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Wallis and Futuna

The four missionaries on the islands of Wallis and Futuna, had, all things considered, not fared too badly. The “kings” with whom Pompallier had negotiated, Lavelua on Wallis and Niuliki on Futuna, protected them and they were reasonably well looked after. Naturally they shared the vicissitudes of island life.

On Wallis the two missionaries had to flee with Lavelua when a powerful islander went berserk and terrorized the whole island for a few weeks. After six months the two missionaries had a good house at their disposal where Bataillon could say Mass. All the time, Bataillon refrained from openly evangelizing. In view of the Wallisians’ distaste for the Christian religion, that they identified with the Tongan Methodists, he did not show the real purpose of his presence.[1]

Futuna suffered a devastating cyclone in February whereby the missionaries lost their house and lived in a corner of Niuliki’s house for some time. Because of the cyclone food was scarce, but the fertile soils of Futuna quickly recovered. By May Niuliki had another house built for them.

In March war broke out between the “kingdoms” of Alo and Sigave, which unsettled life for the islanders and the two missionaries. After a number of casualties on both sides, peace was restored. Chanel tried hard to raise goats, but the local dogs ate the little ones and the islanders neglected them, or sold them to passing ships.[2]

On Futuna lived an Englishman, named John Jones, who ran a little schooner and on 23 March 1838, shortly after the outbreak of war, Chanel was able to visit Bataillon for the first time. Until then he did not even know if his confrere was alive, and, quite possibly, Bataillon did not know that Chanel and Marie-Nizier were on Futuna! After entering the lagoon, Jones, who spoke the language, made enquiries from the Wallisians in the approaching canoes. Once they were reassured, they went ashore. Bataillon heard about it and was soon there to meet them.[3]

I was clear that Bataillon was better at learning the language than Chanel. He had already succeeded in composing the beginnings of a grammar and a lengthy list of words that Chanel was happy to copy and that helped him with Futunan.[4]

The missionaries could not be sure whether Pompallier ever got to Australia and New Zealand until June 1838, when Br. Marie-Nizier heard from a sailor on a French whaler that there were stories in New Zealand about a French bishop.[5]

Not infrequently ships, especially whalers, mostly American or English, but also a few French, called at both islands. Some were on the way to New Zealand, others came from there. A few even came straight from the Bay of Islands, but the missionaries on the shallow Hokianga river would not have had contact with them. In any case, the movements of the whalers were unpredictable, and often they left again before one could get a letter on board.[6]

The Society of Mary

The acceptance of the missions of Oceania had not only led to the pontifical approbation of the Society of Mary, it had also put the Society on the map in France. In Colin’s own words, the missions had become ‘a source of blessings’.[7]

When Jean-Claude Colin had become the central superior in 1830, there were twelve men committed to the Marist project.[8] By the time the Oceania mission came into view, one of them had pulled out and nine others had entered: nine in five years. In 1836 Pierre Bataillon joined in order to leave with the first missionary group. Twenty took their first and perpetual vows at the end of the founding chapter of September, four of them left for Oceania which left sixteen professed members in France.

Even before the first missionaries had embarked, new candidates presented themselves.[9] In May 1837 Colin could tell Fransoni that several priests from among those who had done profession in September 1836, had now volunteered for Oceania.[10] Moreover: ‘A large group of candidates have presented themselves for the Society’.[11] Around the end of the school year 1836 - 1837, when Pompallier and his team were in Valparaiso, the Society counted sixteen novices. During the next school year seven novices made their profession and seven new novices entered.[12]

Some of the twenty-three novices, most of them priests, who joined the Society within two years of its approbation, may have had some connection with the Marists before the Oceania missions became part of the Marist project, and to what extent the commitment to Oceania influenced their decision to join is impossible to say. Still, in two years’ time the number of Marist priests, professed or novice, had more than doubled.

The Brothers too had done well. During 1837 twenty-five made their profession and they received forty new novices.[13] No less than sixty-six requests came in for the Brothers to take on new schools. Jean-Claude Colin and Marcellin Champagnat could afford to work on a follow-up team.[14]


  1. LRO, doc. 28 [17 & 18]; doc. 38 [3].
  2. EC, doc. 42 [3], doc 45, [1 & 2].
  3. EC, doc. 39 [3]. The fare was 40 francs. That Jones had to enquire suggests that he at least had not made the crossing since November. From November to April is the hurricane season, with periods of calm interrupted by violent storms. Chanel told the story of his trip, of his meeting with Bataillon and his stay, in a letter to Marie-Nizier, that is quoted in full by Nizier to Colin, 29.07.45, cf. LRO, doc. 390 [12 - 15] .
  4. Wallisian is close to Tongan, Futunan to Samoan. Tongan and Samoan, and thus Wallisian and Futunan, have nearly the same grammar and, with predictable changes of consonants, they have many words in common. EC, doc. 42 [1].
  5. EC, doc. 42 [1].
  6. EC, doc. 42 [1]. In the 1840`s there were 700 American whaling ships in the Pacific Ocean. Cf. Howe, op. cit., pp. 93f
  7. CS, doc. 13 [1].
  8. OM I, doc. 220 [2].
  9. LRO, doc. 10 [10], doc. 11 [1].
  10. CS, doc. 13 [4].
  11. CS, doc. 13 [1].
  12. CS1, p. 33.
  13. CS, doc. 9 [4] and footnote; LC, p. 187, & doc. 194, ll. 37ff.
  14. Cf. CS1, pp. 652 – 657.

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