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Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Poupinel, Apia (Samoa), 29 November 1863



Marie-Nizier wrote this letter to announce his abrupt transfer from Futuna to Samoa in November 1863. After 26 years on the island, and in failing health, he had, no doubt, expected to end his days there. Both the transfer and the “ruthless fashion” [5] in which Bataillon made it astonished all on Futuna.

The vicar apostolic’s reasons for making this transfer are not clear. Certainly the initial one, that he wanted the brother to look after his personal affairs [3], seems inadequate, since, in fact, Marie-Nizier was otherwise engaged when he resided in Samoa (rf LL 177, 178, 180). On the other hand, two brothers had died during the year, Jacques in July, and Ptolomee in September, both without replacement. Bataillon may have felt that there was more work for Marie-Nazier in Samoa and was thus prepared to ignore the protests of Dezest and Grezel at losing his services. He may have made one concession to them since Dezest, who was due to be changed himself according to this letter [5], did not go until 1868, when he was sent to Rotuma to re-open that mission.

The manner of the brother’s removal is less surprising if we remember that Bataillon was notorious for his quick temper and autocratic ways, and that, in addition, the sisters at Kolopelu had just refused to renew their vow of obedience to him.[1] But it shows how deeply the brother was affected by it that he should consider the cases of his departed confreres [4].

The translation is from a copy of the original in the APM. The letter is to be found in Ronzon’s collection (LMN 94-5). The original, addressed to Poupinel in Sydney, bears the instructions: “to be held at the Procure until the Rev Father’s arrival.” The tearing of the seal has obliterated two names; however, these may be readily supplied (rf note [8]).

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
No doubt you will be surprised to see where I am sending this letter from, but I can assure you you are not the only one. We dropped anchor in the port of Apia only yesterday.
I received your welcome letter from Rome of February 22 this year. You would have to have been in the position I was at the time to get some idea of the consolation it gave me. I had just received orders[2] to pack my bag in preparation for leaving. I feel an urgent need, my very Reverend Father, to open my heart to you on this subject, for I have had it so wounded. I would prefer to give you a simple account of the main events relating to it rather than leave you in ignorance. It offers some relief.
Monsignor was on Futuna for more than two months without uttering a word (to me) about what he had in mind for me. It was not until the ship arrived to fetch him and was almost on the point of departure that he approached me. Here is a summary of our conversation: ‘Brother, it is my intention that you should take charge of my personal affairs. Would you have any objection to coming with me? Still, I would not force you…(I have underlined those words). ‘My Lord, I don’t think I’m at all ready to embark. My infirmities make it impossible for me to do anything strenuous. The slightest exertion brings on pain. Apart from the hernia, I have a swelling on my left side that also causes me suffering.’ He continued to urge me, to entreat me. I kept silent. He was well aware it was not the silence of consent. We parted, with him telling me to give it some reflection in God’s presence.
Fr Dezest received instructions to persuade me to leave. I told him, please tell His Lordship my intentions are still the same. I have reflected, moreover, that several Brothers in the different island groups have gone astray, have lost their vocations. Are these the causes? Are these the problems? I don’t know. But frequently enough it is the opportunity that makes the thief, etc. etc. The Father replied, ‘You have good reasons, I will convey them to His Lordship.’ Monsignor listened and told him not to say any more or else he would be acting on the Brother’s behalf in an unacceptable manner. Then the Father told me it was useless to say anything more. Prepare your things. You can write to Father Poupinel and inform him of what has happened. I certainly counted, Rev Father, on His Lordship’s words: ‘I don’t want to force you’ having their full formal meaning. So I couldn’t prevent myself reminding him of that on another occasion.
If the appeals made to Monsignor to leave me on Futuna had been addressed to a statue of bronze or brass, I believe it would have complied. They were not my appeals (I would not have dared) but appeals from the natives and the priests. Fr Grezel pointed out how difficult it would be for him by himself. Fr Dezest was soon going to be changed, the care of the churches still had to be done and there was no one to carry it on, etc. etc. All failed, all their representations were turned down. Monsignor seemed to be offended by all the efforts made on my behalf. There was nothing unusual in that. We were all astounded that, after 26 years residence on the same island, he should have moved me in such a ruthless fashion.
I believed I should let you know the essentials of my story, according to the advice given me and which was exactly in accord with my intentions. If I am in Samoa, it is certainly not from choice. If it were up to me to leave it, that would soon be done.
I have suffered considerably from my infirmities, and I am not cured of them. I believe Potassium iodide is a good remedy for swellings such as I have. What forms is certainly not a sac of water. I would be extremely grateful if you could send me a small flask of iodine.
I don’t know how to thank you for visiting all my family as well as M……[3] I haven’t yet received a letter from my godson, and to write to him, I wouldn’t know where to address my letter or whether I should write in French or Futunan.
If you can’t get me out of Samoa, please re-address anything that might be sent me. I commend myself in a very special way to your prayers. You can see how much I need them.
Accept the expression of my profound respect. I have the honour of being, my very reverend Father, Your very humble and obedient servant.
Br Marie-Nizier.

PS. I presume, my Rev Father, there is no need for me to ask you for a reply.


  1. Rf Frederic Angleviel, Les Missions a Wallis et Futuna aux XIX Siecle, Bourdeaux-Talance, 1994, p 163.
  2. Underlined in the original, and likewise with the other instances in the text.
  3. In Ronzon’s reproduction (p 95) there is a word here beginning with ‘so’, with the rest effaced (probably by the breaking of the seal). Ronzon thinks it is probably the word ‘soldat’ (soldier), but the context suggests it is a name, probably Soakimi Gata.

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