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14 January 1846 - Father Jean-Louis Mathieu to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Translated by Natalie Keen, March 2011

Source APM OW 208 Mathieu

Two sheets, “Bath” paper, comprising eight pages of which six are handwritten, the seventh blank, the eighth bearing only the Poupinel annotation.

[in Poupinel’s hand]
Central Oceania *Wallis 14 January 1846 * Father Mathieu


Uvea 14 January 1846

My Reverend Father
I am taking the liberty of sending you in the enclosed letter, which I am writing to my brother, a few notes on the three missions that the bishop sent me to visit and on the condition of the Society’s subjects there. I trust you don’t mind that although I have no brief for doing so, I’m including small observations I’ve made and you in your wisdom will thus act as you see fit.
I found the two priests and the brother in Futuna[1] in good health. At a temporal level, not only did they not have any complaint to make to me but they are too well off. The natives provide them with provisions aplenty. Their presbytery in the two parishes is very clean and very suitable for the area. These two priests live in peace and perfect understanding. I saw no shadow of discord between them. They are both happy with the brother which I also felt was a very edifying factor. I consider that this little mission is going along well and will make even more progress than the one in Wallis. The leaders are moved by a better spirit. The church of Our Lady of Martyrs, the site of the tomb of Father Chanel, is in a very poor state. The priests plan to rebuild it in another direction so that the altar is sited over the place of the priest’s execution and his tomb would then be either in the sanctuary or behind the altar depending on the direction chosen for the building. Our earnest hope would be that something special might be sent from France to grace this place of such precious memory, for example a baluster in iron or copper to surround the priest’s tomb. An altar, a tabernacle, a painting or statue of Our Lady of Martyrs to mark the place of her martyr. It is a thought we had with the two priests on the very spot and which I intended from that moment to air with you. Father Servant has drawn up a very detailed report on the priest’s martyrdom and sent it on to you with all the evidence you requested, by means of a whaling boat. I censured him for not keeping a copy of it, since the opportunity offered him wasn’t one of the most dependable.
In Fiji, the priests[2] have suffered a great deal as you will hear from their letters. I believe that it couldn’t be otherwise. At the time this mission was set up, there were no supplies either in Wallis or on board ship. The bishop was extremely uneasy foreseeing the need which could face the priests, and so left them at Namuka[3]but only at their own request. Such an important mission as this had to be founded on the cross. In spite of all the precautions one might take in the future in similar circumstances, I believe it will be difficult to protect the missionaries from these initial ordeals. If they can be protected from hunger, they will probably meet some other sort of hardship, one must suffer. [4] Moreover, salvation was at hand for the priests. They spent scarcely one day without yams or breadfruits. In addition, the health of Father Bréhéret and the brother haven’t suffered. Only Father Roulleaux was struck with dysentery which took a lot out of him. He’s better now but he still has an asthma which can have serious consequences in this area. He coughs almost continuously and especially at night. I left them three bags of flour, two barrels of biscuits, six horns of wine and a selection of medications which arrived for us with Father Junillon, as well as a barrel of very fine salted provisions which I had had made at Futuna.
I found these two priests and the brother living most peacefully and bearing their cross. Through the individual conversations I had with each one of them, I saw that each had his own fairly weighty cross, likewise also for their catechists. I admired in that vision the designs of the Good Lord who assuredly wishes the cross to be planted in the heart of the missionary before he can plant it himself. Good Brother Annet[5] is keeping very well. As he’s not one of the cleverest of men, he has had a bit of a hard time from Father Roulleaux who has been a bit harsh with him, but I think he will withstand all these trials which will serve to strengthen him more and more in virtue. Father Roulleaux is full of faith and zeal and good Father Bréhéret is admirable for his patience and hard work. They all ask for many prayers for the success of their mission.
Arriving in Tonga, I was surprised to learn that Father Calinon had left for Sydney. I asked the priests the reason for this. They told me that the Father Provincial [Calinon], thinking that the priests in Futuna and Fiji were in extreme circumstances and believing that his rules obliged him to make the visit to the missions, he had taken an opportunity which presented itself and left first for Sydney to look for supplies; that he was then to return to Tonga, then go from there to Fiji, Futuna, to Samoa and finally to Wallis. I asked why he had adopted this plan and not earlier that of going first to Wallis to come to an understanding with the Bishop to avoid duplication. They told me that he thought the Provincial’s business was different from that of the Bishop, that the Provincial had a separate administration, that he was responsible for the placing and maintenance of the missionaries, that a religious should correspond directly only with him, that the Bishop was no longer a member of the Society, being no longer bound by vows, that it was the same for him here as it is in France for bishops in relation to religious orders which work in their diocese and that his sole concern was for the interests of the people entrusted to his care by the court of Rome, that all these arrangements were contained in the rules given the Provincial in Lyon and that such was the rule that you had set up in the Apostolic Vicariate.--- I confess, my Reverend Father, that I was mightily surprised and deeply saddened for fear that this affair, before any decision on your part, might arouse some dissension among us. I couldn’t talk about it a lot with Father Grange who, as you know, has an imagination which works incessantly on these matters and gets worn out making forecasts and quite strange administration plans. ---
I put all this into perspective with Father Chevron who is the most reasonable man in the world and whose judgment is the most sound. We had long talks together on this subject. I told him that I had thought up till that time that your intention was that the Apostolic Vicar and the Provincial were but one entity and would administer together and with mutual agreement the mission and the missionaries whose interests were the same, and in case of disagreement the Apostolic Vicar would take priority, that you had shown this intention very clearly by your actions, having up to the present time sent the funds, the subjects and all letters relating to administration directly to the Apostolic Vicar, [p.4] that it seemed very harsh to exclude the Apostolic Vicar from the Society and remove him entirely from it, reducing all his duties to the signing of authorisations completed by the Provincial , that it was the Bishop’s job to direct the church of God and that he couldn’t do this without directing the missionaries at the same time, that the Society here was not in the same position as in France, that there was no danger of it’s being confused with other secular or religious bodies, nor any cause to separate itself from the Bishop who is a member of it and who has no interests other than those of the Society. That two administrations of which one has as its purpose the locals and the other the missionaries would have huge drawbacks in these parts, where communications are so difficult and where a single body has so much difficulty in operating --- that it would be doubling problems and expenses for no purpose. –
So there, my Reverend Father, is the result of my talks with Father Chevron. I decided to lay it before you in case I should be wrong and had perhaps wrongly interpreted your intentions and the rulings that you had given us on our departure. I now believe that my initial fear of seeing the start of some rift among us on this score is quite groundless. The Bishop is inclined to rely entirely on your judgment and your decision about his responsibilities and those of the Provincial. From what I know of Fr Calinon, I am sure that he’ll think likewise as far as he is concerned and that the accord which has prevailed among us up to this point shall not be undermined. When Fr Calinon arrived, I had encouraged the Bishop to keep him with himself and to send me on a mission. In this respect, I probably even deserved his criticisms. I believed I should repeat my requests on return from Tonga because I think it is the only way of straightening everything out.
It only remains for me to tell you about the mission in Tonga. The priests are still living in the village of Pea where they have a comfortable house, well enclosed, and from which they make trips to the villages of Ologa and Hahake.[6] I noticed there was a great sense of order among them. Every day meditation, examination of conscience and readings with the two brothers. Father Chevron has admirable patience and devotion. The two brothers appear to be most ardent. Brother Attale is suffering from a chest complaint. He came especially to tell me of his impending death which he is awaiting with the utmost resignation, asking me to inform the Bishop of the fact. I’m afraid this good brother might be right and that he might shortly go to join Father Chanel. Father Grange works assiduously at his ministry responsibilities, but his head never stops working. With him, the complaint is like an illness which I think will be most difficult to heal. As far as food is concerned, the priests in Tonga are in my opinion as well off – and even better off – than we are in Wallis. The Rhin when it calls leaves them stores of flour and wine and I renew these for them. Besides they have plenty of French vegetables which grow very well in Tonga, potatoes, cabbages, beans, turnips, carrots and even grapes. Each day they have three meals as they do in France. The situation is very different from how I saw them originally. Father Chevron and the two brothers assured me that they wished for nothing in this respect.
At this point I must tell you, my Reverend Father, something Bishop mentioned to me a number of times and which seemed to worry him. On the occasion he went to Tonga to leave Father Calinon, the question was raised if it was right for the missionaries to buy food from the natives. The Bishop discussed the matter with the priests and decided that if it happened that the missionaries were in need, it would be better for them to try other avenues first before using that one, for example buying from white Europeans or using intermediaries as it were when it wasn’t possible to do otherwise. He didn’t mean that the missionaries should suffer but that they could buy freely from the natives, although the mission might well suffer from it because their life and health were also necessary for the mission. -- In spite of this decision, Father Calinon sent a letter to the Bishop via the Rhin saying that the priests in Tonga were in need but that, not daring to make purchases because of the prohibition in force about this, he made up his mind to write to you himself to refer this matter for your decision. It is probably an oversight on the part of Father Calinon with whom the Bishop had left total freedom in this matter. But the Bishop was somewhat distressed by this, thinking that he was thus being accused in your eyes of having taken steps detrimental to the health of the missionaries whereas his intention was to take every possible care in this matter and had left them every possible freedom -- In Wallis and Futuna there would be an outcry if the missionaries bought supplies for their own use. It would be lowering themselves to the level of foreigners and lining themselves up with the sailors and Europeans who inhabit these islands. In Fiji, Father Roulleaux tells me that for his part he would rather die of hunger than buy the least thing from the natives because he thought that this step, once taken, would be the downfall of the mission for the future. Perhaps he is taking his zeal a bit too far. -- Since the letters which were sent to you in October via the Heroine, we’ve had no news from Samoa.—I trust, my Reverend Father, that you will indeed have in mind the establishment of a college for the mission and what is more in Rotouma, Somosomo and in Lau in the Fiji Islands and in Samoa where the two priests are probably quite inadequate.
I ask forgiveness, my Reverend Father, for writing you this long letter in which I have meddled in so many things which are none of my business. Having been given responsibility by the Bishop of making this journey, I believed I should give an account to you of what I have seen and even add my own observations. In respect of the latter, I admit I’m not insisting on my way of seeing things, having neither the personality nor the calling for judgment in such things. – I hope that you will be kind enough to judge it all for yourself and give us all the instructions we need to sustain us in the unity which has thus far prevailed amongst us.
I would have liked too to tell you a little about myself and my troubles which are weighty. I often feel frightened by the scant progress I am making in virtue and by the careless and lazy life I am leading. I am all the more guilty in that the good Lord takes more care of me, keeping me safe from illness and danger and affording me everything necessary to maintain my strength. I trust, my Reverend Father, that you will be kind enough to help me with your prayers so that I might be more faithful and find blessings before Him on judgment day. Please also commend us to the prayers of Society members and all the good souls who take an interest in us. I hope they will not forget that, in spite of the distance which separates us, we are one with them in hope and heart in all that they do.
I am with the deepest respect, my Reverend Father,
your most devoted and obedient in Our Lord missionary Mathieu


  1. Jean-Victor Favier and Catherin Servant (cf. doc. 396, §1) and Brother Marie-Nizier (Jean-Marie Delorme) (cf. doc. 393)
  2. Joseph-François Roulleaux and Jean-Baptiste Bréhéret; also in Fiji, Brother Annet Pérol (cf. doc.436, § 1-5).
  3. Namuka, island situated in the South of the Lau group in the Fiji archipelago
  4. Cf. Luke 17.25: Primum autem oportet illum multa pati, et reprobari a generatione hac. (But first it is necessary for one to suffer much and be rejected by this generation.)
  5. Brother Annet Pérol
  6. Holonga, village on Tongatabu Island; Hahake, Eastern part (or sometimes the North-East part) of Tongatabu Island, obviously the name of a village in this district (cf. Gifford, Tongan Place Names, p. 90, 184).