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6 October 1853 — Father Laurent Dezest to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Futuna

Translated by Peter McConnell, July 2011

Based on the document sent, APM OW 208 Dezest.

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)

To the very rev. Fr. Colin, Superior General of the Society of Mary.

Futuna 6 October 1853
Very Reverend Father,
Since the last letter that I had the honour of writing to you, several events have taken place about which one of my fellow priests has no doubt already informed you. I am still at Kolopelu in charge of about 16 children. Since last Pentecost Reverend Father Servant retired to Kolopelu because, having no fellow priest nor a brother, he was afraid of dying helpless in the post he occupied. His infirmity was only increasing and his weakness became so great that he could scarcely fulfil the functions of the holy ministry. He had scarcely heard two or three confessions when he was obliged to go and rest; his voice was no longer strong enough to preach; his breathing was exhausted; it was only with great trouble that he could celebrate Holy Mass. Add to that the pain of seeing his parish, which has always been so difficult, dwindling away. Finally seeing that he had a lot of trouble in saying only his breviary, he decided to come into my settlement. And he made the right decision because had he stayed two or three months more , I think that we would be today mourning the loss of that excellent fellow priest. Yet I must admit, very Reverend Father, that this good missionary did not take enough care of his health; he neglected a little bit what could have improved his life. But you can’t make a crime out of that because that is his nature. Also it seems that he would always have needed somebody to take care of his health and all his affairs. Today his health is improving a bit, but I do think that it will be a long time before he will be able to discharge his full ministry. A rest but not an idle rest is more than essential for him.
As for me I am now to be in charge of the parish which has been established in the valley where I am the leader of the settlement. In this valley there is already the king of this part of the island. I have shared my position with the apostolic vicar, suggesting to him that I couldn’t care for the school and the parish at the same time, without both suffering a lot; that is what took place. Besides my health is already beginning to feel the rigours of the climate; it would not take many years before I am out of action as in the case of Reverend Father Servant who at the very time I am writing to you is the victim of an attack of his cruel sickness (swollen legs). I think that Bishop Bataillon will have regard for my prayer and that on the next opportunity he will send somebody to help me. We found out that His Lordship would have already been at Futuna had he had a ship at his disposal. Each day we are waiting for him to arrive by the mission’s ship which must have arrived in Samoa two or three months ago.
Perhaps you want to know the result from the settlement in Kolopelu. I will admit honestly that that result is negligible. Most of the children, numbering sixteen, know how to read and write; they know how to make their clothes; they are not so stout as the rest of the natives; less ignorant in religious knowledge. They have a little better respect and obedience due to the priests; they have fewer vices, and vestiges of paganism; they are of some help to us in carpentry, upkeep of buildings; they are more faithful to us when we are sick; among those sixteen children, three are starting to translate some phrases of Latin into Kanak, hardly without giving us hope that they will persevere to the end: that is roughly the result of our efforts at the settlement of Kolopelu. Obstacles to better results come from the inconsistency of the Pacific Islanders, a childlike people, clinging to their former customs, showing scant regard or rather contempt for what comes from abroad; quite stupid, quite ignorant as they are, they believe they are superior to people of overseas although when conversing with us they admit that foreigners are superior to them. What is the use of science? Does it make taros and yams grow? Why the arts? All that does is to occupy you for a long time and it is difficult. Another obstacle to the prosperity of a school in this little island is that the parents idolize their children and they are also very keen to keep them with them because of their work. The children of other islands who are taken from us from time to time quickly pick up the illnesses of the country and after some months they ask us to go back to their parents.
The school at Lano on Wallis has better results for their study. It is already established more particularly with that intention than the settlement at Kolopelu; and then it has a headmaster who is much more capable and more experienced; may he give you the comfort of seeing some Pacific Islander raised to the priesthood in a few years time.
I told you further up, very Reverend Father, that the parish of Our Lady of the Martyrs gave much to be desired; it is not the same case for that of St Joseph; it gives a lot of comfort now except perhaps greater embarrassment from time to time because these people are like the arms of a set of scales and the smaller weight rises up to the top. Reverend Father Grézel, who continues to run Saint Joseph’s, does not miss coming to visit us every fortnight and we gather for talks the first Monday of each month. Brother Marie who usually lives at Saint Joseph’s comes sometimes to our settlement for the building and repairs of our churches. That worthy brother always behaves properly and keeps his religious spirit well. But his energy is beginning to diminish too, and he too will need a help for the continuous works of the two settlements.
One thing, very Reverend Father, which causes us bother is that long years pass without our having visitors. They bring us different provisions to nourish our bodies; and how can our souls remain so long without their being nourished? It is the fourth year that I am in Futuna and I have not had yet the comfort of pouring out my soul into the heart of a visitor. And yet who more than us needs to be exhorted to leave the spiritual routine and the parish? We do not forget you in our prayers, however weak and however bad they may be. Oh please show sympathy for us, sustain us endlessly through your wise advice and fatherly encouragement; recommend us at once to the very holy hearts of Jesus and Mary so that we will not fall in the struggle at times so difficult, but which can’t last for ever. I know that there are missionaries whose spirits are very tired; God in His goodness has not yet sent me that trial. And with the help of our good mother, Mary, I am happy in my job and if I ask you to lighten my responsibility a little, it is to obey that recommendation that you have so often repeated to us: lead a life that lasts; and also because I would exhaust myself wasting the good that my predecessors have already built up by so many troubles and tribulations.
Very Reverend Father, do receive the expression of my most respectful feelings with which I have the honour of being in Jesus and Mary,
your very obedient
and very devoted servant,
Laurent Dezest, S.M.