From Marist Studies
23 December 1837 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, March 2007
- To Father Superior General of the priests of Society of Mary
- From Sydney 23 December 1837
- Reverend Father
- I am hastening to write to you about matters which are very important for the mission. I will give you more detailed news when I am in New Zealand, where I expect to be in about three weeks. From that same place I will write to the administrators of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith.
- You have no doubt received my letter from Tahiti dated 1st October, in which I told you that it would be expedient to suspend the establishment of a procure house in Mexico or even in California. How much I am congratulating myself on that advice. Because since Tahiti, which we left on 5th October and while we sailed up among the islands under my jurisdiction, new circumstances arose which caused me to make decisions other than those I had in mind far from there, at Valparaiso. The mission to the islands of Ponape has been put off until a following dispatch of missionaries arrives. The procure house will be better situated in Sydney, where numerous and frequent ships come from Europe and especially from England, and from where they set out for the main islands of Oceania. Sydney really appears to be the gateway to our mission, and the place which offers the best means of communications.
- In the voyage we have just made from Tahiti, we have experienced several great dangers, but God has always delivered us from them and the Blessed Virgin has shown herself to be always our Mother. I had our little schooner call at the islands of Vava’u, Wallis, Futuna, Rotuma and at Sydney, from where I am writing to you. How many interesting things there are to talk about! I am sorry that the preparations for the New Zealand mission and an imminent departure are absorbing my every moment. Here is the main situation: thanks be to Jesus and Mary! I have been able to set up two missions on my way; on the islands of Wallis and Futuna.
- Wallis has about 2000 savages and comprises several islands: it is a little archipelago. We anchored there on the holy day of All Saints. Accompanied by Father Bataillon and my ship's captain, with an English seaman who knew the local language, I went to visit the King and the main chiefs of the islanders. I could only, in these circumstances, make myself understood through English, because my Captain and the sailor interpreter understood only their homeland's language and a bit of Wallisian. I congratulated myself on having learned enough English, with Father Bataillon, to explain ourselves to our two interpreters. I achieved a sort of friendship with the King and another islander among the principal chiefs, and after having really seen for myself all the circumstances, I entrusted the mission of this little island group to Father Bataillon and appointed Brother Joseph [Luzy] to help him. I offered them both to the King, who received them as his friends. In spite of some opposition from his advisers, he invited both of them into his home while waiting for a house which he is having built for them quite close to his, and within his royal enclosure. So there is a first beginning mission, a division in fact in my beloved group, but there is no real separation for the missionaries who must always work in God and for God, the centre of hearts.
- After a seven day stay at Wallis, I had the ship sail for Futuna, where we arrived in just a day's sailing. I wasn't thinking at this time of setting up the mission in this spot. I had Rotuma and Ponape in mind. But the people of Futuna seemed to me to be so well disposed that I couldn't avoid leaving some of my group with them. It was Father Chanel and Brother Marie-Nizier [Delorme] whom I chose for this island which is only 40 leagues [200 km] from Wallis. At Futuna there is a ship which services the surrounding islands up to a hundred leagues [500 km] away. So our missionaries will be able to visit each other easily. I hastened to occupy these two islands because I knew that heresy planned to snatch them very soon. I congratulate myself for having been able to forestall it. Already, unfortunately, it has won the island groups of the Friendlies, the Navigators, and Fiji. I have only tried, this time, to stop its advance until we have learned the languages of these groups so as to be able to combat it among the peoples and enlighten them with the Saviour's help. Futuna has only about a thousand people: it comprises two islands separated by a narrow strait. I also established friendship with the King [Niuliki] who welcomed the priest and Brother I offered him. He is having a house built for them near his own, as is the King of Wallis for Father Bataillon and Brother Joseph. In both cases their persons are tabou -- that is to say, inviolable. In both [islands], we have met two chiefs who understand English; I had the consolation of explaining to them the oneness of God and the origin of men and the world. They very much want to be further instructed and showed affection and trust towards us. I had good reason to expect good results from the work of our missionaries and catechists. Dominus cum illis [May the Lord be with them!] Alas! If only I had more subjects with me! I could have put some on Rotuma and Ponape as well! But New Zealand being a much larger island, about which I have very favourable information, I have chosen this for the location of my own work, if, however, God really wants to allow me an entry into it, because there are several great difficulties to overcome. And it was in order to try to partly overcome these that I had us call into Sydney, where I am obtaining from the British authorities a protection order which is quite necessary for me. I am taking Father Servant and Brother Michel to New Zealand with me. On the arrival of another dispatch of subjects, which I am already eagerly awaiting, the mission will be able to begin in Rotuma and Ponape, and in several other places, if there are plenty of workers, and if we have enough money to transport and visit them. Here is what I want at least: a priest to join Father Chanel, another for Father Bataillon, four others and two Brothers to send to Rotuma and Ponape, and, finally, four more and two Brothers as well for New Zealand. Rogamus dominum messis ut mittat operarios [Let us beg the master of the harvest to send workers into his harvest – Luke 10:2]. What a harvest is offered us, and all ready to gather.
- In Sydney I had the great consolation of getting to know Monsignor Polding, Vicar Apostolic of New Holland. We were able to talk to each other about matters very useful for our missions in Oceania. How many interesting things to say about his Christian community! But in another letter I will have, I hope, more time available. His Lordship showed all sorts of kindness towards me and those with me. In his new seminary I was able to leave part of the goods for the mission which prudence and experience forbid transporting at once to our islands, until the work is begun there. The worthy and charitable Bishop will help us as well with our mail, until I can set up a procure there. It is good to note carefully here that goods from France are not accepted in Sydney unless they have been carried by British ships, and if they have been carried by French ships, only if they have not called somewhere during the voyage for commercial reasons. It was only by means of a very special permit from his Excellency the Governor in Sydney [Sir Richard Bourke] that my goods, carried by a Tahitian schooner, were able to be put ashore. There is no doubt that it will be very much and incomparably better from now on to embark in England to get to the mission, and to come directly by rounding the Cape of Good Hope and New Holland. The voyage will be quicker and notably less expensive than the one we did around Cape Horn. From Sydney the subject will be able to go to where I will be; all information will be given them by Bishop Polding on sight of a letter from you, Reverend Father. For the time being one of his priests has offered me his services to take care of the goods which I am leaving here: his name is Reverend McEnroe, and he lives in the Bishop's house. The letters and goods you send me ought to be addressed to this zealous priest. Thus, because in Sydney there are many sailings for the main islands of Oceania and especially for New Zealand, everything will get to us safely and quite promptly. So may God be blessed! There we have ways of communicating which are better than those we have had until now.
- I am going to find myself in a very difficult position once I have arrived in New Zealand -- all our money will be used up. Meanwhile the two missions set up in Wallis and Rotuma require a visit from me within five months. Our poor missionaries and catechists have only a very small amount of goods with them, so as to not expose themselves to the natives’ inclination to steal. Apart from that, as it was impossible during the voyage to make holy oils, I shared with Father Bataillon and Father Chanel the small supply I had, so that soon they will run out of them. Although the islands where they are are very beautiful and abound in fruit and food, they are, nevertheless, only infrequently visited by ships. I will very probably be forced to hire some schooner or brig expressly to go there. I believe that this voyage will cost me four or 5000 francs [£160 or £200]. But if, for lack of funds, I cannot do it, there is our mission cut up from the start. As well, it is impossible to carry on mission work among savages without having a procure in the nearest locality, which is civilised and especially most suited for facilitating communications -- but for a house of the sort we would need about 20,000 francs [£800]. So how much we await the allocations which the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith has been able to set aside for me, to pay for urgent needs! I forgot to tell you that we would need at least two Brothers with good heads to look after the procure; they would spend his time there working at some trade to contribute to their upkeep and the good of the mission. I say at least two Brothers, because a priest with them would be very appropriate. In Sydney a prolonged stay by a few French priests could be inconvenient in more than one way, and anyway the mission is in great need of priests. How much I want replies to all the letters I have sent to Europe!
- Well, we will leave for New Zealand very soon after celebrating Christmas. How dear is that land to me, how I am longing to see it belong to the Lord! We are all in good health, in spite of some slight illnesses which affect one or another of us from time to time. Many of the difficulties we have met up to now have been overcome but there are many still to smooth out. Regnum caelorum vim partitur, et violenti etc [(From the days of John the Baptist up till now) the kingdom of heaven has been assailed with violence, and it is the violent (who have claimed it) – Matthew 11:12]. The further I go, the more I am confirmed in this belief that the foreign missions, and especially ours, need subjects with more than average talents and experience, men without significant weaknesses, good but manly characters, and judicious minds. Piety (which is indispensable) is far from being enough in our work, also needed are energy, and activity without excitement. Let us examine vocations carefully, Reverend Father, so as to contribute solidly to the establishment of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the glory of Mary -- in their holy names and sacred hearts.
- Your very humble and obedient servant
- J B François, Bishop of Maronea and Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania
- in fact 2nd October -- translator’s note
- likely to have been 4 October, at 10 a.m, according to Father Ralph Wiltgen’s book on the Founding of the Catholic Church in the Pacific, p156 -- translator’s note
- in the north of the Tongan group, where they arrived on 22nd October 1837. Taufa’ahau, the King, welcomed them, conditionally on the agreement of his Methodist missionary advisers. These two, arriving in Vava’u some days later, were against the idea, and Pompallier left on 28 October 1837, heading for Wallis, but promising to come back to Tonga later -- translator’s note
- Wallis or Uvea is surrounded by a barrier reef on which and between which and the main island are many islets - translator’s note
- According to Father Chanel's diary, 8 November 1837 -- translator’s note
- Alofi is the other, smaller island -- translator’s note
- He seems to be referring to the missionaries’ persons - translator’s note
- Pompallier wrote to the commander of the French naval station in Valparaiso that the British Governor of New South Wales – Sir Richard Bourke -- had given him a letter of recommendation to be delivered to the British Consul in New Zealand -- James Busby – footnote by Father Girard
- a slip in Pompallier's memory -- the second mission set up was in Futuna, not Rotuma. In fact the word Rotuma in the original manuscript was crossed out by a later hand – Father Girard’s footnote
- They did in fact leave for New Zealand on 30 December 1837
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