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Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Poupinel, Villa Maria (Sydney), 22 March 1870



The first part of this letter gives a brief survey of the state of the Central Oceania mission in 1870 from the point of view of its missionaries. The somewhat dismal picture probably reflects more the mood of the weary and embattled Marists than it does the actual state of affairs. The brother does not appear to exaggerate the part played by the Vicar Apostolic in this situation. Favre had already written to Bataillon in January 1868 voicing the complaints of his men, “Your reputation for harshness and severity is a great obstacle to sending missionaries into your vicariate” (letter of 1 January 1868, APM, cited Angleviel 149). Bataillon was to be called to Rome within a year or so to answer these criticisms. The New Zealand ‘enquiry’ referred to [6] could apply to Pompallier, who had travelled to Rome again in 1868 to answer for his financial problems (rf Simmons 182), but more probably to Viard, summoned the same year to Europe to settle his problems with the Society (rf O’Meeghan 78). As we know, one of his brothers, Florentin, had been involved in the administration of the Hawkes Bay farm (rf L 190), but by this time, Florentin was at Villa Maria.

The letter also reveals the toll conditions were taking on the health of the personnel of the mission. Marie-Nizier reports on the progress of his own malady, and also records the presence at Villa Maria of Emery, back from Fiji to recover his strength (rf L 198).[1] He had arrived on the ship which was to take Louyot back. But Nicholas Louyot (1836-1871), who joined the Society the same year he came to the Pacific, 1861, was to die in Fiji less than a year later. Andreas Schahl (1826-1871), a member of the Society since 1857, did not return to Samoa but died at Villa Maria a year exactly after this letter was written. Isidore Grezel appears to have remained in New Caledonia until his departure for France in 1872.

The brother’s requests in [11] are almost word for word the ones he had made in his letter to Francois ten years earlier (rf L 147). The Memoir on Chanel [14] is undoubtedly that reproduced by Rozier (Doc. 88, pp 220-243). There is no further reference to the books sent by his sister.

The translation was made from the typescript copy in the AFM. The letter is No 33 in Ronzon’s edition (pp 134-6). The underlinings are the brother’s own.

Text of the Letter

Reverend Father,
Although I have nothing especial to tell you, I still find it satisfying to write a few lines so you will not forget me.
I know quite well, Rev Father, that it is not from me that you expect or need to wait for news from here or from the islands, for you would not be getting the best service. Without a doubt, you have information from the primary sources, but that doesn’t matter.
We have at the Procure the good Fr Schahl who arrived from Samoa on the “Scotsman”. He arrived at the beginning of Lent. Alas! The news from the Centre is not very reassuring. Mgr Bataillon is on Wallis. And there he has been giving Fr Padel a hard time. First of all, he relieved him of the direction of work to complete the church of St Joseph. They say that now he is preventing him from building his house near the new church. He left Samoa without leaving anyone in charge. So Fr Schahl had to leave without being able to consult authority or the representative of the legitimate authority. Apart from the fact he felt thoroughly worn out, the doctor urged him not to put off the occasion for departing, since at any moment he was likely to be confined to his bed indefinitely. The sea air, and especially the daily fare on board, which according to the Father was good, helped him regain some strength, so he reached us in somewhat better state than he started out in. But there is still much to be done to restore his ravaged stomach to its proper condition.
A number of letters from the priests in Samoa give nothing but bad news. Here are a few examples. Things could not be worse for our religion. The natives show not the slightest interest. They consider the faith of no importance.
It seems they are always on the alert and that they expect war at any moment. One letter says: ‘unless someone removes Mr Williams, as they did in Fiji, we will have no peace.’ Samoa is going backwards and foundering.
It appears that the Fathers, in their turn, are under the fear of the legitimate authority. On his departure, His Lordship left his orders in writing; their interpretation is not open to question. In the case of any exception, the Enosian thunderbolt would strike. It is a question, they say, of nothing less than threats of excommunication, suspension, interdict for the infraction of the slightest regulation left in writing. Here are a few passages from a letter from Samoa sent to one of us at the Procure; they will suffice to give you some idea of the others. One priest, recalling the care he had received from a Brother, says: “I asked more than once if I might be allowed to replace (the Brother’s services) with those of a young boy. He would be able to help me as well with my work as a missionary and acting procuror. But impossible, positive refusal, for the simple reason (supposing at the same time a good dose of folly) that if I could ask some services of a child, I would be eclipsing the legitimate authority or, at least, undermining it. That’s the reason why all help is refused me and I have to do everything by myself. An enquiry here would be just as justified as in New Zealand. They have brothers in administration.” I am assured from another source that there is no exaggeration in what is said about being forbidden to ask a single child to perform some service.
The January heat has been very strong, but especially for two or three days it was so intense it spoiled almost all the grapes at the Procure. Other vineyards suffered worse. Clydesdale has also had its share of spoiled grapes.
I have just received Sr St Ambroise’s photograph. There is a copy for you. I don’t think I ought to send it to you. I will keep it until you return.
Fr Grezel has written to Br Joseph that he is about ¾ cured and he needs a colder climate to complete the other quarter. That is a prelude to announcing his return to the Procure, but he doesn’t say so in as many words.
I cannot say for myself that I am ¾ cured, not even one quarter. I could say the opposite, that my malady is making progress, for just recently the swelling increased quite noticeably, and the right side which up to then had not been affected became inflamed. It caused me some pain and I am still not completely rid of it. I don’t know what will be the result of this singular illness, or rather this triple illness, which has resisted almost every remedy applied to combat it. If I knew you would receive this letter by the 24 May, I would beg you, my rev Father, to say Holy Mass for me at Our Lady of Fourvieres to ask for my cure, if that be God’s holy will. I would like to be able to work so as to make myself useful at something. In any case, I unite myself conditionally with your prayers that day, with the intention for which I am requesting this Mass.
It has also occurred to me to send you the following requests. But you know how far you need to go in following them up. They are: the plan of the Mother House and the chapel at St Genis, the plan of Our Lady of the Hermitage, the detail of the remarkable clock there. It may well be that this time during your stay in France you will see it if you visit the Hermitage. Finally, my last request, which is no more obligatory than the others though just as difficult, would be for a watch, in the eventuality that you find someone generous enough to present you with one.
Br Emery is here. Fr Louyot is about to depart, all his effects are on board.
Be so kind, my Rev Father, to remember me in your good prayers, and accept the expression of profound respect with which I have the honour of being,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Br Marie-Nizier. Cat.
PS. I have started for myself a new Memoir on the life of the venerable Father Chanel. I have already about 30 to 40 pages of small format, such as this on which I am writing to you. As I am not an accomplished author I don’t know when I will finish it.
In two of her letters Sr St Ambroise has told me that a little parcel containing two books only (Our Lady of Lourdes and Anna-Marie Taigi) was given to Fr Yardin to be sent to me. No one here has heard anything about it. The newly arrived Fathers know nothing of it. Fr Joly and Fr Muraire have nothing on their lists. I ask you, my rev Father, to be kind enough to make some enquiries on the subject. The books were taken to Puylata in December.


  1. This left Sorlin the only Little Brother of Mary in the central part of Bataillon’s vicariate. He was still there in 1885 building houses, churches, and boats, as he describes in a letter to his sister (AM 6: 238-240). He witnessed the arrival of his confreres to open a school in Suva three years later, celebrated with Breheret the golden jubilee of their arrival in Fiji in 1891, and died at Levuka 2 August 1903.

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