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17 July 1837. — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to his mother,madame Françoise Solichon, Valparaiso

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2006

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

Valparaiso, 17 July 1837

To Madame Solichon, [1] Vourles, Canton de St Genis Laval, Rhône

My very dear mother
With real pleasure I am satisfying the request you made of me when I left France, to give you news of myself from time to time. I have just found out today that a merchant ship is to leave the roadstead of this town tomorrow for Bordeaux; as I have been busy all day with the business of the mission, I am going to stay up later to take the opportunity of writing to you.
You know, dear mother, that I embarked at Le Havre with all my missionaries and my catechists and that I left France on the 24th December, Christmas Eve, 1836. After 15 days' sailing, we were forced to put into port near the African coast, in the roadstead of Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands; serious damage done to the rudder of the ship was the reason for this call into a port. At first we were told it would need only four or five days for the repairs to be done; but the workers in the town, little used to the work we needed, forced us by their delays to prolong our stay, and, as the roadstead was dangerous in that season, I decided to rent an apartment in Santa Cruz so as to stay there with all my party and four other missionaries or catechists who were passengers on the same ship. We were all together, united in charity; we slept, it is true, pretty well on the floor, but that added to our happiness; we could freely attend to study and our exercises of piety. Every day we went to celebrate holy Mass in a church especially consecrated to Mary our powerful protectress; how consoling it was for us to thank this august Virgin, our mother, for having brought us to this island after having delivered us from the threatening dangers we had just faced in the midst of the seas! The town of Santa Cruz is nothing remarkable; the climate of the islands is mild; everything abounds there including most delicious fruit, and yet at first sight the islands appear to be arid and are covered with volcanic stones. The country is ruled by Spain. The civil and ecclesiastical authorities dealt with me with a lot of respect and goodwill. There was no civil war there as in the mother country. One of the archipelago’s Bishops, that of Gran Canaria, presented me with his ring and a considerable gift for the mission. All the same we were longing to get away to go to the mission fields set aside for us. But, alas, it was only after about 50 days of waiting and patience that our rudder was able to be repaired and replaced on the ship! At the end of this stay two of my priests and a Brother fell sick; with care and the help of God they were returned to health for the day of sailing. During this stay in the harbour I did not write to you; it was only a few weeks since I had done so at Le Havre; apart from that I did not want to tell you about the accident that happened to the rudder of our ship during the first 15 days of sailing, so as not to give you fears for the rest of the voyage to Valparaiso, which was to last nearly 4 months. However you were able, dear mother, to receive news of us; because I wrote from Santa Cruz to several people in France, among others to Monsignor the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Lyons and to the Father Superior General of the priests of the Society of Mary. At last we left that town, we set sail on 28th February; we were full of joy, we were making quite good speed. Seasickness, as when we left Le Havre, affected several people of which I was one, but it was not serious; I felt sick for several days, then I felt better than ever, being able to attend to all my tasks even in strong tempests. Often I was busy working in my cabin while the waves fell with fury on the bridge and gushed through the cracks in the higher door and the closed companionway[2] and onto the table where we were working. Sea voyages have nothing so frightful, as is said. There people realise, as they should everywhere, that a man's life is in the hands of God, who has given it to us to love Him and serve Him.
Alas, among the tribulations which it has pleased this sovereign Father to send me, one of the hardest to bear has been the sickness and death of Father Bret, one of my missionaries! I had four priests, I have no more than three with me; may the judgments of God be raised above those of men! But how adorable and worthy of praise are they! A missionary who dies en route is not lost to the mission; he is a protector of it in heaven, where the crown of the apostolate is awarded him even before he has carried out the works of such a noble and salutary career. Father Brett’s sickness showed itself to be serious a few days after a departure from Santa Cruz; it was a fever and we were in the torrid zone; after 19 days he succumbed. I gave him the last sacraments myself and he gave up his spirit in the arms of the Lord; how happy it is to live and die for him! No matter what place receives our mortal remains! We were almost at the equator when we had to carry out the funeral service. It was so hot that there were fears for the general health. I then said holy Mass for the dead man; all the priests and Brothers took Communion; then we went to the bridge near the body which was exposed; the officers and seamen as well as all the people on board were present. I directed some saving words to the gathering, which seemed to move them very much, and having performed the customary ceremonies a sacred burden was entrusted to the sea, which will give it back with docility on the great day of the might of the Lord in the general resurrection. Dear mother, how faith consoles us in the afflictions of this present life! How much delight we have in bearing its divine flame to numerous idolaters.
After we had crossed the terrible zone and especially after the islands called Mal[ouines – Falkland], the sea was almost always very stormy for about two months until we reached the island of Chiloé on the coast of South America. In rounding Cape Horn all the elements seemed to conspire against us: hail, snow, ice, excessive cold, almost continuous storms assailed us. But what can creatures do against the creator? We were calm amidst all the din, we kept on working all the same, and from time to time we arranged some games for recreation in the cabin. I had the consolation of celebrating holy Mass almost every Sunday and feast day from Santa Cruz to Valparaiso; all the passengers who were priests or catechists communicated at them; because it was impossible for each of the priests to celebrate; we thought ourselves very blessed to be able to say only one Mass. However it sometimes happened that the sea was calm enough for Masses to be said in succession. That happened sometimes, one occasion being the feast of the Sacred Heart.
I was very happy with the ship's crew. Most of the seamen went to confession, made their Easter duty. Those who had not been confirmed were confirmed; they were very attentive to the instructions I gave them. Men who had not received the sacraments for long years, approached them with the docility of a child. How much I want my whole family and each of its members to achieve their salvation in a homeland where it is still so easy to do it, in respect of the good and numerous priests it possesses! How many questions I often ask of myself, my very dear mother! In the presence of God I wonder what will become of France, my family, my acquaintances, the people I have guided in the way of salvation; how many prayers I offer for all of them, and especially for the people towards whom I owe most in gratitude and affection; among whom you hold the first place, dear mother. Have you been given a copy of the portrait that was made of my poor person before I left? But that is of really little consequence. The essential thing is to commend ourselves to God, in prayer during the celebration of the holy Offices and in frequenting the sacraments; that is what I am sure of having from you, and what I desire from all those who are dear to me, or who know me. The salvation of souls: my own and that of the pagans in my missionary territory: how many objects of prayer and zeal! How many motives for fervour! How is my stepfather? How are my brothers, beginning with the Pompallier ones, my sister, her husband, my uncles and aunts? To all and every one I offer a host of signs of affection and devotion.
I have been in Valparaiso since the vigil of the feast of St Peter and St Paul; I am staying with all my people among a community of missionaries, the Picpusians, who have received us with great consideration. I have learned from them very interesting news of the new Christian community which they have formed, with God's help, in the Gambier Islands, in Oceania! You will, no doubt, read about this news in the annals of the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith. In less than three years these zealous missionaries have seen their work crowned to the degree that from the least of the natives to the king of the archipelago, all have been baptised. And these new Christians resemble those of the primitive Church in their constancy in the Faith and in the uprightness of their morals. Within 15 days we are going to embark again to at last arrive in the islands of our mission. Already the ship which is to carry us has been a hired! We still have nearly 3000 leagues to travel; on the way we will call at the Gambier Islands, Tahiti and Sandwich [Hawaii]; then we will make for an island whose name in this country is not that which the geographers use on geographic maps: this island is central to my mission; it is in Micronesia and is called here Ascension Island.[3] It has a population of about 10,000. I would really have liked to go to New Zealand where there are some Europeans who also want us, but there is at this time in Valparaiso no ship heading for that region. We would have to wait for rare and uncertain opportunities. Divine Providence itself seems to point out the place from which I must open up the numerous islands entrusted to my weakness, by not giving me the choice of several ships leaving. There is only one which will take us to Sandwich, where there is a roadstead frequented by ships which travel among the islands where I must work with my people. I would really prefer to call in at Tahiti instead of doing so at Sandwich, but that is not possible right now, not because of the natives, but because of the Methodists, who forbid any entry to Tahiti by Catholic missionaries.[4] The Lord who is with his true Church until the end of time [Matthew 28: 20] will know how to remove all obstacles. Relying on his word, we are still working confidently, in the midst of the greatest dangers. Death, dear mother, is, for a Christian, and especially for missionaries, a birth into the happiest of lives; it puts us in possession of God, infinitely good, who has created us and redeemed us. I am forgetting your tenderness at this point, because I know your faith and I know that this language is very far from being foreign to you. Life, however long it may be on earth, is always very short: if we cannot see each other again here below, we shall see each other again in heaven. Let us think only of repaying God for his kindnesses to us, with deep humility and generous thanksgiving, and let us be faithful to him until the last drop of our blood. Since my departure from Le Havre, I have not received a single letter from Europe. If, when I embarked, there were any letters in the post, they will certainly be sent on by the first ship leaving. Anyway, I will give you an address for your reply which is different from the one I had to leave in France. To…, In Oceania, via Valparaiso in South America, c/o the French Fathers at the Retreat House. Keep on using that. My very affectionate greetings to Father Querhes, parish priest. Abundant good wishes to his curate, the Misses Comtes, Miss Rave, the Magaud and Duclos families, without forgetting the excellent Sisters of St Charles de Vourles, Charly and Brignais.
Your very affectionate son,
+François, Bishop of Maronea and Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania.


  1. The father of the future Vicar Apostolic, Pierre Pompallier, having died 30 August 1802, his mother remarried to Jean-Marie Solichon, a silk manufacturer in Lyons. The family settled in Vourles in 1816.
  2. par les fentes de la parte superieure et de la claire-voie fermée
  3. today Ponape - translator’s note
  4. This was due in particular to George Pritchard, an LMS (London Missionary Society) missionary who obtained the barring or expulsion of Picpus missionaries from Tahiti in 1836 and 1837 -- translator’s note

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