Fr Servant to Brother Francois, Futuna, 20 July 1846
CSG 1. 440-443
By 1846, with most of the population fervent Christians, Futuna was also providing the Marists with a nursery of converts from other islands. The year before, Favier had announced to Colin the arrival of a group of 10 Futunans from Rotuma appealing, on the Rotumans' behalf, for Catholic missionaries for those islands (letter of 27 August 1845 AM 381). They said that, although the chiefs of Rotuma had told their subjects to wait until priests arrived, some of them were eager to come to Futuna as soon as possible for instruction. It may be that the converts Servant refers to here  were among their number. Bataillon established a mission on Rotuma in December 1846 (rf L 67). It is much more difficult to establish the identity of the young Fijian chief mentioned, however. The sons of the Tui Nuyau (Lakeba) were catechumens who are said to have struggled for their faith for a long time. Their father turned Wesleyan in 1849 to avoid war with Ratu Mara, brother of the famous Cakobau (Castanie, Histoire, SM Archives, Suva). But the cases do not appear to match very well.
Francois' letter of 11 November 1844 was probably written to accompany the group which sailed to Australia that month to set up a Marist procure for Oceania in Sydney. Since the other letter from the Hermitage (L 52), written a month or so later, did not reach Futuna, we may assume it was Servant's sharing of the contents of this one with the brother that prompted Marie-Nizier to write his letter to the Hermitage in June (rf L 64).
Servant's health began to deteriorate quite badly in 1849 and he was withdrawn to Sydney in 1855. Assigned after his recovery to Samoa in 1857, he had to be recalled to Australia only two years later. On his way back, he was asked to stop in Futuna and direct the inquest being conducted by Rome on the life and death of Chanel with a view to his beatification. It was there death caught up with him on 8th January 1860. He was buried in the church dedicated to the Queen of Martyrs.
This letter is No 63 in LO. There are two copies of it in the AFM, one in Cahier 1 (48 lettres) (pp 185-9), the other in Cahier 2 (lettres des 1846) (pp 163-8).
Text of the Letter
- Very honourable and dear Brother,
- Your letter of 11 November 1844 has arrived, thanks be to God. I have read and reread it with a pleasure I cannot express. How lovely it is to receive news of old friends on these distant shores! The memory of you and the good Fathers of the Hermitage will never be effaced from my heart. I am not surprised you share our joy in the works God had been pleased to bless. We are, after all, intimately united by the bonds of a common Society, and these bonds are indissoluble. Let us rejoice by all means, for we work in concert to cultivate a part of the field the Father of the family has confided to us. Quam bonum et jucundum fratres in unum.
- I am not going to give you any details about the mission of Futuna. I presume you will have heard of the lengthy report I propose to send the Very Reverend Father Superior general of our Society. I will confine myself to giving you a short exposition of the actual state of this infant Church here, of our occupations, and of the kind of life we lead on Futuna now the island has become so peaceful under the influence of religion.
- Of the entire population of Futuna there remain no more than 8 adults who have not yet received the grace of baptism. Up till now the dispositions of these stragglers has left much to be desired. Five of them have persisted in pushing through an unjust divorce. But illness has just struck the chief of these and inspired a salutary fear. The divorce has been called off and the non-baptised are proposing to enter the Lord's fold at the first opportunity. To those can be added the return to God of several English and Irish sailors, who have found the peace of the Lord after leading the life of vagabonds in Oceania. And will I pass over those Fijians Providence has led to Futuna to find the life of grace? Among them is the son of the greatest king of Fiji who was murdered by a usurper. He has been staying for a long time with the young men devoted to our service. He proposes to receive instruction in the faith and then return to his homeland (the main island of Fiji) to exercise the Catholic ministry among the population which is still all pagan. In addition, there are some Rotuman converts who are being instructed how to serve as catechists when His Lordship our bishop can send priests to their homeland. Of no less interest to you will be the news that almost everyone on Futuna frequents the sacraments. About 80 adults have not yet made their first communions but I hope they will come, or most of them, once their work is finished (for the people here as in your country have to work for a living) to make their retreat in preparation. This is obligatory for our converts.
- But what about the lodgings and livelihood of the missionaries? First of all, we have very good accommodation in the Futunan style. In each parish we have a very sizeable piece of land. The house I live in at present, in the parish of the Queen of Martyrs, is built of bamboo and surrounded by a sort of gallery with columns covered in different designs made by the women of the area. You could say it is a little chateau. It is situated in the middle of an enclosure with a hedge of superb shrubs the islanders call "ti". This was where our poor Fr Chanel struggled to exist by the sweat of his brow. It is now where we have a little forest of orange trees, lemon trees, breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, yams, and kafika. We also harvest pineapples, beans, onions, but that's all. The establishment of Saint-Joseph, situated in one of the most beautiful spots on Futuna, is perhaps more lovely, but doesn't have the abundance of fruit trees. The house just completed there is made of bamboo. The builders were Fijians, first among them the well-disposed young chief I have already mentioned.
- What shall I tell you about our way of life? The first two years of our time on Futuna we went hungry, but since that time our situation has improved. A certain number of young men have placed themselves at our service. There are as well some generous people who make us presents of food from time to time. Our livestock keep on growing. We already have a good number of pigs, fowls, turkeys, goats, a sheep and a lamb, and some ducks. As for our costume - don't be scandalised (our converts certainly aren't), but we go about barefoot. I put on stockings to say Holy Mass when my shoes are worn out. For two years now I have been wearing on weekdays only a white soutane I owe to my confrere's charity. But our good bishop will soon be coming back to our aid.
- All that remains for me to do now is to describe our chapels for you. They are all temporary. We propose to build permanent ones in wood or stone when all our converts have been admitted to the sacraments. But our churches are lamentably poor! We have hardly anything to decorate them with except the local material and what we find in the forests. May I be allowed to appeal to your charity and that of the generous people of Saint-Chamond to obtain the objects we need for the services in our two churches, and especially so we can have a fitting procession of the Holy Sacrament in the two parishes. It seems to me this little patch of land watered by the blood of a martyr merits your consideration. I haven't yet received the supply of rosaries Fr Besson spoke of in his letter to me. There will be great joy throughout Futuna when we are able to distribute them, and the Futunans will not forget their charitable benefactors when they recite their daily rosary. When I am talking with the youth I sometimes mention the good Christians of France, and they confide in me their desire to embark for that dear land, the source of life and salvation for them. What a beautiful religion it is that unites in charity the hearts of people spread all over the earth! The savage, sitting on the ruins of idolatry, contemplates with fear the abyss of evil from which he has been delivered and is overwhelmed with joy and consolation. He blesses the charity of those brothers who come to bring comfort to his heart. Gaudium magnum habui et consolationem in charitate sua quia viscera sanctorum requieverunt per te frater.
- Frs Matricon and Besson and all the priests in the neighbourhood of the Hermitage who come to mind, will find here the expression of my humble respects and most sincere affection.
- Please accept, very honourable and dear Brother, the affectionate regards with which I am, and will always remain in the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
- Your very humble and devoted,
- Missionary apostolic.
- refer Introduction to letter 56.
- Philemon v7 (Vulgate). Although Champagnat had taught Francois the rudiments of Latin before he was forced to give up the teaching of it in 1820 or 1821 (Life p 64), Servant was probably relying on the Brother's familiarity with the text from the daily scripture reading prescribed by the Rule.
|Previous Letter||Letters from Oceania: 1846-7||Next letter|