From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

Bp Bataillon to Fr Colin, Apia, Upolu, 21 November 1853

Clisby Letter 107. Girard doc. 1311

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


By the end of 1853 Bataillon was beginning to feel the pinch of the Marist boycott. With no more missionaries coming out to the Pacific, the flow of provisions, etc. had dried up too [6]. And although supplies were obtainable in Sydney, some items were too expensive to be purchased there. There was also the constant danger of shipwreck and the loss of valuable cargo, a fact the bishop underlines by referring to the loss of the latest in a line of mission schooners, probably the ‘Fetu ao’ in the port of Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu [2]. For the sending of this letter, therefore, he was obliged to have recourse to a vessel passing through Apia on its way to America. This did not prevent him from making further requests for furnishings for his new church [4 & 5] or even asking Colin for another brother tailor.

This letter shows that by November Bataillon had confirmation and details of the death of Paschase five months before. At the beginning of the year, on his way back from Tonga to Fiji, Paschase had called in to Futuna, where the precarious state of his health was obvious to all. Servant writes: “Brother Paschase, who was on board the ship, came ashore, and we had the pleasure of embracing him and hearing plenty of news about our missions and France. But the pitiful state of his illness aroused our compassion. The poor Brother was on his way from Tonga to Fiji. His stay with us was a brief one. The ‘Rosa’ set sail for Ovalau. Brother Paschase received some help from the missionaries there, and then went on to his destination at Lakeba. But in the state he was in he could not be of any service to the mission. His illness gradually worsened until he was no more than a skeleton. Finally he ended up leaving this land of exile and suffering to enter eternal rest.” (ES 311). Bataillon, who was sparing of his praise, does not fail to give the brother his due [3].

The bulk of the letter is devoted to justifying his way of doing things in Oceania vis-a-vis the Society. Like Pompallier before him, Bataillon wanted complete jurisdiction over his missionaries. He believed he had been given this effectively by a Roman decree of December 1845 which made the Jesuit Vicar Apostolic of Madurai, India, the religious superior of the Jesuits of his vicariate (Wiltgen 413). As a Marist vicar apostolic, Bataillon believed he ought to be similarly situated with regard to his Marist co-workers. It was on the unwarranted, and disloyal, criticism of some of these that he blamed the misunderstandings between himself and the Society (cf Hosie 110). These could be sorted out, in his opinion, without his having to go to Rome. Such voyages had in the past not brought much good to either vicars apostolic or to their societies [8]. He cites the cases of Rouchouze, who disappeared off Cape Horn in March 1843 with 24 of his missionaries (Wiltgen 319), and Douarre, who returned to the Pacific in 1848 to find one of his missionaries murdered and the rest evacuated to Sydney (Hosie 91). His third example seems to be Pompallier who likewise went to back to Europe with great plans and came back as bishop of the smallest diocese (in area but not in population) in Oceania (Hosie 64).

Bataillon finishes with a reference to Calinon’s visit to Tahiti. While there he had consulted with Stephen Janssen, Vicar Apostolic of Papeete since 1848, about putting the case of the French missions of Oceania to the government in Paris. Bataillon did not have much time for Calinon, and had never let him function as provincial, so his criticism of him in this case needs to be taken with reservations.

The translation is taken from a photocopy of the original in the APM supplied by Fr Lessard.

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend (Father),
I am taking advantage of a ship heading for California to write you another few lines.
In my letter of 11 September last, I informed you I was sending Fathers Padel and Bernard to Uvea and Futuna respectively, but the mission schooner which was taking them did not reach its destination. It was wrecked in the port of Tonga. It was anchored off some rocks and a squall drove it onto them. The cargo was saved, the schooner itself didn’t suffer much damage, but it couldn’t be repaired in Tonga. They don’t have the resources there. But as it was insured as well, the captain sold it on the title of the insurance, so that the mission has suffered no loss. The worst thing about it is that it was wrecked before completing its visits. The Fiji group remained to be provisioned and they were the ones in most need. Their provisions are here in Samoa. I have hopes of finding a little schooner for getting them there before too long.
More painful is that dear Br Paschase died last July. May God be blessed. It was from dysentery he contracted in Tonga more than two years ago. He had got over it and then he suffered another bout which finished by killing him. I have great confidence in his death. This Brother was a bit of an individual but had a great depth of faith. We appreciated him much more at the end than at the beginning, and his long illness must have been a grace from the good God to prepare him better for appearing before him. To sum up, I repeat, I was full of confidence on the dear Brother’s death. And it is this confidence alone which can deaden the pain following from the loss of a friend and a brother. We are saying 20 Masses for him.
Work on our church at Apia continues. It will be finished soon. I have some hope that next Easter we will be saying Mass there. There will be a place for an organ. I have written to Fr Poupinel and Fr Dupont on the matter of the purchase of this organ. Be so kind, I pray you, to authorise them once more to fulfil the request I address them on this head, which is so important for the success of the mission of Samoa.
I have also asked for a fine bell for the bell-tower which I am building with the church, with a beautiful Way of the Cross, and a set of candlesticks. With the church finished and embellished with these things, with a choir we are already forming, with the ceremonies of Catholic worship well performed, with the exercises of the Archconfraternity, I regard the Navigators as conquered for Catholicism. Please then, my well loved Father, I ask you once more, authorise the procure of our mission to get busy with my request and do us a service once more.
Permit me now, my very Rev Father, to share with you simply and plainly some thoughts that are weighing on my mind. It is a very long time since we received anything from Lyon, confreres, aid, even letters. Not to send us confreres, alright. But to stop sending us soutanes without giving us any warning - I don’t understand that. Can the Society have completely lost sight of her children in Oceania? Could she have shrugged off even the sentiments of humanity in their regard, counting as they do on receiving clothing from Europe? We have delayed taking counter-measures. Having waited so long we have become convinced that the Society no longer wants to do us this service, and we have had some black material sent from Sydney. But in the meantime, the confreres, some of them at least, have been very wretchedly clothed. For myself I have had two other soutanes, or rather two other attempts, made by one of my natives from blue cotton. Now that I have received a little black cloth from Sydney I will get my children to make, if not soutanes, at least substitutes more suitable than the last ones. That can be done readily. For the rest, that will have to work, since it is not possible for us to do likewise. We could, it is true, have them made in Sydney but the prices are so exorbitant that we must regard that means as impractical. There is one means that would be easy and very profitable. That would be to have a Brother tailor at the procure in Sydney. With the help of some natives we would send him, he would suffice to make all the clothing for the vicariate. But I have been asking for this of the Society several times a year for the past 6 years and the Society has not deigned to grant our request. May God’s will be done.
It seems, very rev. Father you want me to come to France to settle everything. I would comply the sooner with going, especially because of my old and dearly loved father who is dying of regret, they say, thinking he will never see me again - a thing that could well happen if I keep on putting off my voyage. Up until now I haven’t been able to leave my post, and I am convinced I cannot leave it just yet. But it is my intention to go as soon as I can. Let me give you my thoughts about the trip in question, anyway.
You have told me you would like to give up the missions. In that case, what is the good of an arrangement. But if you find an arrangement necessary, make it with Rome for I am only its delegate. I have written to the Holy See to come to an understanding with the Society about the mode to be adopted in our missions. All the arrangements made with Rome I have accepted without the slightest difficulty. It seems to me, if the Society wished, it would be very simple to come to an agreement by correspondence. The difficulties of a long and uncomfortable voyage are no small matter. Will my personal report, anyway, be any more effective than my letters? Besides, what worthwhile results have the voyages of my colleagues to Europe achieved? Some have perished with all their recruits; others have found on their return that their second state was worse than their first. Some, after having approved and signed common regulations for our missions have ended up doing no more and no less than before, that is to say, they have carried on doing what was possible. It is this word which should be, if not the only one, at least the principal article of a regulation for the missions of Oceania. And lastly, what good effects have the voyages of our colleagues produced in Europe? Haven’t they broadcast the family problems, scandalised many, and cooled enthusiasm for the missions? Still, if it pleases God, I will make this voyage you are asking of me as soon as I can, so I will have no cause for reproaching myself at having neglected any means or any opportunity of carrying out successfully the work which has been confided to me.
In the meantime, I beg you to continue to support and assist our missions. St Paul, having written a long letter to justify himself against the calumnies and criticisms of certain brethren of Corinth, asks pardon for his foolishness.[1] Here have I been for 10 years pleading the cause of the peoples of Oceania. In the course of this long and painful process I have found it necessary to speak about myself, to vindicate myself on many counts, to place the blame on some confreres. What a painful necessity! What a depressing role! It seems in fact foolishness to set oneself up as one’s own advocate and accuse confreres. It was in order not to come to this that I recommended the Society to tread softly, to take time before judging and pronouncing a verdict. The Society has rushed in, believed everything reported by some confreres, given credence to serious calumnies. It has taken fright, believed our missions to be in imminent danger of ruin, rushed to apply remedies. There have been a great number of regulations, any number of changes; they were not, perhaps, what was best. Time and patience were the remedies we needed. The Society, not seeing the results of these remedies, believing even they have not been applied, has become discouraged and has decided to abandon our dear missions. I have continued to tell the Society to go slowly, to believe everything and to believe nothing; to wait for time and experience to teach them what is based on fact and what is the product of a restless imagination, and I have spoken in vain. It has been necessary then to face up to the facts, and so it has been necessary to argue my case, so to speak, to become, in some way, my own advocate. What folly! But utinam sustineretis quid insequentiae meae - supportate me [Would that you were upholding my plea - support me].
Yes, my well-loved Father, support me. If I plead my own case, it is because it is linked with that of my dear oceanians for whom aemulor dei aemulatione [I am jealous with a divine jealousy]. If I become my own advocate, it is not that I am unaware of my own weakness and incapacity. It is because I am conscious on the one side of my good will, and convinced on the other that misunderstandings present the greatest threat to our missions - faulty judgements which engender misleading reports and all that follows as a consequence. I repeat, let the Society take time to assure itself about everything, but in the meantime, let it carry on its work in Oceania and put an end to this painful conflict which harms our missions more than any other obstacle, because it casts us all into apprehension and uncertainty, because it fills our minds and preoccupies us and diverts us from the great war we must wage against heresy and paganism.
My very rev. Father, in the name of Mary, continue the work in Oceania. According to a decision of the Holy See, the Vicars Apostolic have been constituted vice major regular superiors of their coworkers belonging to the same Society. We must presume that the Holy See was inspired with this decision for the greater good of the missions. All can be reconciled. Nothing has changed in practice - the same attachment and the same loyalty to the Society, the same way of dealing with the confreres. Don’t be afraid, then, to give this new method of organisation a try. It can’t involve any more difficulties than the first.
Please pardon, my venerable Father, anything in this letter which may cause you pain. They are my private thoughts which I am never afraid of revealing to you. But I have written them in such haste that it has been difficult for me to choose the right expressions, to order and complete my ideas properly. Excuse them all because of the good intentions behind them.
Always be a father to me and allow me to say of myself, My very rev Father
the least of your children,
+ P. Bishop of Enos. V.A.
PS. His Lordship of Taiti has gone to France. It appears he has come to an understanding with Fr Calinon to plead the cause of our missions with the government. That is very good. I wish and hope for good results. But in Fr Calinon’s letters and reports, which you are acquainted with yourself, it has seemed to me, there are exaggerations and certain ways of putting things more likely to cause harm than help it. One must be careful in these sorts of approaches to a government. I mention this in passing so that in the event you may treat with moderation and prudence anything said or written to you on this matter.


  1. Cf 2 Corinthians 11: 1. Bataillon quotes from this epistle, in Latin, again later in the letter.

Previous Letter Letters from Oceania: 1852-3 Next letter