15 February - 25 July 1844 — Br Attale (Jean-Baptiste Grimaud) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Tonga
D’après l’expédition, APM OC 208 (Tonga) Grimaud.
Clisby Letter 44. Girard doc. 319.
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
When the new group of missionaries arrived at the Bay of Islands in December, 1839, Pompallier decided to send Fr Chevron and Br Attale (rf L 10) to help Chanel, since there was a boat about to sail for the tropics. After various adventures, they reached Futuna in mid May 1840 and worked there until November when Bataillon requested them for Wallis. The two were there for over a year. In May 1842, Pompallier took them on the "Sancta Maria" from Wallis to Tonga via Futuna and Fiji. He had with him about 30 Tongans who had been converted on Wallis, and when they reached Lakeba in mid June, they encountered another group led by the son of one of the chiefs of Pea on Tongatapu. He advised them to approach the high chief of Pea, Moeaki'i, and it was with the latter that Pompallier left his two missionaries at the beginning of July. In his "History" the Bishop considerably underrates the influence of the Wesleyan mission in Tonga and the extent of the opposition to the Catholics (Pomp. 80). Chevron and Attale were thus very dependent on the goodwill of Moeaki'i, who was not himself interested in Christianity at this stage, but who saw the French Catholics as potential allies in the struggle being waged in Tonga between the old order and the new, symbolised by the English missionaries and being vigorously promoted by the young Ha'apai chief, Taufa'ahau, later to become King of all Tonga under the name of George I. The missionaries had no resources of their own and there was famine at the time as well. When Fr Jerome Grange arrived in October to reinforce the mission, he was so alarmed at their state of health that he wrote to Colin.
It was in response to this appeal that Monsignor Douarre called in on the corvette "Bucephale" in November 1843. Guillaume Douarre (1810 - 1853) had only just completed his novitiate with the Marists when he was consecrated titular Bishop of Amata and coadjutor to Bataillon in October 1842. He had left France for the new Vicariate of Central Oceania with a new party of Marists on 4 May 1843. Attale, taking advantage of the visit to write to Colin, admits to having been close to death earlier that year: "Without the help of a miracle I would be no more, and very likely His Lordship, who has just arrived on the corvette, would have found no one at this establishment." (Letter of 26 November 1843 in the APM). Douarre reported to Bataillon, and in July 1844 the new Vicar Apostolic arrived with two more missionaries, Fr Philippe Calinon and coadjutor Brother Jean Reynaud. It was probably from the brothers accompanying Douarre's party that Attale heard some of the problems some of his confreres were facing in the missions. .
Grange (1807 - 1852) had worked as a baker, among other things, before becoming a priest in order to go to the missions. He was professed as a Marist in September 1841 and appointed to Tonga only a few months after his arrival in the Pacific. He had to be withdrawn to Sydney himself for health reasons in 1846. He spent a few months later on the New Caledonia mission, was wounded in the sacking of the Balade station, July 1847 (rf L 72), withdrawn to Sydney once more, and repatriated to France in 1848. He died as chaplain to the Brothers' novitiate and school at St. Paul-Trois-Chateaux in 1852 and is buried in the cemetery there.
This translation has been made from a photocopy of the original in the APM supplied with others by the late Fr Theo Kok SM.
Text of the Letter
- Reverend Father Colin,
- I thank you for the trouble you are taking, or rather for the goodness you show in asking for news of me, how I am. You tell me to write to you. I am going to do my best, as you see. You tell me you would like to hear about the hardships I experience. I will tell you about them. I have nothing to say about the temporal ones. I am better off than I expected. The hardships that I endured on Futuna and Wallis were greater that those I experience in Tonga. It is true that we were in real want in the first few months. As for the spiritual ones - alas! reverend Father. I left the world at the age of 28; the Lord took pity on me and called me to the religious life. I left Sodom, I had been a witness to the miseries of Sodom. These are the miseries which add to the trials which I have to combat every day. Yes, father, with the help of grace I have fought, I will fight, and I wish to fight all the days of my life to win the cross of honour which has been promised to the one who has fought valiantly. I am perfectly content with both the temporal and the spiritual. The one who follows the advice, the virtues, and the example of Fr Chevron will have nothing to fear from the flames of Purgatory when he dies - he will go straight to heaven.
- I think, Father, that you are already aware that the brothers in some establishments are just poor servants, not at all treated with much charity. I hope that some good Father will give you a clearer picture. The hardships a brother experiences himself are burden enough. If he is not supported by the charity of those who ought to show him such, how will he persevere?
- I must tell you also, Father, that since I left France, I have not received a single letter except the one from you Monsignor of Amata had the kindness to bring me. Is it really possible that in the years I have been on the mission my father, my relations, my friends, my Superiors at the Hermitage, have waited so long without sending me news of themselves? Please, Father, have the goodness to find out if all my relations are still living. I ask you to let me know if you think it expedient. It was by chance that I learned that my Superior Fr Champagnat was no more. They tell me he left a beautiful testament. Fr Grange says you have written a letter for the priests which also concerns the brothers in our establishments.  We haven't seen it yet - at least, I haven't seen it myself.
- I ask you also to censor anything unsuitable in the letter I am sending to my family and to see that they receive it.
- Forgive me, Reverend Father Colin, if I have taken too many liberties, and allow your poor brother Attale to ask you for the help of your prayers to persevere and die a holy death.
- Asking your blessing,
- Brother Attale.
- Caroline Duriez-Toutain: The Marist Fathers in Tonga. 1992. (mss.) Eng. trans. p.3.
- Br Avit records the Bishop’s visit to the Hermitage: “A new bishop, Mgr Douarre, bishop of Amata, honoured us with his welcome visit on February 13. Eleven Fathers and Brothers are going to embark with him. They are all from the diocese of Clermont” (2;39). In fact, only 7 others of the party were from Douarre’s home diocese. The bishop of Clermont hoped they would be working together in the Pacific, but the new Vicar Apostolic of Central Ocerania had other ideas. (cf Wiltgen 321).
- This appears to be the letter of 20 November 1840 (rf L 31).
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