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1 November 1848 — Father Eugène Ducrettet to Father Jean-Claude Collin, Sydney

Translated by Mary Williamson, November 2018


Based on the document sent, APM OP 458,2 Mission. trans.


Two sheets of paper, forming six pages, five of which are written on; the address and the annotation are on the sixth page.


[Address]
Mr Colin - priest - / Lyon / Saint Barthélemy Rise No.4 / France.


[in an unknown handwriting]
Father Ducretet, Melanesia.


Sydney 1st November 1848.


My very revered and dearly loved Father,
[1]
It is a truly pleasurable emotion that I feel today, to be able to inform you of the various phases through which my soul has passed since my departure from Lyon. My heart has already suffered from being deprived of this consolation.
[2]
The fatherly advice that you gave, before their departure, to those of your children who you sent to Oceania, to keep in touch with you as often as possible, as well as my filial affection, allows me to enjoy the pleasure of such an opportunity. So I am going to report to you with the straightforwardness that a son should have towards his father, both in my conduct and the impressions made on my soul up till now.
[3]
First I should tell you of the pain that I still feel for having shown myself, before my departure, rather too childish in my purchase of different objects. My colleagues, who you have placed above me, observe this with displeasure and rightly so.
[4]
On the ship I did not suffer from seasickness as such, but I was very prone to headaches and irritability which caused me very often to argue and without much cause, with those who did not agree with me. To detract from the trouble that I could have caused, I several times had to declare that I was in an irritable state and that my behaviour was caused by this indisposition.
[5]
On Upolu, I argued a lot with Father Trapenard. The good Father criticised his colleagues in New Caledonia from morning till night and to all those who wished or did not wish to hear him; from his colleagues he moved on to Bishop Douarre, who he blamed for everything that was not right and next, his other colleagues and even his superiors in Europe, of whom not one was exempt from the greatest of faults in his eyes. Often he even regretted having left for Oceania, saying that he had been sent here without having asked. etc …[1] This behaviour made me very angry with him. I at first felt obliged to ignore anything that was likely to make too much of an impression on my colleagues on Upolu, then later I contradicted him despite my resolutions. Several times too, I also said things to him that I deeply regretted having said. Since Marseille and up till now he has never directly spoken to me and not discussed the least thing to do with the mission, [2] although I believed and still believe that it is my duty to show myself very attentive towards everything that might please him. It is a minor trial to which, it seems to me, I am perfectly resigned. If the good Father Trapenard could see in my heart how much interest I have in him, he would certainly not see a wrong intention in everything I say or offer to do; he would see that I am very far from trying to cause trouble to the person that God has placed above me and that I aways fear causing my well-loved superior the pain of disaffection amongst his children. He has told me that he has written to you in very strong terms about me, I thanked him, saying that if he drew punishment down upon me for my impulsive actions which are sometimes very difficult to control, and that I certainly reproach myself for, he would render me a service and at the same time, I would beg him to punish me for it himself. He did not believe all that to be sincere, nevertheless I lay claim to it myself, with all my soul and with your fatherly goodness, my very revered and dearly loved Father I beg you, when circumstances allow you to give me warnings, to treat me like a child who you wish to spare from the greatest of suffering in the after life. I fear only one fate, that would be to be expelled from the Society of Mary, which is my very wellbeing and my whole life and to which I am attached with all my being. All other things would be an expression of your kindness and a gain for heaven.
[6]
Inwardly, I have not felt any extraordinary temptations. The Good Lord has sent me some trials, but always helped me with his greatest blessings. Our stay of 4 months on Upolu was difficult for me from one aspect, but from another it made me understand more than ever how much the practice of virtue is necessary and how the help of prayer and the spirit of faith, enthusiasm and resignation are indispensable to a missionary, isolated in the midst of these savage people. Such a position sometimes makes me cry to the very heart of our Good Lord, for those who find themselves here and for him boost my confidence in the support of the prayers of our dear colleagues in Europe. The difficulties about which I have spoken above, have also sometimes caused me some worries, but with me, one thing which is good, is that as soon as the difficulty has passed, all is forgotten and I am as good a friend as before; also I never feel discouraged. I have only gathered together these few notes because I believed that it was my duty to speak to you about them. I have also gathered a few impressions that I experienced during the voyage; I would also ask you for permission to present them to you. Perhaps I will only be repeating what others have already told you, but perhaps I will provide you with something that will be helpful to you for my own usefulness and that of my colleagues.
[7]
We have not forgotten the fatherly warnings that you gave to us before our departure, to consider ourselves the lowliest on the ship; we had no trouble either, in putting it into practice. These gentlemen, the Lazarists, knew how to take the top rank, as suited them, and the captain treated us rather as children. The Good Lord came to assist us in our weakness during the whole voyage. Father Trapenard is the one amongst all of us who was the most troubled by seasickness; he was not able to go to sea without being gripped by it. Such a prolonged voyage on these oceans of pain for him should gain him much merit.
[8]
We all had reason to praise ourselves for not having, in any way, entered into the rantings that were made at Valparaiso and Tahiti, against the poor food on board. The complaints were very fair, but made in public they lost all their merit and caused more damage to the reputation of the missionaries than that of the captain. The public even preferred to think the missionaries were liars rather than to believe that such a captain was capable of bringing us as far as Oceania without offering tea, coffee, beer, or any liquor during the most trying heat, or feeding us as poorly as he had done. The public were right as these complaints should only be taken to the captain and to the respective superiors. It is suitable nevertheless to inform our immediate superiors because, if the missionaries are obliged to purchase necessary supplies, as we had done in Madeira and in Valparaiso, the voyages aboard these ships of the Society [3] would become a little too expensive.
[9]
We have many times had occasion to notice that people do not rely greatly on the missionaries, as apart from this miserable business about food, Mr Décard quite often reproached us for the fact that Mr Marceau had amassed more than 100.000 francs in expenses for our missions, that he himself had spent 600 francs in Madeira to take Father Mondon there; [4] nevertheless, he did it of his own volition, telling us previously that he needed fresh provisions of fruit and fresh water. In Valparaiso, according to him, 2 passengers, having presented themselves, would have each given him 600 francs and it was because of us that he had not taken them. All these reproaches and many others made us understand that all captains are not like Mr Marceau, whose name is blessed and whose virtue is admired in Oceania even more than in France.
[10]
The children of Mary have, nevertheless, have a painful criticism of themselves to make, which is that of never having been united enough by the bonds of charity which form a religious person and make him happy. Our Fathers from New Caledonia kept themselves entirely apart, led by Father Chapuis rather than by Father Chatelut and Father Chapuis did not have the gift of the vocation. Father Trapenard, unwell from the beginning, sided with the Sisters and consequently the Lazarists, joining in with little criticisms that could be aimed at his colleagues. That was the main cause of my annoyances and problems at sea. In Valparaiso, each one gathered his provisions separately, which was not very edifying. The Fathers from New Caledonia did everything secretly; we believed that this was for fear of being criticised for their enormous expenses for a mission which we have just heard is ruined, especially as, knowing that their colleagues could do the same in Sydney, we were suspecting that after that Bishop Douarre could be caught up in great embarrassment. In fact we have just heard from Father Rougeyron that a large quantity of goods are already spoiled.
[11]
The two Brothers Alphonse and Michel and sometimes Brother Sauveur [5] caused us much suffering throughout the voyage; there was nothing but insults from them, and we had to always defer to their superiority to maintain the peace. We have not been able to get any help from them, especially Brother Alphonse, not even to put a nail in a trunk. Many times we have wished, and everyone on board with us, to have some Brothers who had not ever even learned to read and were honest, rather than these semi-learned people. The two Brothers Mallet and Joseph [6] have, on the contrary, been admired by everyone for their enthusiasm, their thoughtfulness and their piety.
[12]
However, as far as I know, we have not had any falling out with the Fathers of other congregations. The Picpucian Fathers of Valparaiso charmed us with their kindness, they received us and treated us as veritable colleagues and left us very grateful towards them.
[13]
On Upolu there was even more controversy with the captain. The mission at Ballade having been destroyed, he was freed of the obligation to take us there. The Fathers asked him to take them to Annatom or to Port Saint Vincent; he treated them like children and as being unreasonable and immediately left for Savai’i, taking few provisions and aiming to present himself to our colleagues in a favourable light. Father Mugnéry agreed with all he had to say and came from Savai’i with him; one would think expressly to insult his colleagues. Fathers Violette and Vachon behaved admirably. He treated them like children, because, he said, the most he could do was to stop for one day to put them ashore and at the same time gave to the captain of a small schooner, that he wished them to board, the order to leave immediately after having put them ashore. The word unreasonable was no longer suitable, as they also had to offer compensation. Finally, the Fathers finished negotiations by accepting this schooner and the Good Lord showed that he had blessed their confidence in Him by managing another meeting with the Arche d’Alliance close to the island of Annatom. The Society’s agent also extracted his profit from them by making them pay 8 sols per pound of pig, that he gave to we other Fathers for 4, and he also heaped them with abuse as they left. All that is a good leavening agent for work on his ministry.
[14]
Father Trapenard avoided all discussion and, following the advice of Father Mugnéry and Father Padel he bargained, in an unbending fashion, for a price of 640 francs for Bishop Douarre’s schooner, which is available for the use of the Society for 9 months of the year. We are not able to take her over till she returns from Wallis, where she is going to take Father Pallazi and perhaps be of use to the Bishop. Father Trapenard will even pay for this passage. After four months of waiting, a ship from Tahiti, heading for Sydney, arrived. At the request of the replacement for the Society’s agent, who needed his schooner, we chartered it for the price of 200 piasters. On the evening of our embarkation this agent arrived with his schooner, came to wake us up at midnight, heaped us with a string of insults and told us that he was keeping the 640 francs for damages (unknown) that we had caused him. Father Trapenard pondered all the next day on the quality of the advice that he had received; he had even lent this agent 1500 francs in a note which is worth nothing. [7] The next day we learned that other arrangements for this same schooner had been made with Bishop Douarre. So we left, having paid for two ships instead of them,[8] rather hoping, it is true, that justice would be done in France over the schooner’s freight and the behaviour of this agent, a soldier from Tahiti, who all the missionaries, except Bishop Douarre, complained about.
[15]
What pained us a little in this business was the behaviour of Father Padel. He had enough influence over this agent to make him see reason, but he told us to manage as best we could and in the morning he went to have breakfast with him and spent almost the whole day at his house, although he knew that we were expecting a rowboat to embark us at any moment. The main interest of this Father is to befriend those who can provide food; On this principal, he listened to and flattered Father Trapenard as long as the provisions that he acquired in Valparaiso lasted, and as we were about to leave he should not have been courting the agent of the Society. This habit, that he very often displays, upsets us with him. In these two instances Father’s Padel and Mugnéry did not show themselves as true Marists. We have even noticed that they are not truly missionaries; They brusquely brush off any natives who ask them for water, sending them to get it from the sea and they pay little attention to the language and instruction. Thus their missions languish. Father Mugnéry has no other novices except the chief who welcomed him and Father Pradel even sent away from the woodwork workshop of Brother Jacques some natives who were spending the night there, on the pretext that it was too much trouble to open the door for them in the morning and evening. So they all left. One of them especially roused our sympathy; he was the son of a chief and has since become a chief himself. He had the most straightforward soul that we have seen amongst the natives, but two days after having found the door closed he was married, in the Kanak manner, at the request of another person and he no longer dared to approach the Father when we left.
[16]
Nevertheless, Father Padel set an example, with great enthusiasm towards the chief who first received our Fathers on Upolu. This unfortunate man who had gone back to consulting the Devil about the success of a war that they were still fighting when we left and knowing that the Father was knowledgeable, he did not dare, although he had fallen ill, approach him at the ministry to ask for water. Father Padel went to find him, said to him that he had done no harm by his actions and that he was not angry with him. That action and his words touched the chief; he asked again for baptism, which he received with the last sacraments and died not long after. The Good Lord recompensed him well for the reception that he extended to the missionaries and that victory is entirely due to the enthusiasm of Father Padel. The Fathers Violette and Vachon are missionaries in the very sense of the word.
[17]
All the Fathers are in agreement in saying that Bishop Douarre does a great injustice to the missionaries and to the missions by dividing them in this way. Isolated, without a friend except Father Padel, who had Brother Jacques for a while, they are obliged to occupy themselves with the material aspects of their house, their chapel, their food and above all, from time to time, a certain boredom; considering that, it is not surprising that they sink into this state and that their mission suffers. The good Father Mugnéry especially will perhaps soon be unable to occupy his position; one can only see in him an irritable spirit who only knows how to complain about everything that he touches. His difficult nature often means that he misses out on life, which contributes to his being even more irritated. I hope that our good Mother who is so attentive to the welfare of her children, to the glory of her divine Son and to the salvation of souls, will bring some beneficial relief to these missions.
[18]
We also have our trials as far as our mission is concerned. The brig Anonyme has just informed us of the disastrous state of health of Bishop Collomb when he left and the certainty of his imminent death. [9] We are thus without a vicar apostolic; will we be abandoned by God, this is what we try not to even suspect, as it is in his goodness that he has sent us here. The rest of the mission offers some hope; two establishments have been started, one at Woodlark and the other at Rouk, [10] where the Bishop was stationed at the time of the departure of the brig. We are suffering from not being able to rejoin our dear colleagues as soon as possible, [11] but it is God who manages all these events, may His holy will be done. We have not yet let discouragement overwhelm us, on the contrary it spurs us on with renewed fervour.
[19]
My very revered and dearly loved Father, it is time that I concluded, so as not to take advantage of your goodwill. It is at the foot of my crucifix that I write all this to you, so that the presence of my God reminds me continually of the simplicity and the sincerity that I should have towards the first and most kindly of Fathers and that the thought of his suffering banishes from my spirit any expression of bitterness and from my heart any sentiment that is not charitable, if it is still possible to harbour any of these thoughts. Now that my heart is entirely unburdened, I rejoice in an even more pleasing satisfaction than when I began and I hope that, in satisfying my soul and in revealing to you the good and bad side of each one of us, I will not have caused the very bitter pain of saddening yours, because I have no other wish than to supply you with information that might assist you regarding my wellbeing and that of my dear colleagues.
[20]
I reiterate, regarding your paternal goodness and in the name of our good Mother, the humble and sincere request that I have made, for all that which could be most useful and I once again beg of your usual goodness to grant me a greater share of the credit and prayers of the blessed members of the Society, as my poor character and my numerous faults mean I am less in a position to serve her and our missions, than anyone else.
[21]
It is in this state of mind that I humbly beg the help of your paternal blessing.
The most unworthy of the children of Mary and your
very obedient and very respectful son,
Ducrettet - Society of Mary
missionary of Melanesia or Micronesia.

Notes

  1. Trapenard seems to say the contrary (cf. doc. 767, § 6).
  2. Trapenard accepts the truth of this statement (cf. doc. 767, § 2).
  3. the French society of Oceania.
  4. Cf. doc. 902, § 2-27.
  5. The Brothers Alphonse (Jean-Baptiste Barbary), Véran (Michel) and Sauveur (André Conil) were part of the thirteenth group missionaries, amongst whom were also Fathers Eugène Ducrettet and Pierre Trapenard. Of these fourteen missionaries who left from Marseille on 23rd October 1847, these last two Fathers were the only ones destined for the curacy of Melanesia and Micronesia.
  6. Brothers Aimé Mallet and Joseph Reboul.
  7. Cf. doc. 767, § 7.
  8. Perhaps read: instead of one
  9. Bishop Georges Collomb died on 16th July 1848 (cf. Memoriale Societatis Mariae, p. 67).
  10. Read: Rook ( the island Umboi in the language of the locals) (cf.doc. 723, § 2; 724, § 2 and § 4).
  11. According to Trapenard, Ducrettet would have liked to go directly to Woodlark and not to Sydney. (cf. doc. 767. § 2).