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22. Br Pierre-Marie to Br Francois. Cape of Good Hope. 25 February 1841

LO 23


There were only four priests in this group of fourteen missionaries, Frs Jean-Antoine Seon, Antoine Garin, Michel Borjon, and Louis Rozet. But there were also two students for the priesthood, the deacon Francois Roulleaux-Dubignon and another whose surname. Dausse, is the only thing we know about him. In addition, according to this letter [13], Pierre-Marie himself was destined for eventual ordination, as also, or so he seems to have thought, were the architect Louis Perret and the printer Jean Yvert. Perret (1802-1888), one of Pompallier's recruits to the Third Order of Mary in Lyon in the early 1830s, was studying architecture in Rome in 1836 when he offered his services to the new vicar apostolic for the mission. Yvert (1797-1867), an artist who had already visited New Zealand, had done an apprenticeship in printing and bookbinding in Caen shortly before he joined the group with a printing press bought for the Marists. Colin, desperately short of men himself, may have been hoping in this way to meet Pompallier's insistent demands for priests. As the Sydney newspaper article indicates [22], the Bishop was already claiming numerous converts in areas he had only recently visited for the first time, and as a result he had already committed the personnel and resources of this group before they had even reached New Zealand (cf Pomp. 64-67). Whatever Colin's design, the experiment did not work. None of the three went on to ordination. Perret returned to France in May 1842 and later had a pamphlet on the Oceania mission published in Rome. Pierre-Marie followed him back to France a few years later to continue his life with the Brothers. Only Yvert stayed on in New Zealand, serving the Marists as printer and then as teacher, a close associate though never a member of the Society, until his death in Wellington at the age of 70. Borjon acted as spiritual director and Master of Novices for the group while Seon (1807-1878), a Marist since 1836, was its Superior. Pierre-Marie may have been somewhat idealistic in his portrayal of the spirit of union in this large group since two of them, Perret and Dausse, left it at the Cape of Good Hope. Perret eventually reached the Bay of Islands in September 1841, a few months after the others, but Dausse puts in no further appearance.

While he was waiting to depart Pierre-Marie was assigned to the community at the Providence or orphanage in Montée du Chemin-Neuf on the hillside below Notre Dame de Fourvière. This institution, the Providence Denuzière, founded by Champagnat in 1835, also served as base for the missionary brothers in Lyon. He was there for only a short time before being appointed foundation director of a new orphanage across the river in the parish of St Nizier. His letter [8] appears to imply he was replaced there by Br Aquilas, but the list of directors of that establishment has Br Alexandre as his successor, at least temporarily (SI 553). His own brother, Joseph, joined the Brothers in 1838, taking the name of Barsanuphe.

Modified extracts from this letter, are to be found in a short biography of the Brother in the Bulletin de l'Institut juillet 1917 (p 170).

Text of the Letter

Very dear Br Director General,
The letter I wrote from London to Fr Matricon[1] said that we were about to depart on the 5th of December, but it was only on the 7th, at 9 in the morning. That day all we did was 10 hours on a steamer to join our ship which had gone that distance to take on supplies. From there we took 2 days on the Thames before reaching the Channel. We entered the Channel in 36 hours, a time our captain told us he had never done in the 20 years he had been captaining vessels. Once he had taken only 21 days, and he had regarded that as great good fortune in this sea where you sometimes had to wait up to 6 weeks. It is the most dangerous part of the crossing from London to Sydney. The sea is always very difficult to cross, for you can be becalmed or encounter a storm. These two hazards are very common, but, thanks to Jesus and Mary, we had a very swift and pleasant crossing. You cannot but regard it as special protection when you compare 36 hours with 2 to 6 weeks.
For about a week we navigated under full sail. We were in mid Ocean without noticing it in one way. But we certainly noticed it in another way - I mean that on entering the Channel we had our stomachs emptied in fine fashion. We were immediately taken with seasickness which laid us flat on our backs, except for 2 or 3 whom the good God supported for the time so they could help those struck down. I would never have believed seasickness could be so painful. It consists of terrible headache and heartache and frequent vomiting. One has such a horror for any sort of nourishment that if one didn't from time to time make a real effort to take something - even knowing it would not stay down for long - one would undoubtedly perish. This sickness does not lead to death but it makes you sick to death. The sea has exacted a more or less heavy tribute from us all, and I assure you I would not want to pay it a whole 6 months. It is true we had some little suffering at the beginning of our sailing both from seasickness and from the English diet which is quite different from the French. Eventually the seasickness passed, we became used to the new diet, and everything is going wonderfully at present. Br Basile and Fr Rozet were sick for more than 5 weeks, but all the rest had got over it after 8 to 12 days. For myself, I was about average for seasickness but I suffered for a long time from inflammation of the stomach and so did Br Basile and several others. This sickness is common enough to travellers new to the sea. It is caused by salted food, but one gets over it, as you know, by using the appropriate means.
We entered the Channel on the 10th of December and we had very rough seas until the 18th. Our vessel was pushed up on waves 20 to 25 feet high and went down them at astonishing speed. It seemed it was going to be swallowed up by the abyss, but I was no more afraid than if I had been on dry land, because I made the sacrifice of my life to God a long time ago. I hope He will dispose of it in his mercy in a way most conducive to my salvation and his glory. It would have been frustrating to have died in France before obtaining what I most desire, but at present I would die happy if it pleased the Lord to call me to himself.
During the first 8 days of our crossing we were tossed about a bit but since then we have had superb weather. The 10th day after our departure we passed the island of Madeira which belongs to Portugal. Several days later we perceived several other islands in the distance. I know the names of two of them only, St Antoine and St Luce. These islands are part of Cape Verde which belongs to Africa. Winter passed without our noticing. A few days before Christmas we had to change to summer clothing. The first days of January we bathed as in France in July. When we experienced such warm weather the comment could be heard: "If it is already as hot as this, what will it be like as we get closer to the sun, and when it is actually overhead?" This caused some apprehension, especially for those who were affected by the heat. We crossed the equator on the 32nd day of sailing without experiencing the high temperatures or calms which are very common in these regions. We can say we received a very special blessing. It is not rare to have from 8 to 15 days without wind at the equator and as well be laid low by extraordinary heat, and sometimes there are great storms too. As for ourselves, we have not had any calms to speak of, nor experienced great heat. We have always had a fresh wind, like those gentle spring breezes which first stir sleeping nature. We spend all day on deck in the open air and a great part of the night too. In the daytime we are always protected from the rays of the sun by a thick awning. So we are very comfortable. From the time of boarding up to 1100 leagues from the Cape of Good Hope we were always headed south, but not always in a straight line. The winds often pushed us east or west, but the south has always been our centre. 1100 leagues from the Cape of Good Hope, where we had to put in to take on water, we headed directly east.

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My dear Brother, if I were to tell you there are crosses everywhere on sea as on land, I would be telling you only what you have long since known, because whatever our position, we all have our crosses. We can do nothing better than to wait with complete resignation and impose silence on human nature which is always inclined to complain. I see that he who bears his cross with joy feels hardly any pain because the good God, always full of compassion for his own, lightens the load considerably. Happy a million times over, the one who stays beside Jesus and Mary! Whatever comes his way, he is always full of joy.
My letter from London said that His Lordship, the Bishop of London,[2] had advised and engaged our Fathers to reserve the Blessed Sacrament at London and take it with us on the ship. We accepted this with joy and gratitude but we weren't able to take advantage of this inestimable favour immediately because the place set aside for it was not ready. Once we got over our seasickness we began to work to set up as suitable a little chapel as possible. That didn't take much time. But then the indispensable thing was to have calm weather to be able to say Holy Mass. We had to wait for this happy occasion until Christmas Eve when we had two Masses, and another two at midnight, and the calm finished the day of the feast. We received Holy Communion at one of the midnight Masses, something we had been deprived of since leaving London. Jesus Christ came to be born anew on our vessel as in a new stable, to accompany us sacramentally on our voyage and to serve us as our spiritual sustenance. We don't have Mass every day, nor even every Sunday, but we have the happiness of making our communions according to rule because of the Reservation allowed us without our having asked for it. It was something we would not have dared to ask for since we have been told no one had come across a similar instance before. We can say without fear of contradiction that it is a favour which Mary has obtained for us, and we cannot be too grateful.
Although we are with Protestants we are much freer to do our religious exercises than if we were among Frenchmen. To be in the fresh air, we go on deck for our morning and evening prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, examen of conscience, our study and our classes as freely as if we were at the Mother House. None of the crew attend Mass but everyone knows that the priests say it in our little chapel. Many have come in to have a look, but very respectfully. We say the Benedicite and grace in public. Those at table with us don't take part but they maintain a deep silence as soon as we start these little prayers. The Brothers all dress in lay clothes but the priests have been wearing the soutane without the slightest problem since Christmas Eve when they began to say Mass. By prudence and reserve we have won the affection of all the crew. No one has ever tried to cause us pain, quite the contrary.
There are 36 of us altogether on the boat: 14 missionaries, 2 English travellers, the captain and his wife, the first mate and the lieutenant, the rest being sailors or cooks. We are not badly fed, only the food is prepared differently from in France. We have several different types of wine and beer, different vegetables, salt meat, fresh meat consisting of mutton, fowl, and pork fattened as on land, sea biscuit and still more often freshly baked bread and different desserts. One can hardly get better at sea.
Very dear Brother, even though we are well, that doesn't prevent us from looking forward impatiently to our promised land. Oh, if only we had wings to cross the vast expanse of sea. We have seen many fish, especially as we neared the equator, but the most curious ones are those which fly in hundreds like swallows. They do so to escape the jaws of the big fish which are for ever chasing them. The length of their flight is not very far - perhaps 3 or 4 hundred feet at most, about 3 or 4 feet above the surface. We have seen some small sharks and some spouters, that is, a type of big fish which blows water 10 to 12 feet in the air. The sailors have tried fishing but caught only a little shark and another fish called a bonito. The English don't seem to be good at fishing.

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The sailors submit all the new passengers to a ceremony for crossing the equator, but when they had it, we got out of it by making a little donation, though it's not always easy. But as we had long since won their friendship, they didn't want to cause us any trouble. They made faces at one another, but didn't say a single word which might offend the most sensitive ear. We can say for certain that is yet another sign of Mary's protection. The good God has not been content with giving us a captain and sailors to guide us, he has come himself to be our chief pilot. In the scriptures we read that some have angels for guides, but we have had more than an angel, we have had the Creator of angels himself. The work the missionaries propose to do must be very pleasing to Our Lord Jesus Christ for him to favour them so. We don't regard this ship carrying us over the abyss as an ordinary one but as a new barque of Peter. It always seems to me as if Jesus Christ is sleeping in the prow. If a storm threatens us we will wake him up so he can command the wind and the waves to be still.
So, very dear Brother, I pray you to recommend the whole community to join us in spirit, to help us thank Jesus and Mary for all the favours they have bestowed on us. One has real cause to say that God never lets himself be outdone in generosity. We should not be afraid to do too much for him, for we will never do enough for such a good Master. He provides for all our needs, temporal as well as spiritual. English was necessary for us, well, the two English travellers I have mentioned consider it a pleasure to give us lessons in their language each day. Someone doesn't know French, we do him a service in return. They are very good people, it's a great pity they aren't Catholics. Up till now the Fathers have not found a favourable opportunity to try and draw them back to the faith. They satisfy themselves by praying and asking you to have prayers said so the good God in his infinite mercy will iron out the difficulties, for it is more difficult to convert a soul than to raise the dead. That shows just how important prayer is. I don't need to tell you that without prayer we are as much use to souls as tinkling brass. That is why I ask the Lord daily for the gift of prayer. Because if I become a man of prayer, I will bring down from heaven a life-giving dew on the souls of poor unbelievers. I reproach myself greatly for not using this means enough when I was teaching. It seems to me I sowed a lot, but I didn't have recourse often enough to the only one who can make the seed germinate. Ah, dear Brother, if the Brothers in France, as well as we who are on our way to the foreign missions, were really convinced of this important truth, how much fruit our works would produce! What joy we would give Jesus and Mary, our good Mother, and all heaven! How I wish I could impress this great truth on the hearts of all the Brothers in the Society now and those who are to come! If we all acted thus, the good God would make of us terrible destroyers of the kingdom of Satan. Let us all, then, ask Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, for this spirit of prayer and we will obtain it. I can think of no vocation more beautiful than that of saving souls, whether in France or in foreign countries. They are souls everywhere redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Let us come to know, my dear Brothers, let us come to realize how to appreciate the honour God has done us in associating us with his divine Son to work with him for the salvation of souls. Jesus Christ has shed all his blood for these poor children and we ... we would neglect the care of these children, we would let them perish through our fault.
On our journey from Lyon to London I noticed how the servants at the inns where we stayed obeyed their masters at the slightest word or sign with the greatest promptitude. I see the same thing among our sailors since we have been at sea. Observing such prompt obedience I reflected: Well then! people with no religion or very little, or with a religion tailored to suit themselves, like our Protestant sailors whose religion is a Sunday one - doing no work then, dressing neatly, and reading some pages of the Bible - if such people obey so well, what should we expect of a Little Brother of Mary! No doubt you will tell me that those people are guided by self-interest. Indeed, by a material self-interest, but a religious should be motivated by a much more noble interest. Yet it is not so very rare, unfortunately, to hear that some Brothers do not obey the Brother Director in their house nor even the voice of the Rule. If they do not directly disobey, they comply only with bad grace. I would wish this were not the case but I have seen it with my own eyes and have heard it said. There are even Brothers who often fail in charity, especially when they come together from different establishments. I have frequently observed this. Yet acting in this way is not imitating Jesus and Mary, our two perfect models. More and more each day I admire the goodness, charity, simplicity, humility and modesty of the priests with whom we have the good fortune of being. They are living books from which we Brothers can draw great virtues. These good Fathers well understand that to merit Mary's special protection it is not enough to bear her name, wear her habit, and belong to her communities, but it is necessary to imitate her virtues. Far from having the Brothers serve them, they often themselves serve the Brothers. Fr Seon, our Superior during the voyage, has so far abased himself as to do us the most basic services when we were seasick. He is so good he forgets himself to think of others. He has a mother's feelings for those around him. Finally, they are all so good and humble they would like to put themselves below the Brothers. Whatever happens, they are always happy because they see the hand of God in everything. In a word, they are true men of prayer, and I think that says everything. Even the Protestants admire them. Their virtues are so pleasing to Mary that she obtains for us all from her divine Son great graces, both spiritual and temporal. I forgot to mention that on leaving London we placed our voyage under the protection of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, and we pray to her each day in a special way.
Since the seasickness passed I have been occupied with English and theology, following the command given me by the Rev. Father Superior on leaving Lyon. I had made many requests to go to Polynesia but I never thought that in going there I could be a priest. The thought never entered my mind. I have always thought myself incapable, both in learning and in virtue, and although I have begun studying theology I have not changed my opinion. But as I wish to be only a stick in the hands of my Superiors, they will turn me in their hands as they wish, I will put up no resistance. Far from aspiring to such a high dignity I would consider myself already too honoured to be the simple servant of the new apostles and to catechise when opportunity offered. At present if the good Lord requires something more of me, may his holy name be blessed now and forever, Amen. There are three of us studying theology, the printer, the engineer and I. At the same time we have begun our novitiate to become priests. I regard this time as very precious for us, because it is during this time that we have to work to detach ourselves entirely from self to live only for God. It is also a time during which we ought to sharpen a good number of sickles to go and harvest in the field of the Father of the family. Alas! perhaps I will never become a skilful worker but if I cannot harvest, I can at least glean, and in gleaning I can stay in the sight of the lord of the harvest who, I hope, will act towards me as Booz once acted towards Ruth. He will tell the harvesters to let some ears fall for me to gather. If in my weakness I can neither harvest nor glean I will go up the mountain to pray for the harvesters.
The Imitation of Jesus Christ says that he who leaves all finds all, but we have the actual good fortune to experience it. We have left everything and we have everything here to sustain us in our long and difficult voyage. We are the spoiled children of Providence, the privileged ones of Jesus and Mary. We form a little cloistered convent in the middle of the ocean. We have only the roof of our house on which to walk. There we enjoy very comfortable temperatures. Sunrise and sunset are frequent occasions of wonder for us, being much more spectacular than we have ever seen in France. The sun, moon, and stars which appear in Europe in the south are for us at present in the north. The vast expanse of the horizon, at times crowned with little golden clouds, also presents a beautiful sight. In the evening, twilight disappears almost as quickly as day. From time to time we are diverted by the appearance of different fish. Although I told you earlier that the English sailors are not skilled fishermen, yet they caught near the Cape of Good Hope a shark 9 feet long and weighing at least 150 kg. It had 70 teeth. A man's head would have gone down its throat like a drop of water. It was taken on a hook. The flesh of young sharks is eaten, but they aren't good for anything when they are so big. The sea has its beauties but they don't compare with those of the land. I am as happy at sea as one can be because it is God's will I am here, but that doesn't prevent me from yearning to reach our station soon. Although we can find the Blessed Virgin everywhere we wish, I often transport myself in spirit to the hill of Fourvière to thank Mary for having obtained for me what I have so long desired and asked for.

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Dear Br Director, you would certainly be edified if I told you how we celebrated the feast of the Purification. We did nothing out of the ordinary but you will find it very interesting when you consider we are in mid-ocean and among Protestants who have no wish to join in our exercises of piety. The day of the feast, then, rising, prayer and meditation were as usual. As we thought we wouldn’t be having any Mass because of the movement of the vessel, we had Holy Communion at 7 o'clock. At 10 o'clock, the sea having become somewhat calmer, we celebrated Mass. It was Mary, without a doubt, who obtained this favour from her divine Son. At halfpast one we said Vespers and Compline. At 6 o'clock we chanted the litanies of the most holy Virgin, then there was a short sermon, after which we publicly renewed our vows, priests and brothers. The three laymen who had not yet taken vows renewed their baptismal promises. During the ceremony we chanted the psalm "Conserva me Domine, etc" and finished with a canticle in honour of Mary. At 9 o'clock we said the Rosary and finished the day with evening prayer. Every Saturday we sing the litanies of the Queen of heaven and earth to the tune used at Fourvière, so that we imagine ourselves on that holy hill. So you see we have the good fortune of being as free for our exercises of piety as we were at the mother house.
Dear Brother, how beautiful then is the life of the missionaries! The complete abandonment they make of their whole being to Providence pleases God so much he takes special care of them. Nothing causes them concern; whatever happens they are always joyful because they see only God in everything.
Although I am already far away from the Hermitage, very dear Brother, for all that I do not forget you. You know the promise I made you when I was in Lyon, that as long as I lived, you would have a place in my heart alongside Jesus and Mary. Even when I die you will not leave there because heaven is the place where perfect love reigns. Although my prayers are not very efficacious, I observe a duty very dear to my heart when I pray not only for myself but for many others - first of all, you my very dear Brother, and the Brother Assistants, for all the members of the Society, for all the children in the Brothers' schools, for all those I have taught myself, for our unfortunate savages, for my parents, benefactors, and for all those I have scandalised or hurt I ask pardon of God as well as them, though I hope all is forgiven and that we are all praying for one another. I ask of God every day through Mary's intercession, the grace of a good death for all who die in the Society. Since we can do all things through prayer, why not describe a vast circle in the requests we make to God. If one day I have the happiness to celebrate the sacred mysteries, I assure you I will never mount the altar without remembering you, my very dear Brother, as well as all the members of the Society. When I say all the members I mean, of course, to include with all the priests, who are certainly the noblest branch of the Society of Mary, those who try so hard to imitate her virtues. I have said my prayers were very weak, but I hope that in passing them through my good angel, Mary, and Jesus, they will be heard by the very Holy Trinity. I strongly recommend the Brothers to do as much on their side so that we do a holy violence to heaven to be heard.
Very dear Br Director, let me ask you to give me news of yourself and all the Society through the next group to come out. You will let me know if the Brothers are good imitators of the Holy Family in all the establishments, if they are using prayer, kindness, and love of the good God to discipline their children. It seems to me that if they use these methods they make religion very sweet and agreeable for the children. You won't forget to inform me about the two Providences, especially the one in Chemin-neuf. Although I wasn't there for long, I conceived such an affection for the poor children that I would have been sorry to leave them had the good God not been calling me to children even more unfortunate. I have left them in body but not in spirit. I will always remind Our Lady of Fourvière to see to the continuance of what she has begun for those children. If I had stayed in France I would not have asked to leave those children. The Saint Nizier one did not make such an impression on me. But I hope very much that it is also prospering. After I was relieved of that Providence I used to find pleasure in taking a stroll around each day. I loved to see the order reigning there, and especially the happiness evident in the faces if the children. The runaways who had returned couldn't get over the great change that had taken place in their absence. Good Br Aquilas' way of doing things pleased me very much. I saw that he had the firmness of a father and the tenderness of a mother. I am sure his great devotion to Our Lady of Fourvière will obtain for him the graces needed to respond in a satisfactory way to the demands of that difficult post. I say difficult because there is always some difficulty when one wants to do good.
Kindly tell my brother, when you have occasion to see him, that I pray to the good God for him and strongly urge him to be a good religious to the end, that I am well and very happy, and will write to him from the Bay of Islands at the earliest opportunity. Please remember me also to Fr Matricon and the good Fr Besson. Tell them I will write to them once I have seen Mgr Pompallier and have some news of the mission. In the meantime, dear Fr Matricon knows what I proposed to him in my letter from London. I acquit myself daily of the promise I made. I should tell you that our ship is a very new one and quite sturdy. It is 108 feet long and 27 wide, but only in the centre since the ends are narrower. It has 3 masts of 120 feet with 24 sails. I told you earlier that we had almost never been becalmed, but 600 leagues from the Cape we had 15 days of contrary winds or no wind at all. Since all that didn't contribute much to our progress, we set to praying and almost immediately a strong wind from the right quarter let us do in 7 days the 600 leagues remaining to reach the Cape of Good Hope.

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We had been waiting for a long time for the pleasure of setting foot on dry land. At the approaches to the Cape we saw birds with heads and bills like ducks on the sea. They are at least 5 feet in wingspan. They love to fly around ships. People call them the Cape sheep. The sailors have often tried to shoot them, but they are almost as incompetent at hunting as they are at fishing. In this country the warmest wind is the northerly, and the reason is simple enough, since it is the one coming from the direction of the sun, like the southerly in Europe, while the southerly here, not coming from the quarter of the sun, is the coldest. On our voyage we will have a taste of all four seasons of the year. We had winter in London, spring off the islands of Cape Verde, summer at the equator, autumn at the Cape of Good Hope, and we will find ourselves in winter again on arriving in New Zealand. At the Cape we have donned our winter clothing again. Winter is not very harsh in the countries we are going to since it never freezes but only has cool winds from time to time. Snow falls only on the peaks of the high mountains. The trees do not entirely lose their foliage since as leaves fall new ones appear. From London to the Cape we have done at least 4000 leagues. That makes it a bit more than half our voyage. We hope that in 2 months from now we will be at the Bay of Islands, our future home.
Very dear Br Director General, allow me in finishing to cast myself once more at the feet of all the Brothers of the Society of Mary and call on them, by their dearest interests in the name of Jesus and of his divine Mother, under whose standard they have enlisted with such ardour, to fight courageously to the end, and if sometimes during the battle they feel their strength giving out, to cast their eyes up to Jesus and Mary who are there with crowns ready to reward the courageous soldiers. Oh, my dear Brothers, time would certainly have weighed heavily on my hands since I left the battle if I hadn't always in mind the battlefield towards which the winds are driving us. My vows will soon be fulfilled since we will be on the field so long anticipated, I hope, when you receive this letter. The memory of the children I have taught will always be dear to my heart. I will always cherish the memory of how pleasant it was to be with them. Their faults couldn't change that because I always detected behind the faults souls of infinite value. My very dear Brothers, don't try to do more to cure a child's spiritual maladies than a doctor does to cure his bodily ones. No, my dear Brothers, you will never cure a child of his spiritual maladies with a stick or harsh penances. Rather, it is at the foot of Mary's altar and of the crucifix that you will find efficacious remedies. And you others, dear Brothers, who are not destined for the battlefield, don't be discouraged; you can often contribute more to the victory by praying on the mountain than even those fighting on the plain, whether in France or in Polynesia. Dear Br Director General, be assured that if I pressed you with so much ardour for the permission you have so kindly given me, it was not because I was dissatisfied with your gentle direction or with teaching in France. It was only because I had felt for a long time that the good God was calling me to the foreign missions. I have been very happy on my voyage and so are my dear confreres. There are 14 of us in all and we are of one heart and one mind. We live like the first Christians.
We reached the Cape of Good Hope on Shrove Tuesday 22nd February 1841. We were there for (two) and a half days. Cape town is built on the coast at the foot of a mountain called Table Mountain. It has a population of 20,000 of which scarcely 1000 are Catholics. For 3 years they have had an Italian bishop and 2 priests. The Protestants have many churches while the Catholics have only a poor chapel, but they have just laid the foundations for a church. The bishop told us that the French Protestant missionaries were doing a lot of mischief there. The disorders of Carnival are unknown in that place. As soon as we were at anchor the chief of customs of the town came out in a sloop to inspect our vessel. I say in a sloop because ships cannot go close inshore because the water is so shallow. On seeing our Catholic missionaries, the man immediately informed us happily that there was a bishop and a church at the Cape, and that, if we wanted to stay in the town, we would find a good Catholic inn near the Bishop's residence. He told us he was himself a Catholic. We had grapes from the town, melons, pears, apples, and figs. The end of February in this country corresponds to the end of August in Europe. The priests have been to see the bishop several times, and we all went together before leaving to ask for his blessing.
The houses of the town are very attractive but very low. Almost all of them have only a ground floor. The roofs also are almost all flat. The walls have been carefully whitened so they do not absorb all the heat because, as you know, Africa is a very hot country. The countryside round the town is as dry as if fires had been running through it all year round. It would be very satisfying to walk about on dry land after spending a long time at sea, but one scarcely has the heart for it when it is a land dominated by error. We entered the town praying for it, we left it the same way, the second day of Lent. In London we found people who did us services, it was the same at the Cape. The Protestants even did it with pleasure. So the good God looks after us everywhere. Oh, how good it is to be a missionary. The nearer we approach our future homeland, the more difficult I find it to hold in the joy with which my heart is filled. The good God is already giving us the hundredfold of what we have left for him. Ah! dear Brother, how impatient I am to work in the Lord's vineyard! The priests and I will have the advantage of knowing English when we arrive at the Bay of Islands, thanks to Jesus and Mary who have procured teachers for us on the way. It's true they are Protestants, but what does that matter, as long as God's glory is manifest there. The two English people I told you about are very enthusiastic for us to learn their language. What a pity it is they aren't Catholics, but we are praying the good God to let them see the light in return for the service they are doing us. The Bishop of the Cape told us he had recently received a newspaper from Sydney, which announced the conversion of many New Zealand chiefs with 2000 of their people. One of them is named Papaé.[3] Some of them-have subscribed according to their means to a Catholic church which is being built in Sydney. This good news is very timely to encourage us and bring us to pray with renewed fervour. We are well and we all recommend ourselves to the prayers of the community. We are very happy and we thank the Lord and Mary for having called us to such a beautiful vocation.
I close, dear Br Director, by embracing you, and the Brothers too, in the holy hearts of Jesus and Mary. I have the honour of being your very devoted
Br Pierre Marie.
PS My dear Br Director, you will realise I haven't tried to be stylish in this long letter, I have told you things as I have seen them. I have spoken simply from the heart. I am overlong but I have no desire to correct myself on this point even when I have the opportunity. I get so much pleasure from speaking to you I can scarcely finish, but I will stop so as not to abuse your patience.


  1. This letter is most probably that addressed to a Marist Father (LO 71) which features as Letter 21 in Letters from Oceania: Part One (1836-1840) (pp 38-40).
  2. The letter appears to be the one cited in the Circulars: CSG 1. (p50) (rf preceding letter). Monsignor Thomas Griffiths was actually Vicar Apostolic of the London District since the Catholic hierarchy in England was not restored until 1852.
  3. The reference is probably to the Whirinaki chief Papahia, one of Pompallier’s first converts and an invaluable helper to the mission under his Christian name of Werahiko (Francis). (E.R. Simmons: Pompallier. Prince of Bishops. Auckland 1984, pg 36)

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