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Fr Palazy to Fr Poupinel, Amettes, 23 February 1874



In his notice on Marie-Nizier in the third volume of Annales des Missions, Poupinel quotes some interesting details provided by ‘a missionary who once lived with Br Marie-Nizier on Futuna’ (AM 3. 224). This missionary was Francois Palazy, a generous part of whose letter here [5-7] has been reproduced in that account (ibid. 244-5).

After his return to France in 1870, Palazy had been appointed to Amettes in the Pas-de-Calais, the north-westernmost department of France. On learning of Marie-Nizier’s death from Poupinel, he wrote to share with him some reflections of his conversations with the brother at Sigave where he was stationed from May 1848 to the end of 1849. Most of these concern the fortunes of Marie-Nizier after Chanel’s murder and repeat what the brother wrote in letters to Colin (L 49), and the brothers of the Hermitage (L 64), as well as in two to Pompallier (LL 23, 26), the earlier of which, 1 May 1841,found among his papers, was also included by Poupinel in his necrology (pp 221-4). Only the incident concerning the ship’s captain [8] is not found elsewhere.

In his description of the brother’s expertise in the language and customs of Futuna [9], Palazy echoes the remarks of Laurent Favre in his letter of 15 June 1859 (rf addendum to L 147). He also refers to his writings and, in fact, in his letter to Poupinel of February 4, Rocher records that there were two large trunks of clothing, books, and papers of his at St Anne’s (LMN Appendix b). Poupinel must have had the idea of producing something more substantial about him, for Avit in his Annales (3: 117) writes (ten years later): ‘Rev Fr Poupinel, visitor of the Fathers in Oceania, had promised to write the biography of Br Marie-Nizier whom he had known well. But death prevented him and his numerous notes on this Brother were confiscated by his confreres.’ If he did approach Grezel, as Palazy suggested, there is no trace of any contribution from that priest in the brother’s personal file in the APM.

Poupinel’s notes do not appear to have been shared with the brothers either, since Br Philogone, who also wrote up some ‘Notes’ on Marie-Nizier in 1890, admitted that they had ‘absolutely no details’ to go on (rf his entry in the reference volume to the Letters of Champagnat, 2, edited by Brs Raymond Borne and Paul Sester, in Br Leonard Voegtle’s translation, Rome 1992, pp 372-375).

This translation was made from the original in the APM and keeps the underlinings found there. The text is also reproduced in LMN, Appendix c – e.

Text of the Letter

My Reverend Father,
I was rejoicing in the return to Europe of good Brother Jean Marie-Nizier, whom I had got to know particularly on Futuna, and I was hoping I would have the opportunity of embracing him once more on this earth. But almost at the same time your letter arrived informing me that he is no longer in this world and that I must postpone the pleasure of seeing him again to another better life.
In any case, thank you very much for having let me know about the death of this good brother who edified me on more than one occasion by his piety and his regular life during the 20 months I spent with him. I used to find pleasure in asking him about the life of the venerable Fr Chanel, and I loved to hear him recount the little details concerning them both. My memory, unfortunately, has not kept these details clear.
What helped him miss out on being killed as well as the missionary was not only because he was away, on the other side of the island (at Sigave), where he had been catechizing. What above all saved him was the resentment of a warrior[1] who, without taking part in Fr Chanel’s murder, had assisted and taken part in the pillaging. This warrior had taken possession of a pig belonging to the murdered missionary, and tied it up as a sign of possession, following the custom of the land, but he had to deal with someone more powerful than himself. The king Niuliki wanted this pork [sic] for the burial feast, and had it unbound.
The warrior, whose name I have forgotten, was angry with the king, but could not retaliate. He left with his spear and club to go in a sulk to Sigave.
He had not yet left the territory of the tribe of Poi when he encountered Brother Marie-Nizier, who was not aware of what had happened, and asked him: ‘Where are you going?’ - ‘I’m going to the Father’s place,’ the Brother told him. – ‘Don’t go there, he has been killed.’ The good Brother who, after what had happened before, could well have expected such news, replied that he wanted to go and see the father, dead or alive. – ‘Don’t go,’ the warrior repeated, ‘you will be killed too. Come with me.’ And he took him with him as far as Sigave. It was not long before that the tribe of Sigave had been beaten by that of Poi, where the murderous king was. Peace had been made, but this peace did not assure that the conquerors had complete dominion over the conquered. The young men of Sigave, who loved Brother Marie-Nizier, took him under their protection. To prevent any ambush, they made him live and sleep in their house, where they slept in common, according to custom, and the women brought him food. Some days later, a stranger from Wallis was seen to approach the house where the brother was, with his hair bound on the top of his head, and armed with a club, and saying that an end had to be made with the papalanghi (the whites). The women who had seen him raised a cry and warned the brother to watch out for him and not to go outside. At the same time a warrior of Sigave, Alephosio,[2] walked in front of the aggressor, who was wanting to pay court to Niuliki. ‘What have you come here to do, you stranger, whom the sea has tossed up on our land like spray. Know that Soanne Maria [sic] is part of our family. Watch out for yourself if you do anything to him.’ At these words, our Wallisian lost courage and went away less proudly than he had come.
The king in his turn came to Sigave where his authority was not well established. He had Brother Marie-Nizier called to him, made a show of weeping for Fr Chanel’s death by hypocritical tears, and requested him to come back with him to Poi, with the assurance no one would do him any harm. ‘You can make me die here, replied the good brother, but I do not wish to return to Poi.’ And there the matter rested.
14 days had passed since the ven. Fr Chanel’s murder when a ship appeared on the horizon. It was an American whaler, if I am not mistaken. It arrived off the coast quite late, and a boat came to land. The brother and the other whites who were on the island asked to go and spend the night on board, without saying why, and they were accepted. Once on board, brother Marie-Nizier told the captain as well as the other whites, what had happened, and asked the captain to transport him to Wallis or to New Zealand to Mgr Pompalier [sic]. At the same time they were warned not to go ashore unless well armed, and this was not without reason, for the king’s partisans had sent to him asking what was to be done with the whites. The king replied that they must be prevented from embarking; the whole crew should be massacred. But the reply arrived too late; all the whites were already on board.
When the captain heard Mgr Pompalier mentioned he asked the brother if he belonged to the society of Mgr Pompalier, whom he knew. And on the affirmative reply he took him into his cabin and gave him some clean clothing to deliver him from the abundant vermin he had collected sleeping with the natives in their huts.
This good Brother knew how to speak the language of Futuna as well as the natives. He went about bare footed like them and had adjusted perfectly to their food. He was very pious, very modest, and very respectful towards the missionaries. He was very conscientious about his exercises of piety. I often saw him in the evening with the lamp, enclosed in the mosquito netting around his bed, writing in an exercise book, I know not what; perhaps and very probably his pious reflections. If he carried on, he must have left a pile of exercise books written in his hand. He was not among the most efficient in manual work, but what he did, he did well. Rev Father Grezel, who was with him for such a long time, would be able, I think, to provide some very interesting details about this good Brother. As soon as I heard of his death I made haste to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass for him.
As for myself, I have been well enough this winter. At present I am superior par interim during the absence of R. Fr Rendu, who is doing the Lenten preaching in the parish of St Sauveur in Brest. I assure you that I sense no vocation to be superior, no more in France than in Oceania. There are three of us stationed here at present, and from time to time when we are requested, we go out to give some exercises of adoration. Up to now requests for Lent have been reduced to two, with two more after Easter.
Accept, my Reverend Father, the expression of my respectful regards,
Your very humble servant,
F. Palazy, S.M.


  1. ie. Matara or Matala rf L 64 [5].
  2. Alefosio, Alphonse, Tamole, son of Vanai, king of Sigave, succeeded his father in 1851 (rf L 93).

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