Br Paschase (Jean Saint-Martin) to Br François, Lakepa, Fiji, 20 December 1848
D’après l’expédition, APM OF 208 (Fiji) Saint-Martin.
Clisby Letter 78. Girard doc. 771
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
This letter gives us another insight into the problems faced by the brothers in the missions. Paschase’s impression that Batallion wanted to keep them in the “status of domestics” (7) was well founded. In his letters the bishop makes it quite clear he considered mission funds were wasted on the upkeep of brothers since they were of no value in ministry (rf. eg. Bataillon to Poupinel; 10 May 1849 APM). And in what is certainly a reference to Paschase himself, he informs Colin that he preferred brothers of country origin (letter of November 1848 APM) – presumably because such would be more accustomed to manual work and less likely to question the policies or methods of their superiors. This is probably why Paschase had problems on Wallis with Frs Mathieu and Meriais (1). Charles Mathieu (1809-1856) had joined the Society in 1843 before leaving for Oceania with Douarre. In charge of the parish of St Joseph on Wallis, he was also Batallion’s vicar-general. Joseph Meriais (1817-1874) had been in charge of a choir school in Nantes before becoming a Marist and a missionary in 1845. Batallion had appointed him foundation superior of the college at Lano, a position he was to hold for seven years. Both of these men were of a mind with the bishop on the subject of brothers. Paschase points out the potential for trouble in a training establishment of such a divisive attitude by comparing the different regimes at Lano and Kolopelu, to the disadvantage of the former (5 & 6). Given his outspokenness, it was probably for reasons of policy that he was chosen to replace Br Annet (who had died in March) in Fiji. In the letter Bataillon wrote to Roulleaux and Breheret to accompany him, they are given clear instructions as to how to behave with him (letter of November 1848 in the bishop’s letterbook – 1847-1876 - in the APM).
Paschase sailed in November on the mission boat “Fetuu Aho” going to Futuna, Rotuma, Fiji, Tonga, and Tahiti. He had with him supplies for the Fiji mission sufficient for two years. The voyage gave him the opportunity of seeing what was going on at Kolopelu with Grezel and Joseph-Xavier (6, 7) and visiting the Rotuma mission which was still struggling after two years. There he was reunited with his former travelling companion, Br Lucien (rf L 58) who was having his own problems with the priests (8). He arrived at Lakeba towards the end of the month.
Batallion had established the Fijian mission in 1844 with 2 priests, a brother, 2 Wallisian catechists. and 4 Fijians brought from Tonga. The Marists first sought a place on Lakeba in the Lau group, but were turned away by the Tui Nayau under the influence of the powerful chief Finau, a Wesleyan. They sailed to Namuka where they received a welcome, but quickly found the island was not suitable for a base and the people were being turned against them by visitors from Lakeba. They even considered going to Taveuni despite its grisly resputation but with Finau away in Bau, they took the opportunity instead to return to Lakeba. They continued on there despite Wesleyan persecution, hunger, and sickness, and by the end of 1846 they had about 100 converts. But a campaign to subjugate the Lau islands and propagate the Wesleyan faith by force by another Tongan chief, Ma’afu, had reduced this number to a mere dozen by 1848. The Tui Nayau, hitherto favourable, became a Wesleyan, though he permitted two of his sons to become Catholics.
The “little book” Paschase refers to in his postscript was presumably a product of his work at the printery at Matautu. His place there had been taken by Br Sauveur Conil (1814-1879), a professional printer, professed as a coadjutor in the Society in 1847. He produced a number of works of good quality, a dictionary, catechisms, a Latin grammar and plain chant, before eventually returning to France.
Text of the Letter
- Dear Brother Francois,
- Three years have passed since my departure from France. Three years since the good God has sent me different kinds of trials to test my vocation in the Missions, with Fr Mathieu at St Joseph’s, at the printery, and at the college with Fr Meriais. Wallis witnessed my first steps as a missionary. There I was able to take soundings, examine the terrain on which I was to walk. And there where I thought the road would be hard and strewn with stones, I found it instead easy and smooth, and the difficulties also appeared where I least expected them. For the rest, my dear Brother, you have already been informed on this point. It is painful, however, when, associated in the same task, I mean in all that concerns the saving of souls, the demon of discord and strife comes to whisper his evil intentions.
- I have been faced with different sorts of trials since my departure from France. I thank the good God that they have served only to strengthen my vocation. They have come from a direction I had least cause to expect them since it is from within the mission itself. Let’s hope that better days will come when, all associated in the same task, the salvation of souls, we will all compose one heart and one soul.
- I have been assigned a new destination, Fiji, where I have just arrived to join Fr Roulleaux and Fr Breheret. The mission of Fiji is just beginning to gain the attention of the natives. They submit the behaviour of the priests to a careful scrutiny. The imprudent behaviour of the Protestant ministers can only cause a useful reaction in favour of the Faith. Recently they presented the king with a firebrand on one hand and a Bible on the other. The king, who has not yet yielded to their persuasions, laughed at their arrogance when they claimed they had an irresistible argument to convince him (he has 30 wives). On the arrival of our schooner, these worthy gentlemen said: “Look, there is a ship which has come to take away your land.” To that the king replied he would freely make friends with it so as to create in the end one single family. He told us this yesterday when we visited him. And he was greatly amused at the ministers’ fear. So you can judge from that how he feels.
- These poor Fathers have had much to put up with during their four years here. Nobody at all wanted to receive them and they really needed wills of iron to carry on. Now a great chief has just converted and they are beginning to feel hopeful.
- Two colleges have just been established, one on Wallis and the other on Futuna. The former is under the direction of Fr Meriais with Br Augustin and the Brother printer. Br Augustin is occupied exclusively with carpentry. I helped him a bit. He has just finished a beautiful wooden house arranged with two big rooms on the ground floor separated by a corridor. In one, the printery, Br Sauveur is at present busy with a Latin grammar composed by Fr Meriais and translated into the native language by His Lordship. They hope in this way to consolidate some vocations. The pupils numbered 12 when I left. The establishment has been going a year and already 5 boys have been replaced by others.This alarms Fr Meriais, for he is afraid the house will end up continually having to start over again forming new students. He is impatiently awaiting an assistant, but I don’t believe any of our Brothers will be assigned to this post. Monsignor seems to want to confine the Brothers to the status of domestics. They are in a great hurry to be able to train some native Brothers. Then there would be no reason not to employ these at teaching. For the rest, I am afraid Monsignor Batallion, at the instigation of some of the priests, Fr Meriais most notably, will always enforce a course which places us directly among their attendants. The Brothers are accorded little confidence. The imprudence of a few may play a part in this, but they aren’t all in the wrong. And it would be much more to the purpose if there were greater unity, more mutual trust. The Brothers are regarded by the priests generally as scarcely more than domestic servants. This produces a petty rivalry which destroys any ease of relationship. This is obvious at the College where Fr Meriais is the only one obeyed, the Brothers never being upheld. The natives have no notion of the respect they owe and you can see, my dear Brother, that that must militate considerably against the progress of the establishment. Also, if Fr Meriais is absent, all is disorder and confusion.
- The college of Kolopelu is quite different. Fr Grezel and Br Joseph, although they were not on good terms on Wallis, now find themselves acting with great concord of ideas and views. The Brother has all the confidence which could be accorded him. So the pupils are making marvellous progress and their attitude seems to me to be infinitely better than those of the college of Lano.
- The site, the terrain, are, besides, very well chosen. Everything they need is there and their resources seem assured for many months. This has allowed them to take in a very great number of subjects. While I was there Monsignor was insistent on this point and Br Joseph found himself immediately responsible for the beginners’ class (several wanted to follow me to Fiji). The college at Lano on Wallis is on very high ground. The pupils follow their own will more than their superior’s, so it does not promise complete success. We left Wallis on November 4 1848, and reached Futuna on the 5th. A goat was just giving birth to its kids when we dropped anchor. On the 20th we set sail for Rotuma. Here we have a mission still in its cradle. The role of the missionaries there is to wait for the moment Providence has assigned, learn the language, and pray while putting up with all the difficulties that come their way. Besides, several chiefs are beginning to look on them with favour. When we arrived they were very keen to hear about the state of the faith on Wallis, Futuna, Samoa, and Tonga. That shows they are interested. Some even asked to go to these different islands to get a clear idea themselves.
- According to the priest, my arrival alone was enough to cause a stir among the Protestants who have been established there for a long time, and produce a good impression on the natives. Then I met Br Lucien and he expressed the greatest happiness to see me. He was able to unburden himself of the little trials he has had at the hands of Fr Verne who has a bit of a temper. He spent 8 months without going to communion as a consequence of his mistreatment. But they are now beginning to understand each other better. I found them living in great hardship. Their nourishment consists of a little broth of flour which they take three times a day. The soil is not very good, the population over-numerous (7550) and food in consequence hard to get. I had 8 pigs, I left them 2, and a pair of turkeys, and a number of other things, some trousers for Br Lucien since he had only one pair. He lives with Fr Verne and Fr Favier who left Futuna a year ago to replace Fr Villien here. The latter has gone to rejoin his bishop, Mgr Collomb.
- The island of Lakepa, which is my new position, is a little bigger than Wallis. It has a smaller population, consisting of a mix of natives and Tongans. The latter assist at our Catholic services. Otherwise, they are the “do nothings’ of the island and know only how to live off the labour of the Fijians. Taros and yams grow quite well, and bananas too. An examination of the soil, however, shows the land is not very fertile.
- You cannot appreciate, my dear Brother, how happy I am to come to a mission in its infancy. It is more interesting to follow its progress. The natives also regard us with much more affection, for we are their fathers in the faith. On Wallis and Futuna where everything is already set up, new members of the mission arriving are treated with indifference, and your ministry to your other Brothers is much more limited, depending on the whim of the priest. Still, in spite of Fr Meriais, the natives came from all sides to bring me pigs, taro, mats, tapa, and kava, asking me to make faka molemole ie peace.
- I beg you to present my humble respects to all our Brothers and ask them not to forget me in their prayers. I will do the same on my side.
- Goodbye for now. Pray for me, my dear Brother. Let us pray for each other. Ask unceasingly of the good God that he will always make me do his holy and adorable will. Do me the favour of writing to me as much as you can. I embrace you in the hearts of JMJ.
- I am forever in Jesus and Mary your very humble and respectful son,
- Br Paschase.
- This little book is my work.
- M. Knox, Voyage of Faith, The Story of the Catholic Church in Fiji, 1997, p 19.
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