Br Joseph-Xavier (Jean-Marie Luzy) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney, 16 January 1851
APM OP 458.1 Epistulæ variæ Luzy
Clisby Letter 90. Girard doc. 981
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
On 8 December 1850, the stone college on Futuna called the Hermitage, erected by Joseph and Marie-Augustin, was blessed and opened. It had three rooms for the priests, a small guest room, a dormitory for 20 or so beds, and a large meeting room (AM 636). Two days later, two Marists arrived from Wallis on their way to Sydney to buy provisions. Mathieu took advantage of the opportunity to send Joseph, suffering from another bout of elephantiasis, to the procure to recuperate. The opening sentence of the brother’s letter suggests that by the 16th he was in Sydney. But it was another month before he was well enough to write.
The Marists had been in Sydney now for almost six years. Since 1847 they had been living in a house on Tarban Creek they had named Villa Maria. Joseph refers to one of the foundation group, Jean-Louis Rocher (1809-1894), a member of the Society since 1839. Rocher had been acting superior from 1846 to September 1850, when Claude Baty arrived from Wellington (rf intr. L 13). Baty, suffering from a lung ailment, had less than six months in Sydney before transferring to New Caledonia, where he died on the Ile des Pins in August 1851. He travelled there with Douarre, making yet another bid to gain a foothold for his mission.
As Joseph hints , Mathieu’s reasons for sending him to Sydney were probably not wholly altruistic. Neither he nor Bataillon had much time for sick missionaries, especially brothers. Rocher remarks on this in a letter to Colin (18 July 1855, rf Hosie 76). In talking of relations between priests and brothers, Joseph echoes the complaints of a number of his confreres (rf eg Letters 31, 44, 65, 78, 86). ‘Difficult’ brothers probably included Paschase (rf introduction to L 67), and those who lost their vocation certainly Ammon and Michel. He himself shows a touching faith in Bataillon, whose attitudes to brothers generally, however, are manifest in his letter to Colin of 14 October 1847 (L 71). The bishop would certainly have been behind the change of regime initiated at the Hermitage of which the brother speaks . With Grezel reassigned to parish work and Joseph out of the way, Mathieu could, with the help of the newly arrived Laurent Dezest, align the Hermitage more closely with the college at Lano on Wallis. It is a pity that the end of the letter, which promised some details of this, has gone missing.
The translation was made from a copy of the original in the APM (AP01. OP Villa Maria) supplied by Fr Gaston Lessard.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- It is just a month ago today that I did not manage to wish you a happy New Year from the town of Sydeney (sic). That is a good example of the saying, man proposes and God disposes. We celebrated the feast of the (Immaculate) Conception on the 8th of December with great solemnity at the Hermitage on Futuna. It was the occasion of the blessing of the stone building we have constructed, the good Brother Augustin and I, with the help of our youngsters. It is almost 40 feet long and 19 feet wide, but only 12 feet high because of the earth tremors which are quite strong on Futuna. The Futunans were thrilled with the blessing. They have not seen anything like it before. After high Mass with deacon and subdeacon, we went to the house in procession chanting the litany of the Blessed Virgin. After this beautiful chant, the good Fr Servant, who had celebrated the High Mass, blessed the first and finest house on Futuna. Then we went to the chapel. The ceremony was not held until the afternoon after the singing of Vespers. All the fathers and brothers were gathered there, that is, the 6 fathers and 3 brothers.
- I have to tell you now, my reverend Father, the reasons for this voyage. Here they are. The day after this beautiful feast I was back to work as usual. In the afternoon I told Fr Gagniere, I cannot work today, I have a feeling my puke (the name of this illness in the language of Uvea and Futuna) may be coming on today. Fathers Mathieu and Dezest arrived the next moment. Fr Gagniere started to laugh, the other fathers as well, and me too. But I had to go quickly and lie down, telling them, you can laugh all you like, but pray the good God that I can bear it and not become delirious. It has happened twice already, thanks to God, although I have been very ill, the last time especially. The time before, at the end of October, it lasted only 5 or 6 days. This time I began to take food after 8 days, but I couldn’t move from my bed.
- The ship Mgr has just bought arrived with Frs Fonbonne and Michel who were going to Sydney to conclude the purchase and buy provisions for the missions before going back to Samoa. (I spent a long time telling you about this sickness, my reverend Father, to let you see how quickly it comes on and when one does not expect it). The day after these good fathers arrived and when they were due to depart, an idea about me occurred to Fr Mathieu during holy Mass, and after his thanksgiving he came to tell me about it. It was to send me off to Sydeney for the improvement of my health. I was a bit surprised at this since I don’t merit such consideration. Without reflection I replied to the proposal that Sydney would be alright, but I would prefer to go to Wallis and see Mgr. At that, he told me he had all the authority, but that he would go and speak to the new priests and see if there would be any problem for the ship, and that he would give me a reply immediately. I told him that would be fine. He returned 5 or 6 minutes later with the response: You can go, there is no problem.
- I expressed regret again at not seeing Mgr. He repeated, I have full authority, you have nothing to worry about. I see that you are really suffering, and I will write to him and also to the fathers in Sydeney. Finally I raised the objection: I cannot move from my bed, I cannot do my packing. Brother Augustin will see to everything for you and you will be carried to the ship. I had only 2 or 3 hours ahead of me. I asked if I should take all my equipment and tools. Yes, he told me, the ship will be staying in Sydney possibly for 3 months. If you are cured, you will return to Wallis. That was fine, that was what I was waiting for.
- The voyage was very painful for me. Two or three days I didn’t think I would survive it. In the end God gave me the grace of arriving safely. I blessed divine Providence for that. The good Father Rocher was pleased to see me. Father Bati (sic), who is beginning to get better, gave proof of the same, but I haven’t yet been able to have a talk to him. The same with Mgr of Amata and his party. I don’t know how to express my gratitude to them. The good God will certainly hear my prayer and the Blessed Virgin will compel her divine Son to accept them and heap upon them all the recompense I cannot give them in words.
- I heard afterwards, my Reverend Father, something which I found very surprising (whether it was told me with good reason or not, I don’t know), that Fr Mathieu had got me to leave in order to get rid of me. If that is so, and I don’t believe it, it was very reprehensible of him, for he said nothing to me about it. He should, at least, have rebuked me if I was failing in some way, or warned me. I would have known what to expect. Still, the good Fr Rochet (sic), who has received some letters, has not told me anything of the sort. When I spoke to him about it he said he knew nothing.
- I will tell you, reverend Father, that there are some very good priests in our mission it is a pleasure to live with. The brothers can approach them without fear of being repulsed, without being afraid of being unwelcome. And there are others whom you cannot ask for anything without being refused. It appears that to them a native is worth ten times more than a brother. They place all their confidence in the good natives we have educated and taught to work, and they subject a brother to all sorts of reproach. I will not mention anyone by name, whether veteran or newcomer. I will content myself with praying the good God and the Blessed Virgin, our mother, that the Brothers put up with it all patiently.
- There are also brothers who are very difficult, my reverend Father. Am I one of them? I don’t think so. Some have lost their vocation on the way or in the islands. Weren’t they warned about it when they left France? I don’t know anything about that, only that if they were treated with a little consideration they would do better, and there would be no scolding to put up with as a result. There are some with characters very hard to control. Well, if they are rebuffed, if they are turned away instead of being calmed down, they only get worse.
- Reverend Father, I am telling you a lot which doesn’t concern me and what, perhaps, I have no cause to complain about, although I probably fail myself often enough. It will soon be 3 years since, much to my regret, I left Mgr. I am thinking of going to rejoin him as soon as I can, if it is God’s will. If I am not with him, it is not because he wanted to part with me. It was only necessity that made him. So I can only praise His Lordship and suffer with him for some things that have been said and done against him. If people knew him better they could not speak as they do. But the good God will render justice to all. If his orders and counsels were observed, everything would be well. I can give you a little example. At the house of the Hermitage everything went well as long as they were carrying out his orders, but after some other....
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