HD2/2-3 Lyons, January 21, 1850
Fr Colin to the Fathers of the Society of Mary in New Zealand, Lyons, 21 Jan 1850
Translated by Miss Melaine Lindsay. Corrected by Fr Gaston Lessard SM.
To all the Fathers of the Society of Mary in New Zealand
My dear confrères
When you departed for New Zealand with such a pure and generous feeling of zeal for the salvation of souls, we were far, you and ourselves, from anticipating all the sorts of conflict which awaited you in this foreign land. Inexperienced in a venture of this magnitude, we had no other ambition but to walk the path of blind obedience to the authority of the Vicar Apostolic, on the rectitude of which we counted fully, no other wish except that of winning souls to Jesus Christ and sacrificing our life to the extension of his kingdom. No self interest, either private or as a body, had entered into our plans, and we, you and ourselves, were without doubt far from anticipating then that our greatest suffering and conflict would come to us from the very one in whom we had placed a boundless trust.
But, my dear confrères, take comfort! God has counted each of your steps, your every moment of anguish, each of your sacrifices, your patience, your dedication, your suffering will have won you before the Lord an immense weight of glory – as they have won you forever the respect and reverence of all your European confrères. In the difficult position which the last arrangements made by Rome with regard to New Zealand have placed you, do not let your courage be weakened; show by your submission, your patience, your good spirit that you are working for God and not men, and that you are the true children of her whom the church names the Queen of Martyrs. Leave aside the earth and all human reasoning. See Heaven alone, your only, veritable homeland and where you are soon to be.
For our part, and you may be sure of it, we have never ceased to attend to you and to share your trials, and we shall never cease to have you ever in mind before the Lord. Wishing to ease, as much as it is in our power to do so, the difficulty of your situation, to put in order that which is confused and uncertain, we consider ourselves obliged to communicate to you the following measures:
Article 1: The Society of Mary, as other religious societies, can only devote itself profitably and honourably to the foreign missions to the extent that it maintains over its members the supervision necessary for the government proper to it. In 1846 I presented a formal statement of this in a document to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda. We stand in solidarity with one another and in the eyes of the Church. The Society is responsible for the conduct of its members; now, it would not be just to have this responsibility if it did not have the power to guide them and surround them with its solicitude.
Article 2: The manner of government appropriate to the Society may not detract from the episcopal administration and authority which are no concern of ours. When receiving us into his diocese or vicariate, the Bishop receives us with our Rules and as an active corporate body. We would on any other terms be unable to provide him with subjects. The most sincere respect, complete subordination in everything relating to administration and the Statutes of the diocese or vicariate, are owed to him. And we will never tolerate any member of the Society departing from this rigorous duty; but the Bishop also may not go against our essential Rules, without destroying among us the very basis of our existence as a corporate body and without infringing on the terms, implicit or explicit, or our admission into his diocese or vicariate. Should the Bishop consider it necessary to act thus, he would be giving us the proof that his wish was for us to withdraw. In the great centuries of the Church, the Benedictines would never have accomplished the immense good of which history tells with so much praise if the local ordinaries had destroyed among them the principle of corporation. In Europe the wisest and most experienced are convinced that we will only accomplish some good in Oceania by imitating the old Benedictines – that is to say, by several of us grouping together in the main areas and living communally under the guidance of a wise and enlightened Superior. In a well organised House of this nature everything becomes more straightforward and easier, possessions are shared and it costs less thereby to live. Resources which are becoming essential to us, may be built up more easily by labour and the salvation of the family members is better ensured. The missionaries who come and go to evangelise the people who are around them have more support; on their return to the communal House, they have the consolation of finding the few essentials to provide for their needs, the strength of a good example and protection against the infectiousness of the world.
We cannot proceed differently in the missions if we wish to accomplish lasting good and even protect you from foundering in virtue.
Article 3: It was with the aim of establishing by slow degrees among you this mode of action, the sole one in keeping with the nature of our Institute, that in 1848 I asked you in a letter, for your opinion with regard to the selection of a Superior, taken from among yourselves. And I thank you very sincerely, dear Confrères, for having responded to my wish by sending me your votes. They were what guided us in the choice of Reverend Father Forest as my representative among you in the capacity of Superior.
The Reverend Father Forest will therefore perform among you this office of zeal and charity for three years. These three years will commence from the day upon which he himself informs you of his appointment; he will have all our authority to lead you as religious; however, for reasons of modesty as well as of prudence, outwardly he will only take the title Visitor. He will reach an understanding with Monsignor Viard, the Vicar Apostolic, that in each station there will be at least three or four priests living as a communal estate, under the direction of a Superior whom he will appoint.
In serious and important matters he will, as far as possible, take the advice of Fathers Baty, Petitjean, Pezant, Garin and Comte, who will be thereby his ordinary advisors. It shall be possible for him to call other Fathers into the council if necessary and depending on the circumstances.
Article 4: Between Monsignor Douarre, Bishop of Amata and Vicar Apostolic of New Caledonia, and ourselves, it has been agreed by mutual consent that the grants from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for his mission will be managed by a council appointed partly by the Vicar Apostolic and partly by the Superior of the Society, both there by right, and that the Bishop will have twice the amount given to each missionary. I desire fervently that this method will suit Monsignor Viard and that he will be prepared to accept it in the interests of peace and the general good.
Article 5: Monsignor Pompallier proposed at the moment of his departure to keep a few of you back in his vicariate. I leave it to Reverend Father Forest and his advisors to accept or refuse the proposals of Monsignor de Marronée, depending on the circumstances but in all cases, we urge you to accept only to the extent that you are three or four priests together, and that Monsignor de Marronée would provide for your needs, and that no priest outside the Society would be received amongst them. It will be easy for you to see the sense of this last precaution for your own peace of mind.
Article 6: Finally, my dear confrères, revive your courage and your trust in God and in Mary your Mother, Restore yourselves in the spirit of your holy vocation. Be faithful to the exercises of piety which the Rule imposes on you, to your mental prayer, to your particular examination, to your spiritual reading. Always have a pure and straight intention and walk ever in the presence of God. Do not neglect your annual retreats, do the culp now and then for nothing simplifies the soul more, or fosters more feelings of charity and humility.
I know that Monsignor Viard is at once both Father and Brother to you. Show yourselves full of respect and submission towards him. Do not forget either that he is your Bishop, become his comfort, his support, as he himself shall be for you all.
Be assured of the fond, I say even admiring, sentiments of all your confrères in Europe, who do not cease praying for you. Accept especially those of which my heart is full for each of you, and with which I am, in Jesus and Mary, my dear confrères, Your very humble and devoted servant, Colin.
PS I tell you nothing of the country; the times are calm enough for the moment; however we are not without apprehension for the future. People show themselves generally less hostile to religion than in other times, even after the First Revolution.
Last year the funds of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith decreased by nearly a million subsequent to the upheavals taking place in Europe. This year they will crease proportionately; you see the need for building up resources on the premises for yourselves. The Society grows still, at present it has more than 60 novices in its various establishments.