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19 August 1842. — Mister Louis Perret to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Valparaiso

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2015

Valparaiso 19 August 1842
Very Reverend Father,
[1]
Before leaving the Bay of Islands I would have liked to set out for you my reasons for my departure, and for the Bishop as well, and to express to him all my regrets, all that there was causing pain and suffering in my heart, which was distancing me from him, from his worthy and zealous missionaries, from this mission in whose works I would have wanted to be able to share; but the uncertainty of his return to New Zealand, my poor health, my uselessness to the mission, the opportunity given by a ship leaving for Valparaiso leaving nothing to be desired in every respect, the thought of returning to Europe with Father pro-vicar, of going through Panama, which shortened the voyage by half, all these reasons, I say, made me hasten my departure.
[2]
Allow me to go into some details. As an architect, I will not be needed for a very long time. The state of suffering and want, in which the mission and the British colony find themselves, will not allow anything to be done which will add to expenses in even the smallest way; I have often heard it said to the fathers, four wooden walls and a roof are all you need for churches, chapels and houses, and even though you may be really convinced of the influence that the arts can have on these new peoples, you are forced to give up this idea to help more pressing and urgent needs. In this respect I was useless, because the least skilled worker, without anyone’s help, will erect quite well the simple buildings of which we have been speaking.
[3]
As a catechist, I would have really wanted to carry out that task among these poor New Zealanders. That would have been really consoling for me, it was my whole desire, my whole ambition, but with my poor health could I hope to do it; painful journeys, rivers to cross, sleeping on the bare ground, lack of food; that is the routine life of a catechist in New Zealand where the tribes, which sometimes consist of only one or two families, are very distant from each other. That aside, I tried several times [to work] with Fr Petit-Jean, and came out of it with the sad belief in my inability. It was, as well, very hard for me to learn the languages, and more so than you could believe, however nothing can be done without really having a grip on the languages, it’s the primary necessity. Then there are the dangers to which one is exposed, and which are greater in the mission because of the isolation in which you often find yourself, that caused me to fear for myself, who am so weak.
[4]
As for administration, there is no doubt a lot to be done. I see it as having great importance. Several times I offered Father pro-vicar to draw up a general inventory, to begin an exact list of the books we had. I understood the need of putting things in order; but it wasn’t seen as appropriate that I be given responsibility for it. I am well aware that it is preferable that the administrator should be chosen from among the Fathers of the Society; that a simple layman or a Brother would be in a false position in relation to the Fathers. I heard it said: We need a Father to do that task. It would also need a person who was truly capable of doing it, which, in the state that the mission’s temporal affairs are, is becoming more difficult, which made me think that I was incapable of doing it.
[5]
Regarding health, I suffered from dysentery almost continuously, and that surely later on would cause a serious illness. I blamed it on the pork, which is the basis of the food. Rheumatism had developed, and caused me to experience pain in every part of my body. The inactivity in which I had been for nine months was really harmful to me. So, Father, my uselessness to the mission as an architect, as a catechist, as an administrator, and the state of my health, and if you add to that bad administration, there you have the main reasons that convinced me to leave the mission to which I was attached, with whose works I wanted to co-operate; God knows how much I suffered from realising my uselessness.
[6]
After the departure, and the first sea-sickness had gone, I experienced a great pain in my heart, that of not having had the honour of seeing the Bishop, of listening to his advice, of sharing, of soothing his difficulties, difficulties which I understand are very great in the difficult circumstances in which the mission is. Perhaps God was asking of me more generosity, more devotion, more submission; perhaps in the tropical islands where the journeys are less difficult, where the climate is not so damp, I could have been used, perhaps God was preparing for me there a fine reward. All these thoughts concern me, and continually come back to my mind. How much I would like to have your advice. A missionary here who has been a confessor of the faith, and who is seen as one of the most outstanding members of the Picpus Society, is encouraging me to return to Europe or to wait here for the Bishop of Nilopolis[1] who is soon to arrive; I understand him, he wants me to stay here or join the mission which is much less difficult than that of New Zealand, and where there is a lot of good to be done. I am confused with all the kindnesses that people show me, in spite of that, and all the problems I have had in New Zealand, there is still, deep in my heart, a truly sincere attachment to the Society of Mary. So please be so good as to write to me, Father, and show me the will of God. If my stay here is prolonged, I may be able to receive your letter. During that time I will work at making plans for the houses of the Picpus Fathers. I will recover my health, and the winter will end. At Valparaiso I am halfway between France and New Zealand, which means you need three months to get there, a longer journey than I thought, since in going through the isthmus of Panama I would have spent only forty-five days, but this last journey has its dangers, and then the steamship service is not organised as I would have been assured of in New Zealand. This respectable missionary has encouraged me to write to Bishop Pompallier and to wait here for his reply. I have done that, but I am afraid of being indiscreet by staying so long with the Picpus Fathers. Besides, I think, the reasons that I have had the honour of presenting to you, M Yvert often told me and strongly urged me to go back to Europe. However it seems to me that with the grace of God, if the superiors told me to return to the mission, I would do so. I have not yet told anyone about my return to Europe. If you really wish to reply to me, Father, be so kind as to do so as soon as possible.
[7]
An expedition has just been completed by Rear-Admiral Dupetitoire.[2] It has taken possession of the Marquesas Islands; that was done with no difficulty, already a fort has been built, three hundred French colonists have landed, with provisions and farming implements. It is thought that possession will also be taken of the island of Otaiti. This establishment will no doubt be very advantageous for commerce, especially when the isthmus of Panama is opened, which we are assured will soon be done by a British company; God willing, may the advantages that these undertakings may give the missions not be paralysed by the scandals that Europeans usually cause.
[8]
Father Épalle, who left on board the Aube (a French warship) two days before my arrival, has borrowed 30,000 francs.[3] He is going to Rio de Janeiro and from there to France. Fr Petit-Jean has gone to Sydney to borrow a similar sum, all that is not done without a great loss. The best way of negotiating would be to send to M Bordes, a French merchant in Valparaiso, or to any other reliable merchant, drafts on the mission payable in Lyons, Bordeaux or Paris, (preferably the two last), and as the Sydney merchants have to pay in Valparaiso for the merchandise that they get from that city, one can negotiate at par or with a profit of two or three per cent. That way savings would be made in the commission of the London bankers which, I think, is 5 per cent, and as well the interest on the money for five or six months depending on the duration of the voyage, which is two or three per cent more, altogether seven or eight per cent. An advantage in interest, and a guarantee of not risking one’s capital, because the drafts would not be handed over until the money was received.
[9]
I think that the mission ship will soon get here; it is thought that, if it is in good condition, it will be able to be sold for 20 to 25,000 francs.
[10]
I had the honour of writing to you through Father Epalle, and of making some reflections on the mission. [4] I will only add that it is very regrettable that we didn’t concern ourselves with the printer until after a year, while having however, the printer, the press, and all that was needed. There was the finest work, the most urgent, the most necessary that could be done. The whole of New Zealand is demanding books and its people, ashamed at not having any, are turning to Protestantism. The only difficulty was a house; it could have been built in a fortnight. It would be very desirable if there were more unity, more intimacy between all the missionaries, the spirit of the Society is no more to be found, and where should it be found, if not in the missions? A college would offer great advantages, a good education for the young (there are ten thousand colonists in New Zealand.), a cradle for the clergy, and a source of money for the mission. The Bishop of Nilopolis is going to set up one in his mission; he sees great advantages in it. It gives the mission influence, credit and standing. In the Sandwich Islands, where there is a college with 300 pupils, public examinations have taken place; the authorities, even the Protestants, have been very satisfied with them.
[11]
Please convey my respects to Father Cholleton[5] and the Fathers of the house, and commend me to everyone’s prayers, which I feel much in need of.
[12]
Very respectfully, I have the honour to be
Your most humble servant,
Louis Perret.

Notes

  1. Etienne Rouchouze, SSCC, appointed in June 1833 titular bishop of Nilopolis and vicar-apostolic of Eastern Oceania, consecrated in Rome 22 December 1833. Born 28 February 1798 in Chazeau, diocese of Lyons. Died in a shipwreck in October 1842.
  2. Read as : Du Petit – Thouars. Abel – Aubert du Petit – Thouars ( 17893 – 1864) had advised the French government of Louis Philippe to occupy the Society Islands or the Marquesas so that the French flag might be displayed in Oceania. The minister Guizot agreed to the expedition, and Du Petit-Thouars, appointed Commander-in-chief of the naval division of Oceania, went to Tahiti. Following negotiations, Queen Pomare accepted the French protectorate and on 9th September 1842 signed a treaty that recognised it. In 1846 the commander was appointed vice-admiral.(cf Dictionnaire de biographie francaise vol 12, col 343 – 345.)
  3. Épalle left Valparaiso on the 27th July 1842, travelling on the Aube to Rio de Janeiro, from where he wrote to Colin on 20th September, 1842 (cf doc 196 [1]). Perret must have arrived at Valparaiso on the 29th July. About Épalle’s borrowing money in Valparaiso, cf doc 179, 180, 181, 182.
  4. Cf doc 163
  5. Jean Cholleton (1788 – 1852), the spiritual father of the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin in Lyons ( 1826 – 1846), to which Perret had belonged since 1821; Cholleton had, in 1832, favoured the training of the tertiary Brothers of Mary by a certain number of young Lyonnais men, some of whom were members of the congregation, and notably Perret (cf OM 4 p 181 -82, 231, 326). Cholleton was professed as a Marist on 25 September 1841. (On the man and his relations with the Marists from their origins, cf OM 4, p 230 – 233).