Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Poupinel, Villa Maria (Sydney), 4 September 1871
While referring to letters received from Poupinel himself, his sister, and Br Philogone, this one is mainly about the proposal that Marie-Nizier should return to France and his reaction to it. Three quarters of the letter is devoted to this subject. The brother is unusually vehement in his opposition to the idea. Perhaps he had been talking to Emery, one of those who had been back to France and unable to settle down there (rf L 141). He was certainly influenced by the example of the young Samoan, Victor.
On the other hand, he was not averse to returning to the islands if his health improved or even showed no signs of deteriorating. The example he offers in  is an interesting one, for Rondel had 10 years in Samoa after his return at the end of 1870 and a further 18 on Wallis before his death in 1898. In addition, Elloy, unlike Bataillon, had no prejudice against ailing missionaries, and appears to have genuinely wanted Marie-Nizier to return – the brother underlines the three times in his text. In fact, he repeated the invitation the following year. Marie-Nizier also seems to have considered a spell in New Caledonia whose climate was considered beneficial for sick missionaries; Rougeyron records in his report of November 1872, that ‘Br Louis from Tonga’ was staying at La Conception (Delbos 177).
The translation is from a photocopy of the original in the APM, where the underlinings are the brother’s own. The text is reproduced in Ronzon (LMN 139-140).
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I received your letter of 2 July 1870 on the 28th of last month. I was not too surprised at not receiving a reply from you. The sad situation of France means you would have many more important things to think about.
- I can almost see the look of astonishment and satisfaction on Sister St Ambroise’s face on meeting you so unexpectedly on her visit to Puilata [sic]. She kept telling me in her letters: ‘I haven’t had any news of Fr Poupinel.’
- Now, about your proposal that I should return to France, I regret, my Rev Father, I cannot express myself in person; it would be much easier and much sooner done. Going back over the past I recall one occasion when you were asking me questions about various things and you asked me if I would like to return to France. I told you I had never had the desire, and that after having spent nearly 30 years in a way of life and in a climate so different from those of France, it would be very difficult to get used to all the different customs, especially for one getting on in years. I told you that if you did not formally command me, I would prefer to stay in Australia. You said at the time, my Rev Father, that you fully agreed with me on all points, and that you would certainly never force such a thing on me. And indeed since that assurance, I have felt perfectly secure up to now. If the expenses I cause are the reason for your proposal I would not find it difficult to go without whatever is brought to my attention in order to reduce them. If it was even on the recommendation of the doctor, who has said I cannot return to the islands, I would still not take such a declaration on faith. I believe that recommendation was made to Fr Rondel and we can take him as an example. The poor Father was judged to be consumptive (and lung diseases are not rare in the Centre) and everything tended to make people fear the worst for him. It was accompanied by a painful cough; everywhere almost all the time, he had to hold his handkechief to his mouth to intercept the air which provoked coughing fits, gasping, and compulsive spitting, etc. He was considered, in a word, to be seriously ill with this disease. Despite all that, he returned to the islands in the same condition and everyone expected only bad news. Contrary to all expectations, everyone was astonished to learn from a letter he wrote Fr Joly that he had never felt better than since his return.
- Since my letter of November, when I gave you some news of my illness, I can tell you, my Rev Father, that it has not got worse and the pains have not returned.
- From day to day I am awaiting a little flask of the miraculous water of Our Lady of Lourdes which the good Brother Philogone promised me on behalf of the Very Rev Br Superior General.  When it arrives, I will make a novena in honour of the Immaculate Conception. I will ask Fr Joly if we could make it all together to ask a cure, if that is God’s holy will. May Mary answer the prayers and petitions we address her.
- I almost forgot, my Rev Father, to mention something you know better than I, about those who tire of the Missions and ask for, and obtain, a transfer back to France. When they reach the goal of their desires, they aren’t able to settle down; their appeals to return to their former posts are much more urgent than the ones they made to leave them; and they remain only a few years. How would I fare, tying to take up life again, after an absence of 35 years! [sic]
- If it were a punishment you were wanting to inflict on me by counseling me to return to France, Rev Father, I pray you to commute it to another. (Of course, I am not saying this in anger). I would like to see if this infirmity will in time take a decisive turn, especially as it is more than a year now since the pain made itself felt or the tumour showed any sign of growing. I would sincerely like to be able to respond to Mgr Elloy’s invitation. Three times during his stay here he told me, “Get well quickly and return as soon as you can. People like to die in the places where they have worked so long.” After boarding his boat at our wharf, he repeated this invitation to me again as he left, in the presence of all who were there.
- A scene from the past has just come to mind. I recall the time when the natives from Oceania at the house were leaving. Although already stricken by his illness, Victor did not want to return to his country and came to tell you it was his intention and desire to remain at Villa Maria, even though he would be the only one and despite the loneliness this would mean. His request was granted. I find myself, my Rev Father, in almost the same position. I ask you to let me stay here, at least until this phase of my sickness takes another turn or it can be predicted it will continue in the statu quo [sic]. According to developments we would take other measures as circumstances allow. If there were no possibility, I think that, despite the fact I feel little attraction to Caledonia, I would ask to go there for a spell.
- Now that the pain is gone, I can do more freely the things I found very difficult to do before. As a result, I have several times informed Fr Joly that I could occupy myself, when he wanted, with anything he wished me to do.
- Excuse me, my Rev Father, for having taken your time, precious as it certainly is, to read my observations. The distance between us has obliged me to go into them at some length. I thought to speak to you as a child to his father, with sincerity and openness in so important a matter, although my intentions were not hidden from you.
- Please accept, my very Reverend Father, the expression of profound respect with which I have the honour of being in JMJ
- Your very humble and obedient servant,
- Br Marie-Nizier.
- Your very humble and obedient servant,
- PS. I forgot, without meaning to, to ask you for the help of your fervent prayers.
- Lourdes is the site of a series of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in 1858. A spring of water at the grotto has since been associated with a large number of miraculous cures (rf note, L 124).
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