From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

23. Br Marie-Nizier to Mgr Pompallier. Futuna. 1 May 1841

AM 3. 221-4


This is the first report of Chanel's murder, written only 3 days after the event. Anticipating a like fate, Marie-Nizier wrote it in pencil on a sheet of paper he had with him in his New Testament and confided it to his companion, Thomas Boag, for safekeeping. When the two managed to escape on the "William Hamilton" he recovered it and rewrote it. But it was Bataillon who, on the basis of the Brother's verbal report, first wrote to Pompallier. The text of Marie-Nizier's letter, found among his papers after his death in London on 3 February 1874, was published in the Annales des Missions as part of his obituary notice (cf Rozier PC 117).

A year later, on 14 May 1842, the New Zealand Catholic journal, The Tablet writing about the martyr's death, included a translation of part of a letter from Bataillon to Pompallier at the beginning of June 1841, describing the event in much the same words as Marie-Nizier records it in his letter (rf PC 121). But the Brother was not at the time in a position to verify the accuracy of the information he had been given, and it was not until the mission was re-established that this could be checked and corrected (rf Letter 49).

Text of the Letter

My Lord,

[1] From hour to hour I am only awaiting the moment when I will share Fr Chanel's happy fate. Please God I may offer and sacrifice for him my blood and my life for the Faith as generously as the worthy provicar apostolic of Western Oceania.

[2] The king, who from the beginning of our stay on his island had been so convincing an actor that we believed him to be our best friend, abandoned us a long time ago. That forced us, but particularly Fr Chanel who could put up with fatigue more courageously than I, to work with our own hands to provide our sustenance. He had left us, so to speak, at the mercy of his subjects and some of them took advantage of this to insult us. Still, there were some others with a little more humanity who came when they could to render us services, even despite a lot of mockery. We took profit of these moments to instruct them. The number of catechumens was growing very slowly, for they were constantly persecuted and menaced with losing everything they possessed, houses, plantations, etc. The king's eldest son [Meitala] finally came to the decision to embrace the Catholic religion; his example was followed by a small number of other young men who all had good sentiments. How Fr Chanel rejoiced at seeing these young plants shoot up! For almost all the young men were only waiting for the king's son to convert so they could do the same.

[3] When the king heard of his son's change of heart, he was really angry. He went himself to ask him to abandon the faith. I have to tell you, My Lord, that up to then the king had been the driving force behind the persecutions directed against the catechumens and ourselves. When people threatened to take all we had and burn our house down, it was beyond doubt that those who made these threats had Niuliki's[1] authorisation. We always showed ourselves indifferent to these threats, and Fr Chanel did not show any less zeal in instructing his catechumens. The king's son made no response to his father and none of the other catechumens showed the least sign of apostasing, and this angered Niuliki so much that he hatched a conspiracy with the chiefs to get rid of the catechumens.

[4] It was on the 27th of April that this took place. On the 28th, a nephew of the king, called Musu-Musu, accompanied by the people of his valley, went in midmorning to the one occupied by the king's son and the majority of our young converts. You can imagine their designs. There was a clash, with wounded on both sides. After that, Musu-Musu and the people of the two villages went straight to Poi where we were living. The leader of the band went virtually alone to find Fr Chanel to ask him to dress his wound. It was the kiss of Judas! Fr Chanel was unaware of all that had happened that morning and was alone in our house. When the Father opened the door he was clubbed violently on the head and the first blow was followed by a number of others to different parts of the body. Wounded as he was, he went to sit on the floor of the house and began to read {rf however L49:10} while with one hand he wiped away the blood flowing down his face ... There new tortures awaited him. He was stabbed with bayonets ... he drew out one himself which had pierced his shoulder to his breast ... Finally, after these wretches had thus mistreated and tormented him, Musu-Musu, who had been shouting all the time, "Kill the white! Kill the white!" was the only one brutal enough to terminate the temporal life of the man who had only come to bring them life eternal. He grabbed an axe and used it to put an end to Fr Chanel's transitory sufferings. He cracked the skull so that the forehead fell over the face, but in so doing he procured for him in exchange the martyr's crown and everlasting glory ...

[5] All our belongings have been pillaged. I have only a wretched pair of trousers, a shirt, and a blouse. The sheet of paper which I am using to scribble this for you in pencil was luckily in my New Testament which I always carry on me.

[6] The 26th April I had been sent by Fr Chanel to the villages of the Conquered [Lava] about three and a half leagues from our house to visit a sick man and see if I could find any infants to baptise. On the 28th, the day I was due to return, I was on my way back. An hour earlier and I would have mingled my blood with that of my visible guardian angel, my spiritual father, the one who after God was my all on Futuna! ... But alas, it was not pure enough!..

[7] Providence made use of an apparently very insignificant thing to save my life that day. We kept a pig near our house and one of the Conquerors [Maro] took it as booty. He wanted to keep it, and to show he had taken possession he had bound its feet. But the king ordered that the animal should be killed and served as part of the funeral feast. Our fellow, very angry, immediately decided to save me. He came to meet me to warn me of the danger in store for me if I continued on to the village of Poi. After giving me a little summary of the events which had just taken place, he constrained me to retrace my steps, offering to accompany me as far as the valleys of the Conquered where I am now.

[8] The young Englishman Thomas,[2] who came with us from Vava'u, stayed with us all the time. He entered the sheepfold of Jesus Christ in abjuring Protestantism the eve of All Saints 1840, a very happy date for him. He asks me to confide this letter to him to serve as a guarantee for Your Lordship if he survives me. He has also lost all he had in the looting. He shares my hardships. He prays with me. We have been sleeping in the bush.

Br Marie-Nizier.


  1. The name is also spelled Niuriki - the l and r being interchangeable at the period. Marie-Nizier uses both forms: (rf L 26)
  2. Thomas Boag was an American Protestant the Marists encountered in Vava’u and whom they brought with them at his own request to Wallis and Futuna as an interpreter (cf. Pomp. 17) . His health was not very sound and he died not long after they arrived in Wallis after Chanel’s death. In most accounts the name is spelt as Boog, but in his detailed criticism of Bourdin’s Life of Chanel, Marie-Nizier includes this spelling as one of the many errors in the work (PC 190).

Previous Letter List of Letters Next letter