Br Marie-Nizier to Br Francois, Futuna, 11 November 1859
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
This letter brings us once more up against a common problem with the circulars – the dating. Marie-Nizier writes of receiving the handwritten circular of 21 January 1857 , which is the same as that dated 9 January in Francois’ own letter book and in our presentation (L 120). Apart from the possibility of an error in transcription, the probable cause is the delay between the writing of the original and its copying for distribution. Marie-Nizier also reminds us that letters sent from Europe to Central Oceania regularly took a year or more to reach their destination, though the isolation of Futuna meant its missionaries probably received theirs last of all.
As usual the brother has various requests to make and, as so often, we have no record of any response. Certainly we know that he did not receive the plans of Saint-Genis or Dacien’s clock , since ten years later he writes to Poupinel, back in France, to obtain them for him (rf L 197). He may have had more success with the books, since the priests and sisters also made use of them . And we have no acknowledgement of the curios he was sending for the museum at the general house reaching their destination, though in this case he would not, it appears, have been surprised [rf 3].
Now the faith had been firmly established, the missionaries could concentrate more on education, allowing the brothers to engage in the work for which they had originally been trained. But schooling at this early stage was still rather irregular, as Marie-Nizier shows, when the experienced Grezel was replaced in August 1858 by the recently arrived Laurent Favre. Classes for the boys had to be suspended and, at the time of writing, had not been resumed, although Grezel had been back on Futuna since the middle of the year. (For Favre’s assessment of Marie-Nizier, rf the extracts from a letter reproduced as a postscript to this one.)
For the girls, there were the sisters. Francoise Perroton had been on Futuna since 1854. In May 1858 she was joined by three other French women attracted to the missions of Oceania by her example. Although not regular religious they were novices in the Third Order of Mary, and Francoise became one of their number as Sr Marie du Mont Carme, thus beginning a work which was to develop in time into the congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM). She continued on at Kolopelu with one sister, while the other two went on to Wallis (Hosie 157). In March 1859 two more sisters joined the little community at Kolopelu. Maris-Nizier’s own sister, Antoinette (1828-1888), whom he refers to at the end of this letter, was also a nun, professed as a Sister of the Holy Family in 1849 under the name of Sr Saint-Ambroise. From her convent at Farnay she wrote frequent letters to her brother, keeping him in contact with his family. Her congregation, founded in 1825 by one of the Marist aspirants at Verrieres 1815-16, had had a community based at the Hermitage since 1841.
One of the priests Bataillon brought back with him from France, Leon Gavet, was a photographer. Gavet took advantage of the calls they made at each station to take photos of the missionaries. Copies were sent back to France as well as to individuals. Marie-Nizier received one of his, sent by Gavet from Samoa (rf L 180). But they quickly faded and Poupinel already in 1865 found the ones sent back to France were almost unusable (ibid.) If the one of the brother held in the AFM is indeed one of those taken by Gavet, it has certainly been retouched. Besides, the face is that of a young man barely out of adolescence, not that of a 42 year old who had already spent 20 years in the rigours of the tropics.
The translation was made from a photocopy of the original in the APM (OW 208). In Ronzon’s edition of the letters it is No 24 (pp 84-86). The extract from Favre’s letter is to be found in the same place.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Brother Superior,
- The letter I am writing to you today is my reply to your 2 inestimable latest letters I have received. Difficulties of communication are surely the reason I have received them so long after their dates. Your handwritten circular dated 21 January 1857 didn’t reach me until 17 March 1858 and the letter dated 3 February 1858 only on the 14th February 1859.
- I can only ask you to accept my sincere and heartfelt gratitude for the news of the Society you gave us in the circular. It was so interesting and detailed. I don’t know what you will think of me – I will have to tell you I am in a sense more childish than the children; they normally want only what they see, but I, I want what I haven’t yet seen! Would it be impudent of me, Reverend Brother Superior, to ask you to send me a plan of the new Mother House (of St Genis), and one of the remarkable clock you told us about? But I would certainly appreciate some portraits of Rev Fr Champagnat and a book on devotion to St Joseph.
- The same circular let me know about your museum, and that you will gratefully accept any objects sent to you. As a result, I am going to try to deposit my mite in the collection-box. I hope the little I have collected reaches you in good condition and can be of some use to you. I would be gratified if it was. I have locked everything in my trunk. The key and the exact list of all I am sending are in this letter. (If you find anything missing, I don’t know whom you could make enquiries from. I have heard reports that consignments of this sort made by others have not arrived intact at their destinations. Who is responsible? Some blame the Customs…). I don’t know what precautions to take to make sure that these things reach you safely. I will send the trunk from here to Fr Poupinel in Sydney. He is responsible for sending everything people send him on to their respective destinations.
- In the postscript to your handwritten circular you tell me something I can only approve of, and I thank you for it with all my heart. Oh yes. It would have been not only a loss but a very keen disappointment for me if I had not received the said Circular. For although I don’t want to claim any distinction, I wouldn’t have known why an exception should be made, seeing that this is the surest, and I could say, the only way we in Oceania have of receiving reliable news of our dear Society.
- Of the things you mention in your last Circular I have received the Collection of Canticles (with tunes), the new Principles, the circulars, but not the life of Rev. Fr Champagnat yet. Fr Poupinel told me that he would have to write to France first… and that he would send it to me later…
- I keep on congratulating myself for not having taken in blind faith what I was told regarding the claimed separation of the Brothers of Oceania, about which I spoke to you, and especially for having gone directly to the source which could provide an explanation. It was a real puzzle for me and very probably also for the one who reported it to me.
- Fr Grezel, with whom I have been for 8 years, has just returned after an absence of about 11 months. He left Futuna for Sydney in August 1858 for treatment for some infirmities he had contracted in his years in Oceania. This Father has often asked me to request you to send at least two copies of all the books I ask for: the life of Fr Champagnat, the Canticles, the Spelling exercises, etc. (he has a copy of the Grammar). As a last resort, probably when he saw I had not yet passed on his requests (I have to tell you I hesitate to do so, because I am afraid of wearing out your patience), he said to me, “Tell good Br Francois that if he can’t just give them to me, he is to let you know how many Masses he wants, and I will say them as payment…” (Not that he wants to be a simoniac, but because he has no other way of thanking you.) He has told me very often that he wanted very much to write to you, but didn’t know how you would receive a letter from someone unknown to you. I have always encouraged him to carry out his plan, assuring him you would be grateful for a letter from a priest, particularly one from Oceania. I don’t know what he will do. I see myself as well compelled to make another request for myself. One of the priests asked me to lend my Grammar to the Sisters. Three have to use it. It will be rather difficult, it seems to me, to reclaim it, if they need it. If you would be so kind again, I would prefer the Grammar to be sent with the Correction for the Spelling Exercises and the circulars after 2 February 1858.
- I told you, I think, in a previous letter, that the Futunans, in general, are not particularly interested in going to school. This attitude, pushed a little too far, has forced the priests, now that the Faith has become firmly rooted on this island, to refuse to allow children who don’t know how to read to make their first Communion. As a result, Fr Grezel made me responsible for teaching to read those in his parish destined for their first communion. Some weren’t slow in learning to read quite fluently. Others, the younger ones, slipped quite quietly into the school, and all seemed to be gaining some taste for learning, contrary to what I expected. But the Father’s departure led to changes and I had to go more often to the other parish, especially to work on the church of stone which is not yet completely finished. The new priest who came to replace Fr Grezel in his absence was not sufficiently familiar with the language to make himself understood, so this type of class has faded away. It will not be long probably before someone tries to get it going again.
- I think, my reverend Brother Superior, it will give you real satisfaction if I send you a piece of the Venerable Fr Chanel’s soutane, the one he was wearing the day of his martyrdom. I hope you will also approve my including some for Frs Matricon and Besson, whom I knew at the Hermitage, and for dear Brs Louis-Marie, Jean-Marie, Raphael and Apollinaire. (However, dispose of them as you judge most appropriate).
- Since my last letter to you, I have had some problems with my health and it has been going up and down for some time. At present, even if it is not the best, I can still work quietly at different things, depending on what I am asked to do.
- When Fr Grezel returned with Monsignor Bataillon and his party I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of dear Brothers Abraham and Ptolemee. They stayed here only a few days. The former has been assigned to an island of Samoa, the letter to Toga [sic]. One of the Fathers accompanying His Lordship, a good photographer, took my portrait in 2 different poses, one in religious habit, the other in my ordinary clothes. I asked the good Father to send a copy of each type of portrait to Fr Poupinel to send on to you. I would have sent them myself but it was not possible to transpose them onto paper here because the time His Lordship and his companions spent on Futuna was too short.
- In the parcel I am sending you I have put 2 little packets with special destinations. I would ask you to take care of them. See what means you could use to let Rev Fr Colin, Founder, have the one meant for him. As for the one addressed to my sister (a nun), it could be left in storage until it is claimed, because I don’t know where their Mother House is in Lyon. I propose to write to my sister and recommend her to approach you to reclaim these things.
- I commend myself once more to the prayers of all the Society, and ask you to accept the expression of attachment, gratitude, and profound respect with which I have the honour of being, my Very Reverend Brother Superior,
- your very humble and obedient servant,
- Br Marie-Nizier. (cat.)
- your very humble and obedient servant,
- I would be very pleased to learn about the safe arrival of the objects mentioned when you send me further news of the Society, as, knowing your goodness, you will do.
Extract from a letter of Father Laurent Favre, Futuna, 15 June 1859. (LMN 85-86)
- And now a word about the good Br Marie-Nizier, my dear companion of fortune. He has done me great services, especially in the beginning, for the administration and knowledge of the parish. He knows my natives as if he had made them; he knows them all by their baptismal names and by their old ones. He knows each one’s character, conduct, etc…
- He is a man full of tact, discretion, prudence, gentleness, energy, spirit, of talents, resourcefulness, of savoir-faire and beyond all this his religious virtues shine out: his humility, his simplicity, his docility, his charity.
- He knows the language perfectly and there is not a Futunan who can best him in an argument. So he has acquired, already for some time, the reputation or the name of orator (F. ‘bouche forte’).
- He and I, we are at one. Far from being jealous of his influence and of his ascendance over the natives, I have made use of it as an advantage for me to do good. And I am convinced by the fact that one has everything to gain oneself in giving confidence and authority to one who merits it.
- This means that instead of annoying me, he does me great services, both for myself and for the whole parish; it means that we have mutual interests and that we are happy to be together…
- … it is now 15 months that I have been a Futunan .. Br Marie-Nizier and I, we do our spiritual reading together each evening; we are reading the life of St Francis de Sales.
- Rf Joseph Ronzon, Jean-Marie Delorme Frere Marie-Nizier, Lyon, 1995, p 18.
- ie. The circular of 9 January 1857. rf L 120-5.
- simony – the sin of buying or selling spiritual goods, so named after Simon Magus who tried to purchase the gifts of the Holy Spirit from St Peter (Acts 8).
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