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Br Joseph-Xavier to Fr Convers, Wallis, 8 Nov 1842


Br Joseph-Xavier (Joseph- or Jean-Marie Luzy 1807-1873), first a student then a general handiman at the Minor Seminary of Marboz, joined the Marists at Belley about 1833. Trained as one of Colin's first Joseph Brothers he was nonetheless professed as a Brother of Mary on 26 September 1836 at Belley after the priests' retreat (Register of Coadjutors). Although he joined the other Brothers on retreat at the Hermitage at the beginning of October, he left after only a few days to help make preparations for the journey to Oceania. This might explain both the date and place of his profession. Pierre-Joseph Convers (1806-1855) was at Marboz from 1826 to 1829 when he was ordained. He joined the Marists in 1831, was one of those professed in September 1836, and went on to become one of the Society's leading missioners in France, though he never worked in the foreign missions. Pompallier left Joseph-Xavier with Pierre Bataillon on Wallis (Uvea) at the beginning of November 1837. This island, to the west of Samoa and northwest of Tonga, did not enjoy a good reputation at this time (rf Pomp. 18) and only a few years before, the king Lavelua and his warriors, not without provocation, had massacred a party of Tongans who had come to try to establish Christianity there. Not surprisingly, the two Marists did not find the going easy, and their position became still more precarious with Pompallier's continuing failure to return as promised. There was always a strong group opposed to their presence and persecution became systematic after the king's anger was aroused by the first conversions early in 1838. In May 1839 Fr Baty and his group called in. to Wallis to check the reliability of rumours they had heard in Tahiti that the two missionaries were either dead or in danger of death. Their visit improved the standing of the two somewhat, but despite the arrival in mid 1840 of reinforcements in the persons of Fr Chevron and Br Attale, their situation was such that news of Chanel's death on Futuna was enough to place it in serious jeopardy once again. But Bataillon had established a solid foundation for the Church and when Pompallier returned at the end of 1841 in the company of a French warship and stayed several months on Wallis the mission at last met with real and lasting success, Lavelua himself becoming a convert (Pomp. 78-9). When he returned to New Zealand, Pompallier left Viard, his grand Vicar, on Wallis as head of the tropical missions. He also made arrangements on his return to send for Joseph-Xavier who was suffering from elephantiasis of the leg, but it appears that when the "Sancta Maria" arrived with Marie-Augustin, his replacement, Bataillon decided he could not dispense with him. We do not have the original of this letter but in a later case where a letter of Joseph-Xavier's has been also published in AM it has been extensively edited and rearranged (rf Letter 73). We must assume this to be the case with this one also. Certainly the reference to his occupations [5] appears to refer back to the supposed letter of Chanel to Convers of May 1840, where an extract from a letter of Joseph-Xavier written to Chanel is included as a postscript (AM 429-30) (For the history of Chanel's letter rf Introduction to Letter 12).

Text of the Letter

Reverend Father,
For a long time I have been waiting for news of you, but always in vain. Often I tell myself: Fr Convers is on his way, and each time I am disappointed. What has become of those zealous friends who, when I was still in France, used to often say to me: "We will be seeing each other in a little while..."? The little while drags on. What are they afraid of ? Is it the sea voyage? If one gets sea-sick, one soon gets over it. Are they afraid of being killed and eaten? They wouldn't be the first. To be killed - that's a little matter; to be eaten that's even less. And besides, wouldn't that be so much the better for them? They would share the reward of our good Father Chanel. For myself, I cannot conceal from you that, in the time of persecution when the order was given to put us to death, I would have preferred it had been carried out for me just as it was for Fr Chanel; now I would be with him rejoicing in the presence of God.
Even today, if some of my countrymen wish to replace me on Ouvea, I will willingly go to another place as dangerous as the one we have had the good fortune to bring to adore God. Wallis before our arrival, everyone says, was the island in this region which offered most danger. I can cite sad enough examples. One day the islanders massacred a captain and his crew of about 30 to 32 persons. The ship was pillaged, then burned and sent to the bottom to conceal all traces of the crime. Another time they cut the throats of 12 to 15 sailors of a schooner which was trying to make land. And how many similar atrocities these islanders have committed!
See what a happy revolution has taken place! Wallis is now a place to be visited, as edifying as it is populated. The inhabitants have abandoned their old customs. They don't kill any more, they don't steal anymore, they are gentle and friendly, and at this moment there are 6 ships at anchor off these inhospitable shores! It is consoling to hear these good savages attribute to us this change which surprises them as much as it does us. You can judge the attachment they have to our priests from that they show me who am only a poor Brother and never stop scolding them. Recently I told them that I was going away, that the “Epikopo", our big chief, had sent his ship especially to take me away, that he wanted me close to him. They were quite desolated. Since then they are always around me, asking me a thousand questions. "Who will cure us when we are ill ? Who will dress our wounds? they asked me one day. - The Brother who is coming to replace me. - Oh! but he won't be as good as you. - He will be much better, and besides, he won't have much difficulty being so, since I am always scolding you. - Your anger doesn't fool us, but his will be the real thing."
The king himself, having heard that yesterday I went on board a schooner which is moored a league and a half from our house, came to see for himself if I had had my luggage taken on board. When he saw that everything was ready for my departure, he gave orders that he should be told of my return to shore, with the intention of securing me and hiding me away until the ship had sailed. The good king and his subjects obviously reasoned that, since I had already been a long time on the island, I should stay for good.
My occupations are still pretty much the same. I am responsible for the sacristies of our main churches or chapels; I continue to make confessionals, communion tables, tabernacles. I also make dresses, shirts, and other garments for our islanders, who, like us, are children of Jesus and Mary.
Pray for me, my reverend Father, and don't forget me at the Memento in the Mass.
Brother Joseph-Xavier.

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