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28 November 1854 -Father Jean-Laurent Dezest to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Futuna

Translated by Sr Marie Challacombe SM, December 2015

Futuna, 28 November 1854

To Very Reverend Father Jean-Claude Colin

Very Reverend Father,
It is with a heart suffering from the greatest sorrow that I undertake to write you this letter; and this sorrow is shared by my confreres of Futuna and Wallis, etc. We are continually asking ourselves what state we are in with regard to our dear Society of Mary. Has she cast us out of her bosom, as unworthy, harmful members? Because what is the meaning of this abandonment in which we are left? No more letters, no more communications, no more advice from our good superiors in France, not a single little scrap of a note from our beloved confreres, no sign whatever of life from this Society to which we gave ourselves completely by our religious profession! Relegated to these distant islands where we landed through zeal for the glory of God and in obedience to our very reverend father superior general, we are prey to the horrible perplexity of thinking that perhaps we are a source of tribulation and danger for our dear Society which perhaps feels forced to abandon us. Oh! What a cruel thought! To die in these lands in the midst of so many dangers, and perhaps to die no longer Marists! If I begged so insistently to enter the Society of Mary, it was because I desired to further my salvation and my perfection; and in accepting the apostolic ministry that you deigned to confide to me in keeping with my ardent desires; I was convinced that I would remain a Marist, subject to my superiors in whose hands I had made my religious vows. If I had dreamt that it would be otherwise, I would have begged you to leave me in Europe, because my greatest consolation here on earth is to live according to the Society of Mary, which is, after God, the thing I love most in this world.
So I come today, very reverend father, to beg you, to implore you, in the name of this same Society to which you deigned to affiliate me, to tell me if I am, or not, your child, your religious, while remaining in Central Oceania, or whether without my knowledge and against my will, I have come under the authority of a different superior general than you designated and elected by our Society. In the first case, I feel no pain about continuing to remain in Oceania and even to die here, as has been my desire for many years. In the second case, I beg you to send me to another place where I can live and die in this Society of Mary which I love with all the tenderness of my heart.
When Bishop Bataillon came to visit us we begged His Lordship to explain to us this absolute silence of our superiors and confreres in Europe. His Lordship believed that it must be certain decrees from Rome which must specifically hamper you, and which throws us into the greatest perplexity, partly because they are opposed to the ideas which sent us off joyfully to the foreign missions, because, if I had known about these decrees in France and especially the weight they carry, I would never have decided to distance myself from the places where the Society definitely lives with its spirit and its constitutions. And I am not the only one who feels like this.
In the five years that I have spent in Oceania I have not seen a single Visitor in the name of the Society. So who does represent for us, either in whole or part, the authority of our reverend father superior general? Father Grézel, who wants to die in the Society of Mary to which he is bound by the vow of obedience, does not know who to approach to ask to make his vows, if he should be judged worthy.[1] He begs you to tell him if you think he is able to enter the Society, and in this situation which missionary you would delegate to receive his vows.
I finish, very reverend father, by reminding you of the encouraging words you were kind enough to write to us when we were on the point of leaving France. Do not forget, you told us in your letter of July 4 1849, do not forget the Society to which you belong; it is through her that God will bless your efforts, just as through her he calls you to the apostolic life; keep her spirit, her customs; honour her everywhere by your modesty, your prudence and by the whole of your conduct. You are only leaving your confreres in Europe in order to join other confreres of the same Society in Oceania, and everywhere this same Society will serve you by her care, the tenderness of her charity, and by her vows and her prayers.
For a long time we have been asking ourselves why such consoling words are without effect. If we ourselves are the cause, please tell us so that we can correct ourselves. If you have not stopped being our good father, ah! hasten to relieve us of our great affliction. Your feelings will still be ours, we will glory in being the most devoted of your children. In all the places that the bishop of Enos has stayed, in Samoa, in Wallis, in Futuna, his missionaries have begged him to go to France to have an understanding with the Society, so that His Lordship may have the same goal as you.
We are hurt to the bottom of our hearts and too afflicted at seeing the dissension which exists from the unhappy results which follow for the dear missions confided to us. Poor Oceanians, must we then one day abandon you and leave you exposed to the fury of the wolves which would soon ravage you and your faith and your salvation, and which would soon plunge you into all the excesses of idolatry!
Very Reverend Father, please accept the expression of my most respectful sentiments, with which I have the honour to belong in the holy hearts of Jesus and Mary,
Your very humble and most obedient servant,
Laurent Dezest, S(ocietas) M(ariae)


  1. Isidore Grézel (1816-1884), seminarian when he arrived in Oceania towards the end of 1843, ordained priest in Futuna in 1848, professed as a Marist in 1859.