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Br Joseph-Xavier (Jean-Marie Luzy) to the Superior General, Villa Maria, Sydney, 15 July 1854

Clisby Letter 109. Girard doc. 1353

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


Although Colin was no longer superior general of the Society when this letter was penned, Julian Favre having been elected in May, it is evident from the content that Joseph was writing to him. It appears that the brother had made up his mind to return to France, but that Colin, having sent his permission, had had second thoughts and asked him to stay on at the procure, at least for the time being. With the arrival of Gennade at the end of the December before, he had been hoping he was free to go home.

The Marists had spent six fruitless years in the Melanesian mission on Woodlark, before handing over to Italian priests of the Foreign Missions of Milan in October 1852. Gennade was one of the three who remained to help out in their first year on the island. After they withdrew to New Caledonia in November 1853, Gennade was appointed to the procure. The Italians had no more success than the Marists on Murua and withdrew themselves only three years later (Hosie 107).

The mention of islanders at the procure [4] is the first in this correspondence, although this was not the first time any had stayed there. Montrouzier had brought a group from Murua to Sydney in August 1851 and the following year Bataillon had 14 islanders with him when he came down to obtain building supplies and materials for his new churches on Wallis and Samoa (Hosie 99-100). The latter spent their days in Sydney cutting sandstone. But the two Joseph mentions were most likely forerunners of Bataillon’s collegians. The Tongan is certainly Soakimi Gatafahefa, a distant relative of Taufa’ahau, later King of Tonga. Born in 1838 at Lakeba, he was raised and educated on Futuna and Wallis. Bataillon chose him as one of three students he took to Rome with him in 1856 to continue studies for the priesthood. He was, in fact, the only one to complete his studies, being ordained in the Lateran basilica on June 10 1865. He did not live up to expectations though. Joseph remarks here that he would have made a good brother, and that, ironically, is how he ended his days at Meeanee in New Zealand in 1896 (Hosie 182-3). Other islanders included the crew of trading ships stranded in Sydney, and even some press-ganged into service by unscrupulous captains, the forerunners of the infamous blackbirders of a later period (Hosie 100).

Text of the Letter

Very reverend Father,
Please excuse me for taking the liberty of writing you these few lines. It is a duty I do not perhaps perform often enough. I am sending you my regards after the retreat we have just made, and since I know you always appreciate receiving news of your distant children, I am not afraid to open up my heart to you.
As Fr Rocher has shared with me the letter you sent him, that is, the one, very reverend Father, you were kind enough to include for me, I will not conceal from you that I was rather put out. But your will be done and not mine. I know that that will always be the will of God. I was only waiting for a good opportunity to return to France, whether with His Lordship of Enos or some other reliable person. If I have not left, that is the only reason which has held me back, since you had given me permission. And if I had departed earlier I would have displeased Fr Rocher. He had made his wishes clear, he told me to wait until Brother Genade (sic) came, that I could not leave before. So it was only after that time that I would have been able to leave if I had had the opportunity. Anyway, the good God has not willed it. May his holy will be done. I will stay as long as you wish, although I had very much counted on seeing my homeland once more.
I will not tell you anything about my health, my very rev Father. Although I no longer have my strength and am not in the best of health, I do not suffer as in the islands. If it was not for the sickness I should have preferred the islands I came from rather than the procure. The time would not have dragged so much for me. But there is no point in thinking like that. The sicknesses there are so terrible. Some of the fathers suffer a lot, as well as some of the brothers. But the good God knows how to compensate them. They might also be able to come to the procure for a rest. In the end, if I am of no use to the procure for one thing, I will be perhaps later for another. We don’t know what the good God has in store for us; there could be some change in the meantime.
I see some natives from the Centre from time to time. They have taken ship without knowing where they are going. There are others even who have found themselves hijacked from their islands by wicked captains who make slaves of them. For these poor natives do not know what they have become until they know how to speak (the language). After that, they are in a bad way. If we encounter or find any, Fr Rocher tries to make sure they depart again when the mission schooner leaves for their countries. They are very pleased and I am even more so to see them return to their homes and escape much misery. We have two natives here and Fr Rocher is very pleased with them. For myself, I love them dearly. One is the son of the second chief of Tonga and he is very good and very gifted. If he had spent a few years at the Hermitage he would have been able to make a good brother who would have rendered great service on his return to the establishment His Lordship has founded on Futuna. I do not know if Monsignor will take him with him when he leaves.
Farewell, my very reverend Father, please do not forget me in your prayers. I greet you and embrace you in the holy hearts of Jesus and of Mary, and I am for life
your very devoted and obedient servant,
Luzy Br J. X. your very distant son.

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