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28 Nov 1836 - Bp Jean-Baptiste Pompallier to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Le Havre

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2006

Le Havre 28 November 1836

To the Superior General of the Society of Mary

Reverend Father
For several weeks we have all been in the Le Havre in good health and waiting for a favourable wind which will allow us to set sail. In this town, as elsewhere, Providence shows itself to be quite motherly towards us. An elderly woman (named Dodard) very wealthy and very zealous, has given us hospitality in her house, which is near Le Havre, and she showers us with all sorts of care. Apart from our group of eight people, she has also received Monsignor Blanc and a good number of Jesuits whom His Lordship is taking with him. This house is a real temporary major seminary. Alas! If Divine Providence had not come to our help through the charitable goodness of this lady, how much our funds would have been diminished at Le Havre where, it is said, the cost of living is very high! How grateful we are to this new and great benefactress!
We must, certainly, be no less so towards Father Dubois and his confrères of the Foreign Missions who looked after us in a fatherly way at their house in Paris during the more than three weeks we stayed there; sometimes five together, sometimes eight. They provided us with bed and board and all sorts of good advice and service. When we were leaving for Le Havre, I offered Father Dubois, who was the Superior, I offered, I say, to pay our expenses. But he did not want to accept anything, in spite of several requests I made him. I am very content to tell you these things, so these benefactors of the mission can share in the prayers which the Society of Mary no doubt does not fail to offer for all those who do good for this beloved Society. You were perhaps thinking, in not receiving more news from us, that we were already far out on the ocean. In fact, here we are still in France. Up till now we have had only contrary winds. I have agreed with Monsignor Blanc to request prayers at holy Mass from all those in our two groups in order to obtain favourable weather from Him who commands the winds and the storms. We hope at last that we will soon be able to cross those vast seas which separate us from the places where we are to work.
However, to tell you the truth, our delays in embarkation have been useful to us in more than one way. Our preparations for mission had been pretty rushed because of the short space that the original departure time left us. Now the delays that we have experienced have allowed me to give them more mature thought, more care and more order.
Here is substantially a precise description of our financial situation: you will see that if Divine Providence had not worked through the thoughtful charity of several souls, to add to the allocations from the Association of the Propagation of the Faith, and from Propaganda, it would have been impossible for us to carry out our mission.
1) Funds received:
1) Received from Propaganda in coin 20,000 f.
then to buy chalices for missionaries 400 f.
then as well things needed by a bishop, and provision for all my expenses in Rome estimated at 2,000 f.
2) Received from Propagation of the Faith 25,000 f.
3) Received from a good number of the faithful 16,372 f.
and a lot of liturgical things and furnishings estimated at 6,000 f.
Total in coin 61,772 f. value of things 8,000 f.
Summary of value of things 8,772 f.
Definitive total 69,772 f.
2) Expenses paid:
1) Paid at Le Havre to the captain of the ship to Valparaiso 11,836 f.
2) for all our journeys including those from Rome and those of the missionaries and Brothers, with the transport of our possessions to Le Havre where we are … about 6,164 f.
3) outfit of linen and ecclesiastical and lay clothing for two years for each person, plus shoes, shoe-repairer’s tools with a little supply of leather; carpenter’s tools, tailor’s equipment with a small supply of cloths, hats; some blacksmith’s tools; tools for horticulture and agriculture; supplies of various seeds; wine for the Holy Sacrifice; flour for the hosts (the various sorts of wheat and grain we will find at Valparaiso), furniture for a double household for two groups of 4 missionaries in two places in the mission; a fairly adequate store of linen and clothing for worship [vetements de rencontre] for our future neophytes; a supply also of hardware for the savages; finally equipment for the worship of the good God 21,772 f.
Total 39,772 f.
There are, as well, several pharmaceutical items and medicines for sicknesses which could happen to someone or another. So you see that we have left only 22,000 f or thereabouts.
This sum will perhaps be hardly enough to get us from Valparaiso to the territory of our mission. So please, Reverend Father, plead our cause to the charity of the Propagation of the Faith. The documents which I am sending you will help you in that task. It is not that I distrust Divine Providence, but on the contrary, by cooperating with it I am completely trusting in it. Let it be remembered that we are going to countries which lack everything: housing, clothing, agriculture, industry, civilisation and true religion. There is no doubt no mission more appropriate than this to inflame the zeal of Marists and all the faithful. If the Propagation of the Faith could in 1837 send us, at Valparaiso, an allocation appropriate to the needs which are easy to foresee, the things involved being set out as they are, that would be granting this very difficult mission an urgent service. It is not for ourselves that we are pleading, as can easily be understood. We will always see ourselves as only too happy to endure all sorts of privations, tasks and sufferings for the name of Jesus Christ and to be docile to the visible leader of the Church, his august vicar here below! I do not conceal from myself all the crosses which wait for us; why, however, is my heart full of joy and happiness? Why would I not want to change my vocation for all the good things in the world? May the infinite goodness of God be blessed for ever!
I am sending you what I promised you in a recent letter;[1] it is a deed of delegation which I send you with pleasure and confidence for the good of the mission. Your attachment to the Holy See, your zeal for the concerns of God and his holy Church tell me how much this deed will be useful to you. I think that you are often in Lyons and that soon you will be settled there.[2] The mission and even the congregation will benefit very much from that. Mary, our good mother, will with satisfaction look again upon her children settled beside the chapel at Fourvière. So please give me the exact address of the newly erected establishment at the Lazarists in Lyons.[3] As I do not yet know it and I think you are still perhaps at Belley, I will send my letters for you there. I strongly request you to acknowledge receipt of them. Here are the ways of addressing letters: To Father ….. in such and such island of Océania; registered in France to M Émile Franques, 26 Rue St Jacques, Le Havre, Seine Inférieure; and to the French priests at the Retreat House in Valparaiso, Chile, South America. This M Franques is an excellent Christian and a member zealous for the Propagation of the Faith in Le Havre. He has already rendered us many services and has offered with pleasure to be of use to us in our communications. He will be happy, I think, to have letters [sent?] to him franked [d’affranchir les lettres jusques à lui] although he told me that it was not necessary.
If Father Coudrin, Superior General of the Picpus [Fathers] in Paris, had an occasion to send someone of his congregation to Eastern Oceania, he would be pleased to get him to take things you have asked for, whether letters or goods.
As far as goods are concerned, M Franques has pointed out to us another possibility at Le Havre: Messrs Gamare brothers, haulage agents. They are offering their services by keeping, free of charge, in the depot, the goods that we would send to the mission through Le Havre; they would willingly be responsible for putting them on a ship at the first opportunity.
In the matter of letters, here is another possibility:Father Hilarion of the Picpus Fathers gave me his name and makes use of him for the missionaries in Oceania: it is Father de Cambis, principal of the major seminary at Bordeaux.
M Franques, apart from the services he has to offer us at the port of Le Havre, makes himself responsible as well for putting on board those (things) sent for his friends in England [se charge aussi d’enbarquer ceux de ses amis en Angleterre] so as to send our letters more directly and promptly. They[4] are at the ports from which vessels leave most frequently and non-stop to Oceania.[5]
Father Dubois, in Paris, Superior of the Foreign Missions house, suggested two ways of communication; but these are only for missionaries from countries foreign to France, and not vice versa. These ways are Macao where there is a procurator, a confrère of Father Dubois, and a business house in England which sends them almost all their letters free. That is enough about ways of communication.
Good Father Coudrin had advised me in Paris to take our friend to money to Valparaiso and have it exchanged in that country. But it seems that the venerable old man is quite mistaken. Here at Le Havre, experienced people have made it the most urgent concern to strongly commit us to exchange it at the port, assuring us that in Valparaiso it loses much more in the exchange. M Franques has been so solicitous that he has turned the whole of Le Havre upside down to change all our funds into gold coins which are called Spanish, Colombian and Mexican quadruples or doubloons. Finding almost none in Le Havre, he wrote to Paris, and now we have almost enough gold of this sort, not only without loss, but with, as well, a very likely gain in value in Chile. We have been here at a time when French money is slow in circulation, and M Franques’ care has led us to profit from it. As well he has exchanged about 6000 francs [about £250] in napoleons which I had carefully saved for our travels. This gave us another little profit. So a piece of advice for another time, Reverend Father; let no one going through Paris fail to get French money exchanged into Spanish gold coins, and as many as possible into gold coins worth 84 to 85 francs. The price varies according to the rise and fall of circulation.
We did not buy, in Paris, a lithographic press like the one Father Champagnat has. At the Foreign Missions we were wisely told that these presses are more embarrassing than useful in countries where you cannot easily find things needed to use them and particularly to repair them when they break down. So I only bought a little press for copying letters. The opinion at the Foreign Missions and the Picpus Fathers is that the Society of Mary would do better to train some members in the old method of printing and to bring out, with the next dispatch of missionaries, a printing press with movable type [une imprimerie à caractères]. Let us not forget that a priest like this is of the greatest use for our countries where the Methodists use them to circulate their heretical teachings.
Again it would be very necessary to have trained, in the Congregation in France, very religious Brothers who knew the various secular trades. As for the priests for the mission, you do not doubt, Reverend Father, that they must be knowledgeable in theology, holy Scripture, in the discipline of the Church and in the religious life, and in addition to that, have good judgment, solid virtues, a quite supernatural way of acting in which reason, continually docile to the spirit of faith, dominates the imagination, the sensitivity, in a word, the whole natural man. Ah! How necessary, therefore, is a novitiate for the priests![6]
It is not enough to have a fine natural and good character; you have as well to live entirely in the spirit of God in everything, and be habitually firmly chaste and heroic in obedience; used to prayer even in the absence of books, know how to converse with God in any situation, and finally, love Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and souls. But I will not come to an end of it: how many unnecessary thoughts I have just expressed! I hope that the good God will fill with his spirit and his love those he has marked out for the apostolic life.
It would be very advantageous if some of those who come after us learn -- some of them English and some of them Spanish. It seems that these languages are very useful in the areas we are going to.
Our delays in embarkation have provided me with the chance to fulfil almost all the proprieties which a permanent separation from my country demands. I have written to my mother and my principal relatives, as well as to Monsignor the administrator, Father Challeton, Father Champagnat etc. I have written also 1) to the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda to acknowledge to his Eminence my reception of his letters and my reaction to them; 2) to Cardinal Castracane who had suggested to me that I give him news of everything concerning the mission and on our congregational affairs. I innocently told him what had happened in my meetings, my visits to Bishops, their protection etc etc.
To the French ambassador[7] who had asked me when I was leaving Rome to let him know what result his letters of recommendation had produced, and to thank him.
Finally I wrote to the Holy Father the Pope.[8] It is customary for Vicars Apostolic to write to his Holiness from time to time. A letter which was in Latin expressed my farewell, my veneration, and my gratitude. I asked him for his blessing on my departure from France. I said this about the Society of Mary in the course of my letter: Societas Mariae exultans praegardio grates pervoluit maximus [sic maximas?] Deo, ipsius augustissimae matri ac beatitudini vestrae quae illam pauperculam latet tantos [sic – tantis?] beneficiis cumulavit! Breve enim vestrum executionem habuit pro ipsa constituenda, faventibus Dr D Archiepiscopo Amassiensi administratore apostolico dioecesis Lugdunensis et episcopo Bellicensis [The Society of Mary rejoicing exceedingly offered [pervoluit] greatest thanks to God, to his most august Mother, and to your Beatitude that He has heaped upon and hides her, a poor little thing, with so many blessings. Quickly indeed, the Lords Archbishop of Amasiensus, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Lyons and the Bishop of Belley having favoured it, your command for its approval took place.]
If Brother Marie-Nizier has not sent you a power of attorney, it is, he told me, because being a minor,[9] men with experience in business did not think he could give one, especially as his father and mother were still alive.
I have taken advantage of some moment of respite to give little talks to our missionary Fathers on the theology involved with our faculties, and a little on religious life according to the Rules. They all show understanding and good will. But to be honest with you, I do not notice in some of them much grasp [beaucoup d’acquit] of ecclesiastical sciences and especially religious life. But thanks be to God, they have some facility and taste for these things, which are essential for priests in religious orders and missionaries overseas. Alas! There is not too much time to improve one's knowledge once you had begun apostolic work! How important it is to gain it beforehand! I very much would prefer that those who come from now on be well equipped in ecclesiastical sciences, along with the other qualities that make holy priests.
I am sending you a copy of the rescript of the indulgences granted to the [Society of the] Propagation of the Faith at my request. I think that the congregation will preserve with pleasure this little remembrance of the kindnesses of the Holy Father.
Here is, as well, a little sample of the blue material which I asked to be bought for the clerical cloaks for our congregation. I have had them made before embarking so as to have them all ready at Valparaiso. Father Chanel having passed on to me your decision about this, I had it carried out. However, I have reflected on an idea that came to me: can I on my own authority change the ecclesiastical dress which the discipline or the general custom of the Church has decided on? Can I myself, as a bishop, authorise this modification in the places under my jurisdiction? If, later on, when the Rules were examined, the Roman Curia decided not to permit it, it would be a real inconvenience for the missionaries who would have worn this cloak in the midst of a mission, and would then be stripped of them in the sight and with the knowledge of our peoples. While writing a farewell letter to His Excellency the Papal Nuncio in Paris, I asked him for his opinion about my difficulty, and he replied that his personal opinion was to wait; that the Motherhouse in France ought to consult the Roman Curia about this before the cloak is worn. I am sending you his letter, and this is what I had decided to do after having talked to our missionary Fathers about it. In the desire that we all have to wear this distinctive mark of a servant of Mary, we beg you, Reverend Father, to make a request to Rome as soon as possible, with the aim of getting permission to carry out this point of the Rule for our mission, before the entire body of the Rule is approved. Then would you be so kind as to send the reply to Valparaiso along with your wise advice.
I am going to leave with M Franques at Le Havre the exercise book of notes, all the conditions of all the items that we are taking to the mission. This will help you to know what we will need later on, and what future missionaries will need to be provided with on their departure for our shores. M Franques has your address. As the earliest opportunity he will send you the whole lot care of M Meynis,[10] no. 7 Rue de la Prefecture in Lyons. I am warning you however that not everything is very exact: several things have not been written up: we have been so much in a hurry and so many things were needed. Nevertheless, what is not written down does not amount to much. As the post is about to leave, I am ending my letter, without saying my last goodbyes to you; I will have the opportunity to write to you about several things concerning the success of the administration of our mission, because I think that you will certainly want to keep all the documents I send you for that purpose. I am still expecting to receive a letter from you, to acknowledge reception of the one that I have already sent you and of the one that I am sending you. How much your good advice is precious to me and all our missionary Fathers. Write to us, please, as soon as you can. The weather continues to be so bad that experienced people in the Navy lead us to believe that we will be in this port until Christmas. Fiat voluntas Dei [May God's will be done!]. He sees our desires, he keeps up our courage and our confidence; made His Holy Name be blessed. The Immaculate Conception is getting near: this feast will indeed bring us some graces, I hope; the whole Society of Mary is praying for us; we certainly are one with her entirely. I am united with you in respect and devotion, Reverend Father.
Your very humble and obedient servant,
+François Pompallier, Bishop of Maronea, Vicar Apostolic
At Le Havre, poste restante.


  1. Girard Doc4, 23 Nov 1836 - translator’s note
  2. This happened in November 1836 when a Marist community moved into rented quarters at the bottom of the Montée St Barthélemy, at the foot of the Fourvière hill - translator’s note
  3. The building occupied by the Marists was part of the former Lazarist convent, no doubt vacated in revolutionary times -- translator’s note
  4. the friends or contacts, seemingly -- translator’s note
  5. At this time Britain had easily the biggest merchant fleet in the world and Pompallier realises that often the fastest way for French people to communicate with Oceania was via British ports - translator’s note
  6. At this time all the priests in the Society had been formerly diocesan priests and so needed some formation in living as religious -- translator’s note
  7. to the Holy See -- translator’s note
  8. Gregory XVI, 1830-46 - translator’s note
  9. he was only 20 years old at this time -- translator’s note
  10. Dominique Meynis, a tertiary Brother of Mary and secretary of the Propagation of the Faith in Lyons - translator’s note

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