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24 September & 14 October 1853 — Father Xavier Montrouzier to his brother, Father Henri Montrouzier, S.J., New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, June 2011 Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Montrouzier (to his family).

[p. 6]
Au révérend père § Le révérend père Montrouzier, de la Société de Jésus § à Dax § Landes § France

[In the handwriting of Poupinel]
Fr Montrouzier § to his brother the Jesuit § September 1853
[p. 1]
My dear brother,
It was only three or four days ago that I wrote to our worthy parents and I told them that on this occasion I did not have time to write to you in particular. Yet this one will probably reach you before they receive theirs. Here’s how this occured. The ship which was coming to pay us a visit told us it had only a few days to stay in port: so each of us set about writing letters very urgently. In addition I was called to a patient ten miles away. I had to forego the pleasure of writing a few lines to you. The ship took away our curtailed correspondence. But as if to give us time to complete those letters, almost immediately an English steamship arrived and it would take this letter directly to Sydney whereas the other ship The Supply was going to make a journey in the islands.
Thanks, dear Henri, for your fine letter and for the details that you give me. You inform me about something that does not surprise me, but which causes me much grief. You say that you have heard the rumour that our Society is going to leave Oceania. I have often heard the same thing but never from the mouths of the superiors. Some unhappy clerics who are with us as it happens and as it will happen in all the mission stations, have probably never reflected on the type of life that they embarked on, who are happy to leave the mission stations where they have been a cross for their fellow priests and where they did nothing for the conversion of the pagans and raised heaven and earth to prove that they were working on an ungrateful land, that we were exhausting ourselves fruitlessly, that we were burying our talents which we could use better elsewhere. One of them said to me, to my very face, that his life would not be long enough to relate all the hideous things about the natives. Another was stupid enough to say to lay people that he wanted to go to Rome to entreat the Pope to forbid missionaries under pain of sin from coming to Oceania. People with such attitudes have been able, you understand, and through what they say give rise to annoying rumours which you refer to; but what reassures me, other than the considerations that you are revealing to me and which certainly will act powerfully on the minds of our superiors, is that in Oceania a great number of zealous and pious missionaries who are full of respect for their vocation and who are all ready to obey instructions, yet do not fail to entreat those who would recall them to have compassion for so many people who are more worthy of pity than of hatred. I am telling you all this, my dear brother, in order to point out to you the danger which you will find in the mission fields if God in His goodness gives you the grace of sending you there. Saint Paul complained in his day of false brothers. You would be lucky if you did not meet any of them. Besides, may that not discourage you! As for me, all the ranting that I have heard have had no other effect than to draw me ever closer to my natives and today I am unable to think of dying except in their midst.
Our dear mission station in New Caledonia, as in all fledgling stations, has many troubles and changes of fortune. We are not yet well established nor sheltered from a disaster, but yet I think that religion has been planted here and that it has taken root. I do not expect to act quickly but I hope that we will not withdraw. To make you understand details, I have to make you aware of our relationship with the chiefs of this country and with the politics of those republican kings.
New Caledonia is divided into tribes; most are the enemies of their neighbours. Their leader is a Teama who has often little authority among his own people but every time there are dealings with foreigners he is put forward. When that monarch feels his end is imminent or even when the thought occurs to him, he chooses his successor, whatever one he wants. If the successor is too young, they give to the chief of the same tribe the title of the old king, Teama Ulait.
At Balade, the Teama is called Philippo, formerly Buéou who was the one who acted so hostilely to the missionaries when they were expelled in 1847. His wife Lucia is a good Christian who is very wise. Her young son, whom he has chosen to succeed him, is staying with us. He is very well behaved and shows great aptitude for piety. We call him Fideli. Finally his daughter, Aniela, has just married Louis, our first convert, whom we are delighted with and who is a good catechist.
So we have for us the entire royal family; but unfortunately Philippo hasn’t a lot of influence whether because people reproach him for being an illegitimate or whether because he is not generous to his subjects, or whether finally from what is said because we have stopped him from using the war club.
The Tema Ulait, Dominiko, is also a Christian. But alas it would be better had he not been. After being a Christian for a certain time he reverted not to libertinage but to his old superstitions and as we cannot allow him to take the sacraments, he is quite cold towards us. Pride makes him turn away; he can’t stand Philippo and he raises his son Aloysio very badly; the latter follows in the footsteps of his father. His two brothers, chiefs of various villages, still in the tribe, are hostile to us. Ondo is an apostate with whom we are unable to have dealings as we have with the pagans, and Tiangun, who has several wives, has so much against Catholicism that our most fervent Christians are his former enemies who surrounded him so closely on one occasion that he was at their mercy.
There’s information about the chiefs who live near us and you could say that their attitudes are those of their people. We have the major chief on our side; there are two very inferior chiefs who oppose us, who have even forbidden their people becoming Christians but those very people don’t want to see us leave the country. If we did not speak about Catholicism, they would be our friends.
A little farther afield but belonging to the same tribe we have two villages, Diahot and Tiari. At Diahot the main chief is a naïve man under the power of his wife. He is not a Christian because he says he wants to go and consult the devil when he wants to make war and to know if he will be victor or vanquished. Moreover he is not a bad man. He is called Toé. The one who should succeed him is a good Christian whom we have called Athanasi. He is a good warrior but he is not a good speaker, something which is very important here. At Tiari the chief, Buaema, has not yet been converted, but his son Teophile is a good catechist who has prepared for us, all by himself, 17 people taking instructions.
Now here is what we have done among our people at Balade. At Puiné where we live, we have a church built in stone but roofed in straw. This is where the Christians of Philippo, Dominiko and Ondo come every Sunday to hear Mass. As in recent times there have been divisive matters between Philippo’s people and others, to cut a long story short, under different pretexts. We have built for the latter a chapel in a rather central village called Uebunu. I have to look after it and please God, I will go next Sunday and bless it and give it the name of St Michael.
For the convenience of the people at Tiari who are more than ten miles away from Puiné and have a rather wide river to cross and who can’t come every Sunday to attend Holy Mass, we have built a chapel for them. I have been to bless it and I stayed there for some days when it caught fire in the middle of the night. I escaped as best I could without shoes, without a soutane, without a hat, and all my personal belongings were lost. But as the natives behaved well, and as they showed good will, we rebuilt the chapel which I named Saint Mary. There are 17 taking instructions there and they seem to me well disposed and there are two Christians besides Teophile.
Finally we have built a third branch at Diahot calling it St Joseph.
You should not think of those three chapels as being historic buildings. They are huge hangars covered with thatching. The building is a long oval shape. Behind the altar which takes up two thirds of the length is a separate and slightly elevated room. That is where the missionary stays. A bed, a small table, a chair, a large pot, two plates appropriate cutlery and crockery, two or three books,; that is all the priest has. Thanks to having good legs which aren’t what they were once, I can still use them. I am in charge of the three chapels which I will term rural. I go or will go every month for five, six or eight days and the little effort I make in that style of living gives me much pleasure.
While I am trotting along, my fellow priests don’t waste their time at Puiné. Besides the ordinary duties of a missionary which makes everything stand on its head and takes ages for confessions, visiting the sick, preparing instructions besides the class that they both take each day for a certain number of children, Father Forestier is actively busy studying the language of a tribe where we are thinking of establishing a new parish and Father Vigouroux is considering creating a mission station and of material resources for the natives. He works in the fields, raises livestock, poultry and is not frightened to work himself to death in front of apathetic and unthinking natives. When I return home it’s a real pleasure for me to find such good fellow priests who blend the most friendly nature with a firm piety and a precious instruction for a mission station.
Generally our Christians at Balade give us feelings of consolation. What a difference from the pagans and what a difference from what they were! If they forget themselves for a moment, they are not tardy in coming back and rarely do they repudiate what we say. Not long ago the man known as the angriest in the country was struck accidently by a stone thrown by a child. Furious he set out in pursuit of the youngster who took refuge with us and even there the man wanted to grab the child and strike him. I heard cries, I raced up and saw that the punishment did not fit the crime since the man was armed with a large branch which he intended to belt the poor child unconscious. I calmed the situation but not without much difficulty. In the evening as I was returning from my work I found my Christian fellow on the path. He was waiting for me to apologize that he had not at first obeyed me. On another occasion we thought we had to arrange a marriage and when we saw the parents of both sides we told them to consult the feelings of their children. The young girl replied to her mother that previously when she was a pagan, they had to consult her to know what she wanted, but now it was sufficient to know what pleased the sacred chiefs. Since they believe that she should marry such and such a person, that was all right. She would do that. --- I will add to those anecdotes something that will astound all those who knew the natives and that is that I saw several of them who were really at ease about dying fearing that they would perish later on and come back as kanaks, as they say.
Finally among a small number of those who belabour us with their weaknesses, their cowardice and even their faults, I think that with the exception of two none have lost their faith. They are frightened of hell and don’t want to die without going to confession. During a cruel epidemic which carried off more than ten percent of the population, we saw racing towards us, Father Forestier and me, a young man whose bad conduct had made us expel him from the church for a time. He was trembling all over. He had tears in his eyes. He made us feel pity for him. We pardoned him.
Our settlement at Puébo is proceeding much better than that of Puiné. Founded less than 18 months ago, it already numbers 200 Christians and the attitude there is excellent. The second chief of the tribe, Hypolite, is a fervent Christian who adds tact and wonderful wisdom to a very great enthusiasm. He has the talent of leading everybody without giving the slightest umbrage to the first chief. The latter is a very gentle young man and would have converted a long time ago had he not had the misfortune of having three wives. It is not passion which prevents his sending them away but he fears what people will say and he thinks that on chasing them away he will cease being regarded as a great chief. That poor child makes us pity him. He is always near us; he often comes and spends whole days in our house so as not to hear, he claims, the criticism of the elders but with that he has not the courage of breaking his chains.
Reverend Father Rougeyron, who is in charge of the vicariate since the death of Bishop Douarre, lives at Puébo in the role of pro-vicar. He is an accomplished missionary. Despite the fever which he contracted in the New Hebrides and which he still suffers from quite often, he is extraordinarly active. Because of his care and patience, he makes excellent catechists who go into some village ever day to teach the words of the catechism to the natives and who compete in who will make the most converts. This increases what he is doing and makes a lot of work.
One word about the difficulties which we encounter with our natives in bringing them to Catholicism.
No 1 The former superstitions. It seems certain that in their customs they should do nothing important without consulting the divine and that in the ceremonies which I observe here is not only something diabolical but there are surprising effects. The object of most of these practices is to know the future and a good number of natives have told us that they couldn’t accept a religion which forbids them going, before a battle, to consult and find out whether they would be the victors or not. Yet that is not the most difficult point to attack, and all our Christians have very sincerely renounced that rite which they call here Tarik. One question which is more difficult to deal with is that of sorcerers and evil spells. A man should not die without a reason and the reason is always the malevolence of an enemy who, without saying anything, comes to gather up the remains of his meal, and attaches around is body a dead lizard and by these two methods incontestably causes his death. Some days ago a woman was killed when accused of practising the shocking role of being a sorcerer. Some said that she was innocent and that everything could be attributed to her husband but here justice is always vindictive and not always fair. They often say: if it is not you, it is your brother then.
No 2 Polygamy and certain customs around marriage such as marrying your brother’s wife when he is about to die or at least to prevent her from having another husband.
No 3 The fear of dying if one becomes a Christian. This must come from the fact that most of those we baptize or administer to die after baptism or after taking the last sacraments How many people in Europe, like our natives, regard Extreme Unction as being fatal to the faithful!
I told you at the beginning of this letter that it would be entrusted to an English steamboat. I was giving you data about the people of Tiari where I was staying when the ship was seen anchoring at Balade. But it did not turn out that way, and what that ship came to do is quite important for me to relate to you. The Phoque, commanded by a rear admiral came to take possession of New Caledonia in the name of His Majesty Emperor Napoléon III. I had the honour of receiving all the officers of that ship and today a detachment is still temporarily housed with us to build a blockhouse. I welcomed them cordially but I have not become mixed up with politics and despite that I really am afraid that our names feature in official reports. Pray God that he will give me the grace of never forgetting the natives for whose salvation I have the absolute task of working in my vocation. After raising the national flag at Balade, the admiral has been to the Isle of Pines and did as much there. He found there a fine English corvette, The Herald, busy charting. He did not allow it to finish its job but he did not put his adversaries on their guard by doing that. He came and settled with us to be better cared for. As for the place where he intends to establish his colony, we are only two miles away.
I was overwhelmed with embarrassment at that time. I had become native; I have to become a man of society. Pray God in His goodness that with all these changes I do not miss the path which I came here to follow.
I embrace you affectionately in the holy hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Your worthy brother
Xavier Montrouzier
Apostolic missionary.