Fr Louis Padel to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Samoa, Upolu, 15 April 1847
Clisby Letter 69. Girard doc. 621
D’après l’expédition, APM ON 208 (Samoa) Padel
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby
Louis Padel (1815-1879) came out to the Pacific on the "Arche d'Alliance” a month after his profession as a Marist, a member of the same missionary group as Br Gerard, whose death he describes . They entered Bataillon’s vicariate at the beginning of September, their first landfall being in Samoa. They found no welcome at Tutuila where the people had been stirred up by their LMS ministers and also had reason to fear the French. A shore party from one of La Perouse’s ships, the “Astrolabe” had been murdered at Asu in December 1787 and their bodies had not been recovered. It took a century or so for the local people to reveal to a later Marist missionary, Fr Julian Vidal, the whereabouts of the graves. At Mulinu’u, however, they, were received enthusiastically by Roudaire who, as mission superior, co-opted Padel and Joseph Meriais for Samoa, Padel for Mulinu’u and Meriais for Salelavalu.. The “Arche,” left Samoa on October 20 and sailed for Wallis. It returned at the beginning of December with Bataillon and further reinforcements in the persons of Frs Joseph Mugniery and Xavier Vachon and Br Gerard. The bishop remained in Samoa while the “Arche", after- visiting Futuna, sailed on to New Caledonia and the Solomons. The latter's new bishop, Jean-Georges Collomb (1816 -1848), had been professed as a Marist in 1845 on the same day he was appointed coadjutor to Epalle, a month before leaving France; it was only in Tahiti that he discovered he was to be Vicar-Apostolic instead. He had not yet been consecrated, but it was to be in New Zealand and by Viard that the ceremony was performed, not in Wallis by Bataillon . Padel gives an interesting summary of the religious situation in Samoa at this period . Of the Protestant Churches, the Wesleyans (the lotu Tonga) had been established since 1828, the London Missionary Society (lotu Tahiti) since 1830. In 1839 a meeting in London had decided that the Wesleyans should restrict themselves to Tonga while Samoa would come within the LMS sphere of operations. This decision was accepted by the European minister in charge of the Wesleyan mission in Samoa, but did not find favour with the Tongan catechists who had introduced Methodism to the islands. A new arrangement in 1857 removed the restrictions but then the Australians, who had inherited the Wesleyan Samoan mission, felt obliged to reform and reconstruct it so as to create a genuinely Samoan Methodist Church The Jovilians survived for some years, though in diminishing numbers.
Assigned to Mulinu’u in December 1846, Gerard worked there, mainly on building the new church, until his death only a few months later on the night of Holy Thursday 1847. He was buried across the bay at Vaiusu.
The ending of this letter appears to have been lost since there is no conclusion or signature. Fr Monfat quotes the letter in Les Samoa (1890) p 339, finishing with “May the body of this dear and lamented Brother who died as a saint be a source of blessings for this place where other Christians will rest with him.” Padel himself did not enjoy this privilege. After seven years in Samoa he was assigned to Wallis, where he passed the rest of his days.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I wrote to you from Tahiti on the 17th August. I think you have received that letter. I know it made almost half the trip and that it got as far as Valparaiso. We left Tahiti at the end of August and reached the first islands of the Central Oceania Vicariate on September 7. The first land we encountered was the island of Tutuila. We anchored and spent eight days there. We weren’t very welcome in that place. The cross fluttering at the top of our main mast and the presence of eight Catholic priests was more than enough to stir up the Protestant Ministers who are dominant there. What’s more, our being French put fear into the natives. On this island, but in a different bay from the one where we were anchored, were murdered Lapeyrouse’s (sic) second in command and eight or nine sailors. the place is called Murderers’ Bay. Ever since that time the natives have always been afraid that the French would come to avenge the deaths of their compatriots. But the inhabitants of this island were not the ones responsible for the killings; rather it was the young warriors from Upolo on a raid who, intoxicated by victory, massacred these men they found defenceless. They spared one, however, and kept him on the island, and he died not many years ago. A son of his is a catechist of the Independents or Methodists. The tyranny the Protestant Ministers exercise over the natives has reached its zenith.. Already a good number of the discontented have run away and taken refuge on a nearby island called the Island of Cocos. Perhaps this discontent will open the door to us and we will be able to establish a station there.
- On September 16 we arrived at Upolo where we found Fr Roudaire and Br Charles. It was there my voyage ended. Acting in the name of His Lordship, Fr Roudaire retained us, Fr Meriais and me. In November he took Fr Meriais to the island of Savai where he has been up to now with Fr Viollet (sic). As for me, I stayed with him. On December 12 the “Arche d’Alliance”, on its return from Wallis, brought Monsignor with Fr Mugniery and Fr Vachon. His Lordship remained two months with us until February 11, when he left for Savai. He was detained there for a further two months, till April 12. At present, he is getting ready to visit the eastern parts of this group before returning to Wallis for the consecration of Monsignor Collomb. We were able to receive His Lordship when he landed with all the ceremonial prescribed in the pontifical. Our company included 8 priests, namely Fr Collomb, Fr Crey, Fr Mugniery, Fr Roudaire, Fr Vachon, and I, and 2 priests of the Picpus Congregation, and 5 Brothers, three of ours and two Picpus. The Picpus Fathers owed their visit and and stay of more than a month with us to the competence of their captain who was taking them from Tahiti to Sandwich. The poor man couldn’t find his way and he was compelled to put into port at Upolo after imposing an involuntary fast on his crew and passengers for 26 days. They were all condemned to a daily ration of 3 ounces of salt beef and 70 beans. When they arrived they were pitifully weak. We received them as best we could and did what we could to help them forget their trials, and show them in that way our gratitude for all the services the Fathers of this Congregation had rendered us, as well as many of those before us, whether at Valparaiso or the Marquesas or Tahiti. Fortunately, they arrived 12 hours after His Lordship who had brought us provisions. Otherwise we would have been in real trouble, for we were scraping the bottom of the barrel. We have been well repaid for our hospitality to them. One of the two Brothers is a skilful cabinetmaker. To use his time profitably, and assisted by Br Jacques, who is beginning to pick up the rudiments of cabinetmaking. he made us a fine altar and a beautiful tabernacle in wood. Fr Vachon has decorated it very tastefully with pearl and tortoise shell.
- His Lordship’s presence in Samoa has had a very good effect, so true is it that Bishops carry with them the good God’s blessing. His skill, his prudence, and his knowledge of the customs of the natives have eliminated much of the prejudice.
- I would like to be able to tell you at some length about the customs and state of religion of this archipelago, but I am still too new in this country. Moreover, I really need to know the language enough to be able to have all one needs to know to supply accurate information. I shall try, however, to give you as clear an idea as possible of the state of the Mission, from its spiritual aspect and the material point of view. Although I don’t think you will learn anything new, I believe you will be satisfied with the little observations I wish to make.
- The religious situation here is, I believe, without parallel anywhere else. There are five different cults. 1. The pagans or those of the devil’s religion, as they are called. I don’t know very much about their superstitions. All I know is that they suppose or imagine the devil dwells in a man or a woman and that they undertake nothing of importance without consulting him. One of these pagans recently was thinking about becoming a Catholic but before announcing it, he wanted to consult the devil. The latter advised him to become a Methodist as, in fact, he did. The number of pagans is on the decline, but even so it is still quite considerable. 2. The Joviliens. This is one of the most extravagant sects, if one can call it such, one can imagine. Its founder is actually a native of Samoa. This individual, Siuvili by name, who is still alive, went to Sydney and there, it would seem, witnessed the gatherings or “meetings” of those who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. On his return to Samoa, he also began to act as if inspired, and climbed a coconut tree where he stayed several days without eating or drinking – or so he said, for it was observed that he had taken care to have a roast pig with him for fear of dying of hunger, and he also had been careful to choose a tree where there were enough coconuts for his refreshment. From the top of his coconut palm as from a pulpit he played the prophet and attracted a great number to his party. The number of his followers has been estimated at five or six thousand. This visionary does not seem to have been fully convinced of the divine origin of his mission, for he renounced the pretended religion to become a Methodist. The observances of this cult are confined to keeping one Sunday a month. Sometimes they gather in a hut, which does not merit the name of temple, and there the one who arrives first has the right to speak. Then they prostrate themselves full length, repeating these words in a droning chant: “Jeova o le matou Atua” (“Jehovah is our God”). They confess the oneness of God. As for morals, they have none. 3. The Independents. These have the greatest following.. Masters of the most beautiful and important sites in the group, they seem to be solidly established there. This cult is called the cult of Tahiti here because its first preachers came from Tahiti. The main occupation of the Missionaries of this sect is to run schools and to disseminate everywhere, for a price, the books they print. They have already published the whole of the New Testament in Samoan, and some leaflets covering a little of everything, especially the “Popes” (that is what they call Catholics here) – who are tyrants, stealers of land, pagans, etc., and other fine epithets of the same kind. The French are not spared either. I recently read one of these pamphlets of 12 pages, 5 of which were devoted to proving that the Pope was the Anti-Christ. Every six months they produce a newspaper in English which has the same purpose as their Samoan pamphlets.. We noticed, however, that in their last March number, they had nothing to say about us, probably because they observe our numbers are growing and they are afraid that their authority, already beginning to totter, will be overthrown. 4. The Methodists have the most partisans (after the Independents). They are known by the name Tongans because their catechists came from Tonga. Now the latter will have nothing to do with the Independents. We are hoping to profit from this dispute. Several years ago, it was decided in London that the cult of the Independents should be the only one in Samoa, and the Methodists the only one in Tonga. The latter are not willing to submit to this decree. This is what has caused the quarrel between the two groups. For some time the Independents have left us alone in their preaching to deal with the Tongans. Such is the religious situation of the island, together with an indifference impossible to explain. It is in this wasteland of religions that we have been placed to establish the true one.
- You see my very Reverend Father, that the post is a difficult one. Prejudices to overcome on all sides. Before we can have a reasonable number of Catholics, people have to get to know us and become aware that we are not what we are painted to be. In the whole of the Navigators there can only be 100 to 150 Catholics, catechumens, that is to say. There are only a dozen who have received baptism, for up to now we have given it only to those in danger of death. An exception was one little girl whose grandfather is very devoted to us and a fervent catechumen and who wished her to be baptised. Still the prejudices are beginning to crumble bit by bit. Our catechumens are acquiring Christian habits, they come to church, are conscientious in reciting the rosary, etc.
- There are now 6 missionaries in the archipelago: Fr Viollet with Br Charles at Alatele on Savai, Fr Mugniery and Fr Merais at Salelavalu on the same island 8 leagues away from Fr Viollet. Fr Vachon and I are at Mulinuu on Upolo with Fr Roudaire. The latter must leave us and go to New Caledonia on the return of the “Arche d’Alliance”, which we are expecting soon.
- From the material point of view, this mission will always be an expensive one. It is becoming still more costly. The love of money has spread so much among the natives that in certain places they even refuse to supply a drink of water. So many ships, besides, call in for provisions. Since I have been here more than 50 have come, and lately there have been up to 9 big ones at a time. Most are American and some English which come to these waters in search of sperm whales. The climate does not seem to be very healthy. Since I landed we have had no more than two consecutive days without rain.
- Now it remains for me, my Reverend Father, to give you an account of the trials which it has pleased the divine Goodness to send us. An epidemic ravaged the island and claimed a very large number of victims at Christmas time. Monsignor went down with it, and although he was not in danger, he was seriously enough indisposed for many days. But thanks to God the consequences were not serious. A growth on his knee forced Fr Meriais to take to his bed from February 22 to March 19, when he was able to drag himself to chapel to attend Holy Mass. He is better now and on the road to recovery. On March 15 we experienced a severe storm. It increased during the night and the next morning, the 16th, the Mission schooner, which had been at anchor since February 19, dragged its anchors - it had 4 of them out - and was tossed right up on the shore. On the 19th it was back in the water. We were helped in this matter by money from the French Society of Oceania, by the American consul, the English consul, Mr Pritchard, by the crew of an English warship in harbour at the time, and by more than 300 natives who came to our assistance. The damage has been estimated at six or seven thousand francs.
- This disaster is already bad enough but there has been another which has been much worse. Br Gerard, who was with us, had been ill for about a fortnight. His sickness, which was in a state of remission at that time, began to cause alarm on March 30. The night following it made such progress that Fr Vachon and Br Jacques were obliged to stay up with him. Fr Vachon woke me before 4 o’clock and asked me to say Mass immediately so we could administer him Holy Viaticum. He received it very devoutly at half past five. During the day the sickness made such rapid progress that we were alarmed and did not think that he would last until the next day. The fever was so high that his pulse rate reached 113 a minute. Finally, towards nine in the evening, a cold sweat broke out on all his limbs and his pulse could hardly be detected any more. Fr Vachon then hurried to administer Extreme Unction to him, and the plenary indulgence for the dying. He received it very devoutly and followed all the prayers and made the responses. Although he was in great pain, and was spared nothing, since he was fully conscious, he did not lose patience. With love and confidence he invoked Jesus in his agony, Mary conceived without sin, St Joseph. Filled with a keen sorrow for his sins, he admired the goodness of God for giving him, through the sufferings he was sending, the grace of being able to expiate them, and he affectionately kissed the image of Jesus crucified. I was watching with him. About 10 o’clock he had me recall Br Jacques. He was very bad at the time. For more than an hour he kept trying to change his position but, as he was too weak to move, he had Br Jacques lift him. At midnight he was more settled. Taking advantage of this, I left him alone with the Brother and went into my room - there was only a cane partition between us. A little after one o’clock, Holy Thursday, April 1, he raised himself. fell back, and uttered his death rattle. I ran to him, exhorted him to pronounce from his heart the names of Jesus, Mary Joseph. I called the other Fathers, we said the prayers recommending the soul to God, and at the moment we finished he passed away. We buried him the same day in the spot which will probably be the cemetery. The state of corruption to which his corpse was subject did not allow us to wait long …
- Joseph Heslin SM, A History of the Roman Catholic Church in Samoa l845-1995, 1995, pp 133-5.
- John Garrett, To Live Among the Stars, 1985, p 128.
- Heslin (p 23) gives the name as Siolili and claims he picked up his ideas from Tahiti. He also implies the cult antedates the arrival of conventional Christianity in Samoa.
|Letters from Oceania: 1846-7