Br Jacques to Br Francois, Apia, January 1860
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
No specific date in January is given for the writing of this letter but it is probably to be dated within a week of the reception of Francois’ letter of January 1859 (rf Charise’s letter following – L 149). Abraham would have brought Jacques up to date on the state of the Institute . According to Avit, by 1860 there were 2000 brothers in 360 establishments teaching 60,000 pupils in France, England, Belgium, Scotland, and Oceania (AI 2. 243).
It is interesting to note the priorities of the mission. It was only after churches had been built that attention was given to housing the missionaries . Dubreuil, for example, had been at Leulumoega, to the west of Apia, since 1858, living with a local family (Heslin 118). At the other end of the island, Sage’s base at either Falefa on the north coast or Lotofaga on the south was a simple fale. Now more substantial residences of wood or stone were being considered. Jacques, the principal builder, took justifiable pride in his work . Although he does not describe the dedication of the church in Apia he is comparing the Savai’I one with, Charise gives a brief account of it in his Memoirs: “On his return (from Sydney in 1852) His Lordship blessed the first stone of the future church. In this stone were placed the names of Mgr Bataillon, Fathers Violette and Fonbonne and Brothers Jacques and Charise. Obliged to go back to Europe, His Lordship was not able to see the church finished and it was blessed by Fr Violette in 1853. The natives flocked to the celebrations. I counted 270 roast pigs there. Fr Servan (sic) said to me, ‘What a piggery.’ There was no shortage of kava…” (AI 3. 100). Elloy, whose church it was that Jacques was describing, was now back in Apia, after three years at Lealatele.
This letter (pp 82-87 in Cahier 2 in the AFM) is Jacques’ last in our correspondence. Transferred to Sydney in 1863 for health reasons, he stopped off at Futuna to visit the tomb of Chanel and died there on 9 July 1863 at the age of 45. Because of his association with the Hermitage he was for many years considered to be a Little Brother of Mary and was commemorated as such in the provincial necrologies of Australia and New Zealand.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Brother Francois,
- On the 10th January 1860 I received your welcome letter dated the 7th of the same month last year. It gave me real pleasure and I thank you very sincerely. I can tell you it was a favour I was not expecting, knowing full well how preoccupied you must be governing and looking after an Institute with as many members as the Little brothers of Mary have now. I always read your Circulars with great interest and real pleasure. What a joy it is for me to receive your letters. Your Circular of the 25th December was read for spiritual reading in community with the four Fathers and Br Abraham and me. We were all interested, especially in the details you gave about your trip to Rome. I tell you it made me weep tears of joy and satisfaction. Fr Dubreuil was very grateful for your remembering him. He has asked me to pass on his thanks and he begs you to accept his affectionate respects. Fr Servant is no longer in Samoa; he left with Monsignor Bataillon last October. He wanted very much to return to France. I think that after his 23 years of service in Oceania he will be granted the favour.
- I would like to give you some items of interest about the mission of the Navigators, very reverend Brother, but I am not all that capable. You know my capabilities. They are the same as when I left the Hermitage; they have not improved. Since I have been in the missions I have been continually occupied with the work of building churches and houses, doing cooking, attending to the business of the houses, etc.
- We have two houses to build at present, for two stations already started but not yet on a firm foundation. Both of them are on the island of Upolu, one in the east and the other in the west. I should have been leaving for the west tomorrow to begin one for Fr Dubreul who is due to go and establish himself there soon. But the war raging now in that part of the island will prevent me going so soon. The people of the district were going to come and fetch me in a big canoe but I have learned they won’t be coming because of the war. I will have to wait until Fr Dubreul returns from his voyage to the east, to discuss with him what we should do under the circumstances. I don’t think the war will prevent us from founding the establishment, as I don’t think its outcome will be all that serious.
- After I have put up the house I mentioned and made it ready for living in, I have to go to the east of the island and build another for Fr Sage who has been living in very wretched conditions for many years. That may be in stone, but we are not sure. The Fathers have gone there to discuss it and see the land where it should be built. Up until now, all the buildings made for us in the Navigators have been of wood, except two churches, one in Apia, and another we built last year on the island of Savai. The latter is not big or high, but it is very pretty. The openings for doors and windows are of squared stone, and so is the floor of the sanctuary, but the rest of the church is unpaved, for we had neither the time nor the means. What sets it off so nicely is the carpentry, especially the altar which is of very beautiful wood. The dedication was exactly the same as for the one in Apia. It was just as solemn, but the crowd was not so large. The festivities put on by the natives were exactly the same. Almost all the priests in the archipelago were there. A number of other little churches or chapels of wood were built during the year just ended, so that you can today count about 20 Catholic churches in the whole group.
- For all that, not all the natives have been converted. There are a lot more to come, but at the moment there is obvious progress. Please, very dear Brother, help us with the aid of your prayers and those of your community. We have been told that many prayers are being said in France now for the missions of Oceania – they are beginning to have an affect too. Fr Elloy, who has come to Apia from Savai on the instructions of His Lordship, baptized 35 people on Christmas Day, and a good number were preparing for it when he left, and that was in a village where nothing could be done for a long time. It was the young people Fr Elloy baptized who led the way. After Christmas Day they weren’t the same as before; their baptism had completely changed them. When they departed, Father had to give them some words of consolation and encouragement for the future. They all burst into tears like children who have lost their father. Fr Elloy couldn’t contain himself either, he had to withdraw, and I myself, who was a witness, couldn’t hold back my tears. Fr Elloy is a young missionary you perhaps knew in Europe. He has not been in the mission 3 years. He is an excellent man, filled with zeal for the salvation of souls and full of the spirit of the good God. He already speaks the language perfectly, and astonishes the natives. He will do great good in the missions.
- I am still very happy in my vocation. I have a great love and esteem for it, and I sincerely thank the good God for having called me to it. There is only one thing I really regret, and that is not being a good enough religious. I believed I would become a saint in coming to Oceania and I see now that I am a long way from that yet. I always find pleasure in recalling the happy time I spent at the Hermitage, and the prodigious care taken there over my education, temporal and spiritual. I thank you for that very sincerely. I have been fortunate to be able to talk with the good Br Abraham from the Hermitage. I have asked him for news of all the good Brothers I once knew, Brs Louis-Marie, Jean-Baptiste, etc. I have not forgotten them nor the services they did me.
- Before finishing, very dear Brother, I must wish you all the best for the new year of 1860 which we are beginning. I wish you it, and all the Brothers as well, not as a compliment, for I don’t know how to make them, but with all my heart. May it be a good and happy year, good especially according to the hearts of Jesus and his divine Mother.
- I remain, my very reverend Brother, in the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary,
- Your very humble and very obedient
- Brother Jacques Peloux.
- Your very humble and very obedient
- Servant had in fact died on Futuna only a week or so before this letter was written (rf L 133).
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