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24 December 1836 - Bp Jean-Baptiste Pompallier to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Le Havre

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2006

Father Colin, Superior General of the Society of Mary

JMJ From Le Havre ………………..1836

Reverend Father
At last we are leaving: what joy is in our hearts! I have only the time to pay you my last farewells and to give you some useful documents.
I received your letter dated 9 December. I am very satisfied to find myself in conformity with you in views and feelings on all points of my letter to which yours responds. Again, I thank you very much for your acceptance of the responsibility of being pro-vicar in France.
By now you must have received another letter from me in which I explain the nature and extent of the spiritual powers that I have the permission of the Prefect of Propaganda to pass on to you, for the missionaries leaving for the mission. I say 'permission' or 'consent' because I have received neither brief nor rescript for that, but only a letter from the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda Fide, in which are explained to me my faculties relating to three cases I set out. 1) What were the holy days of obligation in the Roman Church during the year; 2) whether, for lack of subjects in the Society of Mary, I could entrust some islands or archipelagos of our vast mission to some other Congregation or even to secular priests, if the needs of souls happened to demand it; 3) whether I could choose from among the leading Fathers of the Society of Mary one member who would give powers to missionaries on departure.
Finally I asked his Eminence to obtain for me from our Holy Father the Pope a personal privileged altar, and it was granted me with the faculty of giving this favour to my missionaries.
But before asking for the three above explanations and the favour of the privileged altar, I had described to Monsignor the Cardinal the circumstances of my travels and my time in the midst of the Society,[1] I also told his Eminence of the profession of union which I made to remain a member of the Society of Mary. Now, Reverend Father, you see in the reply I am sending you all his satisfaction, all his goodwill and all of his decisions. Let us continue to satisfy the Holy See; we will [then] satisfy Jesus Christ, we will satisfy the holy Virgin; we will draw more and more the blessings of God down on the whole beloved Society of Mary. You can easily see from his Eminence the Cardinal's letter that I do not have any directive from the Holy See to set up a pro-vicar in France, but only the faculty to appoint him if I wish. However, given that I appoint him, I have no power to confer on him extraordinary faculties concerning spiritual jurisdiction for the mission (only ordinary). Apart from that, I can do everything. As well, in my last letter I tried to give you clearly my intentions in [using] the powers which you were good enough to accept for the good of a mission which is in one sense more the Society of Mary's than mine, since I will die and the Society is not showing signs of dying; the Society collectively has the spiritual ownership of this mission, and the Vicars Apostolic who will succeed each other must always represent the Holy See to it, and individually have the entire and universal administration of it; such are the opinions of the Roman Curia, explained to me in the time that I was in the Holy City. All the missions which are presently being founded are set out on the same basis as ours. Those given authority to govern them are taken from the bosom of the Societies to whom they have been entrusted, so as to inspire more confidence and security in the Superiors-General of Orders, because, I was told, in the past many great troubles had been observed in many missions when the Vicars Apostolic were not from the same order as that of the regulars who worked under their authority. The Holy See was obliged, in the case of the missions in the East, to draw up a formula for an oath which all the regulars who left for the missions had to take; it is a sacred promise which the religious made, to remain, in their apostolic work, submissive to the vicars of the Holy See who were on the spot. There were not many missionary regulars who undertook with docility their obligations in foreign lands. I was asked to read, apart from the above-mentioned formula, an injunction which a Pope gave to Superiors of religious orders to inform the missionaries they were providing to the Sacred Congregation of these obligations. I am going to tell you about its essence although that may be not at all necessary for you, Reverend Father, who are informed and prudent, and who have cut out any difficulty by doing your bit to work towards establishing a unity in our reciprocal relations.
However, in spite of this unity, a source of success, it is really necessary that subjects know that it is not the same in mission territories under the authority of a Vicar Apostolic as it is in a diocese under the authority of an ordinary and resident Bishop. The latter has his clergy and the regulars are only auxiliaries; they cannot work in the diocese without the authority of the Bishop, but also they can usually withdraw themselves when they wish, or at least be moved and replaced as their Superiors in the Order intend. And in mission territories it is not the same. Once a religious order has received responsibility for a mission from the Holy See, it is obliged to work towards that with all its strength; the missionaries which it provides become the clergy of the Vicar Apostolic who chooses for himself from among the pro-vicars and prefects of the mission, and who directs the work done by everyone and each one. From which situation result two very formal obediences for the regulars; one to the Rule and their Superiors in respect of their personal perfection, and the other to the discipline of the holy ministry and to the Vicar Apostolic with regard to the salvation of souls in the mission. There, missionaries cannot any longer be moved as freely as in dioceses under resident Ordinaries. In the mission the number of subjects cannot be diminished without an authorisation from Propaganda in Rome, but it can and ought to be augmented according to the need, and the resources of the Society through a preceding understanding between the Vicar Apostolic and the Superior General of the Order. Through the same understanding, they can be moved and replaced.
All the subjects must clearly understand that in the mission everything must be directed towards the goal for which they have been admitted into [the mission]; that is, the success of the mission itself. There their position in relation to the Institute is a position which is a little exceptional. The pastoral responsibilities which the Vicar Apostolic confers on them are not ordinarily variable like the responsibilities of the Institute in an established Christian society. Apart from that, during the mission the Rule does not concern itself with anything any more, almost, than their interior life and their own perfection, but not outward administration which becomes as it were entirely related to the pastoral jurisdiction of the mission. From another aspect as well, regulars owe a lot of docility to the Superior General in respect of their interior perfection for which the latter must always preserve an energetic and fatherly solicitude. Such, Reverend Father, are my thoughts and the instructions I received. In leaving my homeland for ever I am entrusting them to your prudence and discretion so that they may serve other members whom I have found to have very little understanding of these things and of the discipline of the holy Church, our mother.
For me it will always be a blessing and a real consolation to place in your heart the depths of my soul. Be its guide and father for ever. I will profit, with God's grace, from the advice which you give me and which you must give me, although I am a Bishop, because I have had the blessing of belonging, and because I belong and will always belong to the Society of Mary. Be persuaded that I will faithfully have carried out any advice that you will send me for the Fathers and Brothers of the mission and that everything that depends on me for the good of the whole Congregation, I will do with the greatest zeal and devotion.
Here are some more documents for the good of the mission. In beginning my letter I did not think of writing to you with such length. That is why I took only a small sheet of paper and I see now that I need a second.
How much pleasure I had in learning of your approaching residence at Lyons[2] and the arrival of candidates presenting themselves for entry into the Society! What a consolation for me to know that at the first signal given from Oceania you will be able to deploy in those distant regions a new legion of missionaries of Mary! What confidence is aroused in our hearts! They will come from the sacred mountain of Fourvière where our hearts remain, entrusted to the most Blessed Virgin and where, no doubt, they will pay their own [homage].
You will do well, Reverend Father, at the time of another dispatch [of missionaries], not to negotiate over the price of the ship with consignees or representatives of the captain, because the latter have a right to a cut in the deal. That is what I found out too late. The consignees get five percent, I was told, in the account of the passengers, a profit which you would get if you dealt, or had someone deal, directly on the spot with the captain or the owner.
Mr Emile Franques of Le Havre, whose address I have given you, promised me to zealously carry out our dealings with ship captains. This gentleman is a Christian of the best sort and his family as well. He is, besides, a very zealous member of the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith, who finds his whole pleasure in being useful, at no charge, to the missionaries who are leaving, and he is very knowledgeable in temporal and seagoing matters. You can deal confidently in every matter with him, whether for sending on our letters, or for supplies etc etc. He has frequent dealings with England; he is a young man about 30 or 33 years old, who has qualities in morals, judgment and piety which are rare amidst the world.
You would do well also perhaps to subscribe to some shipping news papers. I have had two mentioned to me: one called the Journal du Havre [The Le Havre Daily] which is printed in this very town, and the other, Journal du Commerce [Business Daily] which is printed in Paris. You would know, I have been told, through one of these two sources the arrivals and departures of French ships even before they occur.
You know that, in the document I have sent for the cost of our voyage from Le Havre to Valparaiso, it was a matter of estimating the cost of our things by weight only. But from now on captains will not consent to these agreements; because they do not recover their costs from them, they say. Custom and, according to them, the law, give them the option of measuring by cubic content if they want to profit from them, and they only want that; they find many more advantages in it.
But in order to lawfully lessen the volume of this cubic content, care must be taken to make large cases or parcels expressly for the things sent. Hardly any more straw and packing material are needed for big parcels than for small ones, and twice as many things can be put in them. As no concern is shown for their weight, that does not affect their cost, and that is advantageous for sending things by cubic content, which is significantly less.
We have had some difficulties with our captain since the beginning when some of our people spoke to him. He is very unhappy about what his representative had agreed with me in Paris. The weight of our possessions gave him a great volume of cubic content, and according to the contract he was obliged to concern himself only with weight, which he did not want to accept, and already was threatening to take our contract to a magistrate. But when I arrived in Le Havre from Paris, that was no longer an issue. However I stood my ground to a degree in view of agreements already reached, but as I saw he was, nonetheless, unhappy about his situation because he had little surplus in weight after the 800 pounds of supplies to which each person was entitled, I gave him all this surplus and a bit more on the basis of cubic content, which satisfied him and put us all on good terms. And it is not unimportant on a voyage to be on good terms with those managing the ship. May God be blessed!
I thought that a list of all the main things needed by the missionaries would suffice you, because it would have been a big task to give you in writing a list of all the supplies and their costs, and it would have been fairly expensive to send you everything.
Goodbye, Reverend Father, or rather for the last time on leaving our earthly homeland. All my Fathers and Brothers are happy, like myself, as we go aboard for our beloved mission. How happy we are! We are leaving everything and finding everything! Never have we more felt that God is a good Father and that Mary is a sweet mother than at this moment when we are about to set foot on the ship as, no doubt, never again to set it on the soil of France. Will we be swallowed up in the depths of the ocean? We know nothing about that. The Lord knows; we are afraid of nothing; in going down to the depths we will cast ourselves into the bosom of God's mercies which are even deeper, and there where our bodies will find death, our souls will find heaven. But will we get to the distant regions where Jesus Christ is sending us? Oh! We do not know - again God alone knows it - we are at peace. Those who come after us, will they find our lands watered with our sweat, our blood? If that is to be, so much the better! It will be a blessing for the mission, a blessing for the future workers, and ineffable blessing for us! Will they find us, on the contrary, full of life and strength with many sheep won over to the good Shepherd? So much even better, if that is God's good pleasure! Ah, pray, continue to pray with the whole Society of Mary so that in every case there may be only "so much the betters" to say to the Lord. There is no " so much the worse" than sin; everything else is "so much the better" because it proceeds from the divine will and leads to our sanctification. Without adieus then, Reverend Father, but always to God, to Jesus and Mary! These are my goodbyes for you, for the Fathers, the Brothers and Sisters of the Society whom I all cherish in the heart of my God. I repeat to everyone my apostolic blessing - may God accompany it with his most abundant graces! May his holy name he known! May the reign of grace be established, may Mary be honoured and loved! All for Jesus Christ in life and death!
Your very humble and obedient servant
François Pompallier, Bishop of Maronea
Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania
PS Please give my respects to the Bishop of Belley, my greetings in Our Lord to the parish priest Father Huet and to those of his Lordship's clergy whom I know.
PS 2) I will write again as soon as we arrive in Valparaiso in Chile.
When you send missionaries to Oceania, and when they deal with some ship's captain about the voyage, perhaps they would do well to say that it is on the account of a poor bishop in Oceania and on the account of the Propagation of the Faith. If the authorities of the ship have a little religion, they will be less demanding and will not fail to give great consideration during the voyage. Often they don't have any for Superiors of Orders; on the contrary they are prejudiced and act accordingly.
We will, no doubt, always ask you for several missionaries at once. I am certain, it goes without saying, that you will appoint one of them Superior during the voyage to direct everything with unity and the spirit of God, until they have all got to their destination where they will each receive their tasks and their responsibilities. Please provide them with a letter from yourself in which there are some notes on their number, their qualities and abilities so as to help me to make easily and promptly a judicious assessment of them.
I am also writing to the Council of the Propagation of the Faith to set out the state of our funds and to ask them for a new allocation for 1837. You can ask M Meynis for my letter and read it.
You will find here an extract from lists about which I spoke to you above, concerning the items needed by the missionaries for their outfits, chapels etc etc. This list will give you an idea of everything we ourselves have, on leaving, and everything which will be needed for the departure of those who will come to join us. As well you will find lists which will help to guide them in their preparations and during their voyage.


  1. Pompallier had been one of the group of the diocesan priests working under Colin’s leadership until his ordination as Bishop on 30 June 1836 - translator’s note
  2. Up till then Colin had been at Belley where the Society of Mary had officially come into existence on 24 September 1836 - translator’s note

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