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Br Lucien to Fr Favre, Lealatele, Savai, 1 August 1857


Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


The Catholic mission was started on Rotuma at Christmas 1846. By 1851 there were about 100 Catholics. But the mission was caught in the middle of a war between pagans and Protestants, and when the situation had not improved by mid 1853, the missionaries sailed for Futuna with a few Rotuman catechists. Lucien worked on the church at Mulinu'u, Apia, in its final stages, and was then appointed to Lealatele on Savai'i to work with Vachon and Palazy. They began work on a house. Up to this time the missionaries had generally been content with the traditional Samoan fale, and Lucien from his remarks [2 & 3] was of the opinion they did not need to change. The house was not finished, anyway, when the group was dispersed halfway through 1855, with Lucien reassigned to Apia and the two priests taken to Sydney by Bataillon. Palazy departed for New Caledonia the following year and Vachon followed him two years later.

In 1856 Lucien returned to Lealatele with Violette and Ducrettet. They were joined by Louis Elloy. The following year Violette found an opening at Safotulafai and set up house there. In the meantime, Ducrettet and Elloy appear to have spent much of their time moving about, with Lucien being left alone at Lealatele. About this time, new stations were set up at Sataua, in the far west, where Lucien helped Jacques build a new church for Ducrettet at the beginning of 1858, and at Taopaipai, between Lealatele and Matautu, where he probably helped Elloy build his the follwing year. The brother's remarks about Elloy and his successful inculturation [3] help explain why this priest should within a few years become Bataillon's coadjutor and eventual successor.

We know that Favre and Colin were deeply divided over the new Marist Rule but, from the observations made in the letters of the brothers (and they knew the minds of their priests) it is clear that the new superior general was under considerable pressure to produce one reasonably quickly to meet the needs of their situation. Even if the Brothers had a Rule of their own to follow, as far as their situation and occupations allowed them [rf 7], obviously the Fathers ' following a set Rule would also be a help to them as religious.

The translation is from a photocopy of the original in the APM. Some passages are difficult to decipher, notably [8 & 9].

Text of the Letter

Very dear and honourable Father Superior General,
I am taking advantage of this first moment of a pleasant convalescence after a painful illness to write you a few lines.
After leaving France in 1845 I remained on Rotuma as long as the mission lasted. On my return to Samoa, Monsignor sent me to Lealatele with Frs Vachon and Palazy. We didn't take long to start building a wooden mansion. Before it was finished Savai was abandoned because of the departure of the Fathers for Sydney for several days. When they left I was already at Apia with Fr Violette. In 1856 on His Lordship's orders Fr Violette and Fr Decrette (sic) returned to Savai. Fr Decrette, not wanting to settle in the interior, set up his tent near the sea, in the same area where he is now with Fr Elloi (sic). Fr Violette went into the interior to replace Fr Vachon in the mission he had himself founded. A year later, having found a better site in the most politically important place on the island of Savai, he set himself up there, and that is where he is now, alone, 7 or 8 hours journey from any other station on my coast. He has left me alone too with goats, a cow, and poultry to look after and help those who might come visiting in order to supply medicine for anyone in need.
There I was then, Very Reverend Father Superior General, working away as best I can with my limited strength from the first day of the year 1857 up to mid July. I had the happiness of attending Holy Mass on Sundays and 7 to 8 times a week. I would have had it more often if Fr Elloi had a chalice. That has been a real trial for the good Father. According to a recent decision of Fr Ducrette, one which I don't think would have had your approval, I am now dispensed by the very fact from attending Mass on Sundays. It is already 26 days that I have been like this. I don't know how long it will last. You see, V. R. Fr Superior General, that if you composed some special rules for the members of the Society of Mary, they would be of some use for me too. I hope, however, that this situation won't become permanent.
A certain number of natives have declared themselves for our religion at Mata utu, the port of Savai, and also the place the minister has his residence, and they are asking that a house be set up there. Two things are holding up the establishment for the moment. The lack of a suitable location and some financial resources. The latter would be for things for Fr Elloi. In passing through Tonga he had the good sense to look around and have a good look. He realised that a fine house is of little service in converting people and that the food in Samoa is abundant and often better than what you can purchase with gold in Sydney. The climate is certainly more debilitating than that of France, but the nourishment of the country is not the cause. I am of much the same opinion and I have observed with my own eyes that people who cannot eat talo and feed only on bread and biscuit, who will eat only European cooking, have been the first to go under. Following this principle, Fr Elloi from the first has adapted himself perfectly to Samoan diet, and from the first day he exercised his ministry, he has made great progress in the language in a short time. He has made great efforts there, he is already catechist, school master and preacher. The only thing he needs today to be a real missionary is a chalice.
There is little I lack in my solitude. The food here is abundant and free. I have no fresh water. I drink what flows from the roof and that is always more or less dirty. During the day the heat is cloying and at night it is cold and damp, which makes my situation difficult. I am frequently asked how I can stay there. I reply that whether I am here or somewhere else, it's all the same to me. Anyway, it's not my own choice I'm living there.
The mission of Samoa is in a real way of prospering but there is a shortage of priests and even of Brothers.
I have kept up here the same exercises I would be doing at the Hermitage, but this year I am late for my retreat. Fr Violette advised me to do it when I was better. This would be sometime this week, but since I have no Mass, I will postpone it until things are better organised. I hope my wait is only a short one.
If I have recovered from my sickness so quickly I have much cause to attribute it to the goodness of St Joseph. So I propose to honour him in a special way in the future. Which leads me to ask you for a favour. I would very much like the whole Library of interior souls by Fr A.M. Huguet, especially the volumes dealing with the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph. I would be very pleased to receive them as soon as possible, clearly addressed, since very often this sort of consignment never reaches its address. If I also found in the package a pair of glasses of good quality with a metal frame I would not be displeased. My sight has been weakened somewhat during my illness, but perhaps it will last only a few days.
If I were in France getting ready to depart, I would as well purchase a certain number of pictures representing the principal features, mysteries and persons of Holy Scripture, etc. etc. but nothing uncoloured, and a certain number of big charts with representations of the most common animals, as many as I could find. The natives have never seen anything but their own little islands lost in the ocean and they are very curious about them.
Before finishing, Very Rev Fr Superior General, since I am deprived of almost all spiritual aid, I believe I can justly ask you to recommend me in a special and particular way to all those who have the good fortune of serving Mary under your fatherly care. If I ask this favour with real insistence, it is not from humility but from the conviction of great necessity, and from the great need I have of it while awaiting its consoling and powerful effects. I ask you humbly for your fatherly benediction and I await it in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and St Joseph, to whom I desire to be united in life and in death.
Accept, Very Rev. Father Superior General, from the least of your children, these expressions of affection, respect, and submission,
Br Lucien

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