Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Poupinel, Upolu (Apia), 12 June 1864
This is the second of three letters Marie-Nizier wrote to Poupinel from Samoa during the year. The first, that of March 1864, has not survived. It was most probably lost at sea during a storm, as he surmises . The brother was taking advantage of the mission vessel sailing to Sydney with stops at Fiji and Tonga to deliver missionaries.
This letter gives us some hint of the plans Bataillon had for the development of the mission in Samoa. Marie-Nizier was helping with the building of houses, one for the sisters, the other for the brothers. Both were to be connected with schools. In the latter case, the vicar apostolic probably had in mind the teaching brothers he was to ask Br Louis-Marie for two years later (rf L 192). But in the sisters’ case he seems to have had something more ambitious in mind. During a stay on Futuna in September-October 1863 he proposed to Sr Marie de la Merci, who was running a very successful school at Sigave, that she should come to Samoa and found a congregation of Oceanian sisters to replace the European ones who (like the brothers) cost too much. Although the sister was unwilling to assume such a role and break her links with the Society of Mary, she agreed to help make a foundation of the sisters in Samoa, and in June 1864 disembarked in Apia with Sr Marie Rose and five girls from Wallis and Futuna. They were accompanied by Dezest who probably brought Marie-Nizier the letters he mentions here .
Marie-Nizier was never able to see how he fitted into Bataillon’s plans. Almost 10 years older than his confreres, Abraham and Louis, in poor health, and with no adequate grasp of the language, he found his situation intolerable. It is hardly surprising to find him looking forward with impatience to the return of Poupinel and Epalle. The former had returned from Europe in March, but did not get to Central Oceania until May the following year. The latter was still at Clydesdale where he had received news from Rome of his appointment as coadjutor to Bataillon the previous November. But Bataillon was in no hurry for his return, and it was almost a year after the appointment, in October 1864, that he consecrated the new bishop in Apia (Hosie 176-7). Marie-Nizier was obviously hoping that either one would provide a solution to his problem. In the meantime he was consoling himself with the thought that disillusionment with the vicar apostolic was fairly general [6-7].
The translations of these letters has been made from photocopies of the originals in the APM (VM 223 Samoa). Ronzon has reproduced them in LMN, pages 96-102.
Text of the Letter
- Very reverend Father,
- I wrote you a letter last March. You will probably not have received it since the ship carrying it was wrecked, so we have been told. It belonged to Mr Malcolm. Mr Unshelm of Apia also perished on one of the Fiji islands in the same storm. He was traveling on one of his vessels.
- I ask you to accept my sincere thanks for the Potassium iodide I asked you for and which Fr Mondon has just delivered to me.
- How I wish, Reverend Father, you could come soon, and I could discuss with you different matters much easier to express in speech than by writing. How many times already I have found it frustrating here. The future seems to me to promise more shadow than the past. I say this for this reason. For some time we have been working on the erection of two houses requested, one for the Sisters, the other for the Brothers. The first is almost finished; luckily Br Louis has been directing operations and they have gone faster than planned, for he has four youngsters with him who are a great help to us. Even so, we have been hard driven. What will happen with the other house when only Br Abraham and I are left? There are no more planks and it is a fact that if I were told to go into the woods and cut some, I could do nothing but refuse. Br Louis has been told he will return from (sic) Wallis at the earliest possible opportunity.
- There has been talk for some time that Br Abraham too may be going to Wallis. If that goes ahead, what will my position be? Two infirmities at the same time, labours beyond the strength of one very robust man, and added to that, the great compassion His Lordship shows for those under his command. When the question of my leaving Futuna was raised and I observed that I had a new sickness apart from the hernia, he replied that there was a doctor in Samoa (I think he added, you can get yourself treated). Luckily I placed no more trust in that promise than in the others he made me himself, since it is now the 7th month we have been here, and there has been no sign of remedies, let alone doctors. I haven’t mentioned it again. Besides, I have no confidence in this doctor. Just as I suspected, these promises were simply a smokescreen. I have a stock of these quotations which I could support on more than one topic.
- I have wanted to ask you a number of times to summon me to Sydney or send me to some other Mission. It is not that I have ever had any inclination to go to Sydney, but such a different situation as this, when I found myself transported from one day to the next, has reduced me to a state of indecision and I cannot concentrate on anything. I have still not forgotten Futuna. 26 years cannot be forgotten in a few months. I ask you to use your influence to have me go back there. I could ask for nothing better.
- I have given you a survey of the various difficulties inherent in my current situation. Now I think I should tell you of my present dispositions. I don’t presume to make any definite demands on you, and when I consider, from what I have been told, that your visit will be postponed for yet another year, I am worried and afraid about how I am going to get by until then, if the good God lets me stay alive. Be good enough, please, to let me know the line of conduct I should follow in that regard. I will try to be patient until Fr Elloy’s arrival. I hope that then these anxieties plaguing me will cease. Please do not let me hope in vain.
- I am not the only one in Samoa who finds himself in the situation I have just described to you. On the contrary, I don’t know if there is anyone who is not in this situation. I have already heard more than once people talking about Fr Mondon’s good fortune.
- I must confess to you that when I was forced into this unfortunate position I felt obliged, or rather, I decided to act as if I didn’t understand. One of the Fathers told me there was no other way of dealing with it.
- Fr Dezest and the Sisters have been here since the 6th of the month. That is the same day the priests arrived from Sydney a couple of hours later. The two folau [voyages] had a magnificent wind for coming to Samoa.
- You see, very Rev Father, how much I need help and prayers, so I am commending myself in a very special way to yours. I cannot ask you to rely on mine.
- Accept, my very Reverend Father, the expression of respect and submission with which I have the honour of being
- Your very humble and obedient servant,
- Br Marie-Nizier.
- Your very humble and obedient servant,
- Marie-Cecile de Mijolla smsm, Les Pionnieres Maristes en Oceanie 1845-1931, 1980, p 101.
- Br Louis Pierre Pichelin (b 1823), professed as a coadjutor of the Society in 1848, came out to the Pacific the following year. A talented but overambitious builder, he left the Society in Sydney about 1870 (Hosie 214 f.).
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