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Br Attale (Jean-Baptiste Grimaud) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin

D’après l’expédition, APM OC 208 (Tonga) Grimaud.

Clisby Letter 54. Girard doc. 367

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


In 1845 the Marists had a following of about 500 in Tonga but a foothold in only 4 places on Tongatapu, at Pea in the centre, at Houma in the south-west, at Holonga in the east, and at Kolonga on the north-east coast. The latter villages were the homes of the Catholic Tongans who had returned from Wallis, while the former were centres of opposition to Taufa'ahau and the Wesleyans. At Pea, on the edge of the Fanga'uta lagoon, the Marists had a residence, a Tongan fale, and a church inside the fort, and two plantations outside. They still faced bitter opposition from the Wesleyans and, although Chevron had made several attempts, had not been able to gain entry to Mu'a, the village of the Tu'i Tonga. In these circumstances the supplying of medical aid was one of their few means of access to the people. They did not, however, have much of a stock of medicines at this stage and had to rely as much on faith as on suggestion. Attale seems to have considerable gifts in this area. In a report to Colin on 11 October 1845 (APM), Calinon remarks of him: "(he) is worn out from long suffering. The sick he has to treat and visit, those who come or are carried from all parts of the island, take up at least half of his time." Calinon himself visited Sydney later in the year to seek help for the mission, complaining that the Wesleyans were trying to starve them out of Tonga (Hosie 89).

Br Jean Reynaud (1820-1903), a coadjutor professed at Belley in March 1843, worked in Tonga for nearly 60 years from his arrival in June 1844 to his death in February 1903. Chevron, ordained in 1831, had joined the Marists in 1839 but did not make profession in the Society until after his arrival in Futuna in 1840. He was Superior of the Tongan mission until he died at Mu'a in 1884.

As for his influence on Attale, Roulleaux, writing in the 1860s, has this to say: "One would be curious to know what has become of Fr Chevron and the good and saintly Br Attale who came out from France with him and followed him in all the stations the Father passed through as far as Tonga, where he died in the odour of sanctity and so greatly loved by the converts that they gave him a burial almost fit for a king. It seems to me such information would give edification to the reader as well as save from oblivion the memory of one of our most saintly Brothers" (PC 206).

Text of the Letter

Reverend Father Colin,
I greet you with all my heart. Thank you for the kindness you have shown in sending us a spiritual father - our Father Provincial [ie Calinon] full of virtue and of good example by the grace of God. Certainly, reverend Father, in this land where the hardships are so great and good example so rare, the poor brothers need good example to persevere. I have my own trials which do not leave me any peace, especially in the matter of chastity. Oh, father, how tempted I have been, and still am, by bad thoughts or by what one cannot avoid seeing every day. In this land the brothers are exposed to many terrible things, especially those who have to look after the sick. These poor people have no modesty at all. The brothers here have to do what experienced and prudent doctors do when they have to baptize an infant in danger in the case of a long and difficult childbirth. I baptized one in such a case; he died and is now in heaven praying for us and others.
The good God has used me to conduct into his paradise a dozen infants I have baptized among the pagans. They come looking for me when they have used up all their remedies and the infants have become very weak from sickness. They are usually taken first by someone to a woman who is supposed to be possessed by a god. I have baptised three at her place. Since she cannot cure the children the parents are ashamed and will try anything to save their children's lives. I take advantage of these opportunities to go and see them, taking with me nearly always a little flask of eau de cologne or even a bottle of oil or camphorated eau de vie. I pour a few drops on the child. People are satisfied it is a good thing, and then after a little conversation we drink some cava (sic). I think you know that I tell them of some cures we have worked, then I say I still have a bottle of oil which is very good and which I think will certainly do the patient some good. They tell me that's good, they thank me, and ask me to pour some on the sick child. I do this ordinarily when I find the child in danger of death and I profit by the occasion to baptize them. Sometimes it is very difficult. They don't think I know how to baptize, they think only priests can do it.
My passions keep on persecuting me, especially over the vow of chastity. Oh, Father, how much I have been tormented, but thanks to the help of our Blessed Mother, I have not received any serious wounds from these trials and others that you would never suspect. I am quite content, I am in good health, my eyes are a little better,[1] I have adapted to the climate, to the ways of the people, to the food of the country. I understand them better and make myself understood. The Fathers have entrusted me with our little pharmacy and I look after the sick, which takes up a good part of my time. Since the arrival of Fr Provincial I no longer work in the garden. Br Jean is in charge there. We share the cooking and get on well together.
I thank the good God, reverend Father, that he has given me here as guide and model Fr Chevron, to lead me in these Islands where the ways are so slippery. I assure you that Fr Chevron is firmly rooted in virtue. We spent seven months together on Foutouna (sic) with Fr Chanel, the priest they martyred. That's probably where he found the source of the virtues I have noticed in him since, because I observed the same ones in the holy martyr.
Your good Brother Attale asks the help of your prayers to persevere and your blessing to die well.
I greet you with all my affection, rev Father,
brother Attale.


  1. In a letter to Colin, 28 July 1844, (APM), he says: "My eyesight has been very weak for some time" and asks him to send him some dark glasses. Parts of this letter are very difficult to decipher, and hence a translation has not been included in this work.

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