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Pompallier, Colin and Propaganda

As soon as Colin had received the parcel of letters, he had a faithful copy made of Pompallier’s letter as asked and, on 10 November, he forwarded it to Cardinal Fransoni in Rome with a covering letter of his own.[1] He expresses his intention to send another eight or ten priests in 1839. He underlines Pompallier’s need for a small ship and thanks the cardinal for the faculties the last group of missionaries received in August, just before their departure.[2]

Quite casually, in between other considerations, Pompallier had written to Colin, if the Society has not got the manpower, why not ask for another solution in Rome? He evidently felt no longer bound by his commitment of two years earlier not to call in other missionaries.[3] In his covering letter of 10 November to Fransoni, Colin did not refer to this suggestion of Pompallier’s.

However, by the same occasion, on 21 May, Pompallier had also written to Fransoni himself and that letter expressed the need for more missionaries in the most vivid terms. Having mentioned that he had asked the Society of Mary for a good number of new missionaries, the bishop becomes specific and adds: ‘if Propaganda College in Rome could give my mission a few of those good men that it has in abundance, what benefit it would mean for the flock that would then, I trust, soon know Jesus Christ, their true shepherd.’ His move was evidently not as casual as the letter to Colin might suggest.

Pompallier also mentions a Mgr. Palotti, director of the Catholic Apostolate, whom he had befriended in Rome, and who had shown a great interest in the new mission, and suggests that a copy of the present letter might be forwarded to Palotti.[4]

Propaganda must have received the bishop’s letter at about the same time as Colin did, and without wasting any time (10 November), the secretary, Mgr. Ignazio Cadolini, wrote to Colin. With fine diplomatic ambiguity (he had not yet received the copy, and thus did not know that the bishop had mentioned the same thing to Colin as well) he tells Colin that Pompallier had urgently (le più vive premure) asked for ‘other workers’ (altri operari Evangelici), leaving it open whether ‘altri’ meant more or other, i.e. non-Marist missionaries. Less diplomatically the secretary writes: ‘Even though I am fully convinced that, with your characteristic zeal, you will do your utmost to respond to the desires of the good bishop, I consider it my duty to unite my requests to his, and that you will do everything possible to rush to the aid of the bishop new missionaries who await the rich harvest you mention yourself’.[5] Propaganda was not going to be rushed into another panicky decision, as it did under the influence of Fr. Caret the year before, but it surely looks as if Pompallier’s impatience made a better impression in Rome than Colin’s ponderous management.

The two letters, Colin to Propaganda and Propaganda to Colin, both of 10 November, crossed in the mail. Colin wrote to Pompallier on 1 December; it may have been a short covering note with a longer letter sent by the novices of Puylata the next day. Neither has been preserved.[6]


While Propaganda in Rome, and Colin in Belley, looked at the future, the six new missionaries were sailing across the Atlantic and turned around Cape Horn into the Eastern Pacific. On 12 December 1838, after ‘three months and a day’, as Baty counted, the Basque sailed into the harbour of Valparaiso. A very fast voyage indeed. The Picpus Fathers somehow knew they would be on that particular ship[7] and two of them came out in a small boat to meet them.

Like the first group eighteen months earlier, the Marists were fraternally received, ‘as if we were of their own’. There was no mail waiting for them, nor did they expect it. They enjoyed the hospitality of the Picpus Fathers who refused to accept any remuneration. The Brothers gave a hand to the builders putting up a convent for the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts who had arrived in late August with Caret to join in the missionary work of the priests, first in Chile, later in Polynesia.[8]

The stories that the Marists had picked up from the Ecuadorian ambassador were confirmed when they saw the splendid work of their Picpus hosts among the local people: baptising children that the parents could not afford to have baptised by their own priests, confessing laity and priests alike, even running a language school. The only thing the Picpus Fathers could not do was bless marriages to help couples living in irregular situations. People were full of praise for the French priests. Baty exulted: ‘Poor America! May God preserve France, the glory of Christendom, the glory of the priesthood!’.[9]

Jean-Baptiste Épalle renewed his vows all by himself before the crib, during Christmas night. Colin had overlooked authorizing someone officially to receive the renewal of vows, but it did not worry Épalle too much: ‘I trust the Council of Trent will not mind’.[10]

On 12 January 1839 Baty wrote a first letter to Colin and a second one the 16th. Epalle and Petit joined in and the mail went with the Charles Adolph sailing on the 17th for Bordeaux. Fr. Colin had asked Baty to make copies of any letter and send them by another ship. Dutifully Baty sent a third letter on the 25th, mostly repeating what he had told in the earlier ones.[11]

The Marists were well received by the commander of the French naval station, Captain de Villeneuve, and by another French captain who happened to be in port. They went to visit them several times and did what they could to develop good relations with the navy officers. De Villeneuve showed a letter from Pompallier but it did not tell them much they did not already know from the bishop’s letter from New Zealand that Colin had forwarded just before their departure.

The missionaries could only confirm what Pompallier had found, namely that few ships went from Chile to New Zealand, and only in certain seasons. They agreed that communications between France and Oceania could in the future only go via Sydney. Although Caret would have brought the strange Roman decree with him that allowed the Picpus Fathers to extend their activities further into the Western Pacific[12], there is not the slightest hint of it in the letters from the Marists. As the situation had changed radically, the Picpus Fathers must have agreed among themselves not to bring up the subject.


  1. CS, doc. 54.
  2. Faculties had first been asked 19.05 and granted 26.06 (CS, doc. 35 [3 & 4]). As the missionaries were not satisfied, further specifications were asked 20.07 (CS, doc. 42) and granted.
  3. LRO, doc. 4 [8].
  4. ACPF Congressi Oceania, vol. I, 485r – 488r.
  5. CS, doc. 55.
  6. Cf. LRO, doc. 35. Pompallier received both letters on 18 or 19 August but does not refer to it when writing to Colin a good week later, LRO, doc. 37.
  7. Cambis (or someone else) may have got a letter away as soon as the Marists were booked on the Basque.
  8. APM, Baty to Colin, 12.01.39. Other information thanks to Jean Louis Schuester, SSCC Archives, Rome.
  9. APM, Baty to Colin, 12.01.
  10. APM, Épalle to Colin, 14.01.
  11. APM 1404/20033: Baty to Colin, 12.01.39, 16.01.39, 25.01.39. Épalle to Colin, 14.01.39. Petit to Colin, 15.01.39.
  12. Cf. above, p. 67f.

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