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Mr Jean-François Yvert to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, 1842

The letter is dated only 1842 but was certainly written on 22 May, the eve of Father Epalle’s departure – cf Doc 171 [1], but Father Forest could not have known about it, because his letter, written at the same time, mentions that he had met M Yvert (Doc 166 [7]) without mentioning this present letter from Yvert, while Forest’s next letter, dated 2 June, mentions it explicitly (Doc 174 [3])


Very Reverend, very loving and very beloved Father


[1]
I had resolved not to write to you, nor to anyone by means of this opportunity which otherwise seemed so favourable. I reasoned that I was no longer in the Superior General’s presence, which is true, but my intention was to remain unnoticed in this tense situation. My reluctance was not feigned; however it had to yield to Father Epalle’s desire; he begged me earnestly to inform you of any comments I could make about the mission. I found myself in a very difficult situation, I must say, my very dear Father, and it was only later on that I thought I could see the finger of God in this unforeseen turn of events. After some Communions offered to receive enlightenment, I could not doubt that my good mother was commanding me to set out for you, without fear and with confidence, the situation of the mission as I presently estimate it to be. I have already told you, very dear Father, something concerning my refusal to write to you this time. However, sometimes I felt myself prompted to be agreeable to you, perhaps useful to the Society, by answering your invitation, your order; sometimes I was afraid of being unfaithful to the will of the Bishop who, at the time of our arrival put this formal article in the Rule: No one will speak, in his letters to Father Superior [General], about anything other than the state of his conscience; if anyone wants to discuss something concerning the administration, let him do it separately in a second unsealed letter, says the article, so as to avoid errors which could creep into those different ways of judging. Father Epalle therefore removed this restriction for me. No, the Bishop could never be responsible for this indirect violation of the rights of the Superior General, of the authority of a father who is separated from his children so as to never see them again in this world. A few words imprudently spoken will have brought to birth slight suspicions, caused certain fears, touched that delicate thread of susceptibility. So the Bishop, with good intentions, will have been surprised for a moment. As for me, I act frankly and straightforwardly, as you could have seen from the letter I wrote to you from New Zealand, the only one I have sent to Europe since my departure from London.[1] I had a simple thought about this matter, and time, which heals everything, has only too much justified my expectation. Do you see, as I said to Father Epalle yesterday, the consequences of this step? Our Superior has been thrown into such perplexity that he is going to doubt everything. A Father-Visitor, even another person,[2] will he be able to decide on the true, concrete state of the mission in general and of the members in particular? Ah! No doubt he will receive great graces to enlighten him but will each man open up his heart as frankly as he would have done through writing to the Superior General? Anyway, the venerable Father Forest’s arrival has caused a real sensation, and his conduct has been in every way what it should have been. I gave him my notes on the mission,[3] as each man has done out of obedience; I answered in this way Father-Visitor’s questions, which were full of wisdom.
[2]
The Bishop, whom I love tenderly, although I saw him only a few days before his departure, must take priority in my thoughts. He is a Bishop with a noble and generous soul. Through his good-naturedness he has been able to win over all sorts of people, bind together all hearts; in this way the Bishop has raised the French clergy very high in the people’s minds. He leads it along a road of velvet strewn with lilies and roses, and if some thorns are found, the good Bishop, taking a backward step, will easily be able to pull them out. Let me explain myself: our Bishop’s too tender heart has led to some failings in temporal matters; other people[4] and circumstances have accounted for the rest. There is a lesson in that, certainly, and it will produce excellent results. All of us needed humiliations, and I in particular, who am quite steeped in vanity, and so cowardly in face of afflictions, without picking out the leader of the flock, since we all stand together, so as to purify our feelings and to prepare ourselves for great matters. Mary’s children are not spared in the matter of trials. But the temporal side [of the mission] without whose resources apostolic works are paralysed and sometimes completely brought to a halt, will soon see order reign in all its aspects. However we still have a year to suffer or rather to rejoice in our poverty. That time will be enough, it can be said, if we know how to act prudently and opportunely. The Marist missionary priests will not lose interest, during those trials, the Brothers and their helpers will be encouraged by the example of their leaders, and will give a new lustre to the Western Oceania mission. All, moving like a single man, will know how to respond to the high hopes of the brothers in Europe and of their well-beloved Father, who continuously raises his hands to heaven on behalf of his children beyond the seas, since for them struggle will never cease.
[3]
Faithful virgin, please go on supporting me, and do not allow any human consideration to make me hide the truth which I owe completely to him whom you have chosen to govern your family. Having spoken about our worthy Bishop, I appropriately next move to his Vicar General. Good Father Epalle should not be judged summarily on the time he has been in office. He is a young, very lively and energetic missionary, who gives short shrift to opposition, even rivalry, however is very submissive to his Superior. Cheerful, witty and likeable in social situations, he has been able to win the favour of his Bishop through easy manners and pleasing consideration. His liking for great matters[5] has led him to make some considerable mistakes in administration, although on the other hand he grasps perfectly complicated and difficult issues. Wouldn’t there be a bit of pride in doing, during the Bishop’s absence, something remarkable? I repeat, he got involved in rather giant undertakings, and in that, he is like his leader. Nevertheless, in spite of these faults, we would be unjust to this vice-Superior of the mission if we did not recognise that he has shown, in his many and difficult dealings with the foreigners who surround us, great moderation and rather extraordinary tact. To put it simply, you can be sure that he has given important service to the mission in these unfortunate times. I sum up everything by saying that, weighing up the pros and the cons, I doubt that any other Father could have better directed the ship. But this ship, which bears the hopes of thousands of people, is still beaten about by storms, and amidst reefs, waiting to be saved by Mary. Our Vicar General’s voyage to France will reassure you, I confidently see it achieve its effect. By helping, in time, your Society in Oceania, you will have set it on a firmer footing than it had when it began. Consider carefully, Very Reverend Father, the purpose of this long letter.
[4]
I heard that good Father Montargis of Caen[6] who was in contact with several pious missionaries, was told that people rarely become holy in the missions. So it is important to send only men who have been tested, men who are saints. Alas, I did not have to look far to find a proof of what I suggest. A recently arrived Father told me, in a moment when he was experiencing only a slight trial: “Men are sent out too quickly; I myself was not tested enough.” That little struggle was only passing.
[5]
1) Charity does not reign perfectly in your family beyond the seas. When we arrived I learnt from a reliable source that two parties existed. As I did not have exact enough information, and wasn’t trying to find out more about this matter, I didn’t follow it up, thinking anyway that you had heard of this.
[6]
2) The Brothers at the main mission station, still too many, have not spent this year in perfect harmony, either among themselves or with the Fathers. The situation is beginning to improve.
[7]
3) Orders are often rough and abrupt, and obedience difficult when charity is not firmly rooted, and not always generous.
[8]
4) There is little noticeable overall unity in every aspect of the administration, however some mistakes have begun to be overcome. Soon everything will be fixed up, I think, as I told you in the main part of my letter.
[9]
5) Enterprises have been taken on which are beyond our resources, giving bad results – in time, men, and money sacrificed with little fruit. That is a real plague which will be the last to be healed, but already the evil has begun to be cut off at its roots.
[10]
6) English and New Zealand[7] – those so useful languages, are almost entirely neglected, always because of precious time taken up in the above-mentioned enterprises.
[11]
7) There are no schools for the natives – a thing so easy to remedy, if time was available.
[12]
8) The printery was only begun ten months after its arrival, in spite of the most urgent need for religious books, again because of the shortage of time. However it is presently being built with speed, and the Blessed Virgin, who knows perfectly well how to inspire personalities will soon take first place in our workshops.
[13]
9) Almost as a body, people have abandoned that spirit of simplicity and resignation when affronts come and harm our self-love. However ignorance rather than the ill-will of [Protestant] ministers or other people is almost entirely responsible for this. The best reasons in the world can be found for allowing yourself to get involved in a fight on slippery and dangerous ground, and against adversaries who have no reputation to lose. I repeat emphatically: bring the evil to a stop, nothing will be more satisfactory to our Bishop. I repeat even more emphatically, listen to nothing on this matter; because in forming an opinion it would be only due to chance that one could envisage the complete situation.[8] Among our good Fathers, still full of ardour when the great works of the apostolate and exhausting journeys call them, I see shining in New Zealand two very interesting men. I believe I am witnessing to the truth by bringing Fathers Borjon and Garin to your attention as accomplished missionaries. There are no weaknesses in them: they are two precious pearls for the Bishop’s crown. They have already given immense service to the mission. I am running out of time – there are the essentials.
[14]
I still have one more item of good news to give you. Father Roulleaux is a new man, full of energy and good will. We love each other as much as we did in Caen and in Lyons: that is not a small thing to say. I hope to give you in my next [letter] another piece of good news, another pretty similar union.
[15]
I will write soon to good Father Poupinel and to Normandy. Please excuse me, excellent Father, for the appearance of this letter.
[16]
Please refer to me as a child in your letters.
Your child for life and eternity
Yvert


Notes

  1. Doc 130
  2. ?un autre lui-même
  3. Doc 152
  4. d’autres
  5. grandes choses
  6. Father Montargis, parish priest of St Pierre parish in Caen – Normandy – was Yvert’s confessor before his departure for Oceania [see Doc 130 [3])
  7. Maori - translator’s note
  8. car pour soutenìr une opinion on pourrait n’envisager par surprise que le revers de la medaille


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