Br Joseph-Xavier to Fr Poupinel, Villa Maria, 9 September 1871
This letter gives us a glimpse of the situation of the missions of Oceania on the eve of the arrival of the brothers to teach in Sydney (rf L 195).
There was, in fact, some uncertainty as to where the brothers would be located when they arrived. Polding wanted St Mary’s or St Benedict’s, while the Marists were hoping for St Patrick’s. Monnier, therefore, had to procede cautiously in his preparations. So while he had already purchased two buildings in Harrington Street as residence and school, he was in no hurry to make the ‘fine house’  habitable until he knew where things stood. When the brothers arrived in February 1872 and made it clear that they were to begin in the Marist parish, they had to stay at Villa Maria until their house was ready (Hosie 220).
From New Zealand came news of the death of another Marist, though not one of the pioneers. Jean-Baptiste Colomb (1821-1871), professed in 1851, had spent 17 years at Romford in Essex, helping his confreres prepare for missions in English-speaking countries. He became a missionary himself only in 1870 and had spent less than two years in New Zealand in charge of Greymouth, on the west coast of the South Island, when he was drowned on 26 July 1871 while fording the flooded Nelson Creek.  Colomb joined the ever-growing list of Marist dead in Oceania, two of whom were buried at Villa Maria, Mathieu and Schahl, as well as the Samoan catechist, Victor Ioela .
At Clydesdale, Philippe Calinon was looking after the property while it was up for sale. After it was sold in December he returned to his former mission of Tonga, where he died six years later at the age of 61.
Wallis and Futuna under Bataillon had become what was already being described as a ‘Catholic theocracy’, and more specifically a Marist one (cf Angleviel 150). In letters to Joseph, both Meriais and Marie du Mont Carme describe the prelate’s long sojourns in their respective islands, touring the parishes, giving retreats, regulating the lives of his converts [6,7]. As we know he was also attempting to replace customary law with a more Christian code (rf L 200). This had lead to some discontent, principally on Wallis, among chiefs concerned with the erosion of traditional authority. On Futuna the conflicts arose more from the bishop’s autocratic approach. The Wesleyans of Vava’u occasionally tried to take advantage of the situation to promote their teachings but unsuccessfully (Angleviel 144-5, 166-8). Bataillon also met with Elloy in Samoa to discuss the situation resulting from the division of his vicariate. Nevertheless, Elloy remained his coadjutor for Central Oceania and succeeded him when he died in 1877.
The translation has been made from a photocopy of the original in the APM.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I received your kind letter of 2 July. I don’t need to tell you how pleased I was with it; you know that well enough. I read and reread it with the same pleasure. But how great my joy would have been if I had read the announcement of your return to Sydney. I have not yet given up hope. My reply to those who ask me if you are coming back soon is always, yes, when things in France are improving.
- How good it would be if the good brothers were to come soon to take possession of their fine house. If the reverend brother Superior knew all the good to be done, he would already have sent them. And they will not be lacking resources once they are installed. Urge them on, for it is time for it.
- There’s a terrible accident which has caused a stir in part of New Zealand. Good Father Colomb, who had won the friendship and esteem of the people of his district, was drowned while crossing a river which was very rapid that day because of the rain the night before. The good father, recognizing only his duty despite the people who warned him not to cross, that it was too dangerous, took no notice of anything except his courage to go where his ministry called him. Kneeling on his horse’s saddle so as not to get his feet wet, off he went, but in the middle of the river his horse stumbled into a hole and the father lost his balance and was swept away without anyone being able to give him any help, and disappeared. A search was immediately made all along the river but it was hopeless. It was only 4 or 5 days later that his body was recovered on the sea shore. The horse made it across the river. The N.Z. paper gives an account of the peoples’ sorrow and of the beautiful funeral they gave him. There were about 8 priests and many protestants joined the catholics for the religious ceremony. The body lay in the church in front of the high altar. Others will give you more details.
- You have heard, my reverend father, that the good Germans had wanted to raise a beautiful stone cross and a stone surround around the grave of their Reverend Father Schall [sic] as a final memorial. It is very well done. The Irish Catholics of Ryde not wanting to leave Father Mathieu’s tomb isolated, emulated the Germans and did the same thing. Mrs Truscote [sic] also wanted to enclose Victor’s tomb, so that the three graves are almost the same, except Victor’s cross is of iron. Fr Muraire blessed the latter two yesterday September 3. He made a beautiful discourse comparing the two and got a good hearing from the reasonably big crowd of people gathered for the ceremony. Brother Joseph was not there, you will know at the end. Come back quickly and you will see all that, as well as our beautiful church which is the admiration of all who come to see it. The protestants are enchanted with it. The 2 altars of the Sacred Heart and St Joseph are very similar. There is no jealousy between the two. But the Sister sometimes cause some. To better decorate the altar of the Sacred Heart she will gather a bouquet of beautiful flowers. Then she puts the less fresh ones on St Joseph’s and the fresh ones on the Sacred Heart. God will forgive her, I think, because neither of them has complained.
- I don’t know what news to give you. I won’t mention Clydesdale. I have not been there since your departure. Brother Jean has come several times, but I haven’t seen him for a long time. Father Calinon never comes near Villa Maria, I don’t know why. He likes the solitude, I suppose.
- Some news of the islands. Fr Meriais has written to me that His Lordship, the bishop of Enos, had left for Futuna, that he had given retreats in all the parishes, the natives are always very good, the number of rebellious is not very many. The Queen is always among the best, rules her people very well, and she is loved. May the good God preserve her. Father Padel is at St Joseph’s, Fr Mondon at St Peter’s, Father Gata at Lano, and Sundays at Notre Dame with Father Meriais. They thank me for all that is sent to them. All he wants is this medal and chain.
- On Futuna, Sister du Mont Carmel, who gives me most news. Mgr stayed 6 months, gave retreats which lasted a long time. That has done some good. But as elsewhere, there are some recalcitrants. I heard that Fr Quiblier has replaced Father Garnier. She tells me Mgr left on 11 May for Samoa where he met Mgr Elloy. They were able to have their ‘fono’. But while Mgr Enos was en route for Samoa, the ship which had accompanied Mgr Tipasa to Samoa, arrived at Futuna with all Enosi’s letters. So no sooner had he landed than he sent this ship back to fetch his mail. It collected them and left again the next day. And Sister tells me that Father Soret is leaving for Samoa. He has been replaced by a young priest I have not seen yet, for he arrived at Sigave yesterday. She announces that she has just heard to her great joy that Father Poupinel is returning to Australia. She is most pleased she might still see you before she dies.
- Nothing new at the procure. Some are well, some are sick. How the time goes. Father Heuzet is cured, but his two arms aren’t. However with difficulty he says Holy Mass, takes off his clothes and need help to put them on again. Brother Genade [sic] is a bit worn out by his headaches of long standing and his kidneys. That doesn’t stop him from carrying on his occupations. As for me, my Reverend Father, I am getting more and more doddery. On the night of 13 or 14 August my rotten ‘puke’ returned to my disappointment. Fortunately it was not very severe, but on Monday, Tuesday, the day of the Assumption, and Wednesday, I couldn’t move from my bed. At the end of the week I was better. My wretched leg, which neither dogskin nor the doctors can do anything for, prevents me sometimes from walking, and now I am losing my sight. There is a dark spot on my right eye which Doctor Laure thinks he will remove. But as he has me on a vesicatory and some medicines to drink, he will do the operation in a few days. I can assure you I am not pleased with that. I have also a pain in the kidneys which forces me to go about all bent over. Imagine what a fine fellow I am and if I have been able to go to Ryde. If you come you can assist at my funeral, for I am getting old, though they say that your return will take ten years off me. I would like to think so.
- For all the things requested for the house, let them go. Fr Jolly [sic] will certainly know how to find what is lacking. For the sheets, I did not need to ask him twice, he saw the need, 12 pairs arrived almost immediately. It will be the same for the other things. For the host-iron, I have not spoken to him about it because I told you before your departure. If you consider it good to have one made, it will be as you want it. But let the handle not be built up over the top of the plates, let it be well joined, the plates 1 ¼ centimeters deep, a centimeter wider and longer than the usual without distorting the shape.
- I wrote to Gervais a few months ago. I do not know if he received my letter since it was addressed to Rome. A big hello if you see him. I commend myself to your prayers and to those of the other good fathers. I do not forget Very Rev Fr Colin, father Maitrepierre and the others I knew. Thanks to Father Yardin for his kindness in welcoming my relatives when they go to Lyon. Although sick he made no difficulty about helping my sister. Brother Genade and others offer you their respects.
- Accept, my Rev Fr, in the holy hearts of J.M.J. the very humble respects of your very devoted servant,
- Luzy, Br J.M.X. S.M.
- Accept, my Rev Fr, in the holy hearts of J.M.J. the very humble respects of your very devoted servant,
- If you find it good, please pass on these few words to my sister.
- RF Michael O’Meeghan, ‘Missions and Parishes 1838-1889’, The Society of Mary in New Zealand 1838, 1889- 1989 , ed. P. Ewart SM, p 16.
- Schahl was from Strasbourg in Alsace, which after the 1870 war had been annexed by Germany. His German congregation would have come from the southern states which were largely Catholic and suspicious of Protestant Prussia and its ambitions.
- As vicars apostolic Bataillon and Elloy did not have canonically erected dioceses. They were ‘titular’ bishops, ie. They were assigned dioceses which were no longer in existence, Enos and Tipasa being ancient dioceses of Asia Minor. Thus they are occasionally referred to, as here, by their sees.
- used in the baking of the host or bread consecrated at the Eucharist.
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