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19 September 1853 — Father Pierre Rougeyron to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Puebo, New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, May 2011

Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Rougeyron.

A sheet consisting of four written pages. The text appears incomplete for, at the end of the fourth page it is in the middle of a sentence and the usual salutations at the end of a letter are not present.

[p. 1]

A(d) m(ajorem) D(ei) g(loriam) et D(ei) g(enitricis) h(onorem)
Puebo, New Caledonia 19/9/1853

Very Reverend Father Superior,
We are still allotted crosses in this poor country of New Caledonia. It has been nine years since I landed in this island and I don’t know whether there were any days which passed without trials. But from all those which divine Providence sent us, there is one which broke my heart with grief. You know it already, without doubt. It’s the irreparable loss of our bishop who was our father. We are truly orphans. There is an emptiness in our midst which we cannot fill. As for me, that blow has caused me a wound which will bleed for a long time and will last, I think, until I die. I bow deeply before the will of God, adore his impenetrable plans and resign myself to carrying the cross. May heaven grant that I may carry it courageously until the end of my career! The only thing I fear is that I may drag it along instead of carrying it as a true missionary of the divine master. Yet, I hope that I will not fail in my vocation because I am counting on your prayers, Reverend Father, on those of the Society and on those of pious people who subscribe to the Propagation of the Faith. The thought that in all the Christian world people are praying for me and that other thought that I am regarded as a saint whereas I am lukewarm and so wretched raises my morale making me blush at my unworthiness.
Very Reverend Father, you probably want me to provide you with some documents on what I know of Bishop Douarre’s life. I am going to do that very briefly. Being a compatriot of His Lordship and this I can say having had the honour of living for nine years in the mission station in his close company, I am particularly well acquainted with a lot of details of his fine life and of his saintly death. So here is a little sketch.
Born of parents who were not wealthy but who had a rare sense of integrity, young Douarre received very good principles which did not fail to bear fruit in his fine soul. In addition since his early life he felt drawn to priesthood. By dint of saving, his father managed to have his son finish his studies until he reached the last year of secondary school; but a rude trial awaited him here. Not being able to be accepted by the seminary, because he was unable to pay for all his board, the young seminarian went to Orléans where he was very much welcomed. He was ordained priest in that diocese and named vicar there. He distinguished himself in his job through his enthusiasm, his charity and his piety. When his elderly father was crying out for him, he felt obliged to ask permission to leave the diocese to return to his own. Because his motivation was very sound, his request was granted. Having returned to his diocese he experienced all kinds of troubles to obtain a position because at that time the diocese had more than enough priests. Yet the Bishop of Clermont, touched at seeing such an excellent priest out of a job, gave him a minor position as vicar of La Tourette, a parish of about 600 souls. He was cherished by the parish priest and by the parishioners. He was doing particularly fine work there when the parish priest died. So the vicar was changed and sent to another parish where the greatest reforms had to be achieved. He needed consummate wisdom; he succeeded in arranging everything. The parish was proceeding marvellously when the former vicar of La Tourette was asked from everywhere and with the greatest insistence to be the parish priest of the parish of La Tourette. The new parish priest had died; they did not think they could do better than choose Father Douarre. So he was made parish priest of that lovely little parish. The new priest used so much skill and enthusiasm that he made a model parish out of his parish. You could have said it was a community whose pastor was the best. He was well liked by the parishioners and neighbouring priests. Everybody wanted to have him at their place and in particular to hear him preaching. People already noticed his sincerity and eloquence which touched their hearts. His talents were not transcendent, but endowed with an excellent judgement and an extraordinary way of doing things. To win men over, he knew so well how to make them feel valued and so he succeeded in the most delicate operations where a man of genius would not have avoided failure.
The parish of La Tourette was too small for such an ardent enthusiasm. The thought of the mission fields which he had had for several years stayed with him all the time. He consulted some very enlightened superiors who encouraged him to go where God was calling him. He wanted him to be in the little Society of Mary. After a year in the noviciate, they were arranging a departure of missionaries for New Caledonia and the novice, Father Douarre, was named as leader of the band of missionaries. Ordained bishop, Douarre left France making himself conversant on the voyage with all aspects of the Society of Mary and of the mission fields. When he arrived at Wallis, the coadjutor made Father Bataillon his apostolic vicar and left for New Caledonia, which he shared with him. When he arrived in New Caledonia, His Lordship put aside all markings of rank and joined the brothers in the most menial asks. He did not pull rank; it seemed that the sign of his dignity was being the servant of all. Our first years at the mission station were very desperate for us. The bishop worked hard as a family man not to let us die of starvation. The sweat of his brow was prodigious everyday for about two years. As the spiritual director of the mission station was not so difficult at the beginning, I was put in charge of that area, and the bishop continued to look after the material aspects until the time when the crew of the warship was shipwrecked in New Caledonia. After two months of hospitality for that crew in our house, Bishop Douarre followed the commander to France because of business. When he came back to New Caledonia, you know better than I, Reverend Father, the good that he did here both for the Society and for the mission station. Having access to all the doors of the most important people, he neglected nothing to ensure the triumph of truth. Never was there a more determined activity, never a more ardent zeal, never a heart more open and more loving; it would be enough to say that he was wretched in taking help from his neighbour. Besides he had so many friends in France. He brought back so many sinners to God.
The time to say goodbye definitively came when he learnt that his mission station ceased to exist. Instead of turning to face a country less grateful, he hastened on the contrary to come and sympathize with our unhappiness and to share our griefs. So he crossed that mighty ocean for the third time and came and joined us at Anatom. What sadness for him to find us all victims of the fever which was rampant in that area! We were in a hurry to go to New Caledonia, but his lordship was spurned from that place and had to take refuge on the little Isle of Pines, not knowing where to go other than to that place. We were inspired by heaven at the very moment when we were desperate because the bishop resigned his vicariate. We took to Futuna the few Christians who wanted to follow us into our exile. Encouraged by those pious converts, I felt impelled to go and seek out others in an attempt to convert them in Futuna. God in His goodness blessed this plan and it succeeded. On learning this the bishop took heart and returned to New Caledonia. Nine months afterwards I joined him with my little band of Christians. Brought back to their own land, those Christians gave a new impetus to the rest of the population and enlivened the heart of the our bishop, but alas, that joy did not last long for we had three apostates who reverted to their pagan lives and stopped the initial impetus. That was a cross which sickened our hearts bitterly. Some months later on, war was declared on our Christians and from that time our mission work was completely stopped. To add to that misfortune, sickness broke out in the ranks of our Christians and decimated them. All the most worthy succumbed.
In the interim I left that mission station of Balade and went and joined Reverend Father Gagnière in the neighbouring tribe. After some months we had to offer His Lordship more than a hundred natives to baptize. He was somewhat enheartened by that but he heard from elsewhere that the Etoile du Matin, which was carrying Fathers Roudaire and Anliard and Brother Michel Anliard, was shipwrecked and all perished. That misfortune finished up poisoning the rest of his life. For several months he kept very much to himself because of a weakness caused by a continuous cough which he experienced. He enjoyed solitude to meditate. Believing that he had tuberculosis, he never stopped thinking of death. Convinced that death was not far away, he had a cemetery made and wanted to build the enclosure himself. When I found him busy doing that on one occasion I begged him not to weary himself out and that that job would be done later on. However, he replied that he did not think there was much time to lose if he wanted to be buried there. After planting a cross, he said to Father Vigouroux that he wanted to be put in its shadow. Because one of my children from Puébo died, His Lordship really wanted to visit me to console me for that loss. After kneeling down on the tomb of my poor Manuel, he said to me: My dear friend, that child is happy to have left this world down here. There are so many troubles and wretchedness! In fact the bishop had many of them; besides the grief of his mission station not functioning, he had difficulty in learning the language.