Br Jacques to Fr Favre, Samoa, Port of Apia, 5 February 1856
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Julien Favre (1812-1885), a Marist since 1836 and former provincial of Lyon, became the second superior general of the Society when he was elected to replace the retiring Colin in May 1854. Although he had been at Belley as a professor when Jacques was there, the latter did not know him well, which is why he recommends Poupinel and Maitrepierre as possible references when putting his case for returning to Europe .
On the eve of his departure for Europe, Bataillon had made a number of changes in his vicariate, most of them caused by the poor health of his missionaries. The previous May he had transferred Servant from Futuna (rf ES 361); he left him in Apia while Ducrettet, transferred from Lakeba in June, eventually replaced the ailing Vachon, whom the bishop took to Sydney. Ducrettet was joined on Savai'i by Violette and Lucien, who had been in Samoa since the failure of the Rotuma mission in 1853 (rf L 121). Like Jacques, Joseph-Xavier, and others, Servant suffered from elephantiasis. It was sickness as much as anything else that was responsible for the very slow progress of the building of the church. After 10 years of gruelling service, the brother was beginning to feel his health problems were becoming a liability for the mission . He was also aware that almost a dozen of his confreres in the Marist missions of Oceania had by this time left the Society for various reasons. Of these five had been professed as PFM and six as coadjutors of the Society.
The translation has been made from a copy of the original in the APM (ED 3. 62).
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- It is in conformity with the intentions of the Society that one writes to his superiors, that I take leave to address you a short letter. But it is in addition to open my heart to you and, at the same time let you know the state of my conscience. I have been wanting to do so for a long time. Today I am taking advantage of a very favourable opportunity for this. There is a ship at anchor which we know particularly well and which is leaving in two or three days for Sydney.
- I have been in the Navigators since the mission was founded. I have been assigned to one establishment after another to help the Fathers especially in temporal matters, whether it be the building of houses or the care of the household. However I have always been in residence at Apia since the establishment was founded, except for last year when I was sent for several months to the island of Savaii to saw the wood and work at the building of a house. Fr Vachon had started it but he could not continue for lack of timber and especially for lack of a worker. Despite all the goodwill we invested in building this house, Fr Vachon and I, we weren't able to complete it. We had nearly all the wood needed and the most difficult part was done, but a pile of obstacles got in our way. I had an attack of fe'efe'e (a very widespread sickness in this country) which confined me to bed for about three weeks, and I was only delivered from it after the place affected was cut three times. Then Fr Vachon himself fell ill. He went through crises which endangered his life more than once. As I found myself alone with him and very much at a loss, I wrote as promptly as I could to Frs Dubreul and Violette. Fr Dubreul came to our help immediately. Having come to Savaii he stayed three weeks, thinking that the father would recover, perhaps. But seeing that Fr Vachon was not getting better but that on the contrary the sickness was getting more and more serious, he decided on our departure for Apia until new orders arrived. We left Savaii towards the end of June last year. There was no one on that island until the end of December when Frs Violette and Ducrete (sic) went back, accompanied by the good brother Lucien.
- Now I am still in Apia with Frs Dubreul and Servant. We have also three youngsters with us, two of them Samoan and the other Futunan. He is very good, he came with Fr Servant. We have begun working on the church again after an interruption. I have just sawn the coral for paving the sanctuary. It will make a very beautiful paving. Sawn coral closely resembles white marble and it is much less difficult to work. We have about four hundred blocks prepared of a square foot each. Later we will continue with the rest of the church if we can. You would not believe, my very reverend father, the difficulties one encounters when there is question of bringing an enterprise like the church of Apia to a successful conclusion. For a country like France it would be nothing at all, but for Samoa, I assure you, it is no small thing. I am not going to try to enumerate these difficulties for you. I think that others more experienced have already done it before me.
- I am still very happy in my vocation. I have had problems from time to time, but in general I have nothing to complain about, and I am daily increasingly grateful for having been called to religious life. I am in good health both spiritually and physically. I do not think I displease the Fathers. I, for my part, am very satisfied with them.
- For over a year I have had the desire to return to Europe if that is God's will. I don't believe, my very reverend Father, I can find a better way of knowing that than by approaching you directly. I am going to try to let you know the reasons leading me to make this request. 1st The sickness I spoke to you about before. I have been affected by it for nearly eight years. True, I am not troubled by it continuously. Actually it is almost a year since I last experienced it at all. But for all that, I don't think I am free of it. Once you contract it, you can't easily be cured of it if you stay in the country. Many people die of it. Sometimes it carries off those affected in a very short time. In these lands, if you have an infirmity you become a burden to yourself and others. The second reason is that you can easily lose the grace of devotion in Oceania. There are almost no spiritual exercises in common and very little which helps towards piety, and moreover a multitude of bad examples continually before your eyes. What frightens me most, though, is seeing a number of my confreres lose their vocation in the Oceania missions. Yet some among them were more virtuous than I, and it would not be at all impossible for the misfortune which befell them to happen to me too. It is true that the good God grants his graces to those who put up no resistance and have good will. I certainly pray for perseverance nearly every day, but I am a man like the others, and I can fall as well as they.
- There, my very reverend Father, are the reasons I wanted to you to know. Now if God wishes me to stay in Oceania I give my very willing consent that his holy will be done. It is certainly necessary for his will to come before mine. As for the rest, as I already told you above, I am very happy in my vocation and in the post I am in at present. It would only be in case things were not going well, unsettling vexations were arising, that I request to be readmitted to the Society in Europe. When I know your will in this matter, I will know it is God's own. If you would like some more personal information about me, you could ask Fr Poupinel or Fr Maitrepierre. Please commend to God the least of your servants.
- I am with deep respect, my very reverend father, in the holy hearts of Jesus and Mary, your very humble and very obedient servant.
- Br J. Peloux S.M.
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