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Br Jacques to Brother Francois, Samoa, 30 November 1845

LO 57


The missionaries for Bataillon's new venture in Samoa left Wallis on the 12th August 1845 with two Samoan converts on the "Etoile de la Mer" ("Fetu aho"), a new schooner which had been presented to the bishop by the trader John Jones. There were two priests and a brother. Gilbert Roudaire (1813-1852), a Marist since 1842, had already spent two years on Wallis, and was to go the following year to New Caledonia. He was lost at sea along with two other Marists near Tikopia in 1852. Louis Violette (1811-1887), who had joined the Society in 1844, however, remained in Samoa for the rest of his life. The 200 mile crossing from Wallis took 13 days. They anchored first off Falealupo on the westernmost tip of Savai'i and remained there for three days, though conditions did not allow them to land. Then they headed for Safotulafai, the chief village, on the other side of the island. Once again conditions were against them and it was almost two weeks before they found shelter in the bay of Safune. The party found a welcome here but the priests wished to press on overland to Lealatele, further down the coast, village of the catechist Ioakimo. Their favourable reception at Lealatele, in fact, marks the establishment of Catholicism in Samoa. The first Mass was offered there on the 15 September. A day or so later, the priests set off again overland for Safotulafai.

Protestant missionaries, both London Missionary Society and Wesleyan, had had a head start of over 10 years on the Marists, and in 1845 there were already 15 ministers and some 53 student catechists studying in the LMS college at Malua. The arrival of the Catholics had been anticipated and considerable opposition stirred up. So when the priests arrived at Safotulafai they found most of the chiefs in favour of rejecting them. However, they did gain a foothold at Salelavalu, not far away. Satisfied for the present with their situation on Savai'i, Roudaire and Violette left Jacques at Lealatele to set up house and set off for Upolo by boat with a letter from Lavelua of Wallis to Mata'afa Fagamanu of Manono near Apia. He gave them a house and some land in Mulinu'u where they set up the first station on Upolo. Violette remained there for the time being and Roudaire returned to Savai'i at the end of November. The incident Jacques records in this letter [3] must have happened after his return when they were transporting building material for a new church from Salelavalu to Lealatele.

The letter itself is included in the Circulars (Vol 1. pp 403-6).

Text of the Letter

Very dear Brother,
After a short stay of about 3 months on Wallis, I left for the Navigators' group (Samoan islands) with Fathers Roudaire and Violette. We had a long and very difficult crossing. We had hardly arrived there when we found we were at war. But you know, very reverend Brother, our invincible weapons are prayer and patience. Calumnies of all kinds resounded through the two big islands of Savai and Upolu. For about a month it was a time of terror. You cannot imagine the efforts the Protestants (there are about 15 of them here) made to prevent us from taking possession of this land. But today they are beginning to open their eyes; they don't run away when we approach. There is no longer the terror there was a month ago. Those who have embraced our holy religion are starting to acquire confidence. We have two stations, one on the island of Savai, and the other on the island of Upolo. We are going to build a church at Alatele, a quite important village on Savai.
These are truly interesting people. They are more civilised than the Wallisians and have much judgement and common sense, but they are flighty. They are very hospitable. When we arrived on the island we left our belongings with a chief and our fathers departed for Upolo, about 11 hours away, leaving me alone to look after them. I have been alone with the natives now for about 3 months. I get on very well with them. The time does not drag. I do their shaving for them and other little services, and that pleases them. I live just like them and I am in good health, despite the heat and the change of diet. I believe, very reverend Brother, that these people are really deserving of the prayers of our community. There are about 10,000 souls and I am the only Brother to help the priest with the work of conversion. That's too few for such a large and scattered population. I am sure that the Blessed Virgin will attract for me some zealous confreres from our house of the Hermitage who live only for the salvation of souls. We need ardent prayers to establish a solid foundation for Our Lord's reign in these lands. Heresy has already scattered its tares; we have to uproot them and sow good seed. Please, then, very reverend Brother, come to our aid. Bring together the good prayers of all your houses. God has visibly guided and aided us. The ways are opening for us. Four Protestant ministers have left these islands. They have been brought down by their pride. I hope to let you share a little in our prayers and common efforts.
I will conclude by telling you something that happened to me 2 days ago, and which taught me a salutary lesson. Fr Roudaire arrived from the station on Upolo to collect the things needed for the building of a church at Alatele. Having got them ready, he left by land and I stayed to help take our little boat by sea. It is very difficult to land at Alatele, there is no anchorage. Finally, with the aid of the good natives who swam out, we succeeded in gaining land, but only with difficulty. The natives steadied our sloop in a little gap between the rocks while we landed our supplies as best we could by throwing it ashore. We hadn't finished before we had to let the boat leave to go and anchor in a spot 6 or 7 miles away. I had gone down into the cabin to collect some little things left there. When I came on deck again we were already a certain distance from the land. However, as I wanted to go ashore, and without thinking, I dived into the sea and began swimming for land. But I wasn't used to swimming in the sea. I thought it was just like swimming in a pond, but I was mistaken. I found myself in trouble with the waves washing over my head at every moment, and I began to lose strength. I believe I would have had a lot of trouble reaching shore if two natives had not seen I was in difficulties and came to my help. God taught me by this occasion that we should never rely on our own strength but only on his divine mercy.
Please pass on my very humble respects to Fr Matricon as well as dear Brothers Louis-Marie and Jean-Baptiste, and my very sincere greetings to Br Stanislaus and the young Brothers from St Bonnet, as well as all the other Brothers.
I am, with very deep respect, you most devoted
Br Jacques.

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