From Marist Studies
9 August 1847 – Father Pierre Rougeyron to Father Jean-Claude Colin, New Caledonia
Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Rougeyron.
Translated by Mary Williamson, March 2011.
Two sheafs of paper comprising eight written pages, Poupinel’s annotation on the eighth page.
- [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
- New Caledonia/ aboard the Brillante, 9th August 1847/ Father Rougeyron.
- aboard the Brillante, 9th August 1847.
- My very Reverend Father,
- It is indeed at this moment that I understand the force of these words of the divine Master: quis vult post me venire abnegat semetipsum et tollat crucem suam.. Our mission in New Caledonia is abandoned for the time being. Our church has been burned down and our two settlements, St Denys and St Austremoine destroyed. What is even more alarming is that one of us has fallen victim to the axe of the savages, our Brother Blaize.
- Our cross is weighing very heavily, my Reverend Father, but it is not without some consolation. Our small band of Christians, only nine in number plus several novices, has shown touching and admirable proof of their genuine conversion. Oh! How the blessing of baptism works to awaken a receptive soul. Wolves have changed into lambs. Here are some of the qualities of our Christians and our neophytes, who never fail to edify us and in some ways console us. I will not go into detail about the catechist Louis, whose conduct is so splendid that you are bound to hear about it in other letters.
- Augustin, a young catechist the same age as Louis, was of the greatest help to us when we were under siege; he spent the whole day watching out for anything that was happening. He warned me of the savages’ plans and of the danger that we were facing. On the day when the danger seemed to him greater than usual, he snatched an item of exchange from my hands and took it, himself, to the savages; when I asked him why he had behaved like this he replied that he did not want me to be killed like Brother Blaize; as for myself, he said, do not be afraid, they will not kill me, but after all, even if they did kill me, it would not be such a terrible thing. These words from this young child brought tears to my eyes, tears of happiness; I found myself well rewarded for the trouble I had taken with his instruction. Another time, seeing me feeling sad, he came to me: Father, he said, I am aware of the fact that you want to abandon me. Not at all, I replied, you are a very good person, I love you: Well, if you love me, said the child, why do you not write me a letter in case you die. If you are all killed, I will give my letter to a ship’s captain and he will take me somewhere where I can make my confession. But then another great problem presented itself to him: Where will I go to make my confession? Who will be able to understand me? Ah! Why don’t I just die? Every day I hear of the death of someone who would still have wished to be living and I, who would so like to die and go straight of Heaven, I cannot ever see the moment of my end arriving. A flood of tears flowed from the eyes of this poor child as he spoke to me in this way. I consoled him by saying that we must leave our fate in the hands of God, who is a kindly father. Augustin was perhaps the wildest child in the tribe, one had only to look into his eyes to read his soul; nowadays his eyes, which were so fierce, are gentle and his face always smiling. In less than a year his baptism has worked this marvellous change.
- One of our catechists from Pouébo has come, at this disastrous time, to stay with us, so that he can more easily serve us. Indeed, he has helped us greatly, as we and the young children cannot leave the house. Grégoire would go and do our errands for us; he did more than that, he won over the chief of his village. While everyone conspired to get rid of us, Grégoire, with his chief, came and brought us the catch from their fishing trips; the very best fish were destined for us.
- Nevertheless, the catechist who has been the most heroic is Michel. He fought against his own people to protect us, an extraordinary thing. He defied the authority of the great chief Bouéone, our enemy; not being the strongest, he was defeated; all his houses were burned and his plantations destroyed. This good Christian found a way of coming aboard the ship we are on, despite the hostilities; since our departure I have not seen him again. When I appeared in front of him, he began to sob with all his heart. No matter what I said to try and console him he could not respond to me, so great was his emotional crisis. I understand how involved he was in our suffering. I reassured him as best I could, then he asked me to hear his confession for the last time. When he had finished his confession he begged me to stay in his village, where no one would harm us and said that even our enemies were already ashamed of their behaviour; I told him we had already made our decision to leave the area, at least for some time and he would have to resign himself to our departure. He promised me that he would continue to evangelise, as he had previously done, even at the risk of death. He hopes that the members of his tribe will make progress during our absence; he expects to come and find us when his people are ready for baptism. Is not anything possible in God’s hands? Who can understand his plan in the course of his beneficent care? My Reverend Father, this happening was perhaps necessary for the conversion of the New Caledonians.
- Antoine, another young Christian, stayed faithfully at Brother Blaize’s side until he breathed his last. The good Brother suggested he go and take part in the pillaging of the house, but in vain. He went only after the death of the Brother, when his ministrations were no longer of any use. While everyone was bent on pillaging the house, the young Christian ran to look for the iron die used in making hosts; as he said later; he had in mind only the holy sacrifice of the mass. He knew that this was the only iron die that we had in New Caledonia and that is what spurred him on to save this object. He also removed a chalice and a small sum of money. This behaviour surprised me, particularly since the child is not the most intelligent or the most daring, but religion can change a soul very rapidly.
- What can I tell you my Reverend Father about our little Christian Marie? She displayed feelings that were both eminently religious and very praiseworthy. While the savages hatched their vile plots, the young girl came and went bringing news to Father Grange of what was happening. After the Brother was wounded she stayed with Antoine, beside the dying man. When he had given up his soul she remained faithfully at her post; she wept bitterly for the deceased, then proceeded to pray and recite her rosary for the repose of his soul. With special inspiration, she cut a piece of the fabric of the Brother’s trousers by way of a relic. The relic was well chosen, as it was a piece of cloth that had been pierced by the thrust of the spear; it was reddened with his blood at that very moment. It was carried to the grave of our first Christian, where she hid this precious item. Several days later she gave it to Louis, who gave it to me. What is so surprising is that I had never spoken about relics to this child when she was receiving instruction; I have no idea what could have given her this religious concept.
- In vain the men and women heaped her with ridicule, in vain they tried threats and promises, she did not want to take any part in the pillage. She did not leave the body of the Brother for a moment, except to go and get a blouse, which she wore on Sundays when going to mass. Nothing else tempted her to leave him. When night had fallen, she took advantage of this peaceful moment to offer funeral blessings to these inanimate remains. On her own, with a small piece of wood, this child of about twelve years of age managed to dig a pit where she buried them with her frail hands. More than once she returned to this place to weep and pray. I was not able, before we left, to see this poor child again, but commended her to Michel, chief and catechist; he promised to act as a father, not only to her, but also to three other Catholics of about the same age. I will get them to come to my place, Michel said and we will pray together.
- It was not only the Christians who were a consolation to us in our hour of need. It was also the novices: Nangaro, brother of the high chief of Pouébo, a child of about nine years of age, had been staying with me for three months, and was blessed, like Louis with intelligence and a pleasant nature. I tried my best to instruct him. He responded to my efforts. Recently, while chatting with Louis, he said to him: if the missionaries are killed and I am spared I do not wish to survive them; I know exactly what I will do: I will go and hide behind the door, then suddenly, I will open it and not knowing who it is, a shower of spears will strike me and pierce my body; that is what I want, to die with them. These sentiments, it seems to me, show great heart. He and his brother Koïne, who is eight years old, came on the day of our departure to secretly warn me that their brother Bonou, a high chief of Pouébo, intended to betray us; it was true. We would have all been lost without these two guardian angels. To mislead their parents, who wanted to detain them, they pretended to go up the mountain and them came back down via ravines and mangrove swamps to the shore, where they found the ship’s boats. These poor little beings, covered in mud and soaking wet moved me greatly when I met up with them.
- There are other well-disposed novices who showed proof of their devotion, but it would take too long to tell you all about them. It is the same with the other three Christians, Victor, Raphaël and Magdeleine, who I have mentioned. They gave us every assistance that was possible.
- Here are the names of the five children that I am taking to Sydney with me: Louis, Augustin, Raphaël, Nangara and Koïne. Six others remain in New Caledonia, Michel, Gregoire, Antoine, Victor, Raphaël and Magadeleine. More than six hundred people know their prayers and have received sufficient instruction, but are not yet ready to be baptised.
- I have not yet told you anything about Alexis, head chief of numerous villages at Pouébo; he died a few months ago, the death of the just. Each evening, when a little bell I had given him was rung, he recited prayers and the rosary together with his subjects, his wife and his children, then he gave them a short period of instruction. For some time everyone had noticed the growth in grace of this good soul. His faith and piety were a shining example. Oh! He was my source of joy in New Caledonia. The Good Lord wanted a sacrifice from me, he took him from this world; I hope he will be one of the jewels in my crown in Heaven. I miss him, as his death was a great loss to the mission. So was that of the pious and zealous Elizabeth, but God’s work presents many contradictions and it is at a time when all seems lost that success is often very near. God wishes to show us that conversion comes from him alone and not from men. I resign myself completely to all that has happened whilst waiting for the time when I will be able to return to this untamed land, New Caledonia.
- There, my very Reverend Father is the state in which we have left the mission. These are the facts which have edified us and which will console you at the time when you hear about our misfortunes. Please, I beg you, share this letter with Bishop Douarre. It has not been possible for me to share these details with him. When I arrive in Sydney I intend to present these facts to the appropriate sources and to continue highlight them. Pray frequently, I beg of you and have others pray for us and our unfortunate mission. Battered but not bowed down, I often think of your difficulties in the presence of the Good Lord.
- I have the honour of being your faithful and devoted servant in Jesus and Mary,
- Missionary, priest.
- PS. My very Reverend Father, everything that Fr Verguet tells you is perfectly true. He intended to stay in New Caledonia, but the misfortunes that befell us prevented him from carrying out his plan. Appalled by the behaviour of the savages in both the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, he just wants to return to France. In the meantime, this excellent colleague is with us at the procurator’s. In consideration of his interests and those of the mission, Reverend Father Chaurain and I have done everything we possibly can to change his mind; but we have not succeeded and he is fixed in his resolve. Now we have nothing better to do than to keep him happy until his departure, so that he will speak in favour of the missionaries even though his example is not in the least favourable to the missions. Reverend Father Chaurain who is in charge of procuration in the absence of Father Rocher, does not neglect any of the things which might be necessary for the missions or helpful to the missionaries.
- [at an angle in the middle of p.8, crossed out with a large x] En route we met a ship leaving for Europe. I entrusted this letter to them. That of the Bishop is not yet finished. We will all arrive in Sydney except for Brother Blaize who has been killed.
- Mt 16.24 (parallel to Lc 9.23), text already quoted by the author (cf. doc. 617, ∫14, n.6).
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