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Br Joseph-Xavier (Jean-Marie Luzy) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis, 8 December 1843

APM OW 208 Luzy

Clisby Letter 43. Girard doc.297

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


At the same time as he was seeking Rome's help to regulate relations between the Society and Pompallier, Colin presented to Propaganda a plan for dividing up the bishop's enormous vicariate into smaller, more easily manageable units. This plan was also approved and the first step was to create a new Vicariate of Central Oceania covering Wallis and Futuna, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, New Caledonia and the New Hebrides in August 1842. Bataillon was named Vicar Apostolic, and it was his deputy and coadjutor, Guillaume Douarre, who consecrated him as titular bishop of Enos on the 3 December 1843. Bataillon, who in his new role was to provide the Marists with as many problems as Pompallier, had already displayed his authoritarian bent by refusing, up to this date, to allow Joseph-Xavier to write to his Superiors (PC p245 Doc 63 n. 1). The Brother gives a fairly full account of the frustrations and hardships Pompallier had imposed upon them by his long absence, vivid still 2 years later. The bishop had indeed been witness to the looting incident he refers to - he gives a full account of it in his "Early History" (pp 25-6). But he seems to have drawn no conclusions from the affair beyond the efficacy of his own personal mediation, and the optimism with which be left the two on Wallis proved quite unjustified (Pomp. 27). He also deals at length with the question of his inability to return to the tropical stations as promised (p45), a failure which many of the Marists, including Bataillon, claimed was a major factor in the process leading up to Chanel's murder (rf eg Bataillon to Colin 31 May 184 1, PC 12 1). And while he did send reinforcements in May 1840 in the persons of Fr Joseph Chevron and Br Attale he did not send anything substantial with them in the way of supplies. Thus by the time he eventually arrived at the end of 1841 he found them with health seriously impaired and Joseph-Xavier in need of urgent medical attention. The visit of the corvette "Embuscade" in September 1842 and the work of its two doctors set him on the road to recovery and by December he was well enough to work about the house, as he records in his Journal.[1] In addition, they had received a further assistant in November in Br Marie-Augustin, who arrived on the "Sancta Maria" which Pompallier was sending to Valparaiso to be sold.

Br Joseph's French, with its often phonetic spellings, is not always easy to decipher,- this is very much the case with the opening section of [5] in this letter. The original is in the APM (OW 208).

Text of the Letter

Very reverend Father,
Since I said goodbye in person I have not been in touch with you by letter. Today when I have permission, allow me to open my heart to you.
6 years, one month and 10 days have passed and I am still with Mgr Baftaillon [sic] on Wallis. We have endured all the hardships the good God has sent us. What pained me most was to see Fr Battaillon in a soutane the poor would not have wanted to salvage. I had made him two sorts of apron which didn't help much. I will leave it to your imagination how well dressed I was since in my time in the missions I have received only one suit and 13 shirts, 2 pairs of trousers, and some shoes.
But enough about that. I am very happy at present. Fr Bataillon has been consecrated a bishop the 3rd of December, the anniversary of his first Mass on Wallis, the feast of St Francis Xavier. I will say nothing further about this pleasant surprise, but I can still assure you, my reverend Father, that it wasn't you who nominated Fr B bishop. Certainly you were inspired with the idea by Divine Providence which has never yet abandoned us. Everyone else has abandoned us but Providence has always been on hand to sustain us. Mgr Pompallier left us on Wallis with the definite promise he would come back to us in 4 months or 6 months at the latest - it took him 4 years and 2 months at least. Yet he went away with a fair idea of our situation since he had seen with his own eyes that my trunk had been thoroughly rifled the day before the schooner set sail. When it raised anchor and left the anchorage, if their eyes had been on Fr B. when he returned to shore they would have seen a crowd of natives gather around him and strip him of his clothes. Monsignor had made many promises which were not carried out. We were treated here as liars. He did not come to see us until 4 years and more had passed. Fr Batti [sic] called in 18 months later but gave us nothing, promising Monsignor would come two or three months later. No sign of him. 18 months later Fr Chevron arrived empty handed because Monsignor was supposed to be coming in 2 months time to bring him his requirements and to provide us with what we needed. Still no sign of him. We had to wait until after the death of saintly Fr Chanel who was in the same miserable state as ourselves. O Providence, whose designs are great and incomprehensible, with what pleasure, my reverend Father, I first read, and still read, your kind letter.
I will say nothing of the past. Because of the poor diet we had, and even that was quite often not forthcoming, we have now to regain our health. Mgr B. lost three quarters of his strength. As for me, I have been prey to different sicknesses caused by the poor diet of the country. I was attacked by two sicknesses. The main one, hydrocele, was treated by the doctor of the "Embuscade" who stayed here 2 weeks and cured many cases of this sickness. The other one consists of a swelling of the leg, arm, etc. etc. [elephantiasis]. In my case a swollen leg gives me occasional trouble. The pain has much diminished, but there is no remedy except a change of diet. Up till the present we have been eating only what the natives have, yam, breadfruit, taro, and some wild roots. The bananas are not healthy.
We have no garden to speak of as yet, only some chicory plants, salad, beans. Cabbages can't get established, the little stalks produce no seeds, and the same with several other plants. The water melon beds are very productive. A sailor gave us an onion. This onion produced 5 and now we have 30. The ark now has two mules. We have a number of young people at our service; they have a lot of work to do since there are three parishes on the island. There are about 15 natives at His Lordship's service at St Josephs, 8 with Fr Viard at St Peters and at St John the Baptist, the main house which is my residence and that of the Fathers when they are at home, about 10. They all work quite happily and all we have given them so far is a length of cloth to make them belts. Another time Monsignor gave them each a blouse but they have had plenty of time to wear those out. Since they stay at the house they have to provide food for us and for themselves, according to the custom of the country. I leave it to you, Reverend Father, to consider how generous they are towards us. They are very obedient, they do everything we want, they love us a lot. Some lengths of calico on your part would give them cause to remember you with gratitude.
They greatly admire our work and enjoy watching the carpentry. Dear Br Augustin, who came to replace me because of the infirmities I had when Mgr Pompallier visited, has distinguished himself by the skill of his work. He has made a well in the garden which the natives find fascinating. We have put up two passable houses, a church 100 feet long and 40 wide, 10 feet high, supported by pillars 2 feet around, a beautiful communion table, all crafted by hand, a little painted altar, and the chair is very pretty. There, very reverend Father, are some little details. If I have no more, it is because of this wretched writing. Br Augustin asks me to remember him to you and for a mention in your fervent prayers. I am quite annoyed not to have received news of my relations.
Goodbye. I commend myself to your fervent prayers and those of the holy community of Mary.
I am, with the utmost pleasure, your entirely devoted servant,
Br Joseph Xavier né Luzy.
Wallis, called Uvea, 8 December 1843.

Our good natives ask me to remember them to you. Excuse me for this scribble. I speak to my well-loved Father.


  1. Joseph-Xavier's Journal covers the period from August 1836 to January 1843. It is in his personal file in the APM.

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