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Br Lucien to Br Francois, Futuna, 10 December 1846

LO 65

See Girard0579 for Peter McConnell's translation of this same letter


The "Arche d'Alliance" left the English Channel on 29 November 1845 and sailed down the coast of South America. But instead of doubling around the Horn, Captain Marceau took the shorter but more dangerous route through the Strait of Magellan. They celebrated Easter at Valparaiso, sailed on to the Marquesas at the end of May 1846 and reached Tahiti on 8 July. Here they received news of the missions, including Epalle's death the December before, and Marceau purchased a brig, the "Anonyme", for the service of the missions. They then sailed for Wallis via Samoa, arriving at the centre of Bataillon's vicariate on October 23. The Annals of the Propagation of the Faith indicate that 8 of the missionaries aboard were for Central Oceania while 5 were for the Vicariate of Melanesia and Micronesia (APFT 20. p 90). But it seems that Epalle's successor, Collomb, ended up with only one priest (Crey) and one brother (Optat) when he eventually sailed on for his mission.

Three of Bataillon's new missionaries were destined for a new mission on Rotuma. Rotuma is the main island of a small group lying about 390 kilometres northwest of Fiji and inhabited by Polynesians. Pompallier had called in there in November 1837 with Servant and Br Michel and received a friendly reception. Two of the chiefs had invited them to stay and the bishop promised he would try to set up a mission there (Pomp. 33), but it was left to Bataillon nearly 10 years later to make the attempt. In the meantime, the old chief (probably a Tongan since the two island groups had close historical ties), who had invited the Catholics, had died and there were already 6 Protestant missions established from Tonga. The little group were reluctantly allowed a hut at Oinafa where they celebrated Christmas Mass. But from then on they met with much persecution and little success.

Lucien may be considered a little hard in his comments on his confreres, Paschase and Gerard [2,3]. But it is interesting that his remark about the former, that "those who frequent society are not suited to sailing the islands", was to be repeated by both Bataillon and Chevron with reference to that brother. But the bishop has something quite different to say when he informs Colin of his death in Fiji a few years later. As for Gerard, he had indeed endured a martyrdom. In fact, Marceau, when challenged later, on the wisdom of his shortcut through the Strait of Magellan, justified himself by saying: "One of our coadjutor Brothers would certainly have died if I had gone on around Cape Horn" (Marceau 1. 309). Gerard eventually settled for Upolu where he built the first church at Mulinu'u and where he died the following year (rf L 69). Optat, on the other hand having survived all the vicissitudes of the mission in the Solomons, appears to have left the Society at the end of 1850.

Lucien also gives a little news about Jacques on Savai'i, Joseph-Xavier and Marie-Augustin on Wallis, and Marie-Nizier on Futuna. The latter had already written to the Hermitage earlier in the year and, if he did write again in December, his letter has not survived [4]. On the other hand, he did write to Colin about this time. Latin and Greek works were forbidden to the Brothers since study of them was considered incompatible with their vocation.

This letter was written shortly before Lucien sailed for Rotuma with Frs Pierre Verne and Gregoire Villien.

Text of the Letter

My very dear Brother Superior General,
After thirteen months sailing here I am close to setting foot on the soil which is to serve as my new country. The island you have sent me so far to discover is Routuma. The natives are comparable to the Tahitians in their peacefulness and other traits. They call their island the beautiful, Routuma or Loutuma - the pronunciation is the same. They are looking forward to our coming. The devil, in anticipation, has already sent his sowers of deceit there. They have already had some success with the son of the king who rules part of the island under his father, who is absolute ruler. The envoys of the ministers, seeing the latter opposed to their work, dared to threaten him with war. But this chief or king, raised as a cannibal and not a native of Routuma, has won supreme power there only by his own valour. He rejected their threats and told them to leave his island and get reinforcements, for he was quite prepared to battle to the death. Under such auspices, Frs Verne (from Ain) and Villien (Savoie) and I are going to take possession of this island in the name of Christ. His enemy and ours will not be caught napping. Oh pray and have prayers said that these good people, still in the shadow of death, will see the light and become our brothers in Jesus and Mary! I have no doubt that then they will return in good measure what we have given them. None of us knows the language but on Wallis we picked up two of the natives; one will be very useful to us as he also knows Wallisian, Futunan, and Fijian, and a little English and French. Six fervent Routuman Catholics living on Futuna are also going with us, but we do not understand them.
I must tell you honestly, very dear Brother, that Br Paschase will never be happy anywhere. He has tried all the religious orders and never been satisfied. He has caused us a lot of embarrassment. More sophisticated and cunning than Br Gerard, he has had a bad influence on him. The latter has been tormented by seasickness and now suffers terribly from ear-ache. He regrets leaving his indulgent parents for whom he was the apple of their eye - he should have stayed with them when he went to make his farewells. His uncles and a priest tried to undermine his vocation and he promised them he would leave the Society. I think he would have done better by doing so. He had seen only two establishments and everything had gone well for him there. The two good Fathers let him have his way, provided he behaved himself, and the early trials discouraged him. I would say he was so disturbed during the voyage, one would have suspected he was out of his mind. Besides he suffered the longest and cruellest martyrdom, and made others suffer a lot as well, particularly the one in charge of us. But the latter for his part, did not always know how to read the situation.
If this is depressing news for you, my dear Brother, do not be annoyed for having sent us. A few days on dry land will let them settle down. Br Paschase will probably still be unhappy. He is inclined that way but he knows how to get over it. I do not know if he will persevere in his vocation. He could well do what he has already done in so many other houses where he could not settle down. Those who frequent society are not suited to sailing the islands. I don't think he has told you the whole story. He is a good tailor but has not been willing to make anything for himself or for others, but leaves others to do it, so we are all in rags. As for the rest, he is faithful in carrying out his religious exercises. Like me he had little or no seasickness, while Br Optat was sick even before we raised anchor. Optat has been chosen to help Bishop Epale (sic); Br Paschase is for Ouvea and Br Gerard for Upolu of New Caledonia. As he changes his mind easily he does not know which way to turn. At Savai'i, the Navigators Group, Samoa, we saw a Brother. He had only been there a year and he already had a pretty fine house of wood, like all the others in Oceania, with the inner walls of cane, the roof of pandanus leaves, a church built of planks, and a fine altar he made himself. At Uvea, we found Brs Joseph and Augustin. They are both well, being helped in their work by a troop of young men devoted to the mission. At present I am writing at the same table as Br Marie-Nizier. Everyone would appreciate a letter from you. It would be a great consolation for us. I know that you are burdened with work now, as the appointments are made during the holidays, but you might have a moment at your disposal in the course of the year. Please keep us in mind, and if you cannot write to us individually, you will find many Brothers who will make you 20, 30 copies from one letter - all you have to do is sign them. If they are written 9, 10, 11 months in advance, they would be no less precious or useful.
I finish my letter, very reverend Brother, by commending myself to the prayers of all our confreres. Send me your blessing. I am on my knees to receive it. I need it very much. Farewell, very esteemed Brother Superior, until I see you again in Jesus and Mary.
Br Lucien.
PS Br Marie charges me to pass on his regards to you. I think he is writing to you himself. On my own account I ask for him, great book lover that he is, a hymn book, a grammar, or any other. It would be a great present for him. You have classical books in Latin and Greek in the library of forbidden books at the entrance to the main dormitory at the Hermitage. They would be very valuable in the islands, especially on Wallis and Futuna where the children are beginning Latin but have no books.

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