From Marist Studies
12 October, 2 November 1848 and 5 January 1849 — Father Joseph Chevron to his family and friends, Tonga
Translated by Mary Williamson, September 2018
Based on the document sent, APM dossier Chevron.
Two sheets of paper forming eight written pages.
- Tonga 12th October 1848.
- It is a year last month since I wrote to you via the ship the Arche d’Alliance; since then I have had several chances to write again, either via the English warships or even via the mission’s schooner that visited us last July; but since the sailing of the Arche d’Alliance, I have been occupied, I would say, almost excessively. Even at the present moment, I am scarcely less so, but I believe that you will be anxious after such a long silence.
- I think that I told you in my last letter that I had just taken on a new establishment and that I had left Pea to the Reverend Father Calinon at the diocese of Saint Claude to go, at the request of the Tui Toga (Toui Tonga), the supreme chief of the archipelago (at least in title), and chief of the fort where he lives. Here I am then, at Mua, which you can see on the map of Tonga that I have sent you. If I was to redo this map today, I think that I would make it more accurate, for since my time at Mua, I have been continually voyaging by sea. I think that there is not a single tree on the bays of Pea, Vaini or Moua or the coast of Hahake that I do not know. Not a week passes without my setting sail at least twice. So, I am beginning to become a sailor. I have two craft, one European and the other in the local style. It is in that, that I go from Mua to Pea, Hologa, Vaini, Hahake and to all the little villages and dwellings that are scattered all along the shore. The longest trips are about two hours with a favourable wind and with a head wind, four hours or more. Several months passed last year, where visiting the sick required me to travel almost every day.
- This lifestyle seems to suit my health; since I have been voyaging this way by sea, I have not suffered pain or illness; The toothaches that were so frequent before have almost disappeared. So that at this moment I am, as far as my health is concerned, as well as one could wish; It even seems to me I could be less weak than in the past, as I can help to row and manoeuvre the boat as is needed, which I would not have been able to do before without feeling some discomfort. The establishment where I live is situated on the sea shore which it overlooks from about fifteen feet away, so that we have one of the most beautiful views in the country. The wide bay where we are, opens out opposite our establishment so that we can see the passage of the ships that arrive in the bay. The establishment here is a bit larger than the one at Pea and we have hopes of enlarging it more. We have a vegetable garden which provides us (at least for this year, I think because it is new) with the most beautiful yellow carrots, the loveliest lettuces and endives that you could possibly see, I do not mean only here, but even in the most carefully tended gardens in France. Sorrel also grows abundantly. Since the month of June, we have this produce in overabundance. I have not mentioned the beans which grow naturally here and are not a bad type. Spring onions grow very well too. There, as far as gardening is concerned, are all the things that we have at the moment. Of all the seeds that you have sent up till now, only the impatiens have done well. We have a farmyard that only has Muscovy ducks, because of the difficulty of keeping our garden safe from the invasion of hens; in the current month they have given us an abundance of eggs. We have tried to preserve some; we do not yet know it we have been able to succeed.
- We have had two storms this year, one in February and the other in April and they have cause terrible destruction. Our chapels have all been either blown over or partly, that is to say they are leaning. It has been the same thing for our houses; only one did not suffer damage. That is the one I live in. A large number of the dwellings of the natives have been blown down and the crops entirely ruined. Famine is affecting the natives, without however making them particularly worried, as when they are in need the least of supplies is sufficient. What sustains them most of all, is a type of bean, previously brought from America and that has grown in such a way as to invade the country. It is of average quality, but it is found in sufficient quantity that each native can gather enough every day without it being exhausted, but it does not produce continually. As for us, we do not feel the effects of famine except for a lack of bananas, but this is a privation that we can suffer without difficulty.
- 2nd November. Since I began this letter, there is great news here: the conversion to Catholicism of the Tui Tonga and the news of revolution in Europe. The Good Lord, who governs everything, first gave us the conversion of the Tui Tonga, which news of events in Europe would no doubt have held back.
- When I began this letter, we found ourselves in a very sad position, which I could only compare to the position that we found ourselves in on Wallis when Bishop Pompalier arrived. Protestants and infidels seemed to join forces against us, our novices seemed to become cool, from a sort of fear and I would almost say shame. The Tui Tonga seemed, day by day, to become colder towards us, obsessed every day by the Protestants. I made a final effort, insisting to him that we had to put an end to all this, either by his conversion to Catholicism or else by his entirely abandoning us, which would extract us from this state of doubt that we found ourselves in, in relation to our position in Tonga. So I addressed him and employed my finest rhetoric, presenting him with all the spiritual reasons and, supported by them, encouraged him to declare himself and was stricken by the coldness and indifference with which he received my speech and began to become resigned. Finally I put into action my last ploy. This was to say to him that if there still remained so little friendship for us, he must release us from this state of uncertainty, that we were not able to endure any more. Then, he said to me that he would become Catholic within the week. The Sunday following, he made his entrance into the chapel with about twenty people. The Protestants were as astounded as if struck by lightning. If we were dealing with a man less apathetic and who wished to decide to take action, I think that we would soon be the most powerful here. But it is almost as impossible as the bronze horse of Bellecour. 
- This chief is the veritable king of the country; over time he appointed a first and second minister, to simply occupy themselves with his food, sleeping etc. Today this second minister, who is at the head of the Protestant party and who is a very active man, is obeyed by almost all the archipelago; he still pays honourable tribute to the Tui Tonga, whatever the Protestant ministers might do, but that is all; he does not seem to worry himself otherwise. I think that the Good Lord, who has chosen the moment so well to begin his work, will achieve results himself, as it is certainly for us, with the help of blessings, to plant and water, but for God alone to make things grow. 
- The Friday after the conversion of the Tui Tonga, a small English schooner arrived from Tahiti, bringing news of events in Europe. The Protestants announced that the king of France and the Supreme Pontiff had gone to England and had become Protestants, that popery was destroyed, and that there were no papists left except in Uvea and Tonga. On Sunday, between masses, there was a letter from a Wesleyan missionary, more moderate and thoughtful than his colleagues, who could almost deduce the truth. I shared it with our most settled novices. Then the following day there were some explanations by letter, with the result that a native had offered his services to explain their local customs under oath, to prove that he had heard, from the mouth of a Protestant missionary, what he denied having said in the letter; so that I obtained more than I had wanted, the denial of the false rumours and the proof that the Protestant missionary had lied.
- Today with all that, work has multiplied; we must strike while the iron is hot, we need to dash about everywhere to encourage the momentum towards us, and to also prevent the effect on our people of the efforts of the Protestant missionaries and their catechists, of whom there are no less than 150, and even more in Tonga, so that they are able to put them in almost every house; then we must teach prayers to the new novices, organise schools and singing at the establishment at Mua etc.etc.
- You might perhaps notice that I am almost beginning to no longer speak French, but never mind, I only write to you and I think that you will excuse me for any faults I might make. I hardly see Father Calinon, who also has work at Pea, except once a month; I have not been able to speak French except to the Brother, who probably did not know a word before coming here.
- If I one day have a few moments, I will draw you a little plan of our establishment at Mua, so that you might be able to follow our movements each day.
- I don’t think I told you that I had received your letters from January 1847 and two or three from the month of October of the same year, but not one from Alphonse. At the same time I received the flowers, candlesticks, glasses, fabric etc. I would ask you to thank all the people who take an interest in our mission and to assure them that I will not forget them before the Good Lord. That is not telling them much, but he who rewards a glass of cold water given in his name, will not deny a reward to the people who, by contributing to the decoration of our chapels, contributes to the conversion of our natives, these objects attracting them to us and providing them with the chance to hear some words of salvation. Thanks to all these objects, our chapels are more than decent, they are beautiful, especially on feast days. Please, on this subject, thank Madame Brachet, Misses Maissiat, Berou and especially Miss Fauchon Coller and Madame Girard, as well as the Sisters of Saint Charles, Madame Vaudel and her sister.
- 5th January 1849. Yesterday the mission’s schooner, which is heading for Tahiti, arrived, carrying a young man from Saône and Loire who has spent two years on Wallis and is returning to France. I will take advantage of this opportunity to send you this letter.
- We have conversions from time to time, some Protestants and some infidels. Father Calinon, who I saw on Monday, told me that he had had a dozen at Christmas. We had four on that day and seven on the last day of the year, then one on the first day of this year and another, a Protestant, today. When the Good Lord is willing, we will have some success, but we always bear in mind that it is our work that God demands and not success. This is what consoles us. For Christmas I had 56 communions and Father Calinon had about one hundred. Our Christmas celebrations attracted many curious people, Protestants and infidels. The Protestant catechists who came to watch and listen had been, they say, above all very enlightened, in that they had not heard me preach about murder, adultery, fornication and theft etc. They avoid all contact with us.
- Here I have had, this year, 80 baptisms, 33 of which were burials. It is mainly children in danger of death. I believe that Father Calinon has had 72.
- If our chief was not so difficult to bestir, I think that he could, from time to time, send us some natives, but he is so apathetic that I fear that in pressuring him too much I would drive him away. Our work is always the same, receive visits from natives or visit them, speak again to the Europeans who have no religion, visit the sick, go from village to village to see the sick and the well, encourage the feeble, push the strong a little, etc. etc., work around the property etc. etc., all that makes the days seem very short. I am told that I am becoming old, I know it perfectly well and you do too, but they mean that I seem to be becoming old faster than time would ordinarily permit. I think that you are not becoming any younger yourself, and in a little more time I think that we will no longer have, neither one nor the other, neither teeth, nor hair at least.
- So, do not let pass any occasion without writing to me. The chances are even more rare for you than for me; all the ships that pass by here can carry our letters to some port, from which they will reach you ( although we do not always have great confidence in all the captains who we have, with experience, many reasons to distrust), but it is not the same for you.
- It seems that with each hair that I lose and each tooth that comes out, some of the strands that still attach me to life are broken. If it was not for the interest that I have in these poor natives who we live in the midst of, I would wish to die very quickly so as to see again those from amongst us who arrived in heaven first. It is not that I have more troubles or more crosses than you to bear, for the heaviest are not the most visible and I think that nobody lacks those particular ones, but I think that the Good Lord makes us feel the pain and the weight more as we become older. Let us have patience, reminding ourselves that all the stones that will be used in the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem must all be polished and many hammer blows will be needed and it will be necessary to rub for a long time before a stone will be polished.
- I think that today, following all the changes in the political situation in Europe, communications will become less common and who knows whether one day they will be suspended, who knows even if this letter will reach you. In any case, do not worry yourself too much about me. He who gives their food to the little birds will surely not forget us. He who gives their foliage to the lilies of the field will not leave us unclothed.  And then again, if needs be, would it be such a great misfortune to die of hardship, if (which I am far from thinking) it was God’s will. In the position that we are in here today, we could still perhaps go on who knows how many years before being in extreme hardship. Do not be too worried about me, just pray for me that the Good Lord might bless this mission and those who work here.
- Please remember me to all our relatives and friends, to the family in Lyon, to Brother Regis, to Bishop de Troye, to the curate in Nantua and the ecclesiastical gentlemen who I was associated with, Messrs Franz, Humbert etc., the abbot Blanc, the curate at Montange and his parishioners who I do not forget, Mr Buyat, Messrs Bourlod, Chapel, Perrin, Cabanet and Collet. If by chance you have the opportunity, give my respects to Mr Humbert, his vicar, Mr Poncet, Mr Perrin and the directors of the large seminary; do not forget the abbot Gouchon, etc. etc., Mr Brachet and his family, Messrs Cagin, Ravinet, Guy, etc.etc.,Ravet and his family, my nurse, Marie Berrod and she who is with Rosalie, the Misses Meynier and Beroud etc. etc. All the people who pray for me. It really is bad to write in haste. I think that being remembered can do you as much good in France as it does here for me; and yet in this haste one cannot recall all those about whom one thinks often; if there is someone in this position, I ask you to excuse me to them.
- Oh, tell me how you all are, from Mother, if of course she is not yet in Heaven, to Chevron, Alphonse, Louise, Jeanette, Rosalie, Mariette, Josephine, then all the nephews, Joannes, Marius, Urbain, Amand, then the nieces, Eleonore and her husband, Marie and Aime, the two Josephines, Hermione, Louise, Rose, and Fanny, then all the family Vaudel and all the family Collet, etc. etc.
- I have been interrupted four or five times since I started to write to you a short while ago. I was saying to you, I think, to try to all write to me and give me lots of your news. News of Europe, from what we hear, has us feeling anxious. I embrace you all with all my heart.
- All good wishes
- Joseph Chevron.
- All good wishes
- A reference to the famous equestrian statue of Louis XIV, Place Bellecour in Lyon, France erected 1825. It is referred to in Lyon as “the bronze horse”.
- Cf. 1 Co 3,6: I have planted, Apollos has watered, but it is God who has made it grow.
- Cf. Mt 6.28-29: Consider the fowls in the air: they sow not neither do they reap. Nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Cf. Parallel, Luke 12.22-32.)
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