four of them, out of whom they could together choose two. The formal appointment could then be finalized between the archbishop, being their ecclesiastical superior, and Colin, whom Champagnat considered to be their religious superior.[4] There was great enthusiasm among the Brothers. Luzy wrote a few months later: ‘There would have been more than a hundred from the Hermitage but for the superior saying: don’t push me; nobody goes unless I choose him’.[5] In other words, Champagnat reserved the right to choose whom he considered suitable. He seems to have taken his time, because on 11 April Colin had to urge him on.[6]

In the meantime Cholleton had approached Pierre Bataillon, a diocesan priest of Lyon without Marist connections so far, who at the time of his ordination in December 1835 had expressed a desire to devote his life to the foreign missions.[7]

That Colin was somehow involved in the selections is clear from the fact that he kept back Jean Forest.[8] In Belley Colin would have had even more of a say. There he turned down Jean-Claude Deschamps, because, when he asked Colin to be sent to Oceania, he insisted on an answer within eight days. Enough for Colin to answer: ‘Well, in that case, you will not go at all’.[9] In the choice of the Brothers too Colin was involved. We know that, in the case of Brother Marie-Nizier Delorme, Colin warned there could be problems because of the fact that Marie-Nizier was not yet of age.[10]

On 12 May 1836, Jean-Baptiste Pompallier left Lyon for Rome to be consecrated a bishop. On 25 May Colin wrote to him that the official brief Omnium Gentium by which the Society was officially approved had arrived. He asked him to express the Society’s gratitude to the dignitaries concerned. He admits having alluded to Pompallier’s appointment to Cardinal Castracane (evidently in a letter that we do not have), but without trying to prevent this burden being put on him.‘You should submit to what Providence has ordered for you’. He adds: ‘The companions of your mission are doing their best to prepare themselves’, implying that the appointments at least of the priests were finalized. Answering on 9 June, Pompallier wrote to Colin that he is looking forward to hearing more news from him, and from the confreres.[11] The appointments of Chanel and Bret (both of the diocese of Belley) are first mentioned in correspondence of May. Cholleton in a letter to Pompallier in Rome on 24 June wrote that four priests are appointed and preparing themselves.[12]

While in Rome, he received many letters from France and on 16 July, after his consecration, he could write: ‘How are things with my four missionaries and the two brothers?’.[13] Evidently, their appointments had been communicated to Pompallier. We do not know how. On 22 July Peter Chanel could write to a friend that the news of his departure for Polynesia would soon be all over the place.[14]

Around that time a third Brother (from Belley) had been added to the group.


  1. OM I, doc. 370 [4].
  2. OM II, doc. 732 [12] & n. 1.
  3. OM I, doc. 370 [4].
  4. OM I, doc. 370 [4]. For Champagnat the priests and the Brothers were members of the same congregation and thus to be sent as members of the same team, sent out by the same Society, cf. Sester, Lettres de Marcellin J.B. Champagnat (LC), doc. 65: ‘nous envoyons cinq de nos prêtres et deux de nos frères’. Canonically Colin had no say over the Brothers, not before and not after the papal approbation of the priests’ branch. His position towards them was ambiguous and he was not always careful with the limits of his authority, which led to some painful situations, cf. below, p. 76, and CS, docs. 58 [5] & 60.
  5. Lettres Luzy (LL), Luzy to his parents, 08.10.36. Also, Marie-Nizier to the Brothers in the Hermitage, 10.10.39, LO, Clisby 012 [5] .
  6. OM I, doc. 380.
  7. OM I, doc. 372.
  8. FS, doc. 172 [14]. cf. OM IV, pp. 282f.
  9. Kerr, op. cit. p. 299 n. 13. Kerr and the Origines Maristes (OM IV, pp. 264 f.) may be right in thinking that this refusal refers to a later date. In any case, Deschamps did not join the Marist retreat and he was not professed with the other priests in September, but writing from Valparaiso in July, Chanel believed that he was at the Capucinière, cf. Rozier, Écrits de S. Pierre Chanel (EC), doc. 37 [13]. In March 1837 he was preaching parish missions as a prêtre mariste, cf. Greiler, Colin Studies II, p. 57.
  10. Bataillon to Colin, 25-10-36, LRO, doc. 3 [5] ‘suivant votre prévision’.
  11. CS, doc. 2 [7]. OM I, doc. 395 [9]. Champagnat, 08-05-1836, speaks of two Brothers, LC, doc. 65.
  12. CS, doc. 3 [1]. EC, p. 75, and, quoting from Bourdin, p. 316.
  13. OM I, doc. 398 [8].
  14. EC, doc. 15 [3].

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