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27 June 1854. — Father Jean-Simon Bernard to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Based on the document sent, APM OW 208 Bernard.

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2009

[p. 1, at the head of the page in an unknown hand]
Father Bernard – he complains about everyone

G(lory to) J(esus) P(raise to) M(ary)
Wallis 27 June 1854.
To Rev(erend) Father Colin

Very Reverend Father
Here again are a few words from a child to its father. He doesn’t get tired of writing to him, letting him know of his sufferings and joys, although for a long time he has not received any consolation, apart from some mention in a letter to Bishop Bataillon.
You know, Very Reverend Father, that I am now in Wallis. This Wallis which people have talked so much about so grandly is only, as I see it, in the six months I have been here, a collection of weak Christians with all the passions and habits of other countries. And if I believe my precursors, they are, basically, a very poor Christian community. Three weeks ago I began to hear confessions. I catechised about it for four months. I am with Father Junillon. I asked him to hear confessions, if he wanted to, when I began to catechise. I saw that, in spite of his weakness, he wanted to have all his people perform their Easter duty, I did not push the matter. I think I have a duty to tell you what I have found that impressed me when I arrived on this island. I found that the two Fathers who lead the two parishes concern themselves much too much with material concerns, building houses, and neglect the rest. Three things have mainly impressed themselves on me: 1) in conversations about the morals of these people, the violation of the seal of confession is often ignored. Reverend Father Meriais and I have noticed it and have been appalled at it; 2) that in directing souls a routine or a humorous remark would rather be followed than sound theology; 3) that no rules of the Roman ritual were followed. Father Meriais sees things as I do. I tried, after two or three months, to bring them back gently and I committed them to giving up practices which my conscience could not accept and which were too arbitrary. They at last yielded on some small points which I won sometimes by surprises. On the most important points, such as the administration of the sacraments, funerals etc they preferred the Bishop to decide on changes rather than to regulate themselves imperceptibly according to the Roman ritual which His Lordship had already told them to follow. And Reverend Father Junillon, a good old man[1] and a bit addicted to routine, when His Lordship arrived, accused me of innovation, an accusation which suited them better than it did me, since everything they did originated in themselves or His Lordship, while I wanted only the rules of the universal Church. Nevertheless as a few points were found to be contrary to the rules introduced by the Bishop himself, he who is so sensitive, even to the tune of a canticle he had introduced, easily made the change. He was here a fortnight and he said almost nothing to me. I know he said to someone that I would do well here, but that I was an innovator. However, on one of those days when there was a little burial to do, I went and asked him how it should be done, and he replied to me a bit shamedly and in front of Father Junillon that the Roman ritual should be followed. So there they were, while calling me an innovator, forced to agree with me and nothing less.
Do not think, Reverend Father, that because of that there is bad understanding between us. Oh no, I have never even spoken to them about it. I am speaking to you about it only to prevent serious abuses or great aberrations stealthily arising among your children to the detriment of consciences and of the Church.
Another thing which causes a great deal of anguish among all of us is that we no longer receive any consolation from the Society. We have received neither letters, nor Ordos,[2] nor rules, nor a Superior. As well we have a Bishop who does everything he can to impose himself as our religious Superior[3] in spite of the protest of a great number of us who refuse to recognise him as such. I even admit that in an outburst of argument over this matter, I told him frankly that I wanted to be neither the Bishop’s slave nor religious, that I only wanted to be his servant or rather his collaborator, and most obedient, throughout his whole ecclesiastical territory; but that I would prefer to give up any mission rather than recognise another Superior than that of the Society of Mary, or recognised by it, or elected by us according to the rules of the Council of Trent.
If I ever saw, Very Reverend Father, a Bishop who had confidence in us as religious, who took care of us as real religious, who wanted to guide us like a Marist Superior, and with a council and not on his own and according to his own interest, I would willingly accept [him]. But I already have too much experience in this matter. On the contrary, I believe that these two powers [Bishop and Provincial] cannot be combined in the one person. What I have seen and heard would happen again: religious having themselves secularised, saying: it is the Society which first failed me by abandoning me and refusing to take care of me. By that very fact my obligation is ended. I do not see myself as having any further responsibility to it.[4] You realise, Reverend Father, how painful it is for you and your children to hear criticisms like this. However, what can be said in reply? All of us here who cling to the Society from the depths of our hearts groan endlessly at seeing our position abandoned under the arbitrary nature of a man who is not suitable for us as religious. We beg you, therefore, our hands joined, to share a little in our suffering, to promptly decide on something; either send us a Provincial armed with all your powers, or call us back to France. And if that goes on, we are talking about leaving – one of us – to see if we have been abandoned.
It is a fortnight since His Lordship was here with Father Padel. We thought they were leaving for France straight away, as each of them wanted. Not at all. The Bishop was annoyed that none of us was telling him to stay, although he was trying each day to get us to say he should stay. So he saw himself as being forced to leave against his will, as we clearly saw, when the natives decided to build a church in stone. A clear excuse that he was very happy to grasp under the pretext that building was necessary. As if he couldn’t make one of us responsible for those details of building that don’t really concern a Bishop. But he wants to stay, he is delaying his journey to France and some settlement for us. We beg you not to wait for him and to carry out promptly the arrangements he had promised me when leaving Sydney almost two years ago, which were to be put into effect that year, he told me, and which still have to be. It seems to us that you do not know him. We all know that his way of acting with everyone is always to try to outsmart us as it is with strangers and the natives. That is what gets him into problems with nearly all the Europeans, who seen see through him. It is good for you to know this so you can be on the watch and force him to act.
It is appropriate for you to know, Very Reverend Father, that you have not a single son in this mission who works with a happy heart. All the other sufferings and the other privations involved in missionaries’ lives would be as nothing for us, if we were on good terms with our Superiors, whether ecclesiastical or religious. While in our present situation we work without consolation, without any taste, even without a Rule; it is blunted. Could you grasp, at last, the true meaning of our situation and remedy it promptly before it gets worse? I see all the members of the Society gnawing at a problem that they will not be able to put up with very long. Everything I say is without any exaggeration. In spite of that we are trying to preserve in respect to him the spirit of respect, humility, simplicity, obedience; to the point that he told me in Sydney that he had not heard of the bad feeling among the members of his mission until then, and that before then he had believed them all to be happy and content. May our beloved confrères in Europe, who are so happy to live under rules and truly Marist Superiors, who enjoy the entire affection of prelates and peoples, think of us in the prayers and try to improve our situation.
I am, with great respect, Very Reverend Father, your most humble and unworthy son,
J(ean) S(imon) Bernard, missionary apostolic
(In margin and cross-wise) [8]
I have just received a box which has been sent to me from France without any accompanying letter. I think it comes from Reverend Father Petit. Or the letters have been lost, or he didn’t write to me. At the same time I received a printed sheet from Nantes without any letter. We know that everywhere in Europe our relatives and friends complain that we no longer write to them. The reason is that our hearts, under the pressure of this ill-feeling cannot express to them any feeling which could be pleasing to them, as well as to the [Society of the] Propagation of the Faith. That is why we have chosen to be silent until a happier time appears.


  1. Father Junillon was born on 10th December 1799, and so would have been 54 years old when this letter was written (Memoriale Societatis Mariae 2006) - translator’s note
  2. An ‘Ordo’ (order or arrangement in Latin) is a booklet, normally published annually, giving the official arrangement for the liturgy to be celebrated each day of the Church year - translator’s note
  3. On 25 November 1846 Father Charles Mathieu thanked Colin for having named Bishop Bataillon as provincial for the Marists in his vicariate of Central Oceania (cf Doc 567 [2]) So Bataillon did not impose himself; it was the Superior General who had named him religious Superior - translator’s note
  4. See Father Xavier Montrouzier’s letter of 21st April 1854 (Doc 1335)