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3 August 1848 — Father Charles-Eugène Mathieu to Father Benoît Lagniet, Wallis

Translated by Mary Williamson, June 2018

Based on the document sent, APM OW Mathieu.

One sheet of paper and one small sheet, measuring 212 x 173 mm, forming six written pages; in the register ED2, was numbered 43. In the first instance, one was inclined to believe that the letter that follows was destined for Denis Maîtrepierre, as a subsequent hand had written [“Maîtrepierre?]” at the top of the first page of the manuscript (after having written and then crossed out “[ Eynard?]”. Nevertheless, several reasons lead us to believe that the addressee was Benoît Lagniet. (1) One would say that “the first Marist” that Mathieu had seen on arriving at the mother house of the Marists in Lyon (Puylata) was Lagniet, the local Superior in 1842-1843 (cf. Placements 1836-1855, p.274; OM 3, p.731) that he would have welcomed him, giving him a room. (2) It would be more logical to think that the person that the author invited to Wallis (§2, below) is Lagniet, six years younger than Maîtrepierre. (3) At the time that the present document was written (August 1848), Lagniet was “Provincial”, that is to say the direct assistant of Colin and even his frequent substitute in the administration of the Society (OM 3, p.731); thus he merits the title of “one of our Venerables” (§ 2, below) and the author can address him thus: “You who are close to the Reverend Father” when asking him to send new missionaries (§ 4, below). At that time Maîtrepierre was Superior and master of the novices at the noviciate of la Favorite (cf. Placements 1836-1855, p. 280; OM 4, p.309).


My Very Reverend Father,
How could I ever forget the first Marist that I ever saw. It is you who received me when I arrived on a certain evening, soaked and hungry in Lyon, who put me in touch, that very evening, with Father Epalle and Father Poupinel, who gave me a room and a fire etc. etc. Now here we are separated at the opposite ends of the world. Ah! Could I one day render you a similar service and receive you here myself. Do you not deserve to come here, you who sends others here.
What if at some time there was an upheaval in France and we saw you all arrive here like a flock of swallows. Well! Do you think that we would be embarrassed to receive you? Four stakes driven into the ground with a roof of leaves, there is Pilata, four stakes the same, there is La Favorite, and so on till there would be a place for everyone. You would be as comfortable as in your own home. The Good Lord would make enough yams and breadfruit grow to nourish us all, without mentioning the Touakoukou [1] which grows wild. One needs to neither plant it nor tend it; you can find as much of it as you want in the woods and it is very good. So please come, my Reverend Father, so that I can have the pleasure of receiving you. We will give you kava and bubbling champagne. I will not put you in the little refectory as you did to me. We will all be together from the very first day. My dear Father, why would I joke with you like that, you who are one of our Venerables. Alas! You no longer love us, you no longer send us any people.
The New Caledonians and the Melanesians, who eat their missionaries are more valuable than us. What a picture you have painted of our Tongans in the Annals. To tell the truth we do not recognise them. They are not as black as that. The Bishop said to me the other day: “ How could it be that I could possibly love these poor people!” Their faults are exaggerated, and their good qualities made to look bad. It is a portrayal where there is some semblance of truth but it does not at all resemble them. However, as long as it doesn’t deter people from coming, it is not of great harm. It is better that the missionaries are pleasantly surprised when they arrive. Perhaps they have formed, in France, too fine an opinion, because in the letters we are very determined to report the better qualities, rather than bring to light the faults. Certainly, if an Oceanian wished to describe the French people in this manner, they would have very different things to say.
You, who are so close to the Reverend Father, try to reassure him, so that he does not abandon us. What is there in our mission then, that is so bad, has there been any scandal? Is not everybody more or less carrying out his duties? Has anyone died of hunger? There have been some who have suffered because of circumstances, but it is their miseries even, that have saved their lives. We have followed the way of providence, step by step. That is the way things have worked out. We are scattered, it is true, but why has the Good Lord scattered these islands? These scattered areas will later become groups. When the seeds begin to sprout, the field will still seem sparsely covered, but when they have grown they will become densely covered. Did not Saint Dominic say, to those who reproached him for spreading out his religious workers too thinly: When the seed starts to grow in the barn, it is spoiled; when it is sown, it grows. Did not the apostles too spread themselves out at the beginning? Because the Holy Virgin has taken care of us up tell now, let us wait; all will be sorted out with the passage of time. Here already are two houses that have arisen, one on Wallis, the other on Futuna. Later will come Samoa, Tonga, Fiji etc. These houses will become the nourishing mothers of the mission, both spiritually and in a worldly way. Thus we will be able to establish ourselves everywhere, but we must be left to sow the seeds first. Then we will reap the harvest. Euntes ibant et flebant mittentes semina sua; venientes autem venient portantes manipulos suos. [2] Things cannot progress quickly especially when one has so few workers. Commit yourself then, good Father Superior, to send us more people.
Do you believe that you have had, with Bishop Bataillon the problems that you have had with New Zealand? As for me, I am convinced that you have not. Bishop Bataillon has too much respect and attachment for the Father Superior to ever stand in opposition to him. The main thing that he fears is to see disagreements arise in his curacy, for thanks to God, up till now we have been free of this scourge.
I will not have any news for you this time, as for quite a time I have not left Wallis and here nothing important has happened. Our King Lavelua goes willingly about his duties now and he is more friendly than ever. The young chief Tuugahala [3] always conducts himself well since his baptism. He still has a few small faults, but he will correct them with time. It still remains for him to defeat Pooi. [4] So ask Mr Desgenettes [5] to have the Blessed Virgin make this particular miracle happen. The people are taking instruction and being confirmed in the faith. We have time on our side and we conserve it. That is important.
Farewell, my Reverend Father, please pray for this poor little soul that you received at Pilata and keep him always in your thoughts.
I am with respect
totally devoted to you in our Lord
Mathieu, missionary.

Wallis 3rd August 1848.


  1. Tu’akuku = wild yams, Dioscorea nummularia (a breadfruit of superior quality)
  2. Ps 125 (126).6: Euntes ibant et flebant, mittentes semina sua. Venientes autem venient cum exultatione, portantes minipulos suos. (A man may go out weeping, carrying his bag of seed; but he will come back with songs of joy, carrying home his sheaves.)
  3. Cf. doc.328, § 9, n. 7; 586, § 28.
  4. About Pooi: cf. doc. 328, § 9, n. 8; 1263. About the civil war in which Tuugahala and Pooi were adversaries: doc. 376, § 2-3; 642, § 6, n. 2; 871, § 5-6; 873, § 5, n. 2.
  5. Cf. doc. 376, § 3 and n. 4.

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