From Marist Studies
2 November 1854 – Father Jean-Baptiste Bréhéret to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Fiji
Translated by Sr Marie Challacombe SM, December 2015
- J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
- Lakeba 2 Nov. 1854
- Very Reverend Father,
- I humbly ask your pardon for having been so negligent about writing to you. I haven’t done it since His Lordship placed me at Somosomo, the main village of Taveuni, the big island near Vanua Levu. We were Fr Michel, Brother Sorlin and myself. When receiving us onto his land the king had expressly forbidden his people to embrace our religion. The opposition to the faith was so strong that that we could find no-one who wanted to hear about it, even indirectly. Our life was not always safe there and we had to put up with a lot form the local people. This village is one of the worst in Fiji.
- In the month of September 1852 we left Somosomo on the orders of Fr Mathieu and Fr Michel went to Rewa to be with Fr Mathieu and I went to Ovalau where Fr Ducrettet was living. I was made superior, to my great displeasure, because I feel very strongly that I do not have the qualities needed for that. Fr Ducrettet, it is true, although much more capable, would not have been able to get on with the brothers because of his irascible nature and being a bit too much inclined to use harsh words. We two have lived peacefully during the fifteen months that we have spent together. Finally in January 1854 Fr Mathieu sent me to Lakeba as superior with Fr Roulleaux, to replace Fr Favier who couldn’t hold out any longer, dying of hunger, he said, and had left the place and come to Ovalau with the consent only of Fr Roulleaux.
- Very Reverend Father, if I go into some details and if I allow myself to censure the behaviour of my confreres, who are worth much more than I, it is at their own request. I have been blamed for not making Fr Roulleaux known and for being the reason why those who followed me at Lakeba suffered with him. On the other hand I am urged to write to you to undo the effects of the reports made against him and which must have reached you.
- That Fr Ducrettet was unable to get along with Fr Roulleaux does not surprise me; they are two characters who were never meant to be together, they repulsed each other as soon as they met. As for Fr Favier, he has his faults; he passes for being a bit too spendthrift and a bit careless, but whatever Fr Roulleaux says, he cannot justify himself to me; if they suffered from hunger, it is his fault, there is even a bit of blame attached to him about this. On the other hand the father has been slandered in the vicariate. This is what the bishop wrote to him from the Navigators: “I have to tell you about the reputation you have in the whole archipelago of Tonga and elsewhere, among the missionaries and the native people. You pass for having beaten and maltreated Brother Annet and Fr Bréhéret, for being always brawling and angry with them, for pushing away, beating and maltreating the people. I know from a sure source that if there is some exaggeration in the reports, there is also some truth.”
- I can say before God that these reports are false and I cannot understand how his Lordship, who reprimanded the father very strongly in his two visits here, did not consult me to find out the truth about him and preferred to listen to the accounts of the people or of necessity based them on their accounts. Because who else has lived with Fr Roulleaux for seven years? Brother Annet is dead and Brother Paschase was not able to be consulted, and if he had been, would not have given this testimony. The father never beat or maltreated anyone. He never raised a hand against a soul except for one single time which was when the savages sent by the ministers dragged Brother Paschase away by force. Even then he struck no-one and did not intend to. We did not live brawling and in anger. The death of Brother Annet could not be laid at his door as has been claimed. There was suffering here at one time, but little of it was his fault but more from those who bore it from lack of experience.
- There is a good side to Fr Roulleaux, he has qualities; but to live with him as inferior, I admit one must take a lot on oneself and arm oneself with patience. He exercised mine for seven years. He treated Brother Annet too harshly; he imposed penance on penance right up to his death, often unjustly and because he did not know how to deal with him and order him. Irascible and impressionable, brusque in his way of replying, especially in his first years. That’s what gave rise to the rumours about him. With him an inferior could do nothing without him interfering. Brother Paschase said to me more than once: “He just has to arrive and I do something wrong.” If they suffered about the food, he remained healthy for a number of years. When I brought Brother Paschase here, I found them, Fr Favier and him, living so miserably that I was ashamed in front of the white man who accompanied me and who couldn’t refrain from mentioning it to me; when I came back in January I found the father in the same state. And yet, they had everything they needed, axes, knives, necessary things etc.; rice, salt, sugar and plenty of flour. They only lacked for fat and pork. We would probably be still in the same state if I had not come as superior; when we are away, where does that come from? It’s that he has a particular talent for hindering and not profiting from the opportunities that providence gives us. Here God provides everything, but he wants us to give a hand. To make this short I won’t give examples to make it understood how in an island where pigs are cheap, one could be so mean. On the question of provisions he often tired me, wearied me with his complaints, especially against the bishop, unjust complaints, because if instead of complaining he had let people get on with things, we would have lived, we had what we needed. Jealous of his title as superior, he made it felt in a ridiculous manner, meticulous and obnoxious. I say nothing of his obstinacy about making us have supper and go to bed late, to the extent that the brothers told me they would much prefer to go without eating. I admit that although he repeatedly asked me, I felt great such repugnance receiving him as an inferior that I would only have done it from obedience. He felt this change in his position very keenly. Since my return we have lived with a good understanding. I will say nothing of his qualities, his love of order, of cleanliness, of economy, of his constancy, his patience, of his energetic character, his zeal, and on this point let there be no blame attached to him.
- Reverend Father, during the first year that Fr Mathieu was in Fiji, a number of things happened that I believe it is my duty to tell you about. In keeping with the bishop’s wishes and at the request of the king, Fr Mathieu settled alone in this village, and left Fr Favier alone in Ovalau, without bothering to send him to replace him at Lakeba although he knew that Fr Ducrettet could not hold on there. Later, Fr Ducrettet having gone to Ovalau and having left Fr Roulleaux on his own, they (he and Fr Favier) went on a journey into the interior and thought nothing of setting up a new establishment and that one of them would stay there. It has to be noted that they hadn’t even got the wherewithal to live at Ovalau. God did not allow this to take place. I also know that since Fr Michel has been at Rewa Fr Mathieu has several times tried to isolate him in a neighbouring village, with the excuse that there is not enough work for two at Rewa.
- Cf. Doc 1057 letter written from Somosomo 7 September 1851.