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13 March 1847 — Fr Léopold Verguet to Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Translated by Peter McConnell, July 2010

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
Sydney, 13 March 1847

Very reverend father,
I have just left the mission station of Saint Christoval intending never to return there. All the time that I stayed there, I have not been able to bend to the rule of that mission station. The Father provincial, seeing how little I was suitable to the religious life, suggested to me that either I changed my ways or I should leave. He spoke in that way in the first conversation which took place on Trinity Sunday, about three months after the departure of the ship Marian-Watson. He spoke generally but afterwards pointed out very clearly that not one of my colleagues was contemptuous of my attitude. About six months after that suggestion I still felt the same and moreover completely fed up with the mission station, I made him aware that I wanted to leave the Society and return to Europe. Father Frémont told me that he did not have the authority to release me from my vows but he would allow me on the first opportunity to leave for Sydney and that from there I could return to Europe and obtain a dispensation from my vows.
I used the passage of Father Marceau to come to Sydney. Weak health, brought on by some bouts of fever which reoccur from time to time and which have been going on for about eight months was the excuse for my departure. I am supposed to have come to Sydney to recuperate there. Some days after my arrival at the supply base, I informed Bishop Collomb and Father Rocher of how I felt, as far as the missions and the Marist Order were concerned. Bishop Collomb would like me to leave with him, something I can’t decide on; Father Rocher also gives me the same advice, but he adds that if I don’t want to return to the mission field, I can stay at the supply base and that I should not confuse my distaste for the mission field with a distaste for the Marist Order. He said, “The first should not entail the second; they are two very distinct matters. If you don’t return to the mission station, you will stay at the supply base; we will find you a job waiting for your health to be restored. From here you will be able to write to the Father Superior; he will always find some job to keep you happy be it here or be it in Europe; above all, I beg you, don’t think about leaving the Marist Society." In fact since then I am trying not to think any more about it and that is all I am capable of doing, for I find it impossible to make any decision; the only thing is that I am determined not to return to Saint Christoval. While waiting for your reply, I shall stay at the supply base. I will learn by your letter whether I have to return to the mission field and to what one because the climate of the tropics is hardly compatible with my health; or if I have to stay at the supply base, I will soon know enough English not to be useless there; or if I have to return to Europe to take up some work for the Marist Society; or if I would not do better to leave the religious vocation for which it has been recognized that I have not the aptitude. I suggest writing to you from time to to inform you of my feelings and to allow you to judge my case better. At the moment my preference would be to choose: firstly to be released from my vows and to return to the ordinary ministry; secondly to return to Europe to take up some job in the Marist Society; thirdly to stay at the supply base in Sydney; fourthly to return to the mission field but somewhere else than in the tropics; and finally and only as a fifth choice to return to the mission station at Saint Christoval.
Reverend Father, excuse the liberty I take in writing to you. I would think my letter perfectly useless if I did not open my heart up to you, however weak it is.
I have the honour, revered Father, of being your very humble and very obedient servant,
Léopold Verguet
Missionary of the Society of Mary.
I am going to tell you a fact unimportant in itself but which is connected to another more interesting fact which occurred when we were starting to become established in this country. I want to speak to you about that native who injured Father Montrouzier. He is now one of our friends. Here is how God prepared the way for this reconciliation. I had the job of taking catechism to a tribe where he himself often went to visit his father-in-law. On the 28th of last October while on the way to take catechism to my parishioners, I saw on the sea shore four natives armed with spears. They were heading for the same tribe. I was in a canoe; I invited them to sit with me and help me paddle. Three accepted without difficulty; the fourth had me repeat the invitation several times before taking a seat. We soon crossed a little bay. There I asked my travelling companions their names. The one who had caused some trouble before getting into the canoe was Orimanu, the same person who had in the past wounded Father Montrouzier. I looked at him more closely; I found he had a gentle and pleasant countenance; he seemed to be about 25 to 30 years old. I invited him to come to see us at Makira; I promised him that not only would we not do him any harm but that I would even give him some iron and a red handkerchief. A refusal would have been dishonourable; to accept would cost him nothing. After washing in the fresh water and after gathering a good supply of amati (a very bitter leaf which is mixed with betel-nut), Orimanu and his companions escorted me as far as the summit of the mountain. There Orimanu climbed a coconut palm belonging to his father-in-law and gave me sufficient to slack my thirst. After catechism he accompanied me out of the village and promised to come and see me in a few days. Since then I have met him several times in that tribe; he has always made the same promise but he has never kept his word. He was frightened of falling into a trap, so unaccustomed are they of forgiving one another their offenses. On 19 September one of our neighbours, an old man of the Oné tribe passed away. He was the first Arossian who was baptized. After his death, according to the customs of his country, the natives put his body in the open air under vari shells. They surrounded him with tree branches and coconut palms; they propped him up in a seating position using sticks from creepers and left him there for a fortnight so that his friends could pay their respects. Orimanu was among them. He came to visit him and eat coconuts in front of the cadaver. It was 20 September, and I was also in the tribe. I said to Orimanu that today he could not refuse coming to Makira, He said merely that he was frightened of being killed. I showed him how unfounded his fears were and asked him to tell me who was the man whom we had done the slightest harm to since the time that we were with them. He said that he did not know any. Ask those of the Oné tribe! They gave the same reply. Yet I pointed out to him that there were many of them who had stolen from us and that we would have been right to chastise them and that if we had not done so, it was to prove to them that we were good. That is true, said Orimanu, but instead of coming forward he stepped back. If you are still afraid, I said to him, take a lot of spears and bring along with you whom you like. I pointed out to him the son of one of the leaders of the area and by dint of pressing him, he got into a canoe and followed me to Makira. All our fathers and brothers were pleased to see him. How beautiful religion is, said a brother, there is a man who harmed us and we wish him well. Orimanu walked a little around the house and in the garden. He got a piece of iron and a handkerchief and retraced the route to Oné in peace. Having calmed Orimanu’s feelings in that way, I no longer saw any difficulty myself in going into his tribe. On 23 or 25 October I made that journey with Father Thomassin. After walking for an hour and a half we arrived at the top of a high mountain quite crowned with coconut palms; the houses were built at the base of those palms. Orimanu’s house was at the centre of the tribe. Orimanu’s father-in-law acted as our guide. Orimanu and his men received us in a friendly fashion. They offered us coconuts. Orimanu lit a fire and let us lie down on his mats. Father Thomassin was struck with fever in that hut. We stayed about two hours at Orimanu’s lace; we gave him some presents; we were visited by the leaders of the area and we returned to Makia. Orimanu and four natives were keen to accompany us. They were a great help to us. Father Thomassin initially felt strong enough to make the trip but he was so indisposed that he was forced to lie down on a pile of wood in the middle of a field. Rain bucketed down. We were lucky to find a native who agreed to carry him on his back and take him as far as the sea shore. Orimanu and two natives climbed into the canoe and accompanied us to the mission station. The one who carried Father Thomassin was given a piece of iron, the other gave some yams in exchange for a large piece of beef (we had killed it two days previously because we did not have anything more to feed it). Orimanu got his share of it too. Since then he and those of his tribe come and see us without showing the slightest fear.
Léopold Verguet
Apostolic missionary of the Society of Mary.