Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Poupinel, Upolu (Apia), 25 June 1864
This letter was written not long after the preceding, for reasons which the writer gives in , but the lengthy postscript added July 3 [9-11] indicates it did not find early passage to Sydney.
Poupinel was conscientious in maintaining contact with the families of his Marists and during his time in France had made sure of seeing the brother’s relatives and asking them to write to him. The only one who had not, according to this letter, was his younger brother, Jean-Claude. This was the second of his brothers to have followed him into the Marist brothers. He was received at the Hermitage in 1839 as Br Epipode but left the congregation in June 1848. At this time he was living in Lyon (Ronzon 17-18).
The letter indicates that the middle of the year 1864 was a time of redeployment for the vicariate. Mondon, after his year at Clydesdale, was going to Fiji with the newly arrived Amande Camu (1836-1867), a Marist of only three years standing. Jean Lamaze (1833-1906), another new member of the Society (1862) and future Vicar Apostolic, was going to Tonga to replace Monnier. The latter had been recalled to Sydney and with him Louis Rondel (1833-1898) from Wallis, who had been professed in the Society not long before leaving for the Pacific in 1859. The builder brother Louis also moved at the end of the month to Wallis to supervise construction of a church, leaving Abraham and Marie-Nizier to finish the work in Apia. The brother has complained to Bataillon to no avail and there is an air of desperation in his appeal to Poupinel to let him come to Sydney for a while .
The long postscript added a week or so later treats mainly of a practice, more probably a policy, in the vicariate which the missionaries had been complaining about for over a decade (rf L 86 and Introduction). When supplies arrived at the central station (Wallis in 1850, Samoa in 1864), although addressed to specific missions, and even to specific individuals, the parcels were opened and inspected, and the contents often redistributed. Marie-Nizier had himself suffered from this “customs” as he calls it (rf L 86) but this was the first time he had seen the operation at first hand. Although it was to the benefit of the sisters, they were the ones most vehemently against it. The brother suggests that the local superior, Sage, may have been doing it on his own authority . But the practice appears to predate Sage’s arrival in the Pacific and it is unlikely he would have done anything of the sort without Bataillon’s approval. And the complaints do not appear to have made any difference.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- It is only a few days since I wrote to you via the ship which was taking Fr Mondon and Fr Camu to Fiji. Fr Lamaze was with them, going to Tonga to replace Fr Monnier. The latter is off to Sydney with Fr Rondelle [sic] who was also aboard.
- I was rather preoccupied in that letter with various things and so I forgot something which should have been mentioned before anything else. That is, thanking you for the kindness you showed and the trouble you took to visit my family scattered in so many different places. All my brothers and sisters have written to me, with the exception of Jean-Claude. They have all been full of gratitude for your kindness to them. This involves me too; I have been with them, as it were, since you offered the Holy Sacrifice for us all. I join them in asking you to accept our common thanks. I have to thank you as well for the bandages and the chamois skin you sent me. I don’t think anything had been unpacked when I wrote to you last.
- We are all waiting for one day, the day I believe all the members of the Mission of Samoa are looking forward to. That is the day of your coming here. Could we have this happiness at the time of Monsignor Elloy’s consecration? May that day come, as quickly as possible. It is very difficult to breathe in the atmosphere here. Constraint is visible on almost every face.
- The day for Br Louis’ departure for Wallis has come. I thought it was still some weeks off. It is agreed he will leave the day after the feast of St Peter. As I had anticipated, the works begun are going to fall back on me. I can assure you that is no longer conjecture but simple reality. Monsignor has given me formal notice of it. But how to do things I have never done before? I remarked to him that what remained to be done was difficult and precisely the sort of thing which required skill to do, etc. Such remarks run the usual risk of being completely fruitless, and mine did not stray from the well-worn track. So as to have nothing for which to reproach myself, I ventured on this occasion to observe that I wouldn’t be able to do much work because of the new infirmity I had. I told him that, far from lessening, it had grown in size and was causing me constant pain. By way of response, he launched into a long speech, lasting I don’t know how long, giving me his customary recipe. “It’s nothing, it doesn’t offer the slightest danger; it won’t prevent you from working, walking, etc.” He just stopped short of telling me it was a good thing to have. I seriously doubt this remedy is efficacious enough to heal all the sicknesses for which he advises it, especially for other people. But the one who so recommends it scarcely uses it himself.
- I have begun to use the Potassium iodide. I don’t know how it will turn out. Whatever the result, I will let you know in due course, Rev Father, when I have the opportunity of writing to you.
- I would like to have made some further comments but as I believe you will be paying us a visit before long and that I will be able to discuss these various things with you then, I will leave them for now.
- I will only ask you, my Rev Father, in case you do not come, if I would be permitted to ask to go and spend some time in Sydney. I have already told you in my other letter I don’t particularly want to go. But the difficulties I perceive on this new horizon frighten me, and not without cause. Perhaps I would be forced to go there if my infirmity continues to get worse. If you agree to my request, what would it need for me to be able to slip away from here? I can see a number of obstacles which it will not be easy to get around. I will wait on your decision.
- I commend myself especially to your prayers. You see the need I have of them.
- Accept the expression of profound respect and entire submission with which I have the hour of being, My very Reverend Father, Your very humble and obedient servant,
- Br Marie-Nizier.
- PS. Br Louis left on St Peter’s feastday. Br Abraham remains in Apia. I have another little frustration, apart from the ones I have mentioned. It is 7 months now since I have been here, and I haven’t yet been able to open my cases. They are still piled up on top of one another, just as on the day I left Futuna. The furniture Fr Grezel gave me and which you approved on your last visit to Futuna, His Lordship made me leave behind, telling me it would be a little difficult for me to keep it, probably because of the protests the priests would make. Imagine my situation. I live in a hole that could be called a room, or half a room, if one wishes. There is no place to put a single piece of wood to make a shelf for storing a few things. There is no window, and when the rain comes through the door and it has to be closed, then I have about as much chance of seeing anything as in the middle of the night.
- But here is the main reason why I have felt obliged to add a PS. My conscience seems to be imposing on me the duty of speaking about it to you. You will then do what you judge most suitable. I thought that the things or supplies coming from the procure in Sydney addressed to a particular Mission here should not be unpacked or diverted by anyone, whoever it may be, before it reaches its destination. But it seems this law does not exist in Samoa – or at least it is not observed very well. On the pretext that the Sisters had come, one from Wallis, the other from Futuna, Fr Sage opened the parcels of materials destined for those islands and selected two fine pieces from each to give to the Sisters. It must be said in the latters’ favour that they protested loudly against the injustice. They had no right, they said, to what was not addressed to them or addressed to a Mission to which they did not belong, but to no avail. A supply of sewing thread for the sewing room on Futuna was treated likewise. The same thing happened with the wine. They wanted to keep back at least 2 cases from each mission. Strong opposition again on the part of the Sisters. Finally, the pot of preserves for Futuna was also the subject of serious deliberations to keep it in Apia and send only a comparatively small one in its place. Br Joseph’s heart, they said, only has space for Wallis and Futuna. I heard His Lordship say that, and also, they probably thought the Sisters were still there. It was obvious he was all for keeping it. He said that at table. When things were being divided up, Fr Sage definitely wanted to keep it, but the Sisters put up the same resistance. Fr Dezest, who had always stood for justice, again sided with the Sisters, and it was decided that the jar would go on to its destination. The same with the wine. But since then, their consciences have been troubling them. I confess I have heard it said that not all the wine will be sent on, that some will be held back at Apia. However, I can’t be sure of that. But there is not the slightest doubt about the material and the thread. Sister de la Merci, who fears she will be accused of complicity in these goings-on, is very keen to have things explained clearly to you down there. I don’t know what Fr Mondon would have thought of the bale of material you have given him. It was addressed to Futuna because you didn’t have time to change it. I have been told Fr Sage said that he was going to keep it to avoid all disputes or wrangling, and effectively it is for Apia. If that is true, Fr Mondon will not be too pleased.
- I wanted to share these observations with you, so that if you hear some protests, you can address yourself directly to the one responsible. If each consignment was treated the same, it would be preferable to wait for opportunities for direct sailings to the other islands than to have everything routed through Apia. I don’t know if Fr Sage was doing those things on his own authority or otherwise. I beg you, Rev Father, if you do make some use of this information, not to reveal its source.
- (3 July 1864) Br Marie-Nizier.
- recette: the context suggests the meaning of a standard formula.
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