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20 July 1837. — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Valparaiso

APM OOc 418.1

The circumstances of this letter are described in A Piety Able to Cope by Jan Snijders in the section "In correspondence with the superior general"

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2006

Text of the Letter

Valparaiso 20 July 1837

To Father Colin, Superior General of the priests of the Society of Mary

Father and dear Superior
Here is another ship about to leave: it is called the Télégraphe; it will head for France via Bordeaux. The one that left the other day and which was carrying a letter which I wrote to you dated the 17th, is called the Hudson. When you learn of their arrival in France, you will know there are letters for you and for several people. Today I will not give you detailed news: there is an abundance of that in the diary I am sending you, and is the one written by Father Bataillon. I will talk to you only about things concerning the administration of the mission and which have cost me a lot of reflection and self-examination before God.
As we couldn't find in Valparaiso any other opportunities to get to Western Oceania but by a ship which is taking us to the edge of Micronesia, it is a proof that God wants us to begin our work in that part of the mission territory. Apart from that, there are two sailors who are giving us information on Ascension Island, about which I spoke to you in the preceding letter. One of them lived on the island more than 15 months; he has a fairly good understanding of the language, which seems to have some similarities to that of Japan. This gentleman is a trader who has travelled a lot in Oceania; he presented me with the belt of cloth made of strips of banana palm. The other one, a ship's captain, tells us that this island, called Bonibet [1] by the natives, is at 6º57’ north latitude and 155º east longitude, which seems to rightly correspond with the island which geographers name Pounipet, which is roughly in the same locality. Whatever be the case, in going to this locality, I will be almost in the centre of the islands under my jurisdiction. From there the mission can be extended and developed in Papuasia[2] and the archipelagoes of the North and the South. Workers, only workers and those fervent in prayer; men with a strong interior and prayer life, men of courage; in a word, holy priests and holy catechist Brothers.[3] You see by the map that the island of Pounipet, once conquered, gives us immediate entry to the vast archipelago of the Carolines; there, there is abundant material for apostolic zeal. Oh! Messis multa [Great is the harvest!] Rogamus Dominum messis ut operariorum numerum adaugeat [Let us ask the Lord of the harvest that he may add to the number of workers -- cf Luke 10.2].
But since the good God wants us to begin through Micronesia, it is obvious that if one wishes to go to Europe through the South Seas and rounding Cape Horn, as we did, thinking of going to New Zealand, it would be good, in the full meaning of the word, to take the long way round, and travel 4000 leagues [20,000 km] too far. Let us manage carefully, let us manage our funds carefully; there are not even enough of them to go directly to their goal. How much sea voyages cost! We still have to allow for 12,000 francs [about £500] to be spent here at Valparaiso in getting to Ascension Island. And on some expenses arising from the journey on the ship, and there you see us, once we have got to our islands, forced to live like savages, without any stores, but we do not dread that. What would distress me would be not to be able to sail from archipelago to archipelago, when the need of souls would require it: that is what will, infallibly, happen, if funds become totally exhausted in the places we work. How important it is that the missionaries who come after us provide themselves, with the help of God and the Propagation of the Faith, not only with what they need themselves, but with resources for the rather long voyages in the missionary territory. It is true that voyages are done from island to island and close to the coasts, in native canoes, but if it is a matter of doing a hundred leagues [about 500 km] in the open sea, that way of travelling is no longer possible: you then need a ship and a captain. How desirable it would be if a sort of apostolic navy was set up for the mission of Oceania: with more than 20 million souls to evangelise, it would be well worth the trouble! In former times was not a confraternity of masons brought into existence for the free construction of churches? How many fine monuments we owe to these zealous societies of the Middle Ages? It would be really as easy to get sailors as masons, it seems, and especially as missionaries? Making suggestions like that might give reason to laugh. However they are far from being impossible and still even less from being useful. In the meantime we will do what we can in the matter of travelling; we will give large sums if we have them; Jesus Christ gave his blood to save souls, we surely can give gold with our lives as well, and put everything in motion to gain the same end, so dear to a Christian who is aware of the whole price which he himself cost his God. Let us keep on going forward; Providence will not fail us, I hope. The worthy faithful of France and especially the associates of the Propagation of the Faith understand, as do the missionaries, the language of the Gospel in the depths of their hearts, and know how to generously take on the concerns of the Church.
The cheapest and most direct voyage that the missionaries who come to join us will be able to make, from now on, will be to go through the Caribbean Sea, Mexico, and the Sandwich Islands; then they will find frequent opportunities to get to Ascension Island where I am going to travel with my group. As the number grows, I will send the new ones in the company of one or other of the more experienced men, to further extend the kingdom of our Saviour. Through this process everyone will have the same procedures and the same methods, if God grant us life. The Spanish language and especially English are very useful for travelling from Europe to Oceania.
I am not leaving any of my followers in Valparaiso with the aim of beginning a communication centre between Europe and our mission. The distance of the place where we are going is on its own more than enough reason not to do that, without mentioning our too limited funds and several other reasons. Only I am grateful to accept the kind offer of the Picpus missionaries to be of use to us in Valparaiso for our letter correspondence when opportunities come along. However a procure establishment is necessary for a mission. But I am leaving the care of founding it to the Society, through the first dispatch of missionaries which will occur, I think, very soon. The Propagation of the Faith could very well help us in that; because a house of that sort is a real aspect of foreign missions. I would, myself, use whatever I have in the way of patrimony for that purpose, if you advise me to do so, Father Superior, having regard to your knowledge of my parents’ feelings.
But where to set up this house? My opinion would be to have it in one of the ports on the west coast of Mexico or California. However, look at the matter from your point of view with your councillors. I believe that certain diseases are fairly prevalent in Mexico, but I have heard nothing against the healthiness of California. Besides, these two countries need priests;[4] those whom the Congregation of Mary would keep in the establishment to be set up would not be unemployed while making arrangements with the Ordinaries of the places and especially with Propaganda, whose agreement would be necessary first of all. Everything which may depend on me in this business, I place in your hands so that you can deal with it in the spirit of the Lord. The distance I am going to be at, and my work will prevent me from concerning myself with it. But the matter seems to me to be urgent for the mission. How will it otherwise be easy to have frequent communication with the Holy See, with you and with the Society? How many things we could be sent through there and which would [otherwise?] go astray in long voyages from France, or there where we will be!
Let care be taken to buy before leaving everything which will be needed, in the matter of chattels, because once you are in foreign territory, if one judges by the situation in South America where we are, everything is three, four times or even more expensive.
The missionaries should be very careful, in having their belongings put on board, that the Captain does not record them on his manifest as merchandise, because apart from being wrong, the Customs officials grant no favours to the poor missionaries when they disembark in foreign countries. I speak to you here from bitter experience; because of the effect of this term merchandise which designated our belongings along with the possessions of other passengers who were businessmen, I experienced embarrassment and recently, perhaps, some expense, so as to be able to move our packages from the Customs onto the ship hired for our next departure, which will take place in about a week. The missionaries' belongings must be described under the title: Mission needs.[5]
I think it is a great advantage to make use of naval vessels, when some places on board can be got from the government. Apart from costing nothing, clergymen are respected on them, and in case of sickness, there are doctors on board, and all sorts of help. I have had the opportunity of seeing several French naval commanders. I have also visited warships; a priest is much better off in all respects than on a merchant vessel, on which the fare and the cargo are so expensive.
I wrote to you from Santa Cruz on the 16th January last: did you get my letter? We are going to have to use duplicates[6] in important matters. Since I left France, I have received nothing from Europe; neither letters, nor replies. However ships which left Bordeaux long after us, and arrived at Valparaiso before us, could have been of use to us regarding mail, but it is not always easy to know when they leave; for that we need to have people at the ports who are watchful and of goodwill; or, indeed, subscribe to some shipping newspaper which gives information about these events. Alas! Rome, Lyons, Belley -- all are in silence concerning us, yet however, dear Superior, how much we all want to receive news of the Congregation, the priests, the Sisters, the Brothers. How pleasing and salutary for us are your letters! It is a great mortification to leave Valparaiso without any letter from the above-mentioned places. Perhaps more than a year will pass before they get to us. The good God so wishes it: may his holy name be blessed!
Please send us a goodly number of pictures with the next dispatch of missionaries, especially pictures of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin, our Holy Father the Pope, the Apostles etc you must decide as well, on the basis of the letters I have sent you, which explain everything, what we may lack in the way of clothing and other items. It will save the mission money if everything is bought in France and not, if possible, in foreign territory. We very much rely on the help given by the Propagation of the Faith. My humble respects to the entire council of this fine work, a multitude of blessings. My gratitude to all our benefactors. It would be a real pleasure for us, if, as far as you know them, you could send us their surnames and given names. I already have a great list of them, and every day, our little group prays for them by saying a pater [Our Father] and an ave [Hail Mary] with the de profundis [Out of the depths – Ps 129]. They also have a significant part in the memento.[7] What has become of Father Suchet, about whom I wrote to you from Le Havre, and Father Lagniet from Lyons? I would very much like to have both of them in Oceania. I am happy with all those you have entrusted to me: they are all men of goodwill and fervent [in prayer]. I have named Father Chanel as my pro-vicar.
All yours; François, Bishop of Maronea
and Vicar Apostolic of the Western Oceania
PS Please send by safe means the little letter of consolation I thought it my duty to write to the Bret family. I do not know very well the address of their home, and I am certain that those pious parents will learn from elsewhere of the death of their son. The French Consul at Valparaiso is sending civil notification of the death to the ministry in France, and from there it will be sent to the local authority in Lyons, and even, I believe, to the parents themselves.


  1. Ponape today - translator’s note
  2. this term seems to refer to New Guinea -- translator’s note
  3. are needed, he seems to imply -- translator’s note
  4. "countries" -- California was still part of Mexico up to 1848 -- translator’s note
  5. Effets de mission
  6. copies of letters -- translator’s note
  7. literally 'remember' -- a prayer before the consecration in the Mass when living people especially in the mind of the celebrant were remembered -- translator’s note

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