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5-6 March 1842 — Father Jean-Baptiste Comte to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, November 2014


Reverend Father Colin, Superior of the Society of Mary, Lyon, 4 St Barthelemy Rise, Rhône


[In Poupinel’s hand]
April 1842


J[esus] M[ary] J[oseph]
Akaroa, 5th March 1842


Very Reverend Father,

[1]
We are still at Akaroa where the Bishop has left us up to now, in order to use carefully the protection of our government which seems to have a lot of interest in our mission; a protection which we will need very much throughout Oceania. However we are very much longing for our departure, which will occur only when France and England come to a definite agreement on this matter. So we are longing for the fulfilment of all our desires, so as to be able to move to territories more fertile in pure wheat than this island so sparsely peopled and cursed with such great sterility. Are you bearing no fruit, you will tell us, neither among the Europeans nor the aborigines? Alas, may Heaven not will that the dryness comes from us, but I am forced to say that what God is bringing about through our ministry amounts to very little. Father Tripe has told you about the [French] colony that has been his special responsibility.[1] For my part, I have been able to see, since my journey to Otago with the Bishop, only the natives of the Peninsula. I have performed 30 baptisms and 8 weddings.[2]
[2]
I cannot give you details about this island without sending my letters through the Bay of Islands, to be examined there. You know, Reverend Father, that we can only write sealed letters to you which concern nothing but spiritual direction, which means being unable to give you any details, since we cannot communicate with the Bay of Islands. I would have written to you when the Bishop was here, but I didn’t have the necessary information.
[3]
I have read the general or circular letter which you sent to all your children in Oceania, dated 21 October 1840. [3] I understood that you wanted us to write to you directly, under seal, not only letters concerning direction, but also those dealing with anything concerning the mission. But it seems I was mistaken, and the logical meaning of your circular is to write under seal only about what concerns spiritual direction. Here is the wording of our rule: “Write to the general every six months, don’t send to Europe any news about the mission before the letters have been examined by the missionary at the procure house, who will be authorised to do this… Letters concerning spiritual direction to the Superior-General of the Society, or to any other Superior or member of the Society, must not be read by the aforementioned missionary, consequently they will have to be sealed, but those letters which are aimed at the salvation or the personal perfection of the man who is writing will have to contain only details relevant to this purpose; and if in these letters concerning religious direction one wishes to give details on the mission, let another unsealed letter be used for this purpose.”
[4]
I have just received a letter from Father Garin in which he tells me positively that any letter which is not confined to the strict limits of spiritual direction cannot be sent to you directly and sealed without being a clear breach of the rule.
[5]
This framing of the rule has its good side, but also, perhaps, has a bad side, especially when you know the way in which the Bishop wants his mission to be spoken about. Everything must be made of gold and precious stones. A single word that would counter this fine ideal would cause the mission to collapse, stop vocations, destroy everything. That being said, I say that you will still know only in a very imperfect way the missions about which you should have so perfect a knowledge, for a host of different reasons. And there you have what I call the bad side of the steps that have been taken. The Bishop can see the natives only in a general and passing way, consequently it’s impossible for him to properly judge a people of a character so shallow, so changeable, and who know perfectly how to adopt all sorts of appearances as circumstances demand.
[6]
The missionary, on the other hand, settles himself in the midst of the tribes, lives in the savage’s house, sees all his activities, all his actions from morning till evening, his whole way of life, grasps the spirit which animates him, estimates his progress, sees his obstacles and the rest. If this missionary wants to share his observations with you, he will have to prune off all the bad things and make no mention of the clay mixed among the gold. From which will result, according to what sort of person he is, either that he will not write at all, because he likes to tell everything to his general, or he will write only in terms of generalities and mysticities, or his letter will be misleading, in the sense that he will present only a corner of the whole picture. However, Father, you must really believe, although you still have hardly seen but the good side of the medal, that this country will never become either a Paraguay nor a Gambier,[4] and that the gold here will be necessarily mixed with a lot of mud by heresy and by the Europeans of all sorts who are crowding in to settle here.
[7]
Now I know very well that the Bishop will never allow you to receive letters which would not be quite favourable to his mission and to himself.
[8]
I consider the Society as a tree whose branches are fed by the same sap. It’s the Superior’s task to prune those that Providence intends to go and grow in different climates and in different soils. How then will he be able to choose those which will be suitable to take root and get them to undergo a preliminary preparation, if he does not know the climates and soils which the peoples are? However I do not know any other way of finding that out, than having the freedom to write directly to one’s general, in sealed letters, describing all one’s observations after having maturely reflected on them in the presence of God. Then the Superior would frequently receive letters from all sides, from all the missions, from all the Fathers, and from the totality of those letters he would get for himself an exact idea of the missions both from the viewpoint of the missionaries and from that of the peoples, and would be able to act in a sure and efficacious way from the good of all.
[9]
Here is one way I would suggest. It seems to me it would render the greatest help to the mission. All the letters which would not be favourable to the mission in everyone’s sight, whether because of the attitudes of the people, or lack of success, or difficulties, or persecutions or dangers, or the character of the peoples, or of sad results which circumstances or the trend of events seem to foreshadow and the rest, all those letters should be addressed to the Superior-General only, or to members of the Society only: in that way there would be no danger that the mission would collapse, no matter what was the nature of the news.
[10]
Concerning what is contained in other letters, things able to fill up the Annals, arouse vocations and truly interest people in our mission: these could go through the procure house to be duly examined there on the exactness of details, facts… but they would all have to be addressed to the Superior-General or to members of the Society only, or at least be sent unsealed to the Superior who, in agreement with the administrators, could have extracted what would be deemed worthy for publication in the Annals. I recall that you gave us this last piece of advice. But before leaving France I would prefer that the missionaries took an oath to observe the steps that you will take concerning letters, so as to be able to be well informed about everything that happens and will happen in our Oceania missions, or that this procedure was seen as a real obligation under pain of failing in obedience, and not as a desire of the Superior or as a convenience. In this way a mission would show very well its two sides. The Superior would know very well the men he should send, and would have prayers redoubled, according as the needs of the mission required, whether for the conversion of some, or for the perseverance of others.
[11]
We are beginning to become numerous, and personally, I long very much for a designated provincial.[5] A Bishop has enough episcopal responsibilities without those of a Superior in the Society. We must not become two Societies under the same name and the same title. Still submissive to the first pastors of the Church, we must have that esprit de corps which holds us together, which gathers us, having only thought, one will, one same goal; if attached as individuals, giving way; if attacked as a body, defending ourselves bravely, and holding ourselves as strongly attached to our Society and to our general as to the barque of Peter, a bit like the Jesuits, since our Society resembles it as much as Mary resembled Jesus. Now, who will be able to bind us in an intimate way with the Society in Europe if not a provincial appointed by the Superior-General?
[12]
The Bishop has two men in himself: a man of theory and a man of practice Often one contradicts the other. It can be seen that he has no fixed ideas, nothing deep, nothing thought out beforehand, no fixed plan; any decision is the product of a moment. So plans follow each other and are reversed almost at the same time. The result is that after some time you lose, in spite of yourself, all the confidence you should have in him, and [with] which he had at first inspired you. The lay people see it clearly. Our French gentlemen at Akaroa told us, quite truly, that the Bishop was a man on whom one could not rely. It’s only what is right in front of the Bishop that impresses him, concerns him, interests him, he seems to forget everything far away from him. Regarding the business in the tropics – did Providence intend it to work out like that? Alas! It needed an event like that to get him to visit our Fathers.
[13]
This letter I am writing to you with so much liberty and in terms so lacking in delicacy, could perhaps lead you to think that an evil spirit is animating me, but I insist the contrary is so. Everywhere that the Bishop’s voice calls me, I will fly to immediately, remembering I have made vows of obedience, that I am, wish to be, and will be, with the grace of God a true child of Mary. I am happy and content, and think no more of France, in worldly terms, than if I had never known it. If I had something to regret, it would be the retreats at Meximieux and that little temple in the corner of the house where the love of God dwells with his body, his love, his divinity. I am still in perfect health. Long live Jesus, long live Mary!
[14]
With deepest respect, I have the honour to be, very Reverend Father,
Your most humble and obedient servant,
Comte
[15]
PS Reverend Father, you knew that the Bishop was at Akaroa when the Heroine, commanded by M Favin Leveque and the Allier by M du Bousez[6] entered the harbour. Almost at the same time the Bishop received a letter from the Bay of Islands which informed him of Father Chanel’s martyrdom in Futuna. At once sad and consoling news for all of us. In his sorrow the Bishop went to M Lavaud, asking him to be accompanied to the tropical islands by one of his Majesty’s ships, not to punish the savages but to shield from death the two other Fathers and the Brothers who were in Wallis, if they were in danger, and to get the natives of Futuna to hand over Father Chanel’s remains. M Lavaud, a worthy representative of his government, shared the Bishop’s anguish, and promised him to do what he wanted. Being aware of the merit, the talent, the prudence and the tact of M du Bousez, he entrusted to him this delicate mission which should show France’s strength and majesty, without causing the blood of the murderous savages to flow.
[16]
So the mission schooner left Akaroa on 19 November 1841. The Allier got under way two days later, and anchored two days beforehand at Vava’u, the meeting place. From there sail was made for Wallis so as to see what was going on there and to get reliable information concerning the events on Futuna, where the Allier and the schooner then headed. There begin the details of events which I asked M de Bousez about, and which he was so kind as to give me. I am sending them to you, written in his own hand, at the same time as the little letter with which he has accompanied them. M du Bousez is a religious man, thoughtful, kindly, and estimable in every way. He spoke very highly of Father Bataillon, saying that he saw him as a great man. He, as well as Father Chevron and the Brothers are all very well. His mission is going perfectly well, the Wallis Islands will soon rival the Gambier [Islands]. The Bishop has stayed [there] to baptise and confirm. Father Viard, on board the schooner, followed the Allier to Futuna, on board the schooner, from where the corvette came back directly to Akaroa and the Sancta Maria to the Bay of Islands to which Father Chanel’s remains were brought. The Bishop, who stayed in Wallis, does not yet know how things worked out in Futuna. When the schooner has finished its repairs, it will leave directly for Wallis with three missionaries and Father Viard. I do not know where they will be posted. Then the Bishop must leave the tropics for Valparaiso, accompanied by Father Viard, from where he will go to France either on a naval vessel or a merchant ship. The schooner would be sold at Valparaiso. I believe that this plan will not occur, and that the Bishop will come back to the Bay of Islands, where, it is said, political matters are fairly unfavourable. The natives are said to be talking of making a general massacre of the Europeans. I believe nothing of that. The English are already too strong in various places in the North Island. All I can say is what Father Garin wrote to me a few weeks ago, to do all I can, if the Bishop was to come back from the tropics to Akaroa without calling at the Bay of Islands, to dissuade him from his plan to go to France by saying that in the circumstances his presence would be absolutely needed in the North Island. Father Épalle will write to him in this sense by way of the Sancta Maria, and setting out the estate of things for him. That’s what makes me think that the Bishop will come back to the Bay of Islands, and putting off his voyage a bit. That is my opinion.
[17]
I am sending my letters via the Comte de Paris which is going to leave directly for Bordeaux. The letters from the Bishop, Fathers Bataillon, Chevron and the Brothers were entrust to M du Bousez who has taken over commanding the Aube, also going to France, but as it has to call in at various places, it will arrive some months after the Comte du Paris. While waiting until you receive the letters which will inform you of everything, please accept, very Reverend Father, the humble respects of your most humble and obedient servant,
Comte
[18]
You will be able to see the account of Father Chanel’s martyrdom in the letter which the Brother[7] wrote to his parents. The Bishop gave it to M du Bousez. I do not know if it is only a summary of the one you are being sent. I have just seen M du Bousez. He had told me that he himself wanted to be the bearer of the packet of letters which the Bishop is sending you and which he had entrusted to him. But another consideration was that the journey of the Aube to France has just been lengthened. So I have advised M du Bousez to entrust the packet destined for you to the Comte de Paris. That is what he has done.

Notes

  1. Cf. Doc 117.
  2. The Akaroa register of baptisms shows that Comte, during this time baptised 36 Maoris, 6 children with European fathers and Maori mothers, and 1 European. He celebrated 8 Maori marriages and one European marriage (information received from Peter Tremewan 24 April 2008)
  3. No doubt Colin’s letter to the missionaries dated 21 November 1840, in which a phrase is addressed to Father Viard: “Your letter, Father Viard, was read in the church at La Guillotine. It caused tears to be shed. The Annals will speak about it.” (CS, Doc 218, [25])
  4. Paraguay – the 18th century Jesuit “reductions: in Paraguay, and the mission in the Gambier islands in the East Pacific - translator’s note
  5. provinciel en forme
  6. Eugee du Bouzet (Bouzey) (Cf. Doc 133 [2] f/n 2)
  7. Marie-Nizier, presumably - translator’s note