From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

15 November 1853 — Father Jean-Simon Bernard to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Samoa

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2009

To Father Colin, Superior General of the Society of Mary, 4 rue St Barthelémy, Lyons
Upolu (Navigators) [Samoa]
15th November 1853

G(loria) D(eo) L(aus) M(ariae) [Glory to God, praise to Mary]

Very Reverend Father
A year ago I wrote you from Sydney[1] to inform your Paternity that I was leaving for the Central Mission [Central Oceania] with Bishop Bataillon. The fine promises he made to me, saying that he had written to you about a new mission plan, which certainly ought to be approved by you and which ought to satisfy everyone, encouraged me to go with him and see what it would be like. After nineteen days of pleasant sailing we got to Apia, the port for Upolu, the main island of the Navigators. Since I am speaking to a father, it is to inform him of my joys and sufferings as much in the tropics as in New Zealand.
1) I saw, with pleasure, populations much more numerous and closer together than in New Zealand, and so, easier to evangelise. That aside, you find the same ignorance, the same corruption, the same lack of interest in their own salvation. The country pleases me, the natives also. I thought that there would be good to be done among them. The Bishop suggested that I stay here with them, I said I would willingly do so if he wanted to give me the means of doing good among these people.
2) I confess, Reverend Father, that if on one side I was encouraged by the natives and the climate of the Navigators, I was greatly discouraged by seeing what was being done in the mission, the means being used and the way they were being used. I told myself: it would require miracles of the first order to get these people converted with the means being used. My experience had taught me that without an establishment for the missionary in the centre of the people, without books, without continual instructions among these light-minded peoples, nothing could be hoped for. And when I saw here each missionary more poorly housed than the least of the deserters and beachcombers, being simultaneously his own servant, cook, carpenter, tailor, laundryman etc. etc., and further, busy from morning till night giving insignificant remedies to a crowd of self-styled sick people who saw the missionary only as a free distributor of various remedies, while giving them only one or two banal little instructions only on Sundays, not even getting them to pray during the week. And that has gone on for seven years. I was no longer surprised to find there anyone baptised, anyone practising, or believing.
Oh! Reverend Father, how sad this mission seemed to be to me. And along with that, among all the members of the Society there was discouragement, coldness, and frightful self-centredness such that I had never seen anywhere among religious. I couldn’t stop myself from telling them about it. If, on seeing this, I had had a way of leaving for France, I believe I would not have stayed.
Further to that, the Bishop suggested that I go with Father Padel to set up an establishment among an important tribe, whose chief could be antagonised, it was thought, if he was refused. I asked who in the mission was your representative, so I could place myself in his hands and let him arrange with the Bishop what concerned setting up the establishment, and the means of feeding myself and the people who would have to be in my charge. Reverend Father Dubreuil, who claimed to act as your representative but was so only in title, did not want to do anything for me, any more than for the others when it involved making arrangements with the Bishop, always sending us to him over the least difficulty. Which arouses a host of differences of opinion and discontent among all the men, who are forced to fight their own causes more than seculars and to obtain at sword’s point the little they do obtain; for lack of a preliminary arrangement and agreement with the Society which is responsible for us.
The Bishop, urged on from another side by some people with imaginations more fevered than exact, has launched himself into extraordinary spending to erect a stone chapel before having any Catholics, who would have powerfully supported him in that work if he had waited until they had the faith, instead of all the opposition he has experienced. My great discouragement is seeing that the Bishop, after the mania of building and demolishing, is going to spend perhaps more than 130,000 francs [£5,200] for a solitary chapel where there is not a single Catholic, while he dares to offer 200 francs [£8] to a poor missionary whom he is sending to create some new stations, without even getting for him a cup for drinking and a seat to sit on. Ah! If he had allocated 3000 francs to set up each station in an appropriate way, all the missionaries would be happy and would push the mission forward in all parts of the vicariate, because this year he could have put more than 30 stations on a good footing, which would be more than needed for the whole vicariate. Here we have neither stations, nor Brothers for our temporal needs, nor trained natives, nor printed books to support our work. What can be hoped for if there is no change brought about in the administration of funds? It is now, at last, giving us what we need for living on and clothing ourselves. That is all we have been able to obtain.
What I ask for in these missions, Very Reverend Father, if we want to save ourselves, to be happy, to live a religious and to do good, is: 1) a good Provincial who concerns himself with four things in respect of the Bishop’s relations with us, to wit: 1) to ensure we can live as Marist religious in the various posts to be filled; 2) to ensure we have a suitable housing for doing good there; 3) to ensure we have the food we need; 4) to ensure we have clothing. If we had, in this way, a good Provincial with good rules, the discontent among the men would vanish, along with the disagreements with the Bishop. It is certain that I would prefer to be a secular priest in this mission rather than a religious in view of the way we are governed. Because I would make my arrangements with the Bishop as I would like, and we would be stick to that.
A few months ago another reason for concern arose. We have received news from the Society setting us on a solid and permanent basis. On the other hand there is the Bishop who does not want to go to France and who claims to have received a letter telling him that Bishops have been declared Provincials by right by the Sovereign Pontiff. Your silence added to that worries us a great deal. We certainly would not want him to be our Provincial unless he was to stop his quite arbitrary conduct and was strictly submissive to the Constitutions of the Society which gives him counsel. Here we do not know what counsel is. The Superiors do not wish to be guided by it, nor follow it, because they do not want to be impeded in their way of seeing and especially of acting. There is, here, astonishing waste on the part of all those who have had some authority.
Bishop Bataillon had decided to send me to Futuna, in view of the fact that I was clamouring for work here, and that he neither wanted to nor could set up establishments using up all personnel and money in Apia. I embarked on 15th August last on the mission ship with Father Padel who was going to Wallis. We went and lost our way in Tonga, where we saved everything along with the provisions for the Fathers in Fiji, except the ship which we left on the Tongan reefs. After six weeks spent with the Fathers of that island, we found a little ship which brought us back to where we had started out. Now His Lordship has changed his mind, and now I am going to set out with Father Sage to go and found a station at the east of this island, but still without any means, any Brother, nor money, except for 250 francs [about £10] which he wants to give us. I do not know what we will be able to do there, if it is not to concern ourselves with material things, and to lose, because of that, like so many others, our vocation as missionary souls.
If someone is organising a dispatch of soutanes and shoes, could Father Poupinel please put me on the list? I only ask for the lightest possible of clothes.
It has been a very long time, Very Reverend Father, since we have heard any news from you. Would you have abandoned us to the clutches of the enemy in the midst of these seas, where we are all in a continuous sickness, where we are doing so little, having been hampered from the beginning by leaders who have nothing decided and of positive good. We beg you, do not abandon us, especially in your prayers and in your holy sacrifices.
With deepest respect, Reverend Father
Your most humble and obedient son in J(esus) C(hrist)
J(ean) S(imon) Bernard
Missionary apostolic
Missionary priest


  1. Cf His letter of 22nd January 1851 to Father Poupinel (Doc 984)