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10 December 1846 — Bishop Pierre Bataillon to Father Jean-Claude Colin, near Samoa

Translated by Peter McConnell, October 2010

Very Reverend Father,
I am going to thank you right now from the headquarters in the name of all Oceania for all the trouble you have gone to for us; we all thank you, the Polynesians and I, for the many workers that you have trained for us and sent out to us to extend the reign of Our Lord among us. I have recognized in those good priests what you were telling me about in your letters: Father Collomb thought he had to tell us his secret. We blessed God in his goodness for the fact that the mission station of Melanesia was looking subsequently to find a leader and an excellent leader was found in that good priest. Really, Father, we are of the opinion that he is inspired with a really good spirit, the spirit of God, and we think that he will perform very well at the head of the mission station.
As I am the only bishop in these parts, he will have to go to Sydney where he believes he will have his official papers and then return here to be consecrated, and it is for that reason that he has lent us Father Villien in order to found the mission station of Rotuma along with Father Verne. We have not been able to bring together Fathers Mugniéry and Verne, as you appear to have wished. They did not get along together very well; they did not want to be together. I was delighted that you added in your letter that if Bishop Douarre had received some clerics, I could place Fathers Mugniéry and Verne where I wanted. Without that authorization there would have been difficulties, and it is for that reason that, if you allowed me, I would inform you that it would perhaps be better not to indicate in France particular destinations for the priests, but quite simply send them to us while sharing with us your intentions and the way you see each one of your men, but always leaving us a certain leeway as you have had the goodness of doing up until the present time. Perhaps, Reverend Father, you will accuse us of being selfish and grasping, that we have not sent two clerics to New Caledonia and even the three whom you indicated for us to send, but I beg you to notice that that mission station is going to be even better supplied than you could believe, because instead of the two priests whom you chose for it, it will have three, namely Fathers Roudaire and Grange whom we have to replace at the central mission station and Father Montrouzier whom they received from Melanesia. I am sending Bishop Douarre twenty thousand francs. I have already had twenty-five thousand francs sent to him last time and he had taken away fifteen thousand francs, that adds up to sixty thousand francs since he has been in New Caledonia. That is an amount much larger than all the other mission stations dependent on the centre.
So, Reverend Father, You want me to be the provincial. Well so be it! I make no other comment on that matter other than ask your kindness in doubling your prayers for me. I will try to do everything I can to make myself worthy of the trust which you really want to put in me. Help me always with your advice. I always receive them with pleasure and gratitude. Let’s steer the boat all together! In so doing we hope to be able to direct it according to the will of God.
If Father Calinon lived with us, we would be delighted to have him as our monitor, but being far from us and having very few opportunities of communicating with us, he would not be able to fill that function of charity, in our opinion. We thought that that function would be suitable for Father Mathieu, our pro-vicar, in whom we have confidence and who seems to have the affection and esteem of all our colleagues.
Concerning the nomination of deputy provincials as all our colleagues are all in pairs in the mission stations which are totally separated, we need as many deputy provincials as there are mission stations and of course the superior of the mission station should be usually at least the superior cleric so that the written authority which you give to the préfets of each mission station, we will always give them the twin authority and double responsibility which we have ourselves, without giving them precisely the title of deputy provincial. I am of the opinion that there would be a disadvantage in wasting that title on all the préfets of the mission stations who for the time being have only one or two men to control. Somebody could abuse that power. Later on when we have several settlements and a certain number of men in our large islands like Tonga and the Navigators, it would then be the case, it seems to me, of nominating as a policy deputy provincials in those islands. That is how we see things with Father Mathieu. If it does not fit with your intentions, do let us know; we will conform to what you tell us.
We have read and reread all your letters. You can count on our following all the more willingly all the advice which you have given us and that they become more of our way of seeing things. I will not hide from you anything which comes to my attention on the state of your children in Oceania and of the mission stations. For the time being we are consoled to tell you that everything is ticking over pretty well. The spirit of piety, peace, ease and fraternity seems to reign in all the mission stations among our fellow priests and brothers with the exception of a few troubles which I have spoken to you about and which we will remedy as soon as possible There is only Brother Annet who has had a rough time to my knowledge; those in the Wallis Islands seem happy. Although they work a lot, they are well. There is only Brother Joseph who has fallen ill, and we have found a remedy which is bringing him slowly back to better health. Father Grésel is now a deacon. We are happy with him especially after his ordination. As soon as you have sent us a brother to look after the printing, we will put Father Grésel in the college, after he is ordained a priest. I believe that is the only thing which will suit him. The good brother Attale seems to have become a consumptive, but he is a very pious brother. The same goes for Brothers Marie-Nizier, Jean, Annet, Jacques. Brother Charles will be not so good. Brother Gérard seems to have come back on track now. There is only Brother Paschase who worries me the most. I think you did not know him before you sent him to us. Whether he has changed or whether we have judged him badly. Be that as it may, we will proceed gently and cautiously and not make a big fuss about it.
If you were to allow me, I would advise you in all simplicity and frankness that you have been sent from Oceania a lot of exaggerated and even false reports. I am telling you that to calm you because I see in several of your letters that you are extremely upset about the alleged way things have turned out here. Were I to have the good fortune to see you and chat to you for a few moments I would make you see all the things as they have been and as they are and you would see them quite differently from what have been reported to you. First of all at the Wallis Islands we have never endured a lot of hunger, and I have always had a pretty new soutane even when Bishop Douarre arrived. In the case of Tonga, I have been informed by Father Chevron himself that he has never had a day when he did not have yams and poultry to eat. Besides have a look in the letter of Father Grange. He is the only one to have cried wolf and he alone is the cause of exaggerated reports which have been made during Bishop Douarre’s travelling to this island. I say, read the comment he made on the fertility of the island; a Tongan who worked only one day a week would be up to his eyes in food. It should follow from that, in my opinion, that a brother or two who worked planting one day or two a week would provide an abundance for the missionaries, even it were only up to their knees. It is only in Fiji that the poor priests have suffered but this was due to an unforeseen circumstance. The Fijians were forbidden to give or sell anything to our missionaries. So don’t judge the state of affairs according to some specific reports from those in particular who see things for the first time and who see things only in passing. I have seen in certain letters in the annals things said with much too much zeal and flippancy and even things that are entirely false.
I have just received a letter from the préfet of the Propaganda of the faith who tells me that the archipelago of Tonga has had to be removed from my jurisdiction because of difficulties existing at the moment in New Zealand. When these difficulties are solved, the islands of Tonga will return as soon as possible under the jurisdiction of the apostolic vicar at the central mission station. Now we believe that the claimed difficulties no longer exist if ever they did. Therefore be so good as to support us at the court in Rome concerning this matter. You couldn’t believe how important it is for the good of the religion that islands which are so close to one another and which have so many dealings with one another should be in the same boat.
We hear that Bishop Douarre has left for France. We consider this voyage premature. We don’t see any reasons for it. He would have done better to learn the language well and establish a mission station as is necessary first, rather than wanting to undertake too much at the same time and finishing nothing. Working together with us and having seen us only once and in passing, would it not have been appropriate if he wanted to go to France to see us first and to consult with us together on the general welfare of our common missionary efforts? As far as the separation of New Caledonia from the vicariate of the central mission station is concerned, I think Bishop Douarre will achieve that from Rome. We will not be angry about that, as far as is possible, only we will say nothing about that topic. We did not believe that it was appropriate to ask for the separation of our common mission field before you had seen us and arranged to put some uniformity as much as to create two distinct vicariates right from the outset. It is inappropriate to make a petition to Rome without plausible reasons being given for it. But if you are willing to let Bishop Douarre do what he intends to do, we will willingly ratify everything he does in that matter.
Father Servant sent us a huge report on Futuna Island with a report on the death of Reverend Father Chanel and a note on his life. We have sent it to you saying in a separate letter that we thought that it contained everything that had to be said on the life and death of Reverend Father Chanel. If that is sufficient for you for what you want to do, so much the better; if not, you can count, when I travel to Futuna in about three months time, on making a report according to the rules and following the example which you sent us. Such an example can be followed only on the spot and even then with difficulty.
Reverend Father Dubreul will put you in the picture on a lot of things pertaining to the mission stations. I told you in one of my letters that that priest seems to be a good bursar. It seems that most of the priests don’t see him in that light. Father Rocher would do much better, they say; he would have much more order and accuracy in his accounts and his calm and collected manner would better suit the English. I thought I should tell you this observation; you will treat it how you want. If however you send him back as the bursar, be so good as to outline to him the path he will have to follow in regards to our mission stations. I have heard it said that he made our missionaries pay for the few days they were at the bursar’s office and that he made a profit on the things he bought for us. Those things shocked us a little bit, seeing that other religious congregations, who have given us hospitality so often in Oceania have never asked for anything from us for all the services they have given us and which they are still giving us. If those matters were to continue in that way, it would be as well not to have a bursar’s office and to share out to our mission stations what is allocated to the bursar’s office. It would suffice to pay the expenses which our business entail; more especially all the apostolic vicars who need to have ships could easily do without an agent in Sydney. They could do their own business.
As Father Dubreul is our chargé d’affaires in Europe and is presently travelling there, I beg you not to share these thoughts with him but draw from them yourself what you want to do.
If New Caledonia were raised to the status of apostolic vicariate, will you not then take steps to have us given a coadjutor. Please wait for me to write to you again and for me to point out definitively the one whom we think should be our collaborator. In the meantime, please don’t sent Father Mathieu to another mission station.
Somewhere in your letters you say that although I have not said formally that I wanted to stay with the Marist Order, yet I have seemed to have affection for it, etc, it seems to me, Reverend Father, that already on umpteen occasions I have declared my feelings to you in that regard. But since you still have doubts, I declare to you that in accepting the position of bishop I have never thought of leaving your family and that I would never have accepted that role if it were necessary in gaining that role to cease being the last of your children, however unworthy I am. I am and want to be always a member of the little Marist Society to take part in its favours while carrying out the duties as much as I am capable of. Therefore please, Reverend Father, see me always as the last but the most devoted of your children and act accordingly in my regard, that is pray for me and help me always with your advice. For my part I will take the liberty of giving you the comments I have to make always quite simply and frankly. You would like to have them as a father.
In regards to the remarks be so kind as to let me tell you straightaway our humble way of interpreting the article dealing with the provincial’s running of affairs. It gives him control of the temporal welfare of the mission station in the very case when the apostolic vicar would belong to the Society. We think that it would be appropriate were you to reflect even more on that article. It seems to have a lot of difficulties for the missionaries and even for the converts. Perhaps I am mistaken but that is the way we see the matter and it seems that most of your children are of the same opinion. It would be too long to give you details on that subject and it is of no use in the present case but if ever I go to France and have the good fortune to see you again, I will explain in detail all the reasons which we have for holding that opinion.
I was not angry in seeing the arrival of Miss Perroton in Wallis because coming from her own movement, it has been easy for her to settle in without compromising us in any way and she will be nothing short of being useful for the mission station; but it is enough for the moment, don’t send anybody else without our asking for any. It is only for Futuna that we would like some worthy girls or sisters to establish a school for girls. Yet wait for us to write to you again following our voyage to Futuna. You will be able to form a better idea by having time to think about it. What we don’t need are rushed and inconsistent actions. Miss Perroton seems to have everything she needs to be successful.
Goodbye, Reverend Father, Excuse the lack of planning in this letter which I have written in fits and starts on board the Arch d’Alliance. I commend myself straightaway to your prayers and holy Masses and beg you to believe that I am always
your very humble servant and
the last of your children,
+ Pierre Bataillon, Bishop of Enos, apostolic vicar of Central Oceania.
On board the Arche d’Alliance
near Samoa
10 December 1846