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Provicar of Oceania

Pompallier was profoundly touched by the trust Colin put in him. He wrote him four long letters before sailing,[1] and all of them overflow with declarations of loyalty and commitment to the Society of Mary. ‘With the grace of God and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin I shall do my utmost to follow the rule and the spirit of the Society in which you have wanted to grant me a delegation of your authority… I am deeply convinced that we cannot succeed unless the missionaries live as good religious according to the rules and the spirit of their institute’.[2]

Pompallier had been authorized to appoint a provicar in France to be his legal representative. The purpose was to have somebody in the home country, who could receive the subsidies of the Propagation of the Faith and other gifts on behalf of the vicar apostolic, and give an account of their use to the benefactors. The provicar could recruit missionaries, give them faculties and send them to the missions. The superior general of the Picpus Fathers, Father Coudrin, was the provicar of Bishop Rouchouze, and on 5 November Pompallier asked Colin to do the same for him. He left it to Colin to judge whether this is appropriate. If not, he mandated Colin to appoint someone else in his place. He confirmed the arrangement in a formal Latin document, dated 23 November.[3]

If Colin`s misgivings about Pompallier were probably not entirely strange to his decision to make him the religious superior, so Pompallier may have had his own misgivings about Colin. Already the exchange of letters between the two of them did not run smoothly. Not only did Colin not answer every letter he received, he often did not react to things mentioned and he did not acknowledge receipt of letters either, which annoyed Pompallier.[4]

Would Colin actively support the mission? Pompallier fully realized how utterly dependent he would be on the supply of manpower and money from France. So far he himself had sought the men, gone after financial means, made contacts, planned, decided and executed. Even if Colin had wanted to, his involvement would surely have led to friction. Colin had limited himself to the spiritual preparation of the men, but now his role had to change. Somebody in France had to push the cart and who else was in a position to do so but Colin? The example of the Picpus came in useful. ‘Mr. Coudrin, their superior general offered himself to be provicar for Mgr. Rouchouze, and he is in fact. As for me, I gladly offer you this position: to whom else could I entrust it better?’. An echo of Colin’s: ‘For the moment I do not really see anybody but yourself’?[5]

Colin wondered what he was letting himself in for and he asked for a copy of the pertinent Roman document. Pompallier answered it was contained in his general faculties, of which Colin already had a copy. It was later on confirmed in a letter from Cardinal Fransoni. He added that he would notify Propaganda of the appointment, which he did in a letter to Fransoni, sent from Santa Cruz. Although entitled to entrust it to someone else, Colin took it on himself, which made him responsible for the needs of the mission. Apart from helping the mission he also saw it as a means to foster the unity between the missionaries and the other members of the Society.[6]

Asked by Pompallier, Rome had also allowed him to take in priests who did not belong to the Society of Mary, provided people in authority, prefects and pro-prefects were Marists, but Pompallier declared that he did not intend to make use of this faculty.[7]

He let Colin know that he had made a last will in which he left everything to the Society. The will was with a public notary.[8]

From his family estate Pompallier had a regular income of 400 francs a year. He had authorized Father Champagnat to receive it on his behalf and, as he wished to be as much a religious member of the congregation as possible, he arranged that it be used for the benefit of the Society as the superiors saw fit. He would not claim it for the mission except in urgent need.[9]

More harmonious the relations could hardly have been!

Paris again

On the point of departure the money that Cardinal Fransoni had pledged for the mission in Oceania had not arrived. Pompallier had to appeal to the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon to advance him the promised amount. It was Champagnat again whom he authorized to cash the cheque when it would arrive, asking him to refund the association on his behalf.[10] This enabled the bishop to leave on 8 October with the Fathers Servant and Bret and Brother Joseph-Xavier Luzy for Paris, exactly a week later followed by the Fathers Chanel and Bataillon and the Brothers Michel Colomb and Marie-Nizier Delorme.

The Marist missionaries stayed again with the Missions Étrangères de Paris where Pompallier had stayed already in August with Marcellin Champagnat. The hospitality of the superior, Fr. Dubois, and the friendship of the experienced missionaries did them a lot of good.[11]

Twice Pompallier went out to visit the Picpus general house, on 23 and again on 25 October.[12] As he became better acquainted with the Picpus Fathers, he learned of the way these experienced missionaries had organized the support of the mother house for the missions, and Fr. Coudrin who was himself in Paris at the time, assured him that he would gladly communicate with Colin and be of service in forwarding mail and parcels to Oceania.[13] Pompallier was initiated in the art of exchanging currencies in the most profitable way, although he found out later that there were even better ways than he had heard about in Paris.[14]

Pompallier used his time in Paris well. He followed up on earlier visits of French government people and was received by King Louis-Philippe, Queen Marie-Amélie and the King’s sister, Madame Adélaïde d’Orléans. He received important gifts from all of them.[15]

During the period of the Restoration (1815 – 1830) the French government had constantly tried to use the Catholic missions to expand its influence overseas. Anxious to foster a French presence on the increasingly important North-Pacific trade route between California and China, the government had played an active role in getting the Picpus missionaries to go to Hawaii in 1825 - 1827. In 1829 - 1830 the same government had been on the point of giving significant support to de Solages when he was planning to open missions in the Pacific. It had also intended to establish French consulates in various island countries, whereby the political aspects of their plans were carefully left out of the texts presented to Rome.[16]

After the revolution, the July Monarchy (1830 – 1848) initially withdrew official support for projects concerned with colonial expansion in the Pacific. The instructions to naval commanders were to insist with local authorities only that French citizens, whatever their profession, be treated on an equal footing with citizens of other European countries.[17] Still, it did not take long before the old instincts recovered and the French government considered it important to have ‘agents to promote our flag in the Great Ocean’ as the instructions were to a navy vessel parting for the Pacific in 1837.[18] The British and American governments followed similar policies while missionaries of all denominations, on their part, were naturally eager to obtain from their governments whatever help they could get.[19]

Unaware of the political background, or simply disregarding it, and ‘not burdened by unpleasant memories of dealing with French government agencies’, Pompallier saw several representatives of a government that was ‘gradually dropping its anticlerical attitude towards missionaries in whom they saw fine ambassadors of the French spirit and of French culture’.[20] He got important letters of recommendation to French consuls on the west coast of America, and to French naval commanders operating in the Pacific. Not a little naively, he wrote to Colin: ‘The French state shows its deference to the Holy See through its goodwill and its co-operation with the mission’.[21]

The superior of the Irish seminary in Paris gave him a letter of recommendation for Bishop Polding in Sydney and promised to get similar documents from the Foreign Office in London that might come in useful with Methodist ministers in Oceania.[22]

Before leaving Paris Pompallier wrote a graceful letter to Fr. Coudrin to thank him for his help, his support and his friendship.[23]


  1. From Paris 05.11.1836, LRO, 4. From Le Havre 28.11, 08.12, and 24.12, resp. LRO, docs. 7, 8 & 12.
  2. LRO, doc. 4 [3].
  3. LRO, doc. 4 [6 & 7] and doc. 5.
  4. LRO, doc. 8 [1]. Already from Rome: OM I, doc. 398 [1]. Also: LRO, docs. 7 [26] & 8 [20].
  5. LRO, doc. 4 [7]. Cf. Colin to Pompallier, 03.08.1835, above p. 8.
  6. Colin accepted the charge in a letter of 29 November that has not been preserved (cf. Pompallier to Colin, 08.12. 1836, LRO, doc. 8 [2] & [4]; see his answer of the 24th) after receiving another letter from Colin of 9 December that has not been preserved either LRO, doc. 10 [2]. Cf. Colin to Fransoni, 25.05.37, CS, doc. 13 [3].
  7. LRO, doc. 4 [8].
  8. LRO, doc. 4 [9].
  9. LRO, doc. 4 [10].
  10. Pompaller to Champagnat, 07.10.36. LO, Clisby002.
  11. LRO, doc. 4 [2].
  12. H. Lucas, op. cit. p. 260. Also, Anon., Vie du T.R.P. Marie-Joseph Coudrin, p. 612. On Pompallier`s earlier visit in August, cf. above, p. 27.
  13. LRO, doc. 4 [15] & doc. 7 [9].
  14. LRO, doc. 7 [14].
  15. LRO, doc. 4 [13].
  16. Jaspers, op. cit., pp. 150 – 176. 191f.
  17. Jore, L’Océan Pacifique au temps de la Restauration et de la Monarchie de Juillet (1815 – 1848) vol. I, p. 322f.
  18. Jore I, op. cit., p. 187.
  19. Jaspers, op. cit., pp. 176 – 195.
  20. Jaspers, op. cit., p. 191.
  21. LRO, doc. 4 [13].
  22. LRO, doc. 4 [14]. At this time Pompalllier called all Protestants Methodists.
  23. H. Lucas, op. cit., p. 260. Writing to Colin he called Coudrin le bon mr. Coudrin and le vénérable vieillard,cf. LRO, doc. 7 [14]. Coudrin was sixty-eight at the time.

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