Br Joseph-Xavier (Jean-Marie Luzy) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis, 5 June 1844
D’après l’expédition, APM OW 208 Luzy.
Clisby Letter 47. Girard doc. 331
Translation and introduction by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Douarre's group of missionaries was a large one, consisting of six priests, a seminarian, and four coadjutor brothers. They did not, however, travel out to the Pacific together. One party, under the direction of the new provincial, Philippe Calinon, sailed on the aged warship "Phaeton" on April 25 1843 and took 10 months to reach Tahiti. From there, they sailed on a merchant ship, the "Adolphe", arriving in May 1844. Douarre and the others left France a week later on May 4 on a newer warship, the "Uranie". It took them only 6 months to reach the Marquesas where they transferred to another ship, the "Bucephale", on which they arrived at Wallis at the beginning of December 1843.
Douarre found his new superior, the new Vicar Apostolic of Central Oceania, without hat or shoes and his soutane in tatters. But he had supplies as well as men with him, and also the promise of a direct link with France through a proposed French Pacific trading company which would offer the missionaries an assured supply line and free transport. Colin is said to have proposed such an idea as early as 1842 and Douarre himself had played a small part in the negotiations before leaving France (Hosie 101).
Once Bataillon had been consecrated by his deputy, he wasted no time in arranging the disposition of his forces. Douarre with one of the priests and two of the brothers he had brought sailed on almost immediately for New Caledonia on the "Bucephale", and with them went Viard. Bataillon retained the other two priests and the seminarian to work the printing press they had also brought with them. When the other members of the expedition arrived the following May, the bishop was quick to implement his plans for them. He wanted to reinforce the mission in Tonga and establish a new station in Fiji. Calinon and Br Jean were destined for the former and Fr Jean-Baptiste Breheret and Br Annet Perol for the latter. Annet (1814 - 1848), professed as a coadjutor in the Society in March 1843, was to last barely 4 years in Fiji, dying at Lakeba in 1848. Each group was assigned a number of Wallisian catechists and the Fiji group was also strengthened by the addition of Roulleaux, with Favier replacing him on Futuna.
By the time this letter was written, shortly before Bataillon left on the "Adolphe" with the missionaries for the various stations, significant changes had taken place on Wallis. The bishop had moved his residence on the east coast of Uvea north from Falaleu to Matautu. This became the Vicariate's centre of administration and the site of its cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Hope. There were churches and houses in the north, SS Peter and Paul at Vaitupu, and in the south, St Joseph at Mua, each with its own household. Bataillon had built up a strong group of catechists and was to use them to great effect throughout the vicariate.
I have left the spelling of the Christian names of the boys and young men serving the different stations as they appear in Joseph-Xavier's French original. They are, for the most part, readily identifiable. He also provides the Uvean form of the names; in a couple of instances this is the only form he gives.
Text of the Letter
- Very reverend Father,
- I am not at all afraid of writing to you because I know very well you will not take any notice of the mistakes in spelling and French I am going to make. Please make allowance for them. I want to speak to you as my good father.
- May Jesus and Mary be always with us all. Following the confidence and the good advice you have given us, they have never abandoned us. I have been many years now on Wallis. I do not know where Divine Providence will lead me. But let it lead me where it will, I know it will always be for my good.
- I will give you a few details about my time on Wallis. Up to the present my occupations have been of all kinds. The good Br Augustin is much better than I in joinery and carpentry. The beautiful churches His Lordship has had built are much more his work than mine. I look after the little household we have as I haven't the strength for strenuous work. I do what I can. I do the washing and bleaching the linen as best I can. Up till now necessity has forced us to do it well. I have finally given up making trousers for Monsignor out of bedsheet, and the same with dear Br Augustin and myself, with the hope of receiving from France what we need to clothe ourselves. I think it is permitted to tell you how wretched we were in the way of clothing when there were only the two of us, Fr Bataillon (ie Monsignor) and me. I didn't have much washing to do then.
- Monsignor had only his soutane covered with patches, and I had my old summer smock, the one I wore when I was at Belley, and an old piece of tapa - the cloth of the country - which I wore wrapped around me to under the arms, and in these costumes we sat down to a bite of yam or breadfruit. Today, very reverend Father, it's nothing like that on Wallis. Still, I am sure that that is what contributed to the infirmity I will perhaps have to endure for the rest of my life. Every day I am expecting a ship with a doctor so I can have an operation. It will be as painful as the one I had when the "Embusquade" (sic), a warship, stopped here. I hope, reverend Father, that the good God will do the same favour as then, and with the help of your fervent prayers I have nothing to fear. Of the 25 to 30 operated on, only one has died.
- I will tell you about our little property. We are beginning to have a poultry yard. For almost 18 months now we have had some Barbary ducks. They have already provided eggs and we have even just had a brood of ten. Our fowls are not doing so well, though good Br Augustin takes all the means possible. I think we will succeed; the good God who has his hand in everything will make us succeed so as to nourish his servants. Monsignor is beginning to grow stronger. If Providence had not sustained us, he would have succumbed to weakness long ago. He is obliged to hear confessions from morning to evening and from evening to morning. In paschaltide there are 300 to 400 Communions every Sunday and 200 or more on ordinary Sundays. I leave it to you to imagine if a bit of yam or breadfruit could have kept him going if God had not given him the strength. Now that through your kindness we can get things direct from France we can have fresh or salt pork. New Zealand will not supply us with what we need, like pigs. Our farmyard has a good number of these animals.
- In the 3 different houses we have on Wallis, that is, the bishop's palace and the two parishes, there are more than 40 young people at our service who want to stay with us and plant crops to feed us and our animals. I can assure you there are some very good ones among the cherished little troupe. I have no doubt, reverend Father, that if you could see them you would weep with joy - more obedient ones you would never find, obliging, wonderfully kind. I do not have the words to describe the great majority of inhabitants of Uvea, and especially those who live with us. If time permitted I would name them all. But here are some of the outstanding ones. At Notre Dame, Baingamain, (Pelesamino), Cageton (Kasetano), Tovite, Sovita, Lorant (Lolesio), Silenasio, etc. etc. At St Joseph, Modeste (Motesito), Bienheureux (Peato), Apolon (Apolonio), etc. etc. At St Peter, Jude (Suta), Doise (Tuaheto), Simeon (Simone), etc. etc. Irene (Ilenio) is everywhere because he works at carpentry and is already skilled. Many also serve and give the responses at Holy Mass. Monsignor has given them smocks to wear. One of them is beginning to make cloth. Some of them are beginning to speak a little French, and a few to read Latin. I am telling you about things that don't concern me, very reverend father, but please excuse me. And I tell you too that the altars, chairs, communion tables of our poor churches would not look out of place in many churches in France. We make planks with the help of our good Christians, especially the young ones. Some of these workers are leaving with the Fathers who are going to found new establishments, 4 for Fiji and 4 for Tonga.
- The two good brothers who accompanied Fr Calinon have made us wooden shoes and showed us how to make charcoal which is useful for the forge. It is a pity Br Anne (sic) cannot remain with us to provide us with footwear. He is going with Fr Bererah (sic). He wants you to know that it is no sacrifice for him because he is so happy.
- I have been telling you about many things and I have forgotten the essential one - the important matter of my salvation. Perhaps you think that because I am on Wallis I have become a little saint. But you would be sadly mistaken. Still, I hope to go to heaven because the infinite mercy of our divine Master who has sent me to this distant land will not let the enemy of my salvation carry off the victory in the war he wages against me. I can tell you, very reverend Father, that we spent many years amidst the abominations of the savages and these repulsive and hostile savages. I am certain it was only your fervent prayers and those of the good souls who pray for me that prevented me from falling into the clutches of the enemy of my salvation. I commend myself once more, very reverend Father, to your fervent prayers and those of the whole Society of Mary. That is to say, the good Marist Fathers, the good Marist Brothers, the good Marist Sisters. And I thank them with all my heart for the kindness they have shown me, for I frequently unite myself with the Society to pray. It's a practice I learned from my good Bishop in the beginning when there were only the two of us. You are well acquainted with my faults, reverend Father. My fiery and hasty character frequently leads me to fall into impatience, vexing me the more since our good natives do not answer back. How good-hearted our poor little children are that they never get annoyed by my bad temper. I am not ashamed to tell you these things. I am talking to you as to my good father. I promise to follow your good advice always and try to correct myself.
- Excuse me for this long letter, very reverend Father, and for all the mistakes I have made. I will try in future not to be so longwinded and to write to you every time an opportunity offers.
- Receive, my very reverend Father,
- the very humble and obedient testimony of your entirely devoted servant,
- Br Joseph Xavier, Catechist.
- Tapa is made from the treated bark of the paper mulberry tree.
- Motesito Ha, the author of the letter written in the name of the young men of Uvea to their Christian “relations” in Lyon in 1842 (rf AM 473). Bataillon took him to Rome in 1856 to study for the priesthood but he died there the following year.
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