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1 September 1845. — Fr Jean-Louis Rocher to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Translated by Peter McConnell, June 2010

Ad majorem Dei gloriam et Dei genetricis Mariae Virginis (To the greater glory of God and of his mother the Virgin Mary )

Sydney 1 Sep. 1845

Very Reverend Father Superior
I am quite confused in having delayed so long in giving you my news; it is certainly not from forgetfulness nor from negligence. The only reason is that Father Dubreul, having written to you on our arrival in Sydney, I thought I could delay so that I could also tell you something about my present situation and by giving you some details concerning our trip.
As you have been informed, our passage was not the fastest but very happy. After leaving London 27 November 1844, it was on April 12 of the following year that we entered this port so long looked forward to and we saw the city of Sydney. Apart from sea-sickness which more or less exhausted all of us, we always enjoyed good health, and good spirits has never ceased to be present among us. Only once did the idea of returning to France disturb me deep down, but the thought that I had not chosen such a course soon swept those ideas away, so I can say that I have not had a single moment of bother during the four and a half months of journeying. The little rule that we have given ourselves contributed a lot in driving away from us all melancholy; without speaking of our exercises of piety which were laid down, we had a geography lesson one day and the following day a lesson in arithmetic. Brother Auguste enjoyed attending them. Besides he arrived in Sydney knowing the first four rules of calculus and a general knowledge of the world and some first principles of astronomy. The rest of the day was employed studying English and reading some expository works. Apart from that Father Dubreul gave each one of us in turn a religious topic to prepare for Sunday. It was followed by some remarks which Father Dubreul gave us or else we would do the critique. This regularity of our behaviour was soon noticed by those with us and turned to ridicule. They went even farther. All our actions, words and movements were watched in the most scrupulous way to be interpreted in a bad way some time afterwards. Not knowing English we did not know what they were talking about because outwardly they appeared to us to be quite honourable. Yet by using a dictionary Father Dubreul succeeded in understanding that we were really the object of their daily conversation which was nothing less than dishonest. We said nothing at first only that we behaved more seriously in their presence. The captain soon noticed it and came and asked us whether we were happy. Yes, captain, answered Father Dubreul. We can’t be more satisfied with the food but the same does not go for what you are saying about us‹etc-- After that they were more reserved in our presence. There were several causes for all these troubles: we were French; Catholics; we refused allowing women into our room; the brother who shared our table did not have appropriate behaviour nor attire, and -- yet, very Reverend Father, amidst all these little troubles we were not without advantages; we had the good luck to have with us the true consoler, Jesus Christ. The bishop of London in allowing us to celebrate Mass on board the ship, gave us the dispensation of distributing only Holy Communion when the sea stopped us offering Mass on Sundays and feast days.
During our journey, we did not stop anywhere. The first land we saw was Madeira, then the Canary Islands, Trinidad, Sao Paolo, then New Holland. (It was April 6). We entered Port Jackson on April 12. As it was night time when they dropped anchor, we had to stay on board. The following day, a Sunday, we disembarked. We immediately went to the church to hear Mass there. Then we went to pay obeisance to Bishop Polding who welcomed us favourably. His Grace had the goodness of giving us lodgings for a month in his small seminary and to allow us to eat at his table every day.
I can’t tell you who great my surprise was to see Sydney. It is sited on a bay on the south side of Port Jackson and about seven miles from the heads. The houses there are built elegantly; the streets are wide, well laid out, and rather well maintained. The whole city is lit by gas as well as the shops, several of which could rival those of the big cities in Europe. At the moment there are some 42,000 inhabitants at Sydney. A third are Catholic. Here Christianity is well respected. Its population increases daily. Not a week goes by in which we lose members of the church. Bishop Polding told us too if he had a sufficient number of priests one day the whole city would be converted to Catholicism in the space of ten years. To serve his huge diocese he has only thirty priests.
Sydney has three Catholic churches; a fourth one has to be built next year. The house that we have rented is only a quarter of an hour away from the cathedral. We offer Mass there every Sunday at nine o’clock and at the eight o’clock Mass at St Patrick’s. Every Sunday too we have the main meal at the Archbishop’s with all the priests of the city. The bishop wants absolutely to show the Protestants that he and his clergy are united body and soul. Since Bishop Epalle’s arrival there are normally four of us who go there.
The first days Bishop Epalle stayed with the archbishop, but the English way of things was not to his liking so he came and stayed at our base. He acted perfectly well; he told me a few days ago that his health had never been so well.
Our little base house is in the most respectable part of town. The name of this district is Woolloomooloo, pronounced Vouloumoulou. When our dear colleagues arrived and we waited for them with great impatience, we had to rent a second place but as they’re only eight or ten minutes away, everybody comes to eat at the base. All your children enjoy good health and are still filled with ardour for the glory of Jesus and Mary.
Since arriving in Sydney I have not yet had time to get bored for a single moment. Up until now in getting the base settled, I have not been able to work the way the English do, in a serious fashion. We have a teacher here for some time, but we have interrupted for some time some more pressing matters which have surfaced since the arrival of our dear colleagues. With Father Dubreul, everything is OK. Only that a suggestion he made particularly astonished me some days ago; if you want to go to a mission station, he said to me, now is the right time. Have a word with Bishop Epalle, perhaps he will be able to deal with this matter. In answering him I said, it is true, that’s what I wanted, but as my superior had sent me here, I shall stay here until I receive new instructions from him. From that time, on paying more particular attention to what he was doing, I fancy I noticed that he was paying particular attention to Father Chaurain. Indeed, I was not mistaken. I found out later that he wanted him to live with him. Now there is no longer a question of that. Father Chaurain, having told the bishop something Father Dubreul had confided in him, spilt the beans. From that moment he has given me more freedom than normal. Yet, reverend Father, I am telling you sincerely I do not much trust him and here is why. He does not act openly enough. From all that, don’t have the impression that I am annoyed with him. No, he is an excellent colleague. Moreover, he certainly has to put up with my faults so why would I not put up with his? I shall stay in Sydney for as long as you like just as I shall leave when you think it appropriate. It is all the same to me. May it be sufficient for you to know that I am happy and content.
Goodbye, very Reverend Father, remember sometimes the smallest of your children at the foot of the altars of Jesus and Mary.
My respects, please, to all the reverend priests,
Your very humble and very obedient son in Christ Jesus,