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Colin in action

From the day the Delphine sailed out of Le Havre, destination Valparaiso, there was little Fr. Colin could do but wait for the first news. The letter from Santa Cruz indicated that the first leg of the voyage would take even longer than foreseen, and it took eleven months before he knew that the missionaries had reached Valparaiso. And then, so it appeared, they were heading into an entirely new direction! Still, it got him into action.

Pompallier later conceded that Colin had been right in not sending a follow-up team before hearing from Valparaiso, but he also felt that by then Colin should have had a team ready to leave. He did not see why, from that moment, it took Colin another nine months to get a team on the way.[1] Perhaps he had a point. Leaving problems to solve themselves came natural to Colin. ‘My great principle has always been to wait for the moment of Providence’.[2] However, this time there was more to it. Colin had consulted the bishops of Lyon and Belley. It seems they both had supported a delay.[3] Still, to follow the imagery he himself liked to use, the man battling away at the front, not knowing what action, if any, was being taken, cannot be blamed for expecting a little more decisiveness.

On 10 January 1838, Father Colin addressed a circular letter to the priests and the Brothers of the Society of Mary. As Champagnat was away in Paris, Colin asked his deputy, Brother François Rivat, to circulate it to the Brothers as well.[4] Colin could only tell them that in early August the missionaries had been on the point of leaving Valparaiso ‘for their destination’. He evidently did not want to go into the sudden change of plans and expressed the hope that they would now be among the people to whom they were sent, and would be working the land that by design of Providence had become the ‘heritage of the children of Mary’.[5] He quoted Cardinal Fransoni[6] urging him to send reinforcements as quickly as possible.

Colin held to his policy of sending only volunteers. It is a great consolation, he wrote, to see several men in the Society anxious to commit themselves. So much fervour is a sure sign of divine protection. We cannot let everyone go. Our numbers do not allow it. The problem is to choose those who are called by Jesus and Mary. Missionary work is a vocation that can only come from on high. There were more volunteers than the Society could afford to send and it was his unenviable task, he wrote, to know what Jesus and Mary wanted. He begged the whole Society to pray that Jesus and Mary make him know their will. For that purpose he organized in great detail in all the branches of the Society a campaign of prayers to be said until the Feast of the Purification of Mary. In February the missionaries for the second group were appointed.

On 3 February 1838 the newspapers reported that the Marists were ready to send a second group of missionaries to Oceania to reinforce the small group of three priests and three brothers that at that moment formed Bishop Pompallier’s missionary staff, effectively doubling it.[7]

Selecting a team

Although several of the Marists who made their profession in September 1836 volunteered, Colin selected only one of them for the next group, and he made him its superior: Claude-André Baty.[8] Born in 1811 in Saint-Jean sur Reyssouze (Ain), Claude was a student in Belley when Colin was the superior there. As a deacon he was part of the staff under Chanel and Colin and in 1835 he moved to the Marist community of the Capucinière. He probably volunteered for the first group, but as he was ordained only in December 1835, he would not have been a serious candidate then. In any case he was not selected and after the profession he was assigned to join Pierre Colin at the new Marist house in Lyon[9], that functioned as a novitiate. Claude-André was socius to Pierre Colin, the novice master. During the school year 1837-1838 he was at Valbenoîte from where he volunteered for the second group and was selected.

Louis-Maxime Petit[10] was the first Marist who did not come from south-eastern France but from Arras, on the coast of the English Channel. Born in October 1797, he became a priest in the diocese of Boulogne. When Pompallier was in Le Havre, on the point of leaving for Oceania, Petit heard about it and asked if he could join him. The bishop answered it was too late to join the present group, but if he wished to come in a later group, he should enter the Society of Mary. He entered the Marist novitiate in May 1837.[11]

The suggestion that Colin made to Cardinal Fransoni, i.e., to send a few missionaries to Rome, may have come from Petit. On 20 January Colin wrote to him to forget about going to Rome, quoting the cardinal.[12] It gave Colin an opportunity to give him some of his manly spiritual direction: purify your motivations! Colin made him wait for the appointment to the islands, insisting that he learn to accept decisions of his superiors instead of arranging his own life. He was professed on 16 July 1838.

The third priest was Jean-Baptiste Épalle[13], born 8 March 1808 in Marlhes, the same parish where Marcellin Champagnat came from.[14] After the minor seminary in St. Jodard, he entered Saint-Irénée in 1834 and joined the Marists in September 1837. Both he and Petit were assigned to the missions while novices. He too was professed on 16 July 1838.[15]

In January 1838 Fr. Champagnat left the Hermitage for Lyon and Paris where he hoped to obtain government recognition of the Marist Brothers as a teaching order.[16] From 18 January to 24 April he was in Paris, from where he mailed two letters to his old house-mate Servant in New Zealand.[17] He was in Paris again from 14 May to 2 July. His absences complicated the selection of the Brothers. On 23 January Colin wrote to Brother François Rivat that Bishop Pompallier had sailed from Valparaiso on 10 August. And that he had asked for three or four Brothers to be sent with the second group. Perhaps expecting Marcellin Champagnat to be back soon, he added: ‘When Fr. Champagnat returns we shall arrange things’.[18]

The selection of the Brothers had started before Champagnat left. Brother Denis Bron[19], superior of the community in St. Didier, had volunteered. Champagnat answered: ‘I think your desire comes from God. I believe you have the graces and the gift for that work. Keep it in mind. Keep your accounts in order so that if you are called to leave, you will be ready’.[20] In fact, Denis never left for Oceania.

Another Brother, François-Régis Boiton,[21] was selected by Champagnat but he then contacted Colin to say he wanted to become a priest. On 10 June he spoke about it to Terraillon,[22] who advised Br. François Rivat, the acting superior, to let the Brother take leave of his parents as if departing for Oceania, which would give François time to write to Champagnat in Paris. Champagnat was not convinced and upheld the original appointment for the missions. He wrote to Rivat to send Brother François-Régis to Lyon to a printer to pick up the trade before the departure. Then Colin overruled Champagnat. Under the circumstances he did not consider François-Régis a suitable candidate for the missions and he took him off the list. As to the priesthood, he let the Brother know that it was entirely up to himself to decide. If he wanted to change his ecclesiastical status for the priesthood, he should leave the congregation and be dispensed of his vows.[23] He seems to have left. There is no further mention of him in the records.

Another Brother, Marie-Augustin (Joseph) Drevet,[24] born in August 1809, professed in 1835, was first appointed for the missions, then taken off the list to make place for François-Régis, and put back again when Colin intervened.

The second Brother was Élie-Régis (Étienne) Marin (or Marrin). He was born on 20 September 1809. A carpenter by trade, he must also have had some years at school. He joined the Marist Brothers in 1835. Within a year he was temporarily professed and on 9 October 1837 he made his perpetual profession. On 12 January 1839 he wrote from Valparaiso with such enthusiasm of the privilege of having been sent to the missions that we may conclude he had volunteered. Colin hesitated about his selection for the missions.[25]

Then there was Florentin (Jean-Baptiste) Françon. Born in 1815 in La Versanne Ruthiange, Loire. From his later success as a farmer in New Zealand we may conclude that he must have worked on the farm before joining the Brothers in 1835. He was professed together with Elie-Régis on 9 October 1837. He probably had no formal schooling than what he received as a Brother in the Hermitage. He did not volunteer for the missions but was sent. He wrote a few years later to Brother François: ‘As you know, I left not by my own choice, but because I was sent’.[26]

These two cases, Brother François-Régis and Brother Florentin, confirm that Marcellin Champagnat followed a different policy from Colin. Colin left the initiative to the men, and reserved to himself the judgment of their suitability and the final decision. Champagnat allowed men to volunteer, but he did not hesitate to take the initiative and to appoint someone he considered suitable.

Later, after three months together on the ship, the priests were not happy about the way the Brothers had been selected. Especially if the procure was to be entrusted to them it would be important to select them more carefully. One of the three (Florentin?) had told them he had just once mentioned Oceania, and was appointed without further ado. He regretted being on the way to Oceania.[27]


  1. LRO, doc. 37 [6].
  2. Mon grand principe a toujours été d`attendre le moment de la Providence, OM II, doc. 425 [17], April 1838.
  3. We know this only from a later remark of Pompallier (14.05.1840), where he reproached Colin having listened more to the bishops of Lyon and Belley than to him. How he found out we do not know. LRO, doc. 59 [24].
  4. CS, doc. 26. Cf. CS, doc. 31 [1]. This letter is not included in the 1897 official collection of circular letters.
  5. CS, doc. 26 [1]. Champagnat went a step further and mentioned in a letter to the French government that Pompallier had reached his destination, which, unknown to people in France, he in fact had! Letter to Monsieur de Salvandy, 14.02.38, LC, doc. 173, ll. 22ff. Cf. doc. 188, ll. 8ff.
  6. Colin says the letter is dated 26 December, but it is clearly the one of the 16th. He must have quoted from memory, and possibly confused it with the date the letter arrived. This past master of letter writing was not equally good at filing. He often did not have letters in hand when answering, a thing that had annoyed Pompallier from the start! Cf. LRO, doc. 7 [26]. Possibly the reason why he mostly failed to acknowledge receipt.
  7. L`Ami de la Religion, 3.2.1838 (96) 196. Colin Studies, II, p. 57.
  8. OM IV, p. 195.
  9. Montée St. Barthélémy, 24. Later on they moved down the same street to number 4.
  10. APM, personal file.
  11. MM, 1A, p. 80f. CS, p. 652.
  12. CS, doc. 29. Cf. above, p. 68.
  13. Monfat, Dix Années en Mélanésie, pp. 45ff.
  14. M. Champagnat was born in Le Rozey, a hamlet within the parish of Marlhes, cf. Farrell, op. cit., p. 6.
  15. It may point to an authoritarian and dependent character that Épalle remained unsure of the validity of his profession because he had not done a full year of novitiate. Colin advised him to make his vows again in private when in Valparaiso, which he did. He did it again in the hands of Bishop Pompallier, but then began to doubt if Pompallier was authorized to receive vows of Marists and he appealed again to Colin. Cf. Garin to Colin, end 1841, LRO, doc. 122 [2] .
  16. LC I, p. 328. Colin was in Belley and Champagnat did not go there. They did not meet. Cf. LC, doc 169.
  17. LO, Clisby 013 [1].
  18. CS, doc. 31 [1]. The request for three or four Brothers sounds like a free quote from Pompallier’s letter of 28 July from Valparaiso ‘four priests and three Brothers’, LRO, doc. 18 [5]. The same letter says he hopes to leave on 1 August. That Colin makes it the 10th is a pure coincidence. He did not yet have that information.
  19. LC II, p. 171f.
  20. LC, doc. 168.
  21. LC II, p. 231f.
  22. CS, doc. 38.
  23. LC doc. 197, l. 46. CS, doc. 41 [3].
  24. LC II, p. 358. Ronzon, FMO, pp. 35ff.
  25. Ronzon, FMO, p. 22ff. CS, doc. 41 [1].
  26. FMO, pp. 30ff. To François Rivat, 09.03.1842: ‘Je suis parti, comme vous le savez, plutôt par obéissance que par choix’.
  27. Baty to Colin, 12.01.39. Later on, Pompallier too was not impressed: ‘braves, mais .. peu formés .. et peu de têtes’, LRO, doc. 34 [17].

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