From Marist Studies
27 August 1845 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste Épalle to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney
Translated by Peter McConnell, June 2010
- Sydney, 27 Aug 1845
- Very Reverend Father,
- You must have received my letter dated 22 July. It contained pretty much nothing other than the news of our happy arrival, two letters from Bishop Pompallier published in the Catholic newspaper and the copy of a letter which I had written to Bishop Pompallier.
- You must be surprised to see that we are still in Sydney. Here is an account of my stay in that city. As soon as our gear was landed, we noticed from the outside of the crates that pretty well everything was considerably damaged. We were on the point of receiving the customs damage declaration which they had previously informed us of, but having recognized that the damage was the result of bad weather and probably not covered by our insurance we came to the decision of opening our crates to expose all the contents to the air. We have had to have a large amount washed to prevent it from being completely ruined.
- In the middle of this embarrassment I was preoccupied more than ever by matters concerning New Zealand. Bishop Pompallier had just spent three months in Sydney. The archbishop of that city seemed to have praised his dear colleague. The latter was always: the worthy bishop, the holy bishop, the man of genius. Fathers Dubreul and Rocher had been received on board in an ambiguous way and they ended up by being told that two religious orders were not wanted in Sydney. Bishop Polding frequently repeated that it had been spoken against in Rome and at the Propagation of the Faith in Lyons. I learned from another quarter that Bishop Pompallier had during his stay in Sydney written an inordinate amount to Europe and that he had asked for staff from several dioceses and in particular from Dublin in Ireland and from Maligne in Belgium. He got one from Bishop Polding to be his factotum. I tried in vain to get the archbishop to talk so that I could get a clearer picture of all that matter. Sometimes his way of avoiding answers allowed me to discover his thoughts, his views on administration. In the end I saw that it was necessary to broach the question of New Zealand in a frank manner. After several days the prelate sent back his reply which was nothing other than the enumeration of his principles relative to the mission stations. He added that he thought Bishop Pompallier was a man of genius and a good administrator. It was easy for me to prove that the actions of Bishop Pompallier were far from conforming to the principles that I had just heard. Despite the archbishop’s excessive discretion in judging that Bishop Pompallier had tried to mislead him, I succeeded in suspecting part of the reason for his trip to Sydney, the reason for that great number of letters and in believing that he was leaving no stone unturned to prepare in his mind a defeat for the Marist Society.
- Bishop Polding ended the discussion by confiding in me the serious difficulties which cropped up between him and the bishop of Van Diemen’s Land. He added the following: that the mission stations in Oceania can be established only by religious congregations. New Zealand is in a very great danger if it is not rescued from the situation in which it finds itself. The good that you could do in taking immediate action does not compare with what you can do while waiting for Bishop Pompallier here. I am writing immediately for him to come here. I consent all the more easily in taking this decision that I had other reasons for prolonging our stay in Sydney. Our damaged gear delays us for some time. The frigate Le Rhin was scheduled for August and the sea here has been very bad up until September. I have been waiting in vain up until today. However we have been told that the frigate and a ship from Auckland will arrive very soon. According to a letter from Father Petitjean the latter ship will bring Brother Michel (Antoine Colombon) to Sydney and Le Rhin will probably have on board Father Viard. He would have caught the ship in New Caledonia to go to New Zealand. Father Petitjean’s letter seems puzzling to me. I think the puzzle will soon be solved and that in three weeks time we will be at sea. I have a vessel almost booked. I suffer from these delays which exhaust my supplies. Our expenses in Sydney are 2.30 francs per day per person, be it for food, or for lodging in a small corner of the house. The supply base has not been able to lodge us all but we all have our meals there. In my humble opinion it would be very important for the supply base to put up members of the Marist Society at no cost to them. I don’t like the idea of my paying board and lodging where I stay whereas I would pay nothing when staying with others if I did not have accommodation at my place. But I understand these are teething problems.
- A word from Prosper. Having arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, this young man came looking for me to inform me that his situation was not tenable and he was thinking of leaving the Cape to return to France. He added that what made his position intolerable was seeing the true joy of all the others and happiness radiating on their faces. He was even unwise to make his feelings public in our community. Thanks be to God that this action produced no bad effect. We examined the matter together and we agreed unanimously that he should continue his journey as far as Sydney. This advice was given to him and he very willingly accepted it, because he never ceased being an excellent Christian. At Sydney it was even more apparent that he had chosen the wrong vocation and he claimed he could not accept the idea of being a brother and he would definitely no longer consider himself as such. He repeated what he had offered me at the Cape of Good Hope, namely that he would follow me to the mission station to serve me devotedly and obediently so that by working two or three years he would pay back expenses that I incurred on his behalf. It was on condition however that I would not ask for the money which might have been given to his parents at Lyons. After discussing the matter I told him that he was free and that I would not ask for any compensation. The only thing I asked him was that his behaviour would be truly christian. In a word I spoke to him affectionately. He insisted on following us to the mission station. After a few days of his insisting, I accepted the offer as a friend. His joyfulness and happiness returned; he is full of keenness and courage; it is very edifying. Very reverend Father, judge now whether we have acted rightly or wrongly.
- Prosper was scandalized by the behaviour of some brothers at Puylata. There is a definite likelihood that the senior brothers went beyond abusing our trust in them; there is every likelihood that they went as far as selling off items belonging to the mission station so that they could buy for themselves items which the superiors had chosen to refuse them. It is said that their axiom is send priests wherever you like. Prosper was certainly not willing to be of that persuasion. But August (Leblanc) gives a full account in his better moments.
- I received your letter concerning Father Jacquet at the same time as he received letters from the parish priest of Montbrison and from Father Renon. I can’t stop telling you that it was only out of obedience that I wrote the letter you asked for.
- I understand that everybody is writing. I am saying nothing about anybody; everybody is well in all respects. Within a fortnight I hope to write to you the results of negotiating with New Zealand.
- Your devoted servant, Jean-Baptiste Epalle.