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31 March 1842 — Father Jean-André Tripe to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, November 2014


To Father Colin, priest, Superior-General of the Marist priests, 4 St Barthelemy Rise, Lyons


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


Akaroa, 31 March 1842


Very Reverend Father,
[1]
It seems that I am in the Society only to provide you with reasons for anguish: my preceding letters[1] must have affected your sensibilities, and unfortunately the present one is no different. The situation in which I find myself is so far from attaining the goal I had in mind when I left my homeland that I think I have to beg you to be recalled, or permission to go back to it. Please give some moments of attention to the reasons for my request and the reasons which for some time have aroused disgust and boredom in me.
[2]
My only aim in leaving a diocese which was short of subjects[2] and a populous parish was to work for the salvation of the savages: and I am serving a handful of French colonists whose indifference has chilled all the priests who have had close contact with them. My ministry therefore amounts to almost nothing, as my time is almost wasted in studying the languages, not being within reach of speaking them. Twice I have asked the Bishop to send me to the islands in the tropics, not because I wanted to choose a place for myself, but to speed up my learning of the languages, because of my age, and to be fixed into the mission, because the Bay of Islands, where he wanted to place me, could shake my constancy. A promise was made to me, even after the news of Father Chanel’s murder, but in vain, because the priests designated for those places are perhaps right now on the way to their destination. In spite of my requests, it seems that my appointment is at the Bay of Islands, if I am withdrawn from Akaroa. Father Épalle has written to me that a good number of musicians and young people being trained as musicians are awaiting me impatiently, a reason which I find not at all appealing. Apart from that the abandonment in which the Fathers in the tropics have been left is very capable of bringing into consideration those who strive to get to those islands; whatever might be the promises made to visit them, the experience in this matter, as in others, is there. There is also a method observed in the mission which I do not understand, that is, administering only the sacrament of baptism to the natives, because up till now I know of none of them who have received other sacraments; so it could be said, in a way, that the Protestants who validly baptise do as much good as the Catholic missionaries, because their proselytes, through lack of knowledge, are heretics only materially.
[3]
These reasons, added to the strange conduct shown in my regard and which I will never understand, and other difficulties, such as hearing it said, “Come here, I want to go to confession”, or indeed to see insinuated the order to make such an announcement in a sermon, with a pipe in the mouth, etc… all that sort of thing, I say, disgusts me about the mission and makes me seek the country where my time and my ministry will be more usefully employed. Apart from that, it seems to me that our Society’s rule allows me to take this step, in light of the reasons I have given. I must not hide from you what disappointment I have experienced over the state of the faith among the natives, in my position and in the trials I have been subjected to, which has silenced me in respect of my confrères in Lyons, as also those I know who serve in parishes and whom I had hoped to inspire by my letters. Father Épalle seems however to have changed his attitude to me, because he wrote to me: do not be so afraid of the Bay of Islands, I now have a soul and some love.[3]
[4]
For the time being I am the only priest in Akaroa, having with me Brother Florentin. Father Comte left for the Bay of Islands on 15th March last, hoping to be included in the number of priests who are going to go to the tropics on the mission schooner. I agreed to his leaving only on the condition that he will obtain a priest to replace him, or that he will come back himself to resume his position in three months at the most.
[5]
Commander Lavaud who had promised to provide us the means of returning to the Bay of Islands in a few months, the deadline for the presumed arrival of the ship which should replace him, now believes that his stay in Akaroa will have to be prolonged, that priests will stay as long as there are colonists or while he will be there himself. He is relying, he says, on the instructions he received from the government when he left France, and on a letter that the Bishop wrote from Wallis; yet however in another letter addressed to Father Comte and me the Bishop leaves us to decide the appropriateness of our stay in Akaroa, while respecting French authority. I have made some observations to the commander which were not accepted, and it seems that he will stick to his claims. So here I am, and the priest who will come to join me, at the discretion of the commander. These sorts of encroachments and concessions made to the politics of government seem to me rather extraordinary. It’s another of the reasons which have determined the request I have made above, because I cannot foresee when I will leave this post which we have been advised to keep if it were justified, and meanwhile I am getting towards my fiftieth year.
[6]
As to the religious observance of the colonists, this is the situation. Crowds at Mass when the Bishop is here and celebrates it; forgetfulness and indifference for religious duties immediately on his departure. That is what happened again recently, after the confirmation and communion of 13 people. Several men among those who had received this blessing missed Mass on the first Sunday after, and the others in their turn. The loss of women began a bit later; to the point that I dispensed myself from giving the sermon, having only 3 or 4 people at Mass. It seems that people expect to fulfil their Easter duty only when the Bishop comes back to Akaroa, because no colonist, man or woman, has yet come to ready themselves to fulfil this duty. According to what Father Comte told me before his departure, and which he concealed from me so as not to cause me grief, someone thought up a remarkable reason to dispense themselves; this was to spread around the rumour that I was violating the seal of confession. We decided that some singular person in the colony imagined the self-accusation of some female penitent and the confessor’s replies and has persuaded [others] that he got it all from me, who had been appointed confessor by the Bishop. However, I urged Father Comte not to leave, in the spiritual interests of the colonists, because the Easter season had already opened at his departure, but my words did not stop him, having found that in spite of all the confidence people had in him, he had, however, no one at his Mass, publicly announced, and rung for like mine. There you have the post we have to hold to because of obedience. I had accepted the duty of confessor only with great reluctance, because the 8 days of preparation which the Bishop had given, and which for some were only 3 or 2, seemed to me to insufficient. I even said that we were going to create a flash in the pan; my attitude was described as rigorism, and there was delight [on the part of the Bishop, it seems implied] at this religious movement and this in some way general communion. Experience has proved to me however that conversions are not improvised.
[7]
I dare to hope, very Reverend Father, that you will be so kind as to consider the request I have made to you and the reasons supporting it.
I have the honour to be, with deepest respect, very Reverend Father,
Your most humble and devoted servant and son
Tripe
Missionary priest

Notes

  1. Cf. Docs 78, 79, 88, 117.
  2. priests - translator’s note
  3. j’ai maintenant une âme et de la charité