Br Marie-Nizier (Jean-Marie Delorme) to Fr Colin, Futuna, 30 April 1850
D’après l’expédition, APM OW 208 Delorme, Marie-Nizier
Clisby Letter 84. Girard doc. 888
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Marie-Nizier was with Servant at St Joseph’s in Sigave when fire destroyed the church there in October 1849. As the men were mainly away in the fields, it fell to the women and the children to try to save what they could. The two Marists were also engaged, the Brother ending up with “the palms of his hands almost roasted”.  Servant says that after the fire, the young men composed some chants commemorating the disaster (ES p 253). It was perhaps the words of some of these that Marie-Nizier noted down and reported in this letter . The people did not take long to rebuild. The first pillar was set up a month later, on November 16, and the church, still not finished, blessed on December 12. It was larger than its predecessor, 104 feet long by 40 wide. Servant says the people wanted it to be larger than Our Lady of Martyrs at Poi – “this rivalry was without a doubt more excusable than that of earlier times” (ES p 254).
The day of the blessing was also the day Frs Mathieu and Dubreuil arrived. Mathieu was to take over provisional direction of the Hermitage while Dubreuil was making a visitation to the stations of Central Oceania. Mathieu had instructions for the transfer of Palazy and Marie-Nizier, the former to Samoa and the latter to Wallis. It is undoubtedly the reactions to his own transfer that Marie-Nizier is describing in , for Palazy had only been on the island for two years. As Bataillon’s vicar, Mathieu had authority to alter the arrangements, which he did in the brother’s case for reasons unstated, and Palazy alone sailed with Dubreuil on December 21. Mathieu had brought a brother with him from Wallis, Marie-Augustin, but as he was intended for the college, too, Servant probably persuaded him that, without someone to replace him in the parishes, Marie-Nizier was still needed on Futuna.
It is surprising that in over ten years in the Pacific Marie-Nizier had not received a single letter from the Hermitage , though two (20 November 1840 and 20 January 1845) had been sent from there addressed to all the brothers of Polynesia (LL 20,52). His own letters of 10 October 1839 and 14 June 1846 (LL 12,64), although certainly received, appear to have gone unanswered. It is not until the end of the decade that we find him acknowledging the receipt of letters from the Hermitage. However, a request for the books printed by the brothers in a letter to Poupinel of 19 September 1850 may indicate that he had by then received a copy of Francois’ letter of the year before (L 82).
This letter gives us a valuable insight into the relationship between missionaries and converts on Futuna, and in particular, the regard in which Marie-Nizier himself was held by the islanders. It can be found in Ronzon’s collection (LMN 72-4). Extracts, principally [4-5] but also part of , were interpolated by Poupinel into the copy of a letter from Servant to Colin (1 May 1850 APM), published later in the AM p 626 f. These letters and a report from Bataillon to Colin on the state of the mission were confided to the corvette “Alcmene” on its return voyage to France in May 1850.
Text of the Letter
- Very reverend Father,
- I cannot express how great my satisfaction is when I receive one of the letters you are so kind to send me. The joy and encouragement they give me are not limited to the day I receive them. I read and reread them frequently and each time I experience the same satisfaction.
- I cannot conceal from you, however, very reverend Father, the dismay one passage in your letter of September 1848 caused me. It is when you inform me that my letters are read out in the presence of the whole community. For in sharing with you my reflections, or details as I sometimes presume to call them, I did not expect that at all. It would perhaps have stopped me sending you such accounts if you hadn’t given me a special recommendation to continue with them.
- What can I tell you about Futuna? Now that the Faith is established there, one cannot expect to find in any of its inhabitants those striking examples of thought and behaviour normally characteristic of missions in their infancy and which are of such interest to us. But I believe the majority of our converts are sincerely attached to both the Faith and its ministers. Obviously, nothing in this connection is more persuasive than the facts. According to my limited insights, It seems to me, that in the circumstances, I have a good idea of what I am talking about. Here are some of these facts so you can judge for yourself.
- The first church raised on Futuna was on the western side of the island. On the 15 October last, we had a tragic and unexpected accident. In the morning, at a time it was least expected, we heard the cry: “The church is on fire!” At the first alarm we ran to help. The fire had already spread to the hangings of the choir and was rising above the altar. A native and I were the first to reach the church and we tried in vain to pull away the burning hangings, but all we did was burn ourselves and put our hands out of action for several days. During these first few moments, the alarm spread far and wide, and in the twinkling of an eye the nearest of our neighbours came to our support. Others arrived almost as quickly, but it was at the time when most were in the plantations, there were not as many around as usual. The men hastened to cut down the roof, while the women and children did their best to remove all they could from the church. The tabernacle, all the pictures of the stations of the cross, the high altar, the statues, all the sacred ornaments were saved, except for the altar stone which had fallen without anyone noticing. The flames devoured the confessional, part of the communion table and a few other things. But despite all our efforts the fire won. It was the sanctuary lamp which had caused the accident. Several people narrowly escaped being crushed and buried under the ruins and the flames [AM: especially two women who were helping Fr Servant remove the confessional, at the moment the roof fell in; their injuries were quite serious]. How sad in the afternoon it was to see that heap of ashes, that still glowing pit of cinders, that grove of half-burned pillars! Three neighbouring houses were burned down at the same time because the wind carried the fire from the church. Our houses being closest, we had every reason to fear seeing them in imminent danger of being enveloped in one of the frightening whirlwinds of fire menacing them from the side. Our fears were reflected, perhaps even more vividly, in the hearts of some of our good converts. In this time of crisis for us they showed that if it was not in their power to stop the fire, they would at least rescue everything they could from its ravages. I would estimate that less than a quarter of an hour was all they needed to remove everything they could from our rooms and put it in a safe place. The women and the children played the greatest part in this forced removal (the men were busy with other things), and they worked with such enthusiasm that anyone who couldn’t carry a case, dragged it out. During the transportation, which I regard as an unmistakable sign of their interest in and attachment to us, and which I will never forget, one thing in particular struck me. I would probably find it difficult to credit if I hadn’t seen it for myself. One of the three houses burned down I mentioned above belonged to a couple. The husband was away in the plantations. The poor wife forgot all about what belonged to her and her husband in her own home in her eagerness to give us the help it was considered urgent to save our belongings! Could you forget an action like that! Luckily all these precautions proved unnecessary. Divine Providence was content with giving us a fright. Our houses escaped safe and sound. All the sacred ornaments and our belongings were carried and piled pell-mell in the house or in the public places, but I don’t recall anything being stolen.
- In their sorrow over this unexpected disaster, our poor converts in general have displayed a Christian resignation. I have noted down some of their words about this accident. They are a little naïve for the most part, but that doesn’t matter, for it seems that one cannot expect anything more from them. “We haven’t anything to complain about,” they said, “the good God willed it. It was his lamp which set fire to his house. What can we say?” They were overjoyed to hear that the sacred objects had escaped the fire. “That’s fine!” they said again, “the sacred vestments (the ornaments of the church) and the other things needed for the ceremonies, have escaped. That’s all we needed to do. The rest is only wood that has burned. We will find some more.”
- No sooner said than done. They worked with exemplary courage at everything connected with the work on the new church. They put so much ardour and energy into everything that it was blessed the 12 December following. It was not completely finished until later.
- That same day was made more memorable for us by the arrival of Frs Mathieu and Dubreuil on Futuna. Their arrival was a cause of both joy and sorrow for the inhabitants of the island (at least for the majority). It was their visit which occasioned the joy. Here is the reason for the sadness. They carried the order for the transfer of one of the members of the Futuna mission. This news was received in the same way as the news of a bereavement. Some wept, some maintained a silence which said everything; in a word, they were generally more or less affected. Some could not leave our house while awaiting the day of departure. “Do you want to go?” they asked the person in question. “What should be done now the order has come?” “When you have gone.” said one of them, “I will never come back to this house.” I will not even look at it in passing, so sorely will I feel your absence …” etc.
- Fr Mathieu, who is invested with all the powers of His Lordship of Enos, decided for reasons he had in being on the spot, he could postpone the departure. As this second piece of news came to the ears of our converts they could not hide their joy. Their faces lit up, and their contentment, to use their own expression, passed right to their stomach.
- I have not forgotten the Hermitage, and the interesting details you were so good to give me have renewed my attachment to the dear Brothers associated with it. May Mary deign to continue to look with favour on her children, to bless and multiply them every day! I have written twice to the Brothers of the Hermitage. I do not know why those good Brothers have not felt fit to reply.
- When you tell me, very Reverend Father, that I have to become a saint I feel the continual desire I have of being one renewed in my heart. But I shudder at seeing the immense distance between my actual state and where I ought to be on the way to sanctity.
- Pray for me, please, very Reverend Father. May Our Lady of Fourviere be witness for me that I can claim some remembrance from you in your good prayers and at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass.
- Receive , very Reverend Father, the expression of the profound respect and obedience with which
- I have the honour of being
- Your very humble and unworthy
- servant and son in Jesus and Mary.
- Br Marie Nizier.
- PS. I cannot help repeating my request for some medical supplies and a book on medicine. Hardly a week goes by without my having to regret I have none. Requests for remedies come flowing to my door.
- I have heard that the precious remains of Fr Chanel have definitely left for France.  *
- You will let me, my reverend father, press my requests, or rather supplications, relating to those relics. I have absolutely nothing, so I dare to rely on your goodness to receive something at the earliest opportunity following the receipt of this letter.
- Servant’s account in Ecrits de Louis Catherin Servant, Pierre Tequi ed, 1996, p 252. Hereafter ES.
- They were accompanied by Fr Claude-Marie Bernin, Douarres’s pro-vicar, returning to Europe to present a report on the state of the New Caledonia vicariate and to find out what was expected of the Marists now they had been forced to abandon the mainland for a second time (Wiltgen 512).
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