From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

Le Havre

From Paris, the Fathers Chanel and Bataillon and Brother Marie Nizier Delorme were the first to leave for Rouen, where they stayed at the seminary, run by the Picpus Fathers. The bursar looked after them well and made them visit the town, the church of Saint-Ouen and the Place du Marché where Jeanne d’Arc had been burned at the stake. On 26 October they continued to Le Havre, where they arrived the 27th. The next day arrived the four Picpus missionaries who were to travel on the same ship: the Fathers Emmanuel Coste and Louis de Gonzague Borgella, the subdeacon Potentien Guilmard and Brother Bessarion Delon.[1]

Bishop Pompallier, accompanied by Claude Bret and Brother Joseph-Xavier Luzy also stopped at Rouen. While his companions visited the local churches, Pompallier went to see the Archbishop, the Prince Cardinal De Croy, Grand Almoner of France. This high dignitary and long-time promotor, in fact co-founder, of the Propagation of the Faith,[2] had been involved in the early planning of the missions to the South Pacific in 1829 under de Solages and in getting the government to support it (nothing had come of it).[3] Father Coudrin had been the Cardinal Archbishop’s vicar general,[4] and he was asking for faculties for his missionaries leaving through Le Havre which fell within the boundaries of the archdiocese of Rouen. The Marists too received faculties for the duration of their stay. Pompallier’s visit to a highly political figure like the Prince Cardinal can only have helped his attempts to get government support for the new mission, especially as de Croy had been involved also in the founding of the new Picpus mission in South-Eastern Oceania in 1833.[5] Pompallier will have come away with extensive information on many things, especially on the political background of the government supporting missions. Remarkably, he does not mention this visit in his otherwise detailed letters to Colin from Le Havre.

Pompallier and his two companions reached Le Havre on 13 November. Fr. Servant and Brother Michel followed on the 14th. They then had to wait for a favourable wind, which allowed those who had not done so yet, to make their last wills.[6] Everyone had time to catch up on correspondence. Marie-Nizier wrote a letter to Champagnat that was circulated in the Brothers’ communities.[7] They were a happy group, happy as butterflies, in Chanel’s words, gaies comme des papillons.[8]

They were impressed with the ship, a 329 ton schooner with three tall masts ‘as high as the eye can see’, as Nizier put it. Pompallier wrote to Miolano, one of the vicars general of Lyon, the honorary president of the Society for the Propagation of the faith: ‘The Delphine is an excellent sailing ship that has already done several voyages to Valparaiso. The captain is known as an able and experienced man. He has successfully been sailing the oceans for more than thirty years.’ According to Luzy the Delphine measured 100 feet long, 30 feet wide 18 to 20 feet high, drawing 14 feet of water.[9] They saw their luggage loaded: eighty cases of it, containing besides personal effects, things for the liturgy, books, bolts of cloth, lots of clothing, agricultural and carpentry tools, plant material and all kinds of seeds. They shared cabins but had a special place to pray and say Mass.[10]

Pompallier used the delay to rush back to Paris to take care of some last-minute business and used the leisure time also to put a little order in his bookkeeping, of which he made a detailed report to Colin. Expenses and provisions had cost much more than foreseen. The initial costs of the mission had been estimated at 40.000 francs. In fact they had received about 70.000 francs, but after buying all the goods and the tools they might need, and paying the fare to Valparaiso they had only 22.000 left. Barely enough to get to their destination, and leaving nothing to live on once they would get there. For the future, Pompallier admitted he could only trust in Divine Providence. He rightly worried how they would manage in places where literally everything had to be built up out of nothing. He urged Colin to have the Propagation of the Faith send money ahead to Valparaiso.[11] Colin took no action.

They were lucky enough to lodge free of charge with a rich widow, Mme Dodard, ‘A modern Tabitha’, as Servant called her. She took in the eight Marists, the four Picpus missionaries and a group of Jesuits with Bishop Blanc!. The Sisters leaving for Louisana were divided over different convents in town.[12]

The Marists came to see that eventually the Society should have a house of its own for departing missionaries, in Bordeaux, which was the base of most ships going to the west coast of South America[13] or in Le Havre. They also foresaw the need of a similar house, either on the west coast of America, or in Australia.[14] When, in 1833, Rouchouze had been appointed Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Oceania, and the mission had been entrusted to the Picpus Fathers, the experienced Coudrin had shown a strategic approach that was new to the Marists. He had first sent four men to Valparaiso to establish a base from where his missionaries could try to get a foothold in the islands, and on which they could fall back if necessary. Such a base, or procure, allowed for better communications; one could make better use of the movement of ships and make great savings by negotiating directly with ships’ captains. The contacts the Marists now had in Paris and especially in Le Havre allowed them already to identify agents who could handle mail and goods for the islands. Pompallier reported everything in detail to Colin, with the remark that he himself did not have the means to start a procure: a gentle invitation to Colin to take the initiative.[15]

The contacts in Le Havre confirmed what Pastre had already pointed out in September 1835[16] and what Pompallier would have heard from Coudrin in August 1836, i.e., that there were better ways to go to Oceania than around Cape Horn and via Valparaiso. A shipping agent in the port pointed out that there was more regular and faster shipping from English ports directly to the Pacific. He had business connections in England and offered to assist them with mail. Father Coudrin had sent Rouchouze to England in 1833[17] to explore ways of getting to the Pacific. They too had learned that the eastern route around Cape Good Hope and Australia was by far the better one. Propaganda had been told, but for the Roman dignitaries the Marist mission was an extension of the already established Picpus mission, and Valparaiso, the ‘Macao of Oceania’, was the right place to start from. At this stage, the Marists could do nothing but follow the traces of the Picpus missionaries to the Eastern Pacific and hope for the best.[18]

In Le Havre the world opened up. Pompallier told Colin that the knowledge of English and Spanish would be important for future missionaries. Servant studied Spanish with a Picpus missionary. Chanel, Bret and Bataillon did English with a priest leaving for Lousiana.[19]

Pompallier made sure the daily exercises of piety were held in common. He gave his priests daily conferences on the special faculties they had received, and on religious life in general. It was not a success. He gave them credit for their understanding and good will. That his conferences did not go down well, he blamed on their lack of background knowledge. The men found more satisfaction in assisting in the surrounding parishes.[20]

Hearing that their departure had been delayed, Terraillon wrote Pompallier an encouraging letter in which he called him the Francis Xavier of the Society of Mary, waiting in Le Havre just as his predecessor had waited in Lisbon to depart for the first great mission of the Orient. The letter got to Le Havre after they had left. Where and when Pompallier received it, we do not know, but he treasured it: it is preserved in the Auckland diocesan archives.[21]

Finally, on 24 December 1836, the Delphine and La Joséphine were able to sail.


  1. EC, doc. 27 [1]. LRO, doc. 1 [4]. Ronzon, Delorme, p. 33.
  2. LRO, doc. 1 [3]. EC, doc. 27 [8]; Lillian Keys, The Life and Times of Bishop Pompallier, p. 32.
  3. Jaspers, op. cit., pp. 166, 171, 179.
  4. Rademakers, Geroepen om te dienen, p. 61
  5. Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 75.
  6. On Catherin Servant cf. LRO, doc. 8 [3]. Peter Chanel already had done so before taking leave of his mother, cf. EC, doc. 17. Brother Marie-Nizier, not yet of age, could not make a will, LRO, doc. 7 [22].
  7. LC, docs. 79 & 80. EC, doc. 27 [1].
  8. EC, doc. 31 [5].
  9. Quoted in Lestra, op. cit., vol. III, p. 425. Nizier to Champagnat, 08.11.1836, LO, Clisby003; Luzy, LL, 23.07.1837.
  10. O‘Reilly, Départ des premiers Missionnaires Maristes pour l’Océanie, p. 10.
  11. OM I, doc. 378 [3]. LRO, 7 [4 - 7].
  12. EC, doc. 31 [1]. Servant (thinking of Acts, 9, 36) to Champagnat, 15.11.1836. LO, Clisby004 [2].
  13. Jore I, op. cit., p. 99.
  14. LRO, doc. 8 [16 & 17].
  15. LRO, doc. 8 [16 -17]. The importance of a base such as Valparaiso for Oceania had been well understood by Propaganda. The comparison with Macao as the base from which missionaries operated in China seems to have originated in Propaganda. Cf. the extensive report of 23.12.1835, OM I, doc. 351 [19].
  16. OM I, doc. 343.
  17. where he attended the episcopal consecration of Polding, cf. Keys, op. cit. p. 75.
  18. Europe gained its first knowledge of the Pacific Ocean from Vasco Nuñez de Balbao, who saw it from a hill in Panama, on 25.09.1513, looking towards the west. The Spanish discoverers travelled from east to west, and even the Philippines were an extension of their presence in South America. For more than a century the Pacific was seen as ‘a Spanish lake’. Most Dutch, French and British explorers also went from east to west and likewise many whalers, most of whom were from New England. The prevailing winds (called ‘trade winds’) are from the south-east in the southern and from the north-east in the northern hemisphere. Only when Great Britain established a significant presence in Australia, radiating into the Pacific, after 1800, did Europe gradually come to look at the Pacific from west to east. LRO, doc. 7 [12] & LRO, doc. 8 [16]. K.R. Howe, Where the Waves Fall, pp. 69 - 90. Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 126. Jaspers, op. cit. pp. 181 - 183.
  19. LRO, doc. 7 [18] & LRO, doc. 8 [3]; EC, doc. 33 [3].
  20. LRO, doc. 7 [23].
  21. CS, doc. 8. Cf. Terraillon’s letter, in similar words, to Chanut, 03.02.1839, CS 58 [11].

Previous Section A Piety Able to Cope Next Section