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22 February 1846 — Fr Jean-Pierre Frémont to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, San Cristobal

Translated by Peter McConnell, October 2010

To very reverend
Father Superior
San Christoval, port Saint Marie 22 February 1846.

Very reverend Father,
here is an item of news which of its very nature will upset your paternal feelings and console them at the same time. Death has removed one of your dearest children but it has occurred undoubtedly to place him in heaven. Bishop Epalle has given his life for his faith. He is another martyr in the Marist Society. The people, he was going to save, the people for whose salvation he had made so much sacrifice and whom he loved so much without knowing it, took his life at the moment when the virtuous prelate was busy most actively using means to teach them and to save them. I am suppressing all the details of that very memorable event; you will find them in the letters of my colleagues all of which have been written down and kept in the diary of the mission station in which we have taken pains to write as accurately as possible everything that will be able to serve as a document for the history of the Marist Order. I found this plan in the bishop’s papers and I have hastened to put it into action.
Here are the reasons for our leaving Ysabel where the bishop poured out his blood, to settle at Cristoval. The news of the murder spread; we were afraid that the event would embolden those proud and warlike people with thoughts of superiority over us, which would have been fatal for us. Secondly we thought we could not establish a settlement and stay there all together and becoming separated in the present circumstances seemed to us to be very disadvantageous. Thirdly we had seen Cristoval as we sailed past. The attitude of the natives had inspired us with a little more confidence. Besides we were told that three natives who had spent several years in Sydney were asking for missionaries. These reasons, in addition to the desire of founding all together a stable settlement which could serve as a refuge if need be and where we could leave a depot of Marist spirit, made us decide to leave for some time the precious remains of our bishop and to come to San Cristoval.
After we returned to this island, Providence did not leave us there without testing us. That is what made us hope that we were doing God’s work. We were taken one Saturday without knowing it into a magnificent harbour which we named Port St Mary, believing that it was the Holy Virgin who had chosen that spot for us. Despite the good reception which the population bordering the harbour gave us we had all the difficulty in the world to find a place suitable for our settlement. After losing all hope we resorted to prayer; I vowed to celebrate one hundred Masses in honour of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and since then all the difficulties were ironed out; our house was raised; we bought some land and, if God continues to bless our wok, in a few years time we will be able to have a lovely settlement.
One of the most serious fears God sent us is that we came within a whisker of losing Father Montrouzier. He was attacked by a native who injured him with a spear near our house almost under our eyes. The wound was fortunately not serious but the injury Father Montrouzier received has given us serious fears about his life for which he was appointed.---his attack was brought about only through a particular sense of vengeance. This native had been annoyed by a seaman who had threatened him. So, full of anger, he hid in the bushes determined undoubtedly to let loose his anger on the first person he would find nearby, and Providence allowed it to be Father Montrouzier. This event resulted only in showing the faith and piety of Father Montrouzier making us love the tribe which welcomed us and to keep away from the tribe which was said to be our enemy.
I can report to you from my personal observation satisfaction concerning our children, whether priests or brothers. All have worked beyond expectations. I consider the preservation of their health and their energy in so many trials and labours as a particular protection from heaven.
Our position at San Cristoval seems to me to be ideal for helping the publication of the Gospel in the Solomon Islands because the inhabitants in the north and the north-west areas where we can easily communicate with those on the islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita and through them with those of Ysabel. By this means the inhabitants will know of the missionaries before they reach them; they will be able to go and settle there with more security and success. It is even possible, if God so wills, that we can have as a result at San Cristoval converts from the other islands.
During his life, Bishop Epalle more than once expressed to us his desire to see his vicariate limited to the one archipelago of the Solomons. The bishop did not consider it appropriate to send for the moment missionaries to Ascension Island because he had found out that the one who had taken all the steps to have them had stayed in the Wallis Islands and that the Europeans who were there were continually quarrelling among themselves. The bishop also intended to suggest to you, reverend Father, to have a Mass said and to give the blessing of the very Holy Sacrament each year in all the houses of the Marist Society on November 26 to thank God for having saved us through the intercession of the Holy Virgin from shipwreck on the night of the 25-26 November, two days after our leaving New Caledonia--- Our vessel became caught in outcrops of coral against which we ran the risk of its being broken at any moment. Throughout the night the crew were in a state of alarm.
Each priest in our mission station has said 30 Masses for Bishop Epalle to conform to the wish that His Grace had expressed in his lifetime.
To replace the provincial we followed the procedure indicated by our rule. My colleagues chose me although I am the most unworthy and I hope that God will draw his greater glory from this appointment while we wait for your fatherly brief to appoint a successor.
We visited the Bishop Douarre when travelling to New Caledonia. That virtuous bishop received us with joy and generosity which we can’t express. That visit comforted them and edified and encouraged us in the apostolic labours. In New Caledonia we left Brother Bertrand on the pressing demands of the bishop to replace temporarily Brother Jean who was suffering from a hernia.
Our mission station offers us no temporal resources for the time being so we have to send our vessel to Sydney to bring us some supplies which we have pretty well totally run out of.
When we sailed to New Caledonia Bishop Douarre expressed his wish to take advantage of our vessel to travel to Sydney, but as his absence would leave Father Rougeyron all alone, I sent Father Montrouzier to stay with him until we returned. The doctor on board the ship told us that the voyage would be salutary. In addition I thought that he would use his stay in New Caledonia better than any other because of his knowledge that he has of natural history.
Brother Charles would like to know, reverend Father, whom you have chosen to manage his affairs among the three persons whom he nominated to you ---
In my next letter I hope to give you some details about our mission station and the state of the missionaries; I am not able to do it at the moment, being busy with the departure of the boat which is preparing to set sail. I have only time to recommend myself as well as all your children who are with me to your prayers and to assure you of our submission and affection with them, I am your son in Jesus Christ and Mary,