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16 January 1837 — Bp Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Santa Cruz

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2006

From Santa Cruz, in the island of Tenerife, 16 January 1837

J[esus] M[ary and] J[oseph]

Reverend Father (Peace of Christ)
I am taking the opportunity given by a short stay which we think ourselves fortunate to have been able to make at Santa Cruz, in the island of Tenerife, to write to you.[1] You will find here the diary of our journey from Le Havre to this hospitable land; it is that of Father Bret, which I asked him to make a copy of to send you. You will see that we have already had the happiness of enduring more than one danger for the name of Jesus Christ, and that it was not without a special protection from above that we were delivered from them. The officers and men of the crew were gloomy for a week in view of the accident that happened to the rudder[2] but thanks be to God we always stayed calm. I was happy to remind all our men and those of Picpus that the Holy Father the Pope had given us his blessing for the mission and our travels. We remembered as well that many fervent people were praying for us in France, and that we were specially under the protection of the Most Blessed Virgin. Did we not have enough reasons to be full of confidence in him who guides through abysses and delivers from them at his will? I noticed that the town (Santa Cruz) which gave us hospitality in the midst of the seas, honours in a special way the august Mother of God. The principal church is named for the Immaculate Conception; all the others have Mary as their patroness, under various other titles. How consoling it was for us to have been able to greet her here as our star over the ocean "ave maris stella" and to thank her for having shown herself so clearly to be our good Mother! We are now waiting for our rudder to be repaired, about 10 days will be needed for that. We are all in very good health and happy; and we are longing to embark again to go "ad propositum nobis certamen" ["to the contest which is set before us" – Hebrews 12:1]. The perils of the seas are very far from disconcerting us.
As there was some danger on board in the very roadstead of Santa Cruz because of the movement of the waves, the absence of our rudder which was with a workman in the town, and because of the proximity of an American ship which already has just missed colliding with ours, I got our whole group to leave the roadstead. But one of the reasons which most convinced me to take up lodging in the town, and which I mention to you here so as to be useful for the experience of others who will come after us, is, when we went ashore to say Mass each day, the danger which I saw those running who did not know how to swim, at the time when they disembarked from the ship into the rowboat, and when they disembarked from the rowboat in the harbour. The seamen all agree in saying that several times passengers have died in one or other of these circumstances and for the latter the dangers of journeys by sea are more often found in the frequent crossings of roadsteads than in the open sea, when nothing more than sky and sea are seen, but where people never leave the ship. I have confirmed this from my own experience: I am the only one of the missionaries on board the Delphine (the name of our ship) who knows how to swim. I have nothing to fear in a roadstead, but I could not stop myself from shuddering when every day I saw 10 to 12 people making up our little group embark into and disembark from a little rowboat which rose and fell in the waves. Two of the four Picpus men did, indeed, fall into the water in these circumstances; the first, a priest and Superior of the three others, had his accident while disembarking from the ship into the rowboat, that is, in a place where the water was at least 100 feet deep; the second, who is a subdeacon, fell near the harbour on leaving the rowboat and setting foot on land. Help was promptly given to both in these dangerous situations and, thanks be to God, both remained safe and sound. There are now 10 of us in town in a great room; the Captain is sending us the food we need; we sleep there, on the floor in fact, but we are happy and content. We freely do all our [spiritual] exercises in common, and we have no need to embark and disembark each time we go and say Mass in the parish church of this town, where the clergy lavish all sorts of attentions on us. As for me, I refused a room in the Episcopal Palace of the Bishop who is in Laguna, to stay with my own men in the lodgings I rented and which differs only by the style of its roof from the dwellings we will come across in the islands of our mission territory. Our Lord did not have as much when he came to begin the work of our salvation in Bethlehem. We are happier in our home and in our beds made of blankets and a sorry looking mattress which someone lent me than in the finest palaces in the world. We did not want to bring our mattresses from the ship for fear of getting them wet with sea water during the journey, and for fear of bringing them back after our short stay fall of insects which abound in these hot countries and which could infect our whole ship.
I have just written to M Franques of Le Havre. I had asked him at the time I left that port to collect at his home all the letters which were addressed to us through the postal service of the town, but I had neglected to consequently give him the authority with the postal service itself, which I had not forewarned to that effect. I have just made good my omission if in any case M Franques needed that last step; because I believe that the postal service would have willingly handed over to him our letters so he could send them on to us at the first favourable opportunity. He is reputed to be a man of probity and piety.
I had also forgotten to advise Father Cambis, director at the major seminary of Bordeaux, that I was counting on his zeal and kindness towards the Picpus missionaries, to be as useful to us for our mission correspondence. But I had just written, anyway, to Father Faillon at the major seminary in Paris. Father Faillon was my former spiritual director at my seminary in Lyons.[3] As I do not have the honour of personally knowing Father Cambis, who is from the same congregation of Sulpicians, I asked the latter to get Father Superior General of St Sulpice to arrange that there would always be at the major seminary of Bordeaux one of his priest directors who would interest himself in our mission correspondence: a request that will not be refused, I am certain. For the rest I am asking Father Faillon to tell you in writing the result of the steps he has taken on this matter; you will know how far he has got. I must also tell you that I told M Franques and Father Faillon that if the above-mentioned services occasioned some expenses, they would only have to send you summaries of them from time to time and you would be kind enough to pay them out of the funds allocated to us for the mission.
I had a favourable opportunity, via Marseilles, to write to his Eminence Cardinal Fransoni. I gave him the substance of the news of our journey to this island. I told him about your kind acceptance of the responsibility of being pro-vicar in France; about the present organisation of the mission and the missionaries, about the smallness of the amount of money we have left in the bank; about the plan to set up near the locality of the mission an establishment, a sort of base for communications; I think that His Eminence will support us in the request I have made for a new allocation of funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for the year 1837. I am also asking His Eminence for several little faculties for me and the missionaries, faculties I will tell you about if they are granted me; they will make the exercise of the sacred ministry easier, in travelling, in going to the mission territory.
It is good as well to warn you that the missionaries who will be sent to us after this, when they are ready and when I have made known to you our needs in those areas, it is good, I say, to warn you that they should take care before departure to cheerfully put in order all their possessions in their rooms or ship’s cabins, and to depart wearing at first the poorest clothing consistent with decency; because during the first days of sailing people can do nothing but get themselves dirty and leave everything in disorder because of seasickness, which enfeebles all novice sailors to a greater or lesser degree.
When we set out from Le Havre for Oceania, Madame Dodard, that great benefactress of missionaries for many years, was on the point of dying and going to heaven to receive the reward for her important and many good works. She would, no doubt, have taken our regrets and our lively gratitude into God's presence. All the same, we do not know if in fact she has died.
A few days before embarking at Le Havre, I received a reply from Father Champagnat who told me with simplicity that he was still waiting for the authorisation from Paris for his Brothers and that it had not come. Alas, the matter was well on the way, but a letter should have been written from Lyons in the way I must have explained to you in the preceding letters. May the will of God be done in everything and everywhere. His blessings are worth any number of authorisations. However we must co-operate with his providence.
I commend myself, with all our Fathers and coadjutor Brothers, to your holy sacrifices, to those of all the priests of the Society of Mary, and to the prayers of the Sisters and the Brothers. You see how much we need them, how we are longing to get to the part of the inheritance which Our Lord, through his august vicar on earth, has assigned to us for our apostolate. Receive now our New Year's greetings: that his peace and holy grace may abound in you and in the Society of Mary! Many, many and good missionaries for Western Oceania! In these feelings, dear Superior, I am, with all my people and all yours,
your very humble and very obedient servant,
+François Pompallier, Bishop of Maronea,
Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania
PS My respectful homage, along with Fathers Chanel and Bret, to Monsignor the Bishop of Belley. I think that it would be appropriate that as soon as possible you give news about us to the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith. The French Consul in Santa Cruz has already written, before us, to the Ministry in Paris about what has happened to us, but I am sure that it was favourably expressed.
PS I have just written to Monsignor de Pins, I have given him the same news as to you, except some things which concern our mission correspondence.
I am also sending a reply involving spiritual direction to a person in community. I have not sent you all these letters mentioned above because they either concern the administration of the mission or the interior forum,[4] and I see in them other inconveniences in various ways from the point of view of the people to whom they are addressed.
If you were so kind as to send to the men at La Favorite the newspaper I am sending you, you would greatly interest them.
2nd PS Monsignor the Bishop of Canaria[5] (Thaddeus Joseph) has just sent me a very thoughtful and apostolic letter: his Lordship is anxious to send me one of his precious rings, with a significant gift for the mission. He seems very zealous for spreading the Faith; he wants to receive frequent news about missionaries through the Association of which M Meynis is the secretary in Lyons. In my answer to this prelate I promised him, just as he asked me, to arrange for him prompt and trusting relationships with the said Association, to which he should soon write to that effect. He is capable of arousing in Spain or at least in his diocese the zeal already existing in France for the Association which is a benefactor of the missions. As I do not have enough time to write at this time to the administrators who are in Lyons, please send them the present document in the person of M Meynis.
3rd PS The owner of the house at which we are staying in Santa Cruz is father of a family which has 11 children; he is a widower and does not seem to be very well off, but he is a fine man; his family is very interesting. He wants a reference from me to get his children into some educational institution in France; for that I am addressing myself to you. This father of a family is called Louis Caprario. I am leaving with him your address in Lyons.


  1. 'a short stay' eventually turned out to be 52 days – see Bataillon’s diary – Doc 12 - translator’s note
  2. on leaving the dock at Le Havre, apparently unnoticed at the time – see Bret’s diary -- translator’s note
  3. he was professor of dogmatic theology at the seminary of St Irenaeus at Lyons 1825-29 -- translator’s note
  4. confidential and personal matters -- translator’s note
  5. there were two dioceses in the Canaries at this time: Laguna (a town on Tenerife, and including as well as Tenerife, the islands of Hierro, Comera and Palma) and Canaria, which included the islands of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, and Fuerteventura -- translator’s note

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