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6 October 1853 — Father Pierre Rougeyron to Father Jean-Claude Colin, New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, July 2011

Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Rougeyron.

[p. 1]

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

New Caledonia, 6 October 1853

Very Reverend Father,
This is the third letter that I have written to you since the death of Bishop Douarre. Perhaps you have not received them because I have had no news from you for a very long time. That silence makes me write to you again to inform you of the new phase which New Caledonia is entering.
Martyrdom which I have so many times missed from being awarded escapes me this time and probably for ever. My unworthiness is probably the reason for that. Our wretched island is no longer independent; it is in the power of France which took possession of it in September 1853. It was an admiral who came himself to run up the flag. For the time being he is housed with us. We are on the best terms with him and with all his officers. The manner in which we carry out the work of the mission station pleases them particularly. At the Isle of Pines they admired the beautiful house. All its planks of wood were sawn by the priests; beside that house they saw a little farm but what delighted them was a sawmill created by the labour and skill of Reverend Fathers Chapuy and Vigouroux. In New Caledonia they found a beautiful plain cleared by a plough and a little farm where there are cattle, horses, donkeys, goats, sheep and poultry of all kinds. They were not a little surprised to see a small church made of stone. All that revealed to them the skilful administration of the deceased Bishop Douarre.
What struck them particularly was the change brought about in those natives hitherto so dreadful. They saw poor people, unsophisticated, gentle and calm. They also want to see us spreading out over the whole island to soften their barbaric customs. It is for you, very Reverend Father, to work in with the government on that score. All that I can tell you is that the moment designated by Divine Providence for the conversion of this people has arrived. All the tribes who know us want us to make their country good. Had it been like that before the arrival of he French government what will it be like when they see us supported by our emperor. (The admiral assures us that His Majesty Napoléon sincerely wants to protect our mission stations.)
The tribe of Puebo will soon be completely converted; unless there is an impediment. Five months ago 104 adults were baptized and only a week ago we had another 122 adults baptized. In a short time, we hope to baptize about another 200. That is the situation with the tribe where I am with Father Gagnière . it will be the same case for others where there are missionaries. Balade, which has stayed static with those 120 or 130 Christians is now saying that it wants to become Catholic. The Reverend Father Montrouzier is in charge of it.
The young chief, who came 20 leagues to meet us at Balade wanting us to go to his tribe, is now sufficiently instructed. He is waited for by his people who promised to listen to him and imitate him. We cannot delay any more without harming the success of that mission station. Reverend Father Forestier who is in charge of it has been urging me for some time to let him go and evangelize that tribe. I have just allowed him to do that after conferring with all my other fellow priests who all believe in the pressing necessity of starting that mission station without delay.
As there is another tribe about three or four leagues from it and as it is threatened being very near to Protestant ministers, all the fathers have urged me to send somebody to defend the post of that tribe called Hienghène on whom depends the success of the neighbouring missions because that tribe is influential. It’s Reverend Father Vigouroux who is going to start it. Those two priests are separated, but each has a brother and they are only a little day’s walk by rather good tracks from each other. All my fellow priests are convinced that that is not contrary to your wishes; it is also my conviction, otherwise I would certainly have refused to give my consent to it.
Such is, very Reverend Father, the present state of the mission station. It is going quite well at the moment; everybody, priests and brothers, seem happy and united. I myself will be happy with my vocation were I to see myself in a place that pleased me, but I feel that I am not there. I think that everybody shares my feeling. I have nothing which can give a noble idea of the responsibility invested in me. The good of Catholicism, it seems to me, demands that there should be for a bishop or even for an apostolic prefect, a priest who is very distinguished in all aspects. If France had not taken possession of the island, perhaps a lesser man who was very devoted and very enthusiastic, would have been able to do it, because our poor natives are not difficult but it is otherwise with the French authorities. You will do, very Reverend Father, what God in His goodness will inspire you to do; I think I have to tell you what I think; and do believe that it is without humility on my part but with absolute frankness being aware of my role and of my ability.
In the matter of this taking possession, perhaps you would afraid that we would be compromised, but I am very much at ease to assure you that we all stayed neutral and uninvolved in everything. We were not even consulted. The admiral told us that he had received the task from the emperor to take possession of this island. We had to carry on and put on a bold face. That is what we have done to the best of our ability. We have not taken any engagement with the government. Had there been any to take, it is for you, very Reverend Father, to warn us to do so. In the interim we will continue to act as before. Once more, we need help, we can’t do without it, without the most serious disadvantages . I am not worried, counting completely on your paternal goodness for what concerns our men and the interests of the mission station which you have put us in charge of. It is with these thoughts that I have the honour of being
your very humble and
obedient child,
Marist priest.