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1 September 1853 — Father Pierre Rougeyron to Father Louis Vidal, Chaplain to the Sailors Hospice at Toulon, New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, June 2011

Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Rougeyron.

[p. 1, at the foot of the page] [Address]
To Fr Vidal.

[p. 1]

A(d) m(ajorem) D(ei) g(loriam) et D(ei) g(enitricis) h(onorem)

New Caledonia, 1 September 1853

My dear fellow priest,
On his return to New Caledonia, Bishop Douarre took the firm decision to control the island or die in the attempt. He kept his resolve for he died there. Yes, very dear colleague, Bishop Douarre is no longer alive; he has left us orphans. We weep for our bishop who was our priest. We would be inconsolable in such a loss if we did not know that he went to a better world and that one day which is perhaps not so far away, we will meet up with him again and never more be separated from one another.
His Lordship’s life was that of an apostle; his death that of a saint; his life was crowned with few years but full of merit.
At the start of his mission work, the bishop enjoyed marvellous health, but his mighty works, his continual deprivations and his painful worries exhausted him completely. For some months his impaired health was deteriorating frighteningly, when there appeared in our island one of those frightful epidemics which carried off a very great portion of the population. The bishop fell victim and it took three days for the scourge to take him to the tomb. His Lordship’s last moments were those of a person, whose future was mapped out. After receiving the last sacraments, he asked everybody to pardon him and wanted to make his profession of faith aloud, even though it was very painful. He had us all called together and spoke to each of us very moving words; he did the same regarding several natives, our mortal enemies: “You see”, he said to those natives, “that everybody dies even bishops. Finally you always asked me why we always lived while you people died: you see that I am a man like you. Even in times of your greatest persecution of us, I loved you, and I still do. It is for the sake of bearing witness to you in my last moments of life that I have had you summoned to ask you to become converts. You will die as I am now; you will appear in front of our judge who is going to be mine in a few moments’ time. Convert, become Christians and good ones! When you are in the state in which you see me, you will be very relaxed in being with God. You others, you tremble at the thought of death, you regret life; as for me I want what God wants. I am not angry in leaving this wretched life. If I have one regret as I die, it is not seeing you all Christians.” Those words shook those hearts of bronze; for that period of time, they stopped persecuting us. They even attended catechism lessons which they allowed in their villages.
After his address, his Lordship had a crucifix placed in front of him. Every moment his eyes were fixed on the image of his Saviour suffering. “That is where I draw my energy in the midst of my suffering”, he told us.
He was seized by bad turns during the night and he succumbed in one of them while standing held in my arms with his eyes raised to heaven and crying out and groaning My God! My God! I thought he was looking at heaven to beg for help but alas his soul had already winged its way there, and his glance had gone first as if it were showing him the way.
It is not easy to describe our grief at that sad and natural moment, but you can imagine what it was like from the way you feel when you receive news of that death. Yours will be great too, because you are losing in Bishop Douarre a sincere and devoted friend. He loved you tenderly in the Lord. A little before his very death he was thinking in his heart of his generous friend, Father Vidal. In addition he asked us not to forget to write to you after his passing away. That is what I have the honour of doing right now, in writing to you these few lines. So I am writing to you in particular and in your name to all the people in Toulon who knew His Lordship because it is our duty to inform the benefactors of our mission station. It was as much a pleasure for me having had the honour of seeing you in Toulon when we were on our way passing through that town.
Although Bishop Douarre is no longer alive, his memory will always be with us, I don’t doubt that. Well, be so good as to remember New Caledonia constantly, a country of which he was the first bishop and the apostle. Do continue your favours and benefices at the vicariate which keeps the remains of your former friend. You will always find there grateful hearts.
Without being in a flourishing state, the mission station is however making some progress. At the moment we have 120 Christians. In a short time, more than 100 others are going to be reborn in the waters of Baptism. We have other tribes who are waiting for us but we have only five priests and our small contingent does not allow us to go and work in that new field. We are counting on Providence to send us some priests as he wills.
We have never lacked crosses in New Caledonia; but it seems that the Lord has seen fit to strew them under our feet at this time.
Soon it will be a year since our ship The Morning Star left for Tikopia, a neighbouring island, to visit Father Roudaire who is there with another priest and brother, but has not returned. We don’t have any news of them either but what is certain is that there are no longer any missionaries on that island. What has become of them? Have they been massacred there, or have they become shipwrecked while returning to New Caledonia because they were told by Bishop Douarre to return from that island. We do not know but we consider that they must have died, is whatever way it has occurred. What a lot of unhappiness all at the same time! Pray for them, pray for the bishop and also a few prayers for us who are surviving so much misfortune.
The bishop recommended to us that we should not forget the sisters of La Sagesse in Toulon and the other people whom he knew who have helped the mission station. I have not forgotten that recommendation and can’t forget it but I do not know where to find their addresses. Be so kind as to excuse me to them on this occasion and be so good as to let them know of our mutual loss.
We still regard it an honour and a joy to receive your news. Provisionally in charge of the vicariate, I will not allow any favourable chance slipping away to put you in touch with what is happening in this mission station, which is some way yours because of all the things you have never ceased in doing for it for so many years. Please accept my expression of gratitude with which I have the honour of being your quite devoted fellow priest,