Sara Fuasea to Mother Marie Du Cœur De Jesus, Futuna, 3 September 1865
This is the draft, in Marie-Nizier’s handwriting, of a letter written by a young woman of Futuna, Sara Fuasea, to the superior general of the congregation of Notre Dame des Missions, expressing her desire to become a member of the new congregation.
One of the problems faced by the Society of Mary when it became involved with European women volunteering to serve the missions of Oceania from 1845 on, was how to prepare them for life in the islands as missionaries and religious. No satisfactory method was found until 1861, when Euphrasie Barbier (1829- 1893), a professed member of a small French congregation, les Soeurs de la Compassion, also interested in the foreign missions, offered to help set up a house of formation in Lyon. In effect she founded a new congregation, to which she gave the name Notre Dame des Missions (Our Lady of the Missions)in 1864, and in which she herself made profession as Sr Marie du Coeur de Jesus. The first sisters were already at work in New Zealand, at Napier, the following year. It was assumed that the sisters of the Third Order of Mary working in the Pacific would join the congregation, for which Mother Marie was also writing constitutions and a rule. But it is likely that at this stage she did not envisage vocations from among the islanders themselves.
Sara (1843-1930) was the daughter of Aleta Fuasea, the man who, during the attack on Chanel, had attempted to stab him with a bayonet, as she says here , though not in the final version of the letter (which can be found in Rozier, p 172). When Francoise Perroton arrived in Futuna in 1854, she went to school at Kolopelu and stayed with the sisters. In 1861 she accompanied Sr Marie de la Merci to Sigave to help her open a school there, and then followed her to Apia in 1864. Sara returned to Futuna in May 1865 and then took advantage of Poupinel’s calling in in September to ask Marie-Nizier to help her prepare a letter for Lyon.
The reason for her asking the brother, rather than one of the sisters, to help her may be found in a letter Sara and her friend Silenia wrote from Villa Maria some five years later when they heard that Marie-Nizier was returning to France: “Our hearts are sad about that because we love Br Marie; for us he is like a Matua (elder) of Futuna and we are very much accustomed to him; we are glad to see him at Villa Maria.”
Receiving a favourable response in 1866, Sara left Futuna for Sydney in august 1867, accompanied by Grezel, her director , and a companion, Silenia Tipai. At Villa Maria she found a community of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, newly established since April, and the two began their juniorate under the direction of Marie de la Merci, who made her profession in the congregation at the beginning of 1868. The following year, however, the Sisters of the Missions severed their link with the Society and closed the Sydney foundation (rf Hosie 164 ff). Marie de la Merci returned to being a Marist tertiary and it was as members of the Third Order of Mary for the Missions of Oceania that Sara and Silenia made their profession at Villa Maria in 1878. Sara took the name of Marie du Mont Carmel after her beloved Francoise Perroton (deceased 1873). She remained at Villa Maria until 1890 when she returned to the Pacific (Nos Pionnieres IV 217).
There are lots of crossings out in the draft, as if Marie-Nizier has tried to remain as faithful to Futunan idiom as possible, so as to let Sara truly speak for herself. It has been reproduced, without these, in the collection of correspondence, Nos Pionnieres II, pp 187-8 (No 390). A letter from Poupinel to Yardin included in the same volume (p 203) indicates the former’s attitude to her request: “I am including with this report…Sara’s letter. This young woman pleases me greatly. She will explain her request to you, and I desire that she gets a hearing. One could find others animated with good will, but they do not have the same good dispositions.”
The translation was made from a photocopy of the draft in the archives of the Missionary Sisters of the Society in Rome provided by Sr Norma Claire Onley SMSM in April 1995.
Text of the Letter
- Aloa [Greetings], Mother Superior,
- I, a worthless girl, am writing to you, Mother Superior of an institute devoted to prayer. Have the kindness to receive me into your holy house where a way of life agreeable to God is followed.
- Now I am going to inform you, Mother or consecrated woman, that the inhabitants of these lands here were born in ignorance. Some priests have come to instruct us and they made us aware of the good life led by wise women who devote themselves to praying to God. But we did not believe them because we thought it was not possible for anyone to live in such a way. Since the Sisters have arrived among us we have carefully observed them and the good life they lead. Then we said, ‘That is an excellent thing.’ Therefore I have decided to try to imitate them.
- I will inform you too that when the Sisters arrived I was a little girl. I went to the school they ran. I prepared myself for first Communion. It was after I made my first Communion that I felt the inclination to want to live in a way pleasing to God. So I went to live entirely with the Sisters in order to attend to their needs, hear their lessons more frequently, and become better acquainted with the way of life they lead. And in my heart I sincerely desired to become like them in obeying God.
- I can tell you that I have really come to know the excellence of the Sister’s life because Marie de la Merci has taken a lot of trouble to teach me. I stayed close to her especially and I often asked her to explain to me in detail what the authentic conduct of Sisters should be.
- There is also another good thing. I found a priest who has looked after me well. I have frequently opened my heart to him and he has given me constant support. Nearly every day I have listened to his exhortations and I have a great desire to conform to them.
- I thank you very much, Mother, because I have heard you are going to send new Sisters to Sydney. Thank you for your kindness. It is something I desire greatly.
- Would you like to know who I am, Sister? What family I am the daughter of? I am the daughter of one who assassinated the first priest who came here to Futuna. It was my own father who actually laid his hands on the priest (that is to say, he used a murderous instrument on the priest. I do not know of any other meaning for the word kappa than to lay hands on or seize by the hand. And this man was only using his weapon). My own relatives all took part, not one of them was not involved. They and only they were the ones who did it. They behaved wickedly towards him, but the priest had only affection for them and for all the people of Futuna.
- That is also why I am now prompted to persevere in a way of life pleasing to God, to atone for the evil behaviour of our relatives towards the priest. That is why I greatly desire that my conduct be much above the ordinary, because of the thought of the frightful thing my relatives did to the sacred envoy of God.
- Yes, Mother Superior, I know that I am not worthy to write to you because I am a girl of no worth. But I have written to you all the same because I want to obey God. That is why I want to let you know my intentions.
- I hope that you will have the goodness to accept my request, because you certainly desire to increase the number of your children.
- Yes, Religious or consecrated woman, I want you to know that there is only one thing I desire now and that is to truly live for God. That is my only desire. I do not have two hearts (or two wills), I seek only the will of God in my regard.
- That is why I affectionately pray you, Mother and the other Sisters subordinate to you to have the goodness to pray for me so that my heart will be enlightened and I will remain in the right way. But I do not rely at all on myself, I rely only on God because whatever he supports achieves success. Yes, pray to Mary on my behalf for she is the good Mother of those who wish to imitate her. Farewell. I send you greetings.
- I the girl: Sara.
- Her letter of 1 October 1871 can be found in the third volume of the correspondence of the early pioneer sisters of the SMSM (1866-1873), Nos Pionnieres d’apres la correspondance 1836 – 1885, Rome, 1973, p 161.
- In the original the ordinary word for a religious sister (Soeur) is used but in most cases it has been crossed out and replaced with the more technical ‘Religieuse’ (religious woman, nun). Marie-Nizier was leaving nothing to chance. Mother Marie was certainly a religious in the full sense, but the status of the members of the congregation she was in the process of helping establish was not yet fixed. The Marists had simply incorporated the earlier volunteers into their Third Order.
- The section in parentheses is crossed out in the draft and not included in the final version.
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