From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

Colin at a distance

After the retreat and the election in September 1836, in spite of the compromise made in July, Colin had returned to Belley. Although a Marist community was soon installed in Lyon at 24, montée Saint-Barthélémy, the new superior general did not move there as yet. He did visit it at times, but mostly in a hurry, only to return as fast as he could to the hill country where he felt at home. At the time of the tragedy at sea, Colin, back in Belley, and still busy mostly with his work in the minor seminary,[1] had received no news at all yet from the missionaries. He would only have picked up the rumour of ships wrecked in the English Channel in the night after their departure, and of the Delphine possibly having taken shelter in an English port.

Pompallier’s letters from Santa Cruz with Claude Bret’s diary, must have reached France in early April and somebody passed the news to l`Ami de la Religion, the paper most read by Marists at the time. On 27 April, when Bret had died already and the Delphine was nearing the Falkland Islands, the paper reported that the Delphine with Mgr. Pompallier and the Marist missionaries had been forced to stop at the Canary Islands for repairs of a damaged rudder.[2] The story in the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi of the near loss of the Delphine, proved not to be true. The Annales retracted their story in their May number.[3]

Of the events up to 18 January, the day Pompallier wrote, shortly after the arrival in Santa Cruz, Colin then knew as much as we today. Of the death of Claude Bret he was not to hear until many months later. He understood that Pompallier had expected to sail from Santa Cruz again around 28 January, which, in fact, he did only a month later.

Pompallier’s letter from Santa Cruz must have reminded Colin of the request from Le Havre to send money to Valparaiso.[4] So far he had not done anything about that. Now he took up contact with the Propagation of the Faith. They were prepared to release an advance of 8.700 francs on the grant for 1837, and Colin ‘took measures to have the money transferred to Valparaiso’.[5] The money was entrusted to a certain Captain Brelivet, who was due to sail to Valparaiso. Most likely Colin sent a letter with it.[6] On 25 May Colin notified Cardinal Fransoni of all the news received and of the action taken.[7]

By asking that all mail should pass through him,[8] Colin had made himself somehow personally responsible for communications with the missionaries. Pompallier had made several suggestions on how letters could be sent: through Fr. Coudrin and the Picpus head-house, specifically Fr. Hilarion Lucas, the secretary general, or through Mr. Franques in Le Havre via his business connections in England, or through Fr. Cambis, the rector of the Major Seminary in Bordeaux who looked after mail to the Picpus Fathers in the Pacific. Mail could also be addressed directly to the French Priests of the retreat house in Valparaiso.[9] Before leaving Pompallier as well as Chanel had mentioned the imminent departure of the Colibri as a possibility of sending mail to Valparaiso.[10] In spite of this surfeit of options, or because of it, neither Colin nor anyone else thought of writing to the missionaries.

Although Colin had expressed in October his wish to get into contact with Coudrin, the superior of the Picpus Fathers,[11] and Pompallier had let Colin know from Paris that Coudrin would be happy to communicate with him, and to be of service in any way,[12] Colin did not follow the lead. Fr. Coudrin died on 27 March. Neither during his life time, not under Bonamie, his successor, did Colin make much of an effort to profit of the experience of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts on how to correspond with missionaries in Oceania, how to transfer money and do whatever else could be useful in their support.

One of the lecturers at the seminary of Saint-Irénée in Lyon was a Sulpician priest, Fr. Amable Denavit, acquainted with the Marists, who was in correspondence with the Picpus missionaries in the Pacific, but there is no indication that Marists used his good offices either to get into contact with their own missionaries.[13]

Around the Cape

Once past the Equator favourable winds carried the Delphine along at a fine speed. On 4 April they passed the Tropic (23° S.). But then they encountered strong contrary winds and for many days they made barely any headway at all. From the Capricorn it took them a month to reach, on 4 May, 50° S. Off the Falkland Islands the sea got very rough and the first snow fell, very welcome insofar as it allowed the ship to replenish its reserve of water that already had been rationed. On 2 June they passed 59º S., the southernmost point of the voyage and could safely turn west. It took them four days of contrary winds to reach 74° W., where they passed Cape Horn. Another week and they reached 85º W. and could turn north.[14]

All the way from the Falklands, round the Cape, to the island of Chiloé, nearly six weeks sailing, the weather was very stormy with hail, snow, ice, nearly constant tempests, and excessive cold. Both Pompallier and Chanel later recallled this part of their voyage as particularly frightening, une mer fort mauvaise.[15] Once they had passed Chiloé the climate improved and the weather was pleasant. On 24 June they celebrated St. John the Baptist, the name-day of Bishop Pompallier, with a bottle of champagne. They started saying Mass again. Their courage and their trust in God seemed to regain every day new strength again. In other words, spirits had been rather low! Peter Chanel admitted as much in a letter of 23 July, from Valparaiso.[16]

The long months on board were not entirely wasted. They got along very well with the sailors. Marists and Picpus Fathers took turns offering them religious instructions that were well attended. All the sailors, with the ship’s boy, went to confession, several of them did their Easter duties and received Holy Communion on several occasions. One did his first Holy Communion and renewed his baptismal vows. Pierre Bataillon noted in a tone of bitterness that this good example was unfortunately not followed by the officers.[17] When the weather allowed, Pompallier restarted his instructions to the priests and, at his request, Chanel gave spiritual conferences to the Brothers.[18]

In the six months they had been on the way, they had seen the four seasons, beautiful days and horrible days. ‘Some days are so delightful’, Chanel wrote after their arrival in Valparaiso, ‘that everybody should want to travel by sea, if it were not for the other days that are rather frightening’. ‘Once you are used to the sea, he wrote to his sister Françoise, there is no better way to travel’. To Bourdin with whom he had sailed to Rome in 1833 he wrote enthusiastically of the pleasure of long sea travelling. Chanel had carefully observed everything: the officers determining the position of the ship with octant and sextant, the manoeuvring of the ship, the different species of birds and fish in the different climates they passed through, the changes of constellations according to the latitudes and the rainbow caused by bright moonlight. He enjoyed the beauty of the phosphorescent wake that the ship’s rudder left behind on the sea. The splendid colours in the sky at daybreak and at sunset he described as the entry hall of paradise, des vestibules du paradis. But, he admitted, there also are very bad days to remind the voyager that he is still in a valley of tears.[19]

Brother Joseph-Xavier Luzy had got his sea legs: ‘I think I shall always be a good sailor. I feel better than anywhere else. You would not recognise me, I have put on weight (embonpoint); one is well fed on board ship.’[20]

Pompallier too had come to see the importance of navigation and asked Jean-Claude Colin to make sure the next lot of missionaries would come armed with sextants, compasses and navigation manuals.[21]


  1. CS, docs. 10 [1], 11 [8], 34 [1], summaries of Colin`s whereabouts on p. 33 and p. 86.
  2. Colin Studies II, p. 57. L`Ami de la Religion, 27.04.1837, (92), p. 472.
  3. Annales, LII, p. 507f.
  4. 28.11.1836 LRO, doc. 7 [7].
  5. This is how Colin describes his action to Fransoni, CS, doc. 13 [4].
  6. CS, doc. 89 [2]. On the letter cf. Below, p. 113, n. 95.
  7. CS, doc. 13.
  8. CS, doc. 4 [9]. EC, doc. 35 [4].
  9. Cf. resp. LRO, docs. 7 [8 & 9], 7 [11], 7 [12], 10 [4] & 11 [3].
  10. LRO, doc. 8 [12] & EC, 33 [1]
  11. CS, doc. 5 [1].
  12. LRO, doc. 4 [15]. Neither the Marist nor the Picpus archives contain any indication that Fr. Colin or any other Marist besides the parting missionaries has been in contact with either Fr. Coudrin or his successor Mgr. Bonamie (communication from Fr. André Mark, SS.CC). This fact stands in odd contrast with Coste, A Founder Acts (FA), doc. 301 (taken from Mayet, Mémoires, {MM}, S 2, 200 – 202, 202m – 204m) where Colin is praised for his frequent contacts with other religious. For the later periods there may be an explanation. Cf. below, p. 54.
  13. LRO, 19 [2]; OM III, p. 780; OM IV, p. 132; MM, I, 813s.
  14. LRO, 12 [88 – 170].
  15. LRO, doc. 16 [4]. EC, doc. 37 [3]. Pompallier op. cit., p. 12. How dangerous the passage round Cape Horn was became very evident a few years later, in 1844, when Bishop Rouchouze had visited France, bought a ship there, the Marie-Joseph, and sailed with six priests, eight brothers and ten sisters for Valparaiso. The ship went down without a trace. Cf. Jore op. cit. II, p. 144, n. 57 & p. 356.
  16. notre courage et notre confiance en Dieu semblent reprendre de jour en jour de nouvelles forces, EC 34 [1]. A pious hand has corrected the manuscript to read prendre instead of reprendre, gain instead of regain, EC, p. 163, n. 3.
  17. ‘les chefs sont hélas bien loin de les imiter’, LRO, 12 [92].
  18. LRO, 12 [95].
  19. EC, docs. 35 [1], 36 [1] & 37 [3].
  20. LL, to his parents from Valparaiso, 23.07.37.
  21. LRO, doc. 18 [3].

Previous Section A Piety Able to Cope Next Section