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Monsignor Bataillon to Fr Colin, Our Lady of the Martyrs, Futuna. 14 October 1847

D’après l’expédition, APM OC 418.1.

Clisby Letter 71. Girard doc. 675

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


Bataillon’s plan to use the “Arche” for his voyage to Futuna was frustrated by that vessel’s sustaining damage to its rudder on leaving port, so he had the “Clara” make a detour on its way to Tahiti instead. The “Arche” did not call in to Futuna until December when Bataillon gave Rocher, who was doing a tour of the missions as its chaplain, a lengthy report on the mission and its personnel for Colin [1]. (The Provincial, Calinon, based in Tonga, does not appear to have been able to get a letter off until the following July). It then sailed around the various Pacific stations for a year before setting out or France in January 1849. Bataillon hoped that the vessels of the Society of Oceania and the direct link they provided with France would assure stable supply and communication lines for the missions of Oceania and thus do away with the need for the Sydney or any other procure [11]. But before he left the Pacific, Captain Marceau already knew the Society’s days were numbered. (Hosie p 102).

Among the documents Bataillon entrusted to Rocher was a report Colin had requested on the apostolate and death of Chanel [3]. It was dispatched to France from Sydney after the “Arche” arrived there in March 1848.(Rozier p 159). By about the same date the college on Futuna had been set up under the newly-ordained Grezel and Favre had replaced Villien on Rotuma [5]. On Wallis, the chief Tungahala, long a thorn in the bishop’s side, had been baptised in August 1846, a month before the king, Lavelua, finally renounced his polygamy. But Bataillon’s hopes for a lasting peace [4] were to be disappointed. Hostilities between Catholics and Protestants broke out anew in 1850 and 1851, and Tungahala himself, after an unsuccessful revolt, was exiled in 1852. (Mangaret, Bataillon 11, p 165).

The issues raised by Bataillon in the central part of his letter [6-9] indicate the main areas of contention between himself and Colin, and indeed between any Vicar Apostolic and the Superior of the religious congregation providing his personnel at this period. Earlier in the year Pompallier had been putting his case to Propaganda in Rome in much the same terms. What they were asking for was that, in their vicariates, they should be allowed to dispose of their religious priests as if they were the secular clergy of a diocese. (Hosie p 63). Such an approach could clearly not be reconciled with that of a religious superior responsible for the community and spiritual life of his men. What made the problem more pressing in this case was that Bataillon was already thinking of sending priests to Fiji and the New Hebrides [16]. With no solution in sight, Colin stopped sending Marists to the Pacific after 1849.

We should see the decision to recruit and form Marist Brothers among the Pacific islanders [12] as a step in the same direction, i.e. of the vicariate becoming self-sufficient in personnel, and the bishop being in full control of what would effectively be a diocesan congregation, no matter what he might call it in the beginning while he was still reliant on the Society for personnel for formation. Bataillon had a very restricted view of the role of the brothers in the mission, and considering some were trained teachers, consistently underutilised them. On the other hand, his relentless employment of them at manual work, on building projects, etc, under very poor conditions, undoubtedly contributed to the early deaths of some and the defections of others.

This translation is taken from a photocopy of the original in the APM supplied by Fr Gaston Lessard SM October 1994.

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
After leaving Wallis for the Navigators at the end of last year, I stayed seven months in those islands, as I informed you in several letters. From the Navigators I went to Tonga on a French corvette which brought me back to Wallis. I waited there for 3 months for the “Arche d’Alliance”. During that time, I celebrated the first communions and marriages we have had on Wallis. I initiated the first stage of the project of the college and even a novitiate for the brothers. When the “Arche” arrived I planned to sail on it to Futuna, but it suffered some damage on leaving port, so I left it there for repairs and made the voyage on the mission schooner. I have been on Futuna since the day before yesterday. I am sending our schooner (we have hired it out to M. Marceau until he returns from France on the condition it will serve our needs as well as his own) to Tahiti to complete its repairs and when it has returned it will convey me back to Wallis. In the eventuality we have still not received any missionaries, I will then spend 4 or 5 months on Futuna. I am taking advantage of this voyage to Tahiti to write to you about some matters and to bring you up to date on the state of our missions, our work, and our projects. When it completes its repairs at Wallis, the “Arche d’Alliance” will come by Futuna and then head for France after visiting our missions of Fiji, Rotuma, New Caledonia, etc. I will entrust to the good M. Marceau a detailed letter of all our missions and missionaries, following the ruling of the provincial. He will have to send you his letter himself. In the meantime, I am taking advantage of the faster way to Tahiti to hastily write you these few pages.
I make haste first to give you news of the flourishing mission of Futuna where we have just arrived. There are two parishes which are like two communities. Things are so good that I find them too good. I am going to try to see that they learn how to loosen the bowstring for fear it may break, and set the mission a pace easier to maintain for the future.
During my stay on Futuna I am going to hold the process verbale which you have asked us for concerning the death of Father Chanel, and endeavour to found establishments for a college and novitiate for brothers as on Wallis. Observe, Father, I say “endeavour”, we are only in the early stages and experimenting. Let us not then make too much of things, for fear of finding later we have made a miscalculation. Such things are always disappointing and prejudicial for our missions.
I have the consolation of informing you that our mission of Wallis, which has been so troublesome and given us so much cause for apprehension, at present offers us the best prospects it has ever done. Our chief has been improving all the time since his baptism. He has just made peace in earnest with his Protestant relations and we hope for their conversion. The king, with whom we have never been entirely satisfied, when I left, had done everything demanded of him to accept his duties. Keep on praying, my reverend Father, for this dear mission and commend it to the prayers of the Society of Mary and the Archconfraternity of the Immaculate Heart.
We have just received news indirectly of the mission of Rotuma. We were very worried about the Fathers who had stayed there as by force,[1] but it seems everything is going well. The natives are well disposed towards them and they are hopeful for the future. The “Arche d’Alliance” will take a missionary (Fr Favier or Fr Grezel, whom I am going to ordain priest on Futuna) to replace Fr Villien who has to rejoin Mgr Collomb. As you know, Fr Roudaire has left for New Caledonia.
Now an observation in all simplicity. Please receive it kindly, father. From my limited point of view, it is very difficult, not to say impossible, for our missionaries always to be two together in the same place. The measure does not seem to me, perhaps, to be as necessary in these countries as you appear to believe. I would go so far as to say that the contrary sometimes has its advantages.
1st. It is very difficult because then we would need two or three times more priests in proportion to the population than necessary to serve an island. Thus on Wallis, where we have three parishes and a college which is separate from any parish, we would need at least 8 priests for a population of no more than 3000 souls. On Futuna, for two parishes and a college, at least six priests would be needed. Now six priests for a population of 1000 souls appears to me a matter of some difficulty, since so many subjects would be required for so small a population. It would be difficult for you to supply us with a sufficient number. Or if you could supply us with them, the Propagation of the Faith would probably not be able to give us sufficient resources to support so many personnel. We would as well have to restrict ourselves to a very small number of islands in our vicariate, and let heresy get in ahead of us everywhere, a yet more painful matter and fraught with great problems.
2nd. What causes you concern about the isolation of the priests is above all the danger to their morals. One cannot take too many precautions about that. But in our little islands, where nothing can happen without people knowing about it, the presence of a confrere will influence us much less than the whole island we have for witness. And the missionary will be much more afraid of compromising himself in the eyes of the whole island than in the eyes of his confrere. Now if it is a matter of supporting the frailty of a missionary against attacks that might be made on him in solitude, I will say to you first, that there is less danger of that sort in our islands than in Europe, and that in the event of such an occasion, the presence of a brother or a convert will be enough, it seems to me, to prevent the danger. And we are supposing as well that this missionary can see a confrere every week or two and, as a consequence, has the ordinary recourse to the sacraments and the good advice of his confrere. As for one whose heart is corrupt (God forbid such a thing), living continually with his confrere will not prevent him from finding the means to do wrong.
3rd. It seems to me that there is some advantage (under certain aspects, at least) in placing two missionaries a certain distance from each other. If they are together and they cannot get on with each other or agree with each other because of their different points of view or their different characters, there could arise discouragement, misunderstandings, disputes, even scandals. Or perhaps it could happen that the talents of one might be completely paralysed. Whereas if they are a certain distance from each other and each responsible for his own area, he will have greater liking and courage for it. Each will develop his talents and apply them to make himself worthy of the confidence shown in him. He will do more work and the missionaries will feel more at home. Experience has already taught us something on this score. We have subjects who find it quite hard to live in common with a confrere, others who find themselves superfluous, and still others who positively refuse to live with so and so. So one is forced to place them a certain distance apart and give each his own authority in the day to day affairs of the mission. I will speak to you about that elsewhere.
Please excuse me, Reverend father, for the liberty with which I express my point of view, and especially for the haphazard and disordered way in which I have expressed it. It is only with diffidence that I have been able to propose ideas contrary to yours since I have respect for all your opinions, and am so convinced that the good God lets you see things as they should be. Nor do I wish to change in any way any measures Our Lord may have inspired you with for the salvation of our souls and the good of the missions. Since my authority is only delegated I have only to obey those whose representative I have the honour of being, His Holiness and Your Paternity. Deliberate together, then, decide, give your orders, we are at your command. Only, if you allow us to express our feeble opinion on the matter, I believe we could, I even say should, leave things as they are until at least we see the necessity of doing the opposite. I think I should add that my point of view is shared by most, not to say all, of our missionaries of the Centre, and I take leave to say in conclusion that if, after receiving this letter you still have not sent us any positive decision on the matter, I would ask you to await my trip to France before making any definitive rulings.
If you want to hear our opinion of the Society of Oceania, we believe it will be good for our missions if it continues the good direction it claims it wishes to take. We have encouraged it and will give it publicity when time and experience have allowed us to really recognise its advantages. We have made our contracts. It must supply us with absolutely all we need, so it will become our universal procure and all other procures will become absolutely superfluous, except for the procure in France. That will have to pass on to it our allocations and be responsible as well for the wardrobe of the new ones setting out and what they need for their chapel and personal library. In this way what remains cannot be simplified any further.
It is our intention to try to form Marist Brothers among our converts. I have great hopes we can achieve success. There would be establishments away from the populated areas where we could assemble those in whom we recognise the signs of a vocation. They would be under the direction of a goof European Brother and a Father responsible for vocations and for instructing them in the ecclesiastical state. They would be trained in these establishments in the principal arts and trades. For that we would need European Brothers skilled in the different arts and trades. We will be counting on you for that as well as for everything else.
We are sad to inform you of the death of one of our best Brothers, Br Attale. He died a saintly death last August. I am going to send you his testament, his other papers, his “bombes d’oreilles”[2] which he has destined for his sister. That is already two Brothers dead. But be consoled, Father. They made good deaths and that is all you would wish for your children. Pray for us that we all die the same way.
Dear Br Paschase, who caused us some misgivings at first, has settled down and we are happy with him. We are having him to learn printing to replace M. Grezel until we have obtained the Brothers we asked you for for the printery.
I am sending you at the same time a little square box containing a number of open letters for your perusal and which you might like to send on to their addresses. You will find with the letters for Rome an example of the catechism of the Vicariate with a translation. It would be good to make a fair copy and send it to Rome with the printed document attached, and to keep the translation mentioned and all the other copies of the catechism for helping the new missionaries to read the language. I have enclosed a fine mat for your table.
We have on Futuna two chiefs from Fiji whom we will probably baptise before taking them back to their country.[3] It is time to send some priests there as well as to the New Hebrides, if they are still under our jurisdiction. Fr Rocher has made a tour of our missions on the ”Arche d’Alliance”. He is a confrere who pleases us on all counts. If you are not going to continue with the procure in Sydney, we would be delighted to have him as our collaborator in the tropical missions.
Forgive me my plain speaking and lack of polish, my Reverend Father. Please do not stop praying for me personally. I am and always will be
the most devoted although most unworthy
and last of your children,
+ P. Bishop of Enos. Vic apost. of Central Oceania.


  1. “comme par force” . This strange expression may be shorthand for saying that the Marists of Rotuma had, as it were, forced themselves on a people reluctant to accept them by the simple expedient of sending away their boat and stranding themselves on the island. Cf Mangaret, Mgr Batallion 11 pp 146-7.
  2. I have been unable to find this expression in any French dictionary of this or the last century and have no idea of its meaning in this context.
  3. Possibly the sons of Tui Nuyau of Lakeba rf L 66.

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