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Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Poupinel, Upolu, Apia, 17 February 1865



Poupinel was on visitation in New Caledonia from June to November 1864, dealing, among other things, with the crisis caused the mission by the activities of the anti-clerical governor, Rear-Admiral Charles Guillain. So it was not until the beginning of 1865 that he had opportunity to deal with correspondence such as Marie-Nizier’s. The brother had also written letters to his superior general, Louis-Marie. There is no record of these in the AFM, and it is possible that they never left Samoa [4]. Nor do we know if he managed to write to Soakimi Gata, nearing the end of his studies in Rome [9].

Marie-Nizier mentions [3] one of the portraits taken by Leon Gavet on Futuna in 1859 (rf L 147). If the copy he sent to his sister Antoinette, Sr Sainte-Ambroise, was the only one not to fade completely, it may have been the basis for the one now held in the AFM, showing the brother in his religious habit seated at a small table. It is quite possible that the features, those of a young man, were remodeled on those of his sister. There is, after all, the precedent of Pierre Chanel’s portrait.

Although now teaching rather than engaged in building [5], Marie-Nizier was no less frustrated in Samoa. He wished to return to Futuna and hoped Poupinel might intercede for him with Bataillon. He had already approached Elloy, but the latter, although now a bishop, was allowed very little authority by the Vicar Apostolic [7]. However, when Poupinel arrived in Apia in June, he decided, on the basis of the brother’s health and general situation, to allow him a sojourn at Villa Maria. This is the last of his letters from Samoa.

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
I received your January letter on the 11th of this month. I can only express my sincere thanks for the solicitude you have shown me in everything.
You ask me, Rev Father, if I don’t bear you a grudge for having been left so long without a reply to my letters. Certainly not. I hold no grudge because of that. I presumed the letters didn’t reach you, or that you didn’t think they were worth the trouble of a reply. I still continued writing, though, in the hope that in the end I would receive a reply. And, in fact, I have received one, and am grateful to you for it.
On the subject of my portrait, you let me know previously that you had not found it among the many others sent to France, nearly all of them useless. I had one, a single that Fr Gavet had sent me earlier on Futuna, which was also starting to fade. I sent it to my sister, the nun, who told me she had received it. I am very grateful to you, too, for informing me that the last parcel addressed to my sister reached its destination.
Since I have been in Samoa I have sent two letters to the Very Rev Brother Superior on two separate occasions (one letter each time). I haven’t heard yet whether they were sent or if they had not reached Sydney. I sealed them as the Brothers’ Rule stipulates.[1] You might not have been in Sydney at the time.
With reference to your observation (on my removal from Futuna) that His Lordship was in a difficult position and that he wanted to realize important plans favouring the centre of his mission, I don’t think I could be counted on to play an active part in carrying them out. I presume the main thing I might be expected to be useful for would be teaching the infants’ class. It has been going since mid-December last. But I don’t think there is any real intention for me to assist the children in their efforts and supervise their progress. I have been in Samoa 15 months now, and I have not received a single lesson in the Samoan language. My usual companions are Br Louis’ boys and we talk in Futunan or Wallisian. One day I ventured to ask a Father the meaning of a word I kept hearing repeated. This is what he said: That’s a word which has several meanings; it depends on the pronunciation. Such an explanation, hardly calculated to excite me with enthusiasm to learn Samoan, effectively ended in discouraging me from learning it. When Monsignor definitely wanted to start the school, I made nearly the same observation to him as the one I made above. I added, I would be like a Badeau,[2] book in hand but unable to give the least explanation. These remarks met the same response as others in different circumstances (that is to say, they fell on deaf ears). So I am taking what people are pleased to call a class, which consists of teaching the alphabet and the rudiments of reading to those who are beginning to pick up the syllables. But I would need the gift of tongues in order to provide explanations. On the 1st day there were 25 children, the 2nd, 13. Now the number varies between 2 or 3 and 10. The other project was probably the building of houses. But Br Louis was there to do that, and he was the only one who could do it. Thus you can see I have scarcely contributed anything to the execution of these intended or imagined plans, and it couldn’t be otherwise.
I don’t know how I would be able to express my gratitude and appreciation if you could obtain my return to Futuna. I am so frustrated here in Samoa. I understand perfectly how difficult it is to treat of this matter in writing, especially when such a distance lies between us. I don’t want to take any other initiative before you come. I think I told you in one letter that the converts on Futuna had written to me to ask you, to beg you, to raise this matter with His Lordship. I will continue to pray the good God that it will have a happy outcome.
As you expected, I have certainly been in communication with Monsignor Elloy several times. But since the knowledge he acquires of the trials of others only adds to his own worries – he is not in any position to provide remedies for the problems of those under him - I have had only very brief conversations with His Lordship. One thing he said to me lead me to this conclusion: ‘Fr Elloy had a lot more power than Monsignor Elloy has…’
If I had the time I would have written you some more about the distribution and sharing out of certain things when the shipments arrive. But time is lacking, and since your visit is not too far distant, I hope I will be able to tell you about it then.
It is not possible for me to write to Soakimi Gata on this occasion. I will try to take advantage of the first available opportunity to do so. Please don’t forget me in your prayers. I have such great need of them.
Accept the expression of the appreciation and deep respect with which I have the honour of being, My Very Reverend Father,
Your very humble and very obedient servant,
Br Marie-Nizier.


  1. Rule of 1852, Part 3, Chap. 2, par. 8. But the Vicar Apostolic does not seem to have had much respect for the confidentiality of letters written by his subordinates.
  2. This is either the name of a stock character I have been unable to trace, or the brother’s spelling of badaud, a gaper in the streets, perhaps best translated here as bumpkin.

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