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3 August 1848 — Father Charles-Eugène Mathieu to Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Translated by Mary Williamson, May 2018

Based on the document sent, APW OW 208 Mathieu.

Four sheets of paper, measuring 212x173 mm, forming sixteen pages, fifteen of which are written on.

Wallis 3rd August 1948.

My Very Reverend Father,
I regret that time does not allow me to write you a very long letter this time. I would need to go into great detail to share with you the thoughts raised by your letter and that of Reverend Father Calinon, that I have just read for the first time in the Annals. Before that I had no knowledge of them. Nothing touches me more deeply, my Reverend Father, than to see the paternal solicitude that you have for us and the difficulty that you have in clearly understanding our position. How can I depict for you in a letter a situation so different from that in which one finds oneself in Europe. How can I show you the good and bad sides of it, the difficulties and the resources that one finds here, all the possible and impossible improvements, all the practical and impractical measures. For that one would require not a letter but a volume. Also it would have to be written by an older person very used to the country and whose judgement would not be influenced by too sombre or too positive an imagination.
I have just now read Father Calinon’s letter. It seemed to me to present things in far too dark a manner, exaggerated in almost every aspect and false in several instances (for example, in the story of the Bishop asking the King of Wallis for the leftovers from his pigs). This good Father has written under the impression, experienced by all the Europeans and even the missionaries after a certain time in residence in these islands, that they are still in the era of set European ideas and begin to notice the contrast between the customs and ideas of the inhabitants and the ideas to which they have been accustomed themselves. We have great difficulty in sympathising with them. The imagination grows, they detest them, they only see evil in them. There is not a person coming here who is not more or less exposed to these sentiments. Thoughtfulness comes later and one then sees here, as elsewhere, a combination of good and bad. There are few faults here that do not also exist in Europe and there are in Europe many vices that do not exist here. If one made an even and unprejudiced balance, I do not know if the advantage would not be overall in favour of the residents of Oceania. As for me, it seems that their way of living is closer to the principles of the Gospels than that of all our industrialists and supposedly civilised people in France who know no other God than gold and money and no other goals from their work but material wellbeing.
As for things such as food, housing etc. the missionaries who arrive must commit themselves to many privations, especially if they wish to have their lives spared. Our Lord wished us to begin with poverty. Why not submit ourselves to it? Was he not, himself, comfortably settled in a stable in Bethlehem or then in Egypt. Then little by little one manages, one settles in and makes one’s position less difficult and even quite bearable as long as one is content with the basics. I think a mission that is begun with any other idea runs at great risk of suffering the fate of New Caledonia. How, with great riches and vast provisions gathered for a large number of people, would it be possible to contain the curiosity and greed of a people amongst whom everything is more or less communal. You can instill fear in them for a while and control them, but there will be a reaction sooner or later. I do not doubt that Bishop Bataillon would have been killed here, in the early days, if he had not been so poor. The same thing would certainly have happened to the first missionaries in Tonga and Fiji. The several shirts of the Holy Father Chanel were certainly a motive for his murderers to strike him down. Our Lord did not wish our Holy Mother to abandon her children when she was in poverty. She saved their lives.
It is not, my Reverend Father, that I think that it would not be very advantageous for several of us to live together, but there are advantages and disadvantages in everything and, as you are anxious about our position, I am trying to show you the advantages. Providence itself has lead the apostolic vicars on this path of dispersal. It is necessary first to provide security for their lives, to put a barrier up against Protestantism in every way. How could they do otherwise? So few of them, so many scattered islands and enemies on every side. I abstain from judging in this matter, as those who are judging them would perhaps have been very challenged in their place. No matter what, these things having been done, we should still here thank the Good Lord, for after all no one has succumbed. All the priests are in good health. Not one of them has been struck by the infirmities that afflict almost all the Europeans who live on these islands. Peace and charitable behaviour are upheld amongst us. There have been no scandals. Each person is in a position to fulfil his religious duties and its rules, if not for form at least for content and spirit. What better could one hope for. If during moments of sadness a few small dissatisfactions show themselves, it is just a sign of human weakness. It is almost impossible, in any gathering whatsoever, for everyone to be happy.
[5]; Now is the time to strengthen our mission. We have a foothold almost everywhere and two establishments that could become, if you send more people, one, a small seminary and the other, a noviciate for Brothers. How distressing it was for us, in the last despatch to only see one single priest arrive here. [1] We who could find places for fifty whilst those of Caledonia and Melanesia still do not know where to settle. You speak, my Reverend Father, of abandoning Fiji to another Society. What an embarrassment this would be for us! Would we not be able to face the dangers as well as others? What would others say about us and about the Society? I do everything I possibly can to get the Bishop to send the older members there and those who already know how to manage with the natives. We must not demand too much at once. There only needs to be two new establishments, one at Somosomo, where there is already a head catechist and the other at Bau. That is sufficient to put up a barrier against Protestantism and prepare our way forward. With prudence and knowledge of the countries here, one can have a safe life and install oneself comfortably. However the rewards will be slow unless the Holy Virgin lends a hand where necessary.
I have passed on to the Bishop all the observations that you made in your letter. He is willing to name a sub-Provincial General as you desire. You would also be able to name another Provincial besides him without offending him in any way, as the Bishop knows very well the rights of the Society and I can assure you that he is a Marist to his soul as are all of us.
What is difficult here, is not to create positions, but to have the means to carry out their functions. What could a Provincial or a sub-Provincial do if he had not got a ship at his disposal and was not able to communicate with his subordinates to take care of them. As well, if you name a Provincial, who arrives promptly and sees only the rules without understanding the complications of the area and the many impossibilities that hinder everything, it would cloud the issue without any progress being made. It seems to me much more simple, that when the Bishop visits, he might have religious powers as well; when he has someone else make the visit, he could delegate these powers to him. This person has the responsibility, that goes with the position, of carrying out the duties. If, for greater accuracy, you yourself sometimes wished to name a visitor who was charged with coming to inform you of all that was happening in France, you would then have much more accurate information than from someone who was given this task and had been much longer in these islands and would better understand the true position of the missionaries. Those who see us only in passing would judge our position very differently.
As far as the distribution of the funds of the Propagation of the Faith, Wallis has been accused of having kept a large part of it. This is quite untrue. Here, we have only had our small share like the others and we have been no poorer than them. We have never kept a single item that is meant for a missionary. I have always seen the Bishop to be particularly exact in this matter. All the complaints about this are ill-founded. They are all suspicions or misunderstandings.
Now the Bishop has made a new rule, that the distributions should be made in equal amounts per head. That was not what happened before. The needs of each establishment were considered and those who were better provided for gave way to those who had less. But as we are distant from each other, that sometimes brings forth complaints. That is what led the Bishop to take this new step, at least as a means of trying it out.
Excuse me, my Reverend Father, for having written to you with such abandon, this letting go not perhaps being respectful enough on my part. I would have liked to have said even more about it, to reassure you and to enter, with you, into the most minute details, but time is pressing. Here we are making our annual retreat. The Brothers have made theirs with Father Mériais. at the college. Father Junillon and I have made ours a few days after Easter, each having our turn in the solitude of a little abandoned hut high up on a mountain. The two Fathers here are a source of enlightenment. The Brothers are doing well. Brother Paschase, whose head was rather disturbed by the sea travel has recovered very well. He is very pious. Little Joseph, the blacksmith, [2] is well too. He is a rather hot-headed Meridional, but he makes great personal efforts to cultivate Oceanic patience. His two brothers are usually at Notre Dame with Father Junillon who reads to them in the evening; in the morning they do their personal study. They often attend the sacraments. Brother Augustin is at the college with Father Mériais. He is always his usual good self. There the rules are obeyed. As for me, I am usually alone, as the Brothers are occupied with the general running of the mission. I summon them when I need them, whether it is for decorating the church for festivals, or for any little house-keeping tasks that the children are not yet trained for. We all live in peace and cooperation.
Pray for me, my Reverend Father and instruct me via your letters. Above all do not think that we are in an unbearable situation, not at all. I assure you that it is nothing like that. Communal virtue and delicate health can easily survive here. If things were better, it would no longer be worth the trouble of coming to Oceania. It would even probably be dangerous for us . We are all well and letting providence have her way. Every day we are progressing in our work. Every day we gain ground. The people gain in instruction are confirmed in the faith, develop good habits, are more respectful and more confident where we are concerned. Each day also we are more organised ourselves. We educate ourselves by experience in the end. All the fine plans you have for us will be realised as we work towards them ceaselessly. Here are two fine establishments which are built for the instruction of young people. What a huge step forward! We will take care of them as we would the pupils of our eyes. Why is it that you are so slow to send us more people? Why do you not come here yourself? What a pleasure for you to see the dozen children of Father Mérais who are there, organised like little religious workers, marching at the sound of the bell to their studies, to work, to the refectory, to recreation, always cheerful and content, singing as they go to the chapel, beginning to mumble in Latin. We need there two Fathers and three Brothers and the same number for Futuna. It is not scholars that we lack. It would be easy to us to have them come from every corner of the curacy. Pray fervently to the Holy Virgin and in eight to ten years we could carry out ordinations here.
Do not fear, my Reverend Father, that Bishop Bataillon would ever cause you upset. He is not at all of that type. He is extremely fond of you and would go wherever you wish so as not to displease you. He is completely devoted to the Society and does not understand how it would be possible to separate his interests from those of the mission or even more, put them in opposition. Do not fear either that he might act in what one calls, in an unpleasant sense, an arbitrary fashion. Since I have been with him, I have always found him to consult with us all when it is a question of a new step and arrange any affairs in an amiable fashion and with general agreement. I have rarely seen him exercise authority. If he has displeased some people, it is, I believe, that he could not have done otherwise. Distrust, my Reverend Father, letters and reports from new arrivals or those who are just passing through. They arrive with plans already formed in their heads and are always ready with their, “This is necessary, that is necessary”. They do not realise that one cannot behave here as one did in Europe, because one does not have the same means and one is not in the same surroundings. One cannot do things here straight away, but must wait till providence opens a way, one cannot educate a people in a few years. Did it not take the Good Lord himself forty years to test the Jewish people in the wilderness and yet.… People wish that everything could be done in a single stroke, that everything could be organised from the beginning and that is because it has been figured out thus when in Europe. How many stories have been told about Wallis? It has been made out to be a Paris for the civilised! A paradise for the enthusiasts. Others will represent it as all black, whereas quite simply it is just another country like any other where religion has brought great changes for the good, but where there remains a lot of bad things. Always we must keep working. Always we must pull out and replant. [3]
I beg you, my Reverend Father, do not abandon us. Send us more people. Do not fear that we might be too exposed, body and soul. Our good Mother is watching over us. She will know how to nourish us and defend us as she has done up till now.
Please excuse me too, for the freedom with which I am writing to you. I imagine I am chatting to you. I have let my pen flow over the paper without taking the time to coordinate my ideas. I was afraid of being stopped by a lack of time and I wrote too fast. Always pray for us and commend us to the Holy Virgin.
I am always and for life, with the deepest respect and the most sincere attachment,
my Reverend Father,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Matthieu, missionary.


  1. Father François Palazy and Brother Sauveur (Conil), arrive on Futuna on 11th May 1848, joining the workers in the mission of Bataillon (cf. doc. 716, § 9; 761, § 4-5).
  2. Brother Joseph Muraour.
  3. Cf. Qo 3.2: A time to plant and a time to harvest the plant.

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