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20 July 1848 — Father Jean-François Roulleaux to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Fiji

Translated by Mary Williamson, November 2017

Based on the document sent, APM, OF 208 (Fiji) Roulleaux.

Sheet of paper forming four pages, three of which are written on, the fourth having only the address and annotation of Poupinel.

To the Very Reverend Father Colin / Superior General of the Society of Mary / Lyon.

[In Poupinel’s handwriting]
Lakemba, archipelago of Viti, 20th July 1848 / Father Roulleaux to the Very Reverend Father Superior General.

Mater dolorosa ora pro nobis.

Islands of Viti, Lakemba, mission of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows,
20th July 1848.

My very reverend Father,
I have a lot of things to tell you this time. I will be as brief as possible.
We have had the distress of losing our dear Brother Anet on 17th March, after about a month of illness. He had a haemorrhage, brought about we think, by the excessive work which we have had to undertake to reconstruct one of our houses which was blown over in a storm. Our natives, having abandoned us in these circumstances, and leaving us with some of our boxes left out in the open, we had to put our backs into the work and this has killed our poor Brother. All of us felt the same strain, but it did not have repercussions for the two of us, he alone was not able to recover. After having tried the cures that we know and that we have available, we had recourse to the ministers, who treated him for ten to twelve days; but seeing that, rather than being relieved he was deteriorating before our eyes, we asked them to stop their treatment. Our main aim was to spare our Brother from the sight of these heretics in his last moments. He showed himself very patient and resigned throughout the course of his illness; I do not recall having heard him complain one single time.
We watched over him turn about, Father Bréhéret and I, as our natives had once again abandoned us on this occasion. He called me one night to ask my forgiveness for the small inconveniences he had caused me and kissed my hand. The Father administered holy communion and I carried out extreme unction and the indulgence of the dying. He received all of this with a great display of faith.
The Friday that he died, he was so weak that we thought him dead and during this time we read him the prayers for the dying; but he soon revived. We thought that he was then feeling a strong temptation; for he suddenly started to beg the help of the Good Lord, of the Holy Virgin, who he called upon several times, of Saint Joseph, Saint Michael, his good angel, Saint Anne and Saint Ignatius, adding, “Oh! yes, I hope to go to Heaven with the intercession of all these particular saints”. [1] These were his last words; he crossed his hands on his chest and was on the point of death; we knelt down and said several prayers, the litanies of the Holy Virgin and of the Holy Name of Jesus, these being interspersed with sobs. It seemed to us that he was trying to force himself to reply. We were finishing the litanies of the Holy Name of Jesus when he peacefully rendered up his soul to his Creator.
We both began to weep and when we had thus assuaged our pain , we set to work making his coffin, as best we were able and we later placed him in it, after having washed him. This was something that we had never done before, neither one of us. The burial took place the following day. He died holding the cross of the Reverend Father Chanel which he had never stopped kissing.
He was a good Brother. He was rather stuck in his ideas and had his little stubborn moments; but he loved his faith, prayed frequently, assisted at mass and attended the sacraments with great displays of piety and fervour. He did not hold himself in high regard, placing himself well below the Fathers and carried out the most lowly of tasks without showing any disgust. My brusque and sometimes rather harsh manner was greatly trying for him, but the Bishop, having written to me to watch myself in this matter, he had, for a long while now, regained his cheerfulness and his story telling and seemed happy with his position. We cared for him as best we possibly could in the circumstances; but a lot of things were lacking because of our poverty. Knowing that we were the only ones aware of his death, we said sixty masses almost one after the other. We hope that he has been with the Good Lord for a long time now and that he now prays for us and our mission. The Bishop has had us erect a small cross on his tomb. I have extended this account somewhat, as I know the love that you have for us and that these details can only give you pleasure.
The Bishop has been visiting us for ten days; he intends to leave today. They have brought us food supplies and have organised to buy some more. They certainly do their best to improve our lot; but there will always be a lot to suffer, as long as the mission does not spread among the Fijians. Our natives have no affection for us; when we are in need they leave us to manage for ourselves; they hold to the sentiments of heresy, which is the last plague to come from hell after non-belief.
The Bishop has not left us a Brother; he has left us with two natives from Wallis who could very well give us some problems; for the people from Wallis are in general proud and not very docile, especially when they are away from their island. Even if we had four they would not be as useful as one Brother. We have to do our own washing, our own mending and support our own secular needs. May God’s will be done.
Providence has not abandoned us up till now and she will still not abandon us, we hope. We greatly need her to watch over our needs, as visits are rare. We have waited for this one for eighteen months and as I have just said, we cannot count on the affection of our natives. Far from helping us to manage to live, they are asking for things every day and would almost snatch the food from our mouths; I am talking about the Tongans amongst whom we live here. They are absolutely lazy and want to live well and do nothing and their only occupation, from morning till night, is to go and beg, in a confrontational manner, for food. We are quite often obliged to go and hide so as to have our meagre meal.
The letter from the Reverend Father Calinon, that I read in the Annals, depicts them much as they are. However he omitted to explain the main reason for the sort of communal sharing of goods that they have amongst them. It comes from fear. It is a necessary outcome from their type of government. They do not have precise laws, with the chiefs only thinking of punishing crimes that affect them personally and leaving their inferiors to manage amongst themselves, without any authority to whom they have recourse to give them justice. From there stems this mutual fear; each person seeks to make as many friends as possible, from whom they can expect support in times of need. This fear that exists from individual to individual, also exists from family to family. It is the cause of the host of adoptions; but that is enough, it would require a whole letter to enlarge upon this point.
I will leave the Bishop to inform you of the state of the mission; he is up to date with everything. I will simply say that time is pressing to evangelise these poor people and we need some courageous workers if you do not wish to see us disrupted everywhere by heresy, which is an almost incurable evil. It is being spread rapidly in the larger islands to the West by a host of Tongan catechists. There are eight ministers, but they are multiplied a hundred times by their catechists. We are as if lost, we two, in the midst of this multitude of islands. Some missionaries are required at Totora; They are waiting for some priests so they can give up paganism; there are already at least about fifteen ministers, but the Bishop will tell you about all that. Please pray and have others pray for our poor mission in Fiji, my Very Reverend Father; may the Good Lord deign to look, with merciful eyes, upon these unfortunate people, all stained with sin and may Mary obtain their conversion through her suffering.
I really must inform you, my Very Reverend Father, of what happened to me on Futuna. Someone fired a rifle at me while I was sleeping, almost at point blank range, on the night of Thursday to Friday on 13th April 1843. I was sleeping deeply and I scarcely awoke and was not able to clearly distinguish if it was truly the sound of a rifle. The Reverend Father Servant and the Brother did not wake up; but the natives heard it and came immediately to see what had happened. As not one of us had heard it clearly, we were not greatly disturbed by it. The Good Lord permitted this no doubt, to protect us from fears with which we would have been tormented. I then noticed several days later that the sheet that served me as a mosquito net was full of holes; but I did not have any idea that they came from a rifle shot. I did not think of finding the cause. Arriving here in Fiji, I was astonished one day to see that my sheet was riddled with holes; it was precisely the part of the sheet which would have been close to my face. I realised then that it was a rifle shot that had been the cause; we counted 63 lead holes. I’ll abbreviate; in gathering together all these facts, it is certain that someone had attempted to kill me. I have many reasons to believe that it was the people of Wallis. But the Bishop is leaving and I have not yet said anything of my inner thoughts to him.
Your letter, my Very Reverend Father, really reached right to my heart. [2] I intend with the grace of God to make every effort to overcome these things. For a long time the Good Lord has inwardly encouraged me to make this sacrifice for Him and for the good Virgin too. That sort of obsession that I wrote to you about, my Very Reverend Father, has waned somewhat, but not entirely; and it made way for more extended and more terrible temptations than I have ever suffered in my life. I have been really overwhelmed by them. The devil has certainly wounded me, but I have recovered at this time through the sacrament of penitence. This current year has been one of the most critical of my entire life. My life was a burden to me at times; I had neither peace nor joy and I believed myself almost lost. The temptations have lessened in the last few months, but have not completely disappeared. Death would be kinder than such a situation.
The difficulty, which I spoke to you about in my second to last letter, [3] has increased and troubles me greatly. It is a complaint common to these countries, many of the natives have the same problem. There, my Very Reverend Father, is a brief idea of my inner workings.
The Bishop really turned the pressure on me at the end. So please pray fervently for me, my Very Reverend Father; I have greater need than anybody. Ask the Holy Virgin right now to grant me mercy and to not abandon me, but to have the kindness to let me see her one day in Heaven and may that happy day not be too far away. If the Good Lord wishes to punish me, let him not punish me for my sins; it is this greatest suffering that I fear.
I ask, on my knees for your blessing.
Your poor and miserable child,
Jean-Francois Roulleaux,
Marist priest.


  1. [note in the margin on an angle]This is what he said, his eyes fixed on a large image of the Holy Virgin that we had placed in front of him.
  2. Cf. letter from Colin to Roulleaux from 4th October 1847 (APM 233.2), and CS, with this date.
  3. Testicular swelling (cf. doc. 436, § 4).

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