From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

30 January 1846 Father Xavier Montrouzier to his parents, San Cristobal

Translated by Natalie Keen, August 2011

Source APM ONC 208 Montrouzier

One sheet and one page, forming six written pages, with the address on the sixth page, surrounded by text.

*Mr Montrouzier householder.* at St Félix de Ludez via Clermont l’Hérault * Hérault* France
Id ---Lyon 23 NOV 46 (68) -- MONTPELLIER 26 NOV 46 (35) ----CLERMONT-DE-L’HERAULT 33 27 NOV 46
Jesus Mary Joseph
All in the name of Mary
My dear parents,
God be praised! Here I am finally safe and sound at my destination. The difficulties and dangers of the past are forgotten and something or other in my soul is giving me confidence. I am finally going to be a missionary and perhaps the good Lord will want to use me to save some of these natives whose faults and difficulties I had never before understood so well and who accordingly had never been so dear to me. That is the only happiness that I seek and the only one too, I’m sure, that you would want if, like me, you could see how far these folk are from what they should be, how much, almost in the normal course, I’d say, they offend the God who created them solely to be known, loved and served in the world, to be possessed by Him after this life; what numbers of people languish in this valley of tears prey to all sorts of woes, then end up wailing forever in everlasting torment. No other thought is in my mind and now that 6000 leagues separate me from Europe, I assure you that everything I saw there being so highly regarded, so sought after, wealth, luxury, honours, all that seems most shallow.
You probably want, my dear parents, to hear the details of my journey. I understand this wish if I am to judge the affection you have for me, quite apart from the proofs thereof which you have given me, by the fondness I feel for my dear natives, everything affecting me is of concern to you. And so I am going to give you your wish and take things right back to the beginning.
We left Sydney on 23 October on a small schooner purpose-built for passengers and thus very comfortable. Several good Catholics with Bishop Polding and most of his priests wanted to accompany us at a distance and the shipowner had a flag displayed with a cross on it, which gave our departure a feeling of a religious ceremony. In the morning, the blessing of the most holy sacrament had been given in the cathedral so as to draw down upon us the graces from on high. There were a few tears shed as we separated and for a long time we saw good folk on the shore watching us go.
That same evening we were out in the open sea and sea-sickness attacked us. We headed for New Caledonia. At first we had very good wind; but then the weather changed and we had to retreat and tack. In short our sailing was slow, for to go 500 leagues it took us almost a month. It was only on 16 November that we managed to reach land, through coral reefs, at the difficult harbour of Balade. We scarcely dared think for the moment of disembarking.[1] For us it was a question of knowing whether we would find the Bishop Douarre and his companions alive. We were reassured even before dropping anchor by the Reverend Fathers Chaurain and Paget, who were sent with a small boat like explorers and who returned with some natives whose expressive gestures showed that the aliqui-epicopo (chief-bishop) was staying not far away and that they were friends of his. Bishop Epalle then went to the place they were giving us as the missionaries’ house and three hours later he brought to us Bishop Douarre and Reverend Father Rougeyron with Brother John. It was a family celebration to embrace these dear colleagues and a most sweet comfort to accompany them into the middle of a crowd of natives, who displayed their happiness by their shouting and their haste to embrace us, to give adoration to the most holy sacrament in their little chapel. You would certainly appreciate more easily than you can at present the extent of a missionary’s happiness in these circumstances if you knew all the trials faced by his soul.
If I were writing for the general public, I would refrain from praising Bishop Douarre for the simple reason that he belongs to the Society of which I have the honour to be a member, but for you to whom I open my heart, I can say that I have never found a man more simple, more considerate, more generous. He welcomed us with matchless kindness. He provided us with a hut where we all slept and treated us admirably given his position and ours. I confess I was truly sorry to see him deplete his small food supply but he thought only of giving and you could see that he did it with pleasure. We were lucky enough to celebrate with him the feast of the presentation of the Blessed Virgin and that was yet another cause for joy. We celebrated it as a pontifical mass; Bishop Epalle was in ceremonial vestments and mitre; and we were singing hymns....All that, in a tiny little chapel, surely spoke to the heart for in fact there, as in the finest cathedrals, it was still the same being who delights in living among the children of mankind. I’m sure you won’t mind, my dear parents, to learn a little of the circumstances of the mission entrusted to Bishop Douarre. And so I’m going to give you a few details on this subject.
Bishop Douarre had left France in May 1843 knowing more than we did where he would be stationed but, like us, with no knowledge of the language he would have to speak and with no hope of resources other than those which, apart from God, his own skill and hard work would produce. Followed by Reverend Fathers Rougeyron and Viard and Brothers John and Blaise, he had arrived in New Caledonia in December and on Christmas Day had celebrated the first Mass to have been said on this island. The Government vessel which had brought him left without delay. After building a small hut for him near the shore, it took off promising to send another visiting ship within six months. Bishop Douarre then had nothing with which to defend himself from the natives but the help of the one who does not fail those who call on him. Soon he saw in reality all he had heard of the dark side of New Caledonians. They robbed him with trickery which proved that the thieves were not new at the game, they tried to set fire to his hut, they played havoc with his garden, they threw stones at him, they threatened him with spears. Nothing disconcerted him. With complete confidence in God, he still kept on cultivating a bit of ground; he moved his house to a better location and made one in stone, as well as persevering with manual jobs which keep one busy especially at the start of missions. This is the place to quote two little tricks which were wonderfully successful and which contributed in no small measure towards giving him a certain authority. One day the natives had gathered in huge numbers around the missionaries’ living area. They were armed and emitting threatening cries. Reverend Father Rougeyron came straight out and in a masterful tone cried out: Look here, do you think I’m scared of you? Well, even if there were ten thousand of you, I wouldn’t be the least bit afraid for there is not one amongst you who can do what I can. As he spoke, he struck a phosphorous match. The flame shot out and the mob was terrified. What sort of men are these, they were saying as they made off, that fire comes out of their bodies? I’m telling you this to show you just how easy it is at times to stop with nothing at all, folk who would, in fact, inspire fear with their numbers. So from now on don’t be afraid for me. With help from above which I put first, I shall soon know how to exercise enough authority over my natives to stop me from trembling midst their spears and clubs.
Bishop Douarre not only faced great dangers; he was subjected to severe hardships. One day, a few yams that he went a long way to find, gave him and his colleagues the strength which they were to see vanish immediately and completely through lack of food. Another time, he was happy to have a few cabbage roots to plant. But God didn’t want to overwhelm him and his trials were eventually eased through most sweet success: his ministry achieved success and what else does a missionary need than to see souls being opened to truth and hearts to virtue? I can tell you, my dear parents, that when I passed through New Caledonia, I was so happy to see the progress the gospel had already made there, that in the hope of achieving similar results, all the sufferings of the apostolate seemed of little account. I spent joyous moments watching Tifi,[2] one of the youngest catechumens, as he got up in the morning and before bedtime, kneeling down and reciting his prayers with the reverence of an angel, quietening the natives surrounding us while we were saying our office, explaining to them that at this moment we were talking to God, and eventually indicating the wish to follow us in the hope of obtaining the crown of martyrdom and asking us only for the time to go and say goodbye to his mother. I can add that the trials of our bishop came to an end and it was good Captain Bérard[3] whom God employed to bring him help. This worthy officer of the French Navy had the greatest respect for him, all the kindness of a mother. He made a point of enquiring how the missionaries were getting along. He especially questioned the brother who was the cook, obviously afraid that we might be hiding from him the full extent of poverty and he left with us all the supplies he could. Bishop couldn’t find words to tell me how indebted to him he felt and so I ask you to thank his family for what he did and tell them how greatly the missionaries feel in his debt.
From New Caledonia we made for San Cristobal, the main sizeable island of the Solomon archipelago. We arrived there on 2 December and left on the 6th. The location wasn’t suitable for us at the time, it wasn’t a centre of population. From there we made our way towards Santa Isabel. We arrived there on the 12th. On 16 December, Bishop Epalle was mortally wounded by the natives of one tribe, on the 19th he died, and on the 23rd we returned to San Cristobal where, according to the information we had been given and our own observations, the locals were the least hostile in the Solomon Islands. {Author’s note –see footnotes} There we located three natives whom an English captain had formerly transported to Sydney and who had consequently got to know a bit about Europeans and what is more, understood and spoke English reasonably well. Unfortunately we were unable to set up among their tribe because there was no safe anchorage nearby and we saw no land suitable for cultivation. We selected one of these natives as interpreter and sailed off again into the ocean. Finally, on 3 January 1846, after 11 months sailing, we found an ideal place in a glorious harbour, which we believe we discovered, and which we named Blessed Mary, and near to several small villages. There we set up our pilgrim tent and after making friends with the natives with the help of our interpreter, we claimed an area of land where we set to working as sappers, carpenters, gardeners etc. Today, our wooden house is up and except for our hands which are a bit blistered, we’ve not much to complain about. Our interpreter has left us.
A word on our situation. To tell you, my dear parents, that here there is neither danger to face nor hardship to suffer would be misleading you; we would not be missionaries without those things. But I mustn’t exaggerate either the dangers or the needs. As for the dangers, there don’t seem to be any from the tribe which surrounds us; whether they like us or are just intrigued by us, they seem to be attached to us and I can say that we already have some influence over them. They often bring us little gifts. If we have anything to fear, it is from their enemies who might be jealous of seeing them favoured by us but these enemies are distant and we won’t call on them until we know their language; then they’ll be afraid of our friends. As far as provisions go, apart from game and fish which are abundant here, we’ll have yam and taro, two large roots, like the potato, although less nourishing, banana palm which produces bunches of large fruit, each like a small aubergine, and sugar cane from which, later on, if, as I hope, we are not troubled, we can make sugar and, what is even more precious for missionaries who must work hard and travel long distances in great heat and frequent rain, a little rum; but for that, we would need a lot of things we haven’t got and which we won’t be able to acquire without the kindness of the faithful. Breadfruit is a fruit the size of a small melon; as to shape, it’s just like a blackberry; but for taste, it is far preferable; cooked, it has something the flavour of bread, which has given it its name. Moreover, its stones which are the size of a small nut, have the taste and consistency of the chestnut. Here it is pretty plentiful and it can be multiplied easily. What can I say about the coconut, dear parents, this fruit which provides the food for the natives of America and Oceania and which has so often been described? It is a nut as big as a head, enclosed by strands which make very strong ropes and made up of a hard part used to make coconut milk and which we use as a cup, and of another liquid when the fruit is young, and solid when it is ripe. The liquid is a sweet drink which is most refreshing; the hard part is a plentiful food which, for flavour, doesn’t compare with the hazelnut. That’s not all, coconut cooked and squeezed out produces an oil which perhaps may not compare favourably with our fine olive oil, but which is good enough for the missionaries, and the coconut frond is used to make the roof for dwellings. Would you be sorry for me in a country with so many resources? ...As well at San Cristobal there is a type of walnut which grows very large and provides as many fruit as pistachios. I think that besides desserts, we’ll be able to extract oil from it. Finally we have more bananas and lots of less important fruits. If with aIl that we should be reduced to a lack of resources, as a last resort we would start feeding ourselves up on betel, a type of bitter nut which the natives eat along with an equally bitter leaf and lime; for them this is a special treat which they make last the whole day for they never go out without hanging around the neck a small bag made, I believe, from strands of coconut palm, in which they put their betel nut and leaves and a small gourd for their lime. In addition we would have their shellfish some of which – among others one called giant clam – provide food for several people. But what is better than everything else and which we shall always have, is the help of the one who said: seek first the kingdom of God and all the rest shall be added unto you.[4]
A further word about my situation. The climate of San Cristobal is hot, owing to its proximity to the equator, but this heat is tempered by the rains prevalent there over the six months of summer. The land seems good, the only problem being that it is too mountainous. I’m not mentioning anything about the local customs. I’m waiting till I know them better before I tell you about them.
Now, dear parents, it only remains for me to assure you that in the midst of the great trials that the Lord has sent us, I enjoy a peace that I would never have found in the pleasures of the world and to beg you, with the love that you have for me, not to feel sorry for me, but to thank God for the great grace he has given me in calling me to the apostolate. Even had I not had the joy of actively working for the glory of God and for the salvation of a few abandoned souls, I would still value highly the favour of seeing for myself what man is like, deprived of the light of faith, how unjust he is, irascible, arrogant, lacking in modesty etc etc and I wouldn’t stop thanking heaven for revealing to me the blessing of a vocation to the faith. But I am also indebted to divine favour for greater blessings. For it is no small grace to be chosen to plant the cross in a land where until now Satan alone has held tyrannical rule.

[p.4, in the margin and written crosswise]
Farewell my dear parents. With much love. Ever your worthy son
Xavier Montrouzier Apostolic Missionary
Give my love to Amélie, Marie and Ernest. Tell them to be sure to thank the good Lord for seeing that they were born in a Christian country. Here women and children count for nothing. My kind regards to our relatives and friends.
San Cristobal 30 January 1846

[p.3, in the margin and written crosswise]
Post Script. If you want to help our mission, send us some old linen to bandage the sick, some medicines and some medical books. I’ve already begun to tend the wounds of a few natives with skin trouble and I’ve noticed that this brought them closer.

[Author’s note in margin and written crosswise mid-para.8]

Here are two facts which will allow you to judge the truth of this assertion. On our first visit, the natives came to trade with us. We accidentally paid them twice. The natives were the first to state that they couldn’t accept the double payment as they had nothing to give in exchange. One day, two of our brothers got lost in the woods. A bit frightened, they called for help; some natives ran to them and brought them back on board their dugouts.


  1. We dropped anchor on 17 November 1845 (cf. doc.451, § 3-4) having arrived in port on 16 November (cf. above in this same paragraph).
  2. Should clearly read: Fifi (written form of this name found elsewhere in Montrouzier’s letters, doc. 451, § 7; 531, § 4,6).
  3. Auguste Bérard (cf. doc.260, § 5, n.6; also doc.439, §11).
  4. Cf. Matthew 6.33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” And cf. Luke 12.31: “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.”