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30 July 1837 – Bishop Pierre Bataillon to Fr Étienne Séon, Valparaiso

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, November 2006

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

Valparaiso, 30 July 1837

To Father Séon, Marist priest,
At Valbenoîte near St Étienne in France (Loire)

Very dear and worthy confrère
Your kindnesses and the quite motherly care you showed me during the short but very pleasant stay I had at Valbenoîte oblige me to write to you as a proof of my affection, my gratitude and the memory I still have of you and of all the dear and worthy confrères amongst whom I spent such delightful moments. I will not give you lengthy details about our long journey. You will find them easily in the letters which have been sent to various members of the Society or to other confrères, and especially in the diary which Bishop Pompallier has sent to Monsignor the Archbishop of Lyons and to Father Superior. You already know that we left Le Havre on 24 December 1836 and that 15 days later we put into port in the Canary Islands to get serious damage to our rudder repaired. We stayed nearly 2 months in those islands and it was only on 28th February 1837 that we again put to sea to get to Valparaiso, where we arrived on the 28th June of the same year, six months and a few days after leaving France. Other letters will already have informed you of the trial, really painful, alas, that the good God sent us during our voyage. I mean the death of good Father Bret, whom a violent fever took from us in a very short time in the torrid zone. Eventually you will find out the details of the sickness and death of this well beloved confrère. I only want to impress on you how much he edified us right till his last breath. It is not possible to show more patience, resignation, peace, contentment, calm and self-abandonment into the truly fatherly hands of God. It could be said that he had a premonition of the approaching end, because I remember that before he fell ill I often heard him say that he had no greater concern in this world than to gain heaven. After that, he would add, it didn't matter much whether we were eaten by worms or by fish, provided that we got there! It was on our departure from Tenerife that he fell ill, on Palm Sunday. Bishop Pompallier, who celebrated Holy Mass, gave him holy Viaticum; on the following morning he said to Father Chanel in a calm and joyful way: I am nearing my end, and soon after he lost consciousness, fell into gentle death throes, and that very evening peacefully fell asleep in the Lord, after having received all the helps of religion. Oh God, how impenetrable are your designs! Vir insipiens non cognoscet et stultus non intelliget haec [Stupid men are not aware of this, fools can never appreciate it – Ps 91 (92):6], but the man of God, the man of faith who knows how to appreciate everything according to its true value, who is truly convinced that this is nothing but a place of exile and that to die is a real gain [Because for me, to live is Christ, and to die, for me is gain: Phil 1:21]; he, besides, who is truly penetrated by this truth which has come from the mouth of God [Jesus replied: man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God – Matt 4:4], even the one that not a single hair falls from our heads without Divine permission [Luke 4:18]; that a man in every circumstance of life has no difficulty in bending beneath the blows of his good Father, and far from dreading him who must destroy the prison of his soul and send it from this place of exile to its true homeland, he really longs for him, and often cries out with the royal prophet: Heu! Mihi quia incolatus meus prolongatus est... [Alas! that I abide a stranger (in Meschech, and dwell among the tents of Kedar): Ps 119:5]... unam petii hanc requiram ut inhabitem... [one thing I have asked (of the Lord), for this I long, to live (in the house of the Lord all the days of my life) Ps 26:4], because after all, what must we be most concerned with in this world and in the other if it is not to enjoy God for all eternity quid mihi est in caelo et a te quid volui super terram, Deus cordis mei et pars mea Deus in aeternum [What else have I in heaven but you and apart from you what have I wanted on earth?... God of my heart and my possession for ever: Ps 72:25-26]. We really hope that our dear friend's parents awaken and arouse in themselves all those feelings that faith and religion inspire, to support such a sacrifice which already had cost them so much; The Bishop of Maronea was so kind as to write them a letter of condolence and consolation. Dear Father Chavas, who had replaced his very close friend in the circle of [Father Bret's] parents, will, no doubt, do everything he can to console them and to bring about in them the triumph of feelings based on religion over those based on nature. The good faithful of Valbenoîte, when they learn of the death of their former curate, will be able to give no better proof of their affection and gratitude than by striving to follow the teaching and wise advice he had given them, so as to see him again in eternity.
Very soon we are going to leave Valparaiso to travel to our islands. Our belongings are all already on board the Europa, an American ship which will take us to Sandwich, where we will again seize the first opportunity to get to Ascension Island, which is the one, taking into account all the circumstances, which seems, up to now, to be the one chosen by God to first receive the light of the Gospel. It is situated in Micronesia to the east of the Carolines archipelago, at 7º east longitude. We believe it is the one the geographers call Pounipet. We have received very detailed information on this fortunate island from two travellers, who lived there a long time, and everything leads us to believe that with God's help it will be easy to bring these people to the faith. This island of 11,000 people, once conquered in Our Lord, will open the door to the vast Carolines archipelago which would alone absorb all the clergy of France. Oh! What a huge field for the zeal of all those who love Our Lord, and who sigh only for the glory and extension of his reign! What a basis, as well, for renewing the ardour of all the associates of the Propagation of the Faith. Without that quite heavenly work, there would not be, perhaps, any Christians in Oceania yet, and it is certain that without a miracle coming from the almighty power of God, one cannot hope to evangelise this huge part of the world, that unless that excellent work goes on raising money, in countries already Christian, for the costs of travel and all the expenses one is obliged to make in different areas one travels through or stays in -- all so considerable -- so that there will be so many and more missionaries ready to come and join us in the totally divine work of the Propagation, [and] the poor pagans of Oceania would see themselves condemned to live on still in the darkness of idolatry and the Devil's empire. Oh! What grounds, capable of inflaming the zeal of all those who know the true value of souls! On our way to Ascension [Island], we will go to the Gambier Islands which are now entirely Christian. We will see Bishop Rouchouze there and, after a two or three day stay we will put to sea again for Tahiti where our Captain,[1] for business reasons, will keep us for a few more days. From there we will go on to Sandwich[2] where we will leave most of our belongings in the house belonging to the Picpus missionaries. (Father Denavit[3] has details on the mission of these religious which would interest you). The language of Ascension is quite different from that of the eastern mission, so that the religious who are going to travel with us to the Gambier Islands will not be of any use to us in learning the language, but we will have a passenger who has lived on Ascension itself, and will be able to give us a little introduction to the language of this island. We are told it has some similarity to that of Japan.
The Bishop of Maronea asks me to send his best wishes to the respectable Father Rouchon[4] and to convey to him a multitude of signs of respect and affection: he commends himself, along with his missionaries and his huge mission to his holy sacrifices and to the prayers of all the pious people so great in number in the parish. He wants to be remembered, as well, to the whole house at Valbenoîte, and remembered in their prayers. Fathers Chanel and Servant wish the same. In what concerns me, I entreat you to be the interpreter of everything I would like to say to Father Chavas as well as to Father Perra and Father Bertholon. Tell them at least that I am waiting for one of them to make up a group to play boules in Oceania... If it was not seen as indiscreet, I beg you to again offer our gratitude to the Moine, Maire and Raymond families, to fine Gonon and Pichon, to the fine woman Jeanne de la Tronche and all the pious souls who have worked together for the well-being of the mission; all the various items from Saint Étienne and Valbenoîte have arrived here in good condition. It is to be hoped that people will not slacken their efforts, and that when new missionaries leave, may [------ -----][5] still over there. I would like to set up an organisation of people at St Étienne, Valbenoîte, St Chamond, Rive de Gier, Lyons etc, to gather together all they can of old clothes without rejecting pieces of calico, printed calico, material etc. It would be enough if someone took responsibility for this in a low key way: I am convinced that it would succeed, and from that what benefit there would be for the mission. You cannot hope to make Christians or at least to get them to fulfil their Christian duties without clothing them a little, in whatever way. If each reasonably comfortably off family gave, in calico or old clothes, what was needed to half clothe a family of savages, what huge stores of provisions would be received, and without impoverishing anyone, how many people would be enriched, because the savage who has a shirt thinks himself to be the richest person in the world. The first one that was given to the King of Gambier, he showed off to all his subjects and ended up getting three. He put them all on, one on top of the other, to show that he was the richest of them all. The Picpus missionaries have finished clothing all their Christians -- but goodbye; I am in a hurry, and you will understand everything else I would like to say about this matter.
I am united with you in prayers and in holy sacrifices.
Your very humble and obedient servant and confrère
Bataillon, missionary apostolic
If you have the chance to do so, please offer my regards to all the worthy confrères at St Étienne and, in particular, to Father St-Jean and to Father Mazenod, to whom, as I promised, I intend to write a little later on.
The same people who committed themselves so zealously to bringing together a multitude of things for the mission are no doubt still ready to repeat what they have done. I would be very happy for them to know that we will always accept all sorts of items but especially what can be used for clothing. The Bishop is keen to have the names of those who contribute to the well-being of the mission. At least the names of those people who contribute most should be taken. Already he has set out in a register all the names of the families of St Étienne and Valbenoîte that I have named in this letter, as well as those of several others, and every day we must say an ‘Our Father' and a 'Hail Mary' for these benefactors.
This letter will no doubt get to you sooner than the others we have sent up till now, because instead of going round Cape Horn, it is going through Santiago across the Cordillera, and going to Buenos Aires, from there to Montevideo, from where it leaves by a mail service which takes all the letters from these two towns every month.
It is the Jour, Dutel, Fontvielle, Chambavet, Dubreuil families who have been most interested. If you had the chance to see the parish priests of all these families, would you be so kind as to tell them of my affection and gratitude, at the same time asking them to pass on to their pa[rishioners my esteem?][6] and my goodwill; their names and their memory will always be with us. Please recall me to the memory and prayers of the Superior of the Sisters at Valbenoîte and the whole community. Please say something to Father Maire, to Father Berger and M[----------] [7] and his grandmother. I do not forget them.
[In the margin of page 1 and across it] [9]
I am very happy to find another little space to give a special greeting to Father Forest, to Father Chanut, and to Father (presently or soon to be) Lagniet;[8] it will not be long, I hope, before we see each other again. Tell them to really get praying to the good God for me. Father Chanel, while writing to Reverend Father Superior [General] was to present my respects to all the other members of the Society (let it be said between us two and by way of parenthesis). Leaving France never cost me anything, with the grace of God, of course, but if it had to be done again, it would cost me even less, if that were possible. People should not imagine that there is any big deal about being a missionary – it is enough to start out. The good God does everything else.
[p2 – in the margin and across] [9]
I have carried out, I believe, all the requests of other people in respect of Father Rouchon, and I forgot my own; so present him with my respects and my very great attachment. Please emphasise to him that I commend myself very much to his prayers. A warm greeting to good Brother Joseph – goodbye – until heaven.
[p3 – in margin and across] [10]
If you would do me the pleasure and honour of writing to me, you would use this address: Father Superior of the Retreat House at Valparaiso, (to send on to Father Bataillon, missionary in Western Oceania), Valparaiso, through Bordeaux – South America.


  1. a Captain Shaw -- translator’s note
  2. Hawaii
  3. Amable Donavit was a Sulpician and a professor at the major seminary of St Irenaeus at Lyons
  4. Rouchon was parish priest at Valbenoîte – where Étienne Séon was his curate – C Girard’s note
  5. two words indecipherable in original
  6. a corner of the sheet of paper has been torn off -- translator’s note
  7. word is in torn off piece - translator’s note
  8. who was due to be ordained about this time -- translator’s note

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