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28 November & 18 December 1846 — Father Joseph Mugniéry to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Translated by Peter McConnell, October 2010

All to Jesus through Mary

’Uvea, Islands of Wallis, 28 November 1846

Very Reverend Father,
May thanks be given for ever to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: homage, homage and gratitude, to Mary our Mother, who has so manifestly protected us throughout all our voyage. The Arche d’Alliance finally entered the harbour of Uvéa on 25 October 1846. All the missionaries on board are in perfect health. Father Vachon whose health gave us some worries before we reached the Marquises is very well now. Father Crey seems to be getting stronger. Father Collomb was covered in boils for a while but he has not had a relapse; but he still gets a few from time to time. All the other priests and brothers are also well. I myself was a little out of sorts for a few days when we were at the Navigators. It was due, I think, to worries I had each day because of the two unhappy brothers Paschase and Gérard, especially the latter. But in brief, troubles pass when we can bring salvation to mankind. When the poor brother, that is Gérard, arrived in Wallis he had a great deal of trouble deciding to behave, and Bishop Bataillon will tell you no doubt that for about ten days he couldn’t get him to do anything. He was adamant about returning to France. It seemed to scare him seeing the brothers in the Wallis Islands working hard and long hours, and he definitely did not want to live at the mission station. But finally there is he is now working and determined, he says, to do everything one wants him to do. May God keep him thinking positively! So I have not had time to regret that I persisted in being patient with him. Bishop Bataillon is sending him to the Samoan Islands.
Very Reverend Father, I had the honour of writing to you from Tahiti to tell you what happened on the journey from Valparaiso to Tahiti. Since leaving Tahiti on 27 August everything went well apart from at times outbursts from Brother Gérard which were in no way as violent as at Tutuila, a Samoan island and the third largest, where we stopped for a week. Then we came to Upolu, the second largest island of Samoa and we dropped anchor in the little bay of Apia. Father Roudaire and Brother Charles welcomed us very cordially in the rear of a little hut where they live; the rest of the building serves as a chapel. A mat spread out on the floor served as a bed and the following day we waited for the food which Providence sent us by way of a native who brought something, and then even food for the evening meal. Also, in the following days, so as not to be a burden on the priest, and also not to be hungry, we thought it better that we should continue to live on board.
Father Roudaire is there alone on that big island. Right from the first days he told me that he wanted to keep two of us, being authorized to do that by Bishop Bataillon. I told him that I did not have authority to place anybody on a mission station, that my job was to bring my fellows to the bishop and that he was the one who would then send them to such a mission station as he thought best, so I could not consent to his wishes. On 6 October 1846 he sent me the following letter: “Reverend Father, I have the honour of sending you a copy of the instructions which I have just given to two priests whose names are below. We, the apostolic prefect of the archipelago of the Navigator Islands, in virtue of the powers which have been given to me by Bishop Bataillon, apostolic vicar of Central Oceania dated 12 August 1845, we have called upon and do call upon Fathers Padel and Mériais to be stationed in the said archipelago to carry out there with us the apostolic ministry and have accorded them, to this effect, powers contained in the document which we have given them. Completed at Upolu on 6 August 1846 and signed by Roudaire apostolic prefect.” To this order, given in the name of the bishop I have to yield and leave the two priests the liberty of doing as they were intending. The two priests thought they had to obey an order and they remained in the Navigator Islands. The bishop was not very pleased with this decision, and it was easy to foresee the displeasure as I was willing to yield only to an order expressly given by His Lordship. Today, the bishop is taking Father Vachon to the Navigator Islands and will take Father Mériais back to the Wallis Islands.
Bishop Bataillon, using his full episcopal rights in New Caledonia, is keeping Father Verne and Brother Lucien to go with Father Villien to found the mission station of Rotuma, and I will go to Savai’i (Samoa or Navigator Islands). I wanted to write back to the bishop saying that you, my ultimate superior, sent me specifically to New Caledonia, that I am adamant about going there and that it was only with the greatest regret that I should see myself being forced to go elsewhere. Yet it is well understood that despite my aversion if he ordered me to do so, I would obey. Since you will obey, that’s the end of the matter, he wrote back to me, then you accept Samoa. Bishop, I do not accept, I obey---
I admit, very Reverend Father, that at my age of almost 40, I do not remember ever having agreed to anything like that. But finally man has to die completely. Therefore let us sacrifice it with all one’s preferences, all one’s aversion, all one’s feelings, and even all one’s reasons, because, very Reverend Father, it was not without reason and not without reflecting for a considerable time over your appointing me to go to New Caledonia, and because you had told me of that intention, it became very dear to me. It became the goal of my desires; it was for me something special; everything in me aimed at New Caledonia, my thoughts, my thinking ahead, my cautions, everything led to that place. Moreover I was delighted that it was your wisdom and goodness to appoint me for that mission station where I would have neither Protestants nor Englishmen; I was happy to be with Bishop Douarre whom you spoke to me often about in a fruitful way and that without having ever seen him, I knew so much about him. Well, blessed be God ! Everything in man must die; I leave New Caledonia for Samoa, New Caledonia which I loved as a gift from you, to go into the midst of the English and the Protestants. Once more, blessed be God !
It is to Savai’i, the largest of the islands in Samoa, that I have been sent. Father Violette is alone there with Brother Jacques. Almost all the islands of Samoa are Protestant, Methodist or Nonconformist. Despite that the Catholic mission station doesn’t show any signs of hope. At Savai’i there is still a certain number of pagans. Help me, very Reverend Father, by your prayers which have already protected us on so many occasions. Help me in this slow and difficult task because everywhere a heretic is harder to convert than a pagan and among them one needs an exceptional wisdom. Unde ergo sapientia venit? Inspiratio omnipotentis dat intelligentiam. Illumina oculos meos ne unquam obdormiam in morte. Si quis autem vestrum indiget sapientia. [= So where does wisdom come from? The inspiration of the almighty gives intelligence. Enlighten my eyes so that I may never fall asleep in death. For if one of you lacks wisdom, O my God! Who lacks it more than I?] Postulet a Deo qui dat omnibus affluentur et dabitur ei [= Let him ask God who gives to all in abundance and it will be given him], as the apostle says, but if you don’t help me, Father, in asking for it, never will I have it! The Holy Virgin, cunctos heraeses sola interemisti (interimisti) in universo mundo, da me virtutem contra hostes tuos. Fiat, fiat! [= You who alone have done away with all the heretics in the entire world, give me strength against your enemies. Let it be done! Let it be done!]
Very Reverend Father, the isolation in which I found Father Roudaire and Father Violette makes me think that in Oceania, people don’t understand as they do in Lyons the passage of our rules which states that we should always be in pairs, and I predict that I will have arguments on that score, because it would be a question of putting me eight leagues away from Father Violette and besides the pathways are very difficult. Here it is asserted that the regulation is incompatible with the needs of the mission station. Dare I, Reverend Father, beg you to tell me, when you grant me the honour of writing to me what importance and what scope should be given to that regulation, how far is the priest required to go and how far has he the right to resist the tendency to isolation? What can he do and what should he do? Pardon me, Reverend Father, these questions which might be indiscrete, but I am frightened of being led astray in remembering how many times you recommended adhering to that regulation.
Upolu 18 Dec 1846 We boarded the Arche d’Alliance on 31 Nov at Uvéa and we dropped anchor at Apia, Upolu, on 11 Dec. The Arche d’Alliance is leaving for New Caledonia and the Solomons in a few days. It will leave priests of Melanesia there except for Father Villien who has left for Rotuma. It will then go to Sydney, to New Zealand, to New Caledonia, to the Navigator Islands, etc
Be so good, very Reverend Father, to allow me to offer you on my bended knees the witness and assurance of the deepest regards with which
I have the honour and the good fortune of being,
very Reverend Father,
your very humble and very affectionate child,
Marist priest.