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23 May 1854 Father Jean-Louis Trapenard to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Translated by Sr Marie Challacombe SM, February 2015.

To Very Reverend Father Colin Superior General
A(d) M(ajorem) D(ei) G(loriam)
J(esus) M(ary) J)oseph)

Very Reverend Father
If others complain that they haven’t enough time to tell you of their work, their successes and their hopes, I can complain of having far too much time for writing to you about my lack of action, my uselessness, and almost my boredom. It’s already seven years since I left France[1] in the hope of devoting myself to the salvation of souls and obtaining the greater glory of God; and here I am with seven years of total inactivity, more harmful than useful. God wills that it should be so. He does not need my efforts to make his work prosper. But I would be happy if, being useless for others, I had been useful to myself and my poor soul. Glancing at my all my actions and the dispositions of my heart, I find that instead of advancing I have really gone backwards, that I haven’t got the simplicity of the children of God which would be the sign by which one can recognise the children of Mary. I am full of the mistrust of men. I believed them to be more upright and better.
Ah, how good our beloved Saviour must be to love us so much! It is true that all this time I have not been negligent in my pious exercises, my prayer, my examen, my rosary, etc, but I do them so badly that fear falling even lower. The lack of work would have been even more harmful if study had not come to my aid. I must thank God for giving me an attraction for reading. I do not want to say that I have made any great progress in knowledge; time has made swifter progress than me.
At present I am busy with English. Progress is very slow. I don’t have any chance of speaking English in the house; we speak French all the time; we never have visitors. Our isolation is complete. I receive good advice about going in to Sydney to relieve my boredom. But taking a simple walk does not seem sufficient motive for spending six francs each time, because, if other missionaries have sometimes given you fine theories about the precious funds that sustain us in this neighbourhood and have shown such a delicate conscience, I find that the same missionaries forget these fine distinctions when they let themselves go and spend so wildly and extravagantly. Another reason which prevents me from going out is that I am a religious and to have much to do with the world without serious reason would be more harmful to me than useful. Moreover it is not necessary for me to add my imprudences to those so prodigally done by others. Our place demands that we be solitary and prudent. You know all.
Very Reverend Father would you like to know what are my views and desires. I can tell you with all the sincerity of my heart that I desire nothing, that I seek nothing and ask for nothing. Do everything that God asks of me is my sole desire. Go wherever He calls me, I am always ready. Remain in solitude, I am resigned. If sometimes thoughts to the contrary cross my mind, I regard them as dangerous. Very often I need to make great efforts to overcome the melancholy that overwhelms me, because my character needs external occupations; my battles are often great. The grace of God comes to my aid. If however my character and myways have not always been as agreeable to those with whom I live as I would have liked, [2] I can tell you that that I have never hurt anyone by my words. Experience has taught me much. Yes, very reverend father, I left France with the best intentions. I rejected and avoided all that seemed human to me. I wanted only to work together with my confreres for the salvation of souls and the glory of God. I believed I would find the Marist spirit in everyone, a spirit of community, a spirit like the one we were taught in the novitiate; but I was mostly mistaken. The further I went, the more I found everywhere a spirit full of egoism, of self-love, a greedy and rapacious spirit for material objects, a high-handed and imperious spirit in those in authority,[3] a spirit which sought only its own advancement to the detriment of others. You know this spirit better than I, I don’t need to speak of it. This spirit is the ruin of the missions of Oceania and of the poor missionaries. All the missions built on this spirit are falling down everywhere. I can tell you that the moment I knew of this spirit I foresaw the disastrous consequences we see today. Time will reveal even more. But who are those who have brought about this spirit in all the missions of Oceania. They are worldly men, those who have never been formed to religious life, those for whom piety was a caprice, and whose turbulent character could not be contained within the restraints of a novitiate, who see only conquests and trophies. I can tell you, Very Reverend Father, that in the minds of those missionaries who have good judgment, a bad trick has been played on the missions of Oceania. This bad spirit wearies those who have good intentions and renders all their good intentions useless. This spirit displeases me entirely and makes me disgusted with these missions, but all my confidence is in the Lord. He is slow to act, but he always acts when the good of his church demands it; we have a striking example of this at present in the church of Sydney.
I ask you, Very Reverend Father, to have prayers offered for this poor church which is of interest to all of us. It has great need. I am not writing to you about the procure. You will know everything from other letters. I will tell you only that there is much good to be done here. I ask your pardon, Very Reverend Father, for keeping you so long with such a long letter of which the only aim is to find favour from you, who begs you,
Reverend Father, to accept
the regards of a most devoted son,
Marist priest
Sydney 23 May 1854


  1. Trapenard left France 23 October 1847; he spent six months travelling to Samoa (cf. Doc.173 §2); then he went to Sydney (cf. Doc 745 §1; 767 §2), passing through Anatom (cf. Doc. 782 §7-8; 793 §11; 817 §1-3) before disembarking on the island of Woodlark 29 April 1849 (cf. Doc. 1149; 1164 §5); he arrived in Sydney in January 1853 (cf. Doc. 1216 §1). There were in fact seven years between 1847 and 1854.
  2. Montrouzier speaks twice of the antipathy between Trapenard and Ducrettet (cf. Doc.928 §4; 1147 §12); he adds that Trapenard was “detested” by the native people of Uaman on the island of Woodlark (cf. Doc. 1147 § 11).
  3. The author had already criticised the administrations of Montrouzier and Frémont (cf. Doc.818 §2-3).