Marist Studies:Current events

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Divine Providence - Blessings and Curses

I am getting interested in the worldview of the Missionaries and the Maori who expected the Almighty to immediately reward or punish, See for example this account by Claude Baty:

On the 28th of February, I went to a kainga where a man, whom I may say is good, had allowed himself to be tempted in a moment of boredom and had let a European have his wife f(o)r a while for two pieces of clothing in poor condition. I lightly rebuked him; however, I could not bring him to burn these clothes in front of this European. I left, therefore, saddened by his stubbornness. On the 1st of March his wife fell very ill. I quickly went there and easily succeeded in obtaining all that I wanted; the clothes were thus burnt in front of this European whose anger I did not need to fear and the woman was cured a few days later. Another chief, who did not pray and would hire unfortunate women who could not resist in spite of their tears, having learnt the fact above, did not want {any longer} to do anything unfavourable to people who prayed; fearing for his life. Later a woman stole a little food from another; her husband who was one of the main chiefs was so ashamed that in spite of all that I could say to him, he wanted to stop praying. He went to look for Protestant books supposedly for the people in his tribe who were Protestants. On his return he found his eldest daughter sick; he became fervent again, more than before, however his child died a long time later without him being shaken in his good dispositions.
A native having behaved badly by mocking some Catholic rituals, I had to exclude him from the prayer without him changing for the better; he was with other young Catholics hired by a European to go whale hunting. The first whale that they hunted broke the boat in two in the open sea. He was the only one hurt; he had his arm broken below the shoulder. He hastened to repent and to pray again. After, his companions would not strike a whale without making the sign of the cross in spite of the rude words that the Europeans from their boat were directing at them.

Marist ideas of Salvation

Given that nineteenth century missionaries are often asserted to have believed that "you need to be Catholic to be saved" it is interesting to read what Fr Baty and Fr Petit-Jean have to say:

... If you had been the first ones to arrive, we, the Protestant natives always say, we would all belong to you, but we were Protestant when you arrived. So that, while seeing the Catholic Church as the right and good one, nevertheless they cannot understand that God cannot approve of another one. It must be hoped for that a good number will be saved by good faith, but unfortunately a good number do not seem to be in good faith. God has other ways of bringing them to himself.
We promise that all children amongst the Protestants who die having received baptism will go to heaven, that the adults of good faith, whose sins have been forgiven by true contrition can also achieve the same happiness because two types of person, although bound to a different way of thinking, nevertheless have inner bonds, understand the faith, the hope and the charity spread in their hearts by the holy spirit and, by these sacred bonds, belong to the soul of the church of Jesus Christ, which is the sole source of salvation.


Mary Williamson has translated the letter of Fr Catherin Servant where he gives a description of the first mission station.

Here is a short description of our establishment: Picture a small hill on the edge of a large river; almost all around there is bush. We have been obliged to fell some trees which were in front of the house to get a view over the river; at the top of the hill is an area covered with tall bracken which is difficult to stop growing; in the middle of this small hill one finds a wooden house, as it is difficult, at least in Hokianga, to build stone houses as there are not a lot of stones. In front of the house there is a small terrace where we can walk. Not far from the house some tribes have built huts to withdraw to when they come to Sunday mass. The area where we live is called, in the native’s language, pu rakau, which means the place that is all made of wood. Beautiful birds come to visit us from time to time, but their song is not as lovely as in France. The trees never lose their leaves. We do have here, in fact, some animals, a dog, two cats, some pigs and chickens, but that is all. The good brother here is beginning to establish a garden.

Gaps in the Record

In Helen Sturm's thesis submitted in 2018 she has this footnote on page 1:

Girard (2009) states the collection comprises all the letters received from Oceania by the Marist Fathers’ general administration, as well as letters sent to family and friends through the central house in Lyons from 1836 to 1854 (Vol.1, p.ix). However, it is clear that, for a variety of reasons, many letters went missing. An unexplained gap is evident in the letters written from New Zealand from 1846-1849 inclusive. Only ten letters have been published for this four-year period, an average of 2.5 letters per year, compared with an average of 24.8 letters per year over the remaining 13 years of the 1838-1854 period of the New Zealand LRO. Perhaps Pompallier’s absence from New Zealand 16 April, 1846, until he returned on 11 February, 1850, no longer responsible for the Marists, meant a reduction in conflict so fewer letters were written. Additionally, many letters may have been lost on unreliable ships, including frequently used whaling boats. It is also noteworthy that of the 333 New Zealand letters published in the LRO 1838-1854, only 16 were written to family members, although other letters might have been sent directly to family members, rather than through Colin.


Helen Sturm has noted that" it’s quite interesting how SELDOM tattooing is mentioned in the NZ LRO. A quick search of Girard has picked up:

"Verguet was the most interested. The artist’s eye for patterning? Just at a quick glance, the others just describe it briefly, without seeming to make any moral issue of it. Garin says they/we (“on” ) hope that it soon won’t be seen very much. (99 [69])."

Name removed from the Heart

The departing missionaries wrote their names on a small scroll kept in a votive heart attached to the statue of Our Lady of Fourviere. The significance they gave to this may be judged in the fourth paragraph of this letter of a Brother who gave up on being a missionary and then reconsidered and rejoined the Society.

Reasons for Departing the Society

Fr Rocher, in his subsequent letter, gives an account of a Brother who left the congregation:

Brother Charles Aubert is no longer with the Society. He left us about three weeks ago. At the moment he is on board the brig Anonyme. The captain took him on board as chief steward.
He formally announced that he certainly did not wish to return to the islands, nor remain at the procurator’s, where he did the work of a domestic. Writing to a gentleman in Sydney asking him to find him a place, he told him that having been sent to the islands, he had been the dupe, like so many others, of false promises that had been made to him. Finally he departed and I am not upset by it for several reasons.

Method of Evangelization

Mary Williamson translated a leter

which included this summary of how one tribe had been evangelized:

"The Moiu mission on Woodlark is going well. We have definitely six angels in Heaven, Father Montrouzier tells me and perhaps ten adults who we have baptised when on death’s door. We are reasonably well listened to when we present the catechism and most of the children know the basic beliefs. We have translated the Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary into the native language; We are going to begin to have them recite the rosary. We have two children at the house who give us some hope, the most advanced will soon know how to read and perhaps later they will become catechists, perhaps! Finally, we see some changes in behaviour; I do not think that there are any people whose conversation is more obscene than was that of the natives when we arrived. Now in our bay they restrain themselves at least in our presence."

The Death of Fr Jan Snijders

Fr Jan Snijders, aged 90, of the Province of Europe (Nederland), died on 13 December 2018. He was a Marist Priest, a Missionary, a historian and the author of A Piety Able to Cope and a major contributor to this website. See a brief biography and a photo here.

A Local Voice

The missionaries do not give the names of the local people very often (the intended recipient of the letters not being acquainted with them). In one letter a local from the Isle of Pines is not only identified but dictates some of the text. His name is Téuané (now baptised as Augustin). See paragraphs 17-19 of the letter below:

Samoan Trousers

To read the reaction of a French missionary to the Samoan practice of tatooing, check out:

Progress Report

As at April 2018 we have translated and uploaded 555 of Girard's collection of letters from LRO. This is impressive but there are over 1300 letters in his 11 volumes so there is plenty of work still to do. If you know any retired French teachers, or others fluent in French who would like to do some translating please let Fr Merv Duffy know on

The death of Fr Brian Quin SM

Brian died at Silverstream on 24 March 2018, aged 81. Among the many other things Brian did in his ministry was a huge amount of translation of the letters of the missionaries. He used to work in long hand, then send the translation to his cousin, Killian de Lacey, who would type them up and send them on disc (and later on CD) to Marist Archives in Wellington. At least 246 documents on this site are translated by him. We pray for the repose of his soul and pray thanks for the prodigious amount of work he did to honour the history of his Marist forebears.

Sad News from the Solomons

Mary Williamson translated this letter:

It starts out with Bishop Collomb carefully going over the accounts with Captain Marceau and it finishes in a way that one would not expect.

Fijian beginnings

Mary Williamson has translated some of the first letters from Catholic Missionaries in Fiji. They are trying to convert a Tongan group living on Fiji, the island having been thoroughly evanglelised by Protestant missionaries.

Not quite Politically Correct

Mary Williamson has, in October 2017, translated the letter of Fr Bréhéret to a young colleague of his. Perhaps because it is not intended either for his superiors or for publication he feels free to complain - of the weather, the Protestants, the locals ...

A Speech rather than a Letter

Mary Williamson has just translated an interesting document addressed to a different audience than most of these letters

Fr Rougeyron was speaking to a crew of sailors and a couple of his remarks reveal atitudes that do not come through in the letters.

Summaries in lieu of Translations

A long-time translator, Fr Brian Quin SM, has provided a series of brief synopses of letters which have yet to be translated. These have been uploaded and are indicated by the number of the document being italic rather than bold. See 1843 for example.

A Foundress of the SMSM

April 2017. Mary Williamson has translated Fr Junillon's letter which has a rare reference to one of the foundresses of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM).

"It is true to say that here the world is turned upside down. There are some customs that are so bizarre but nevertheless not bad in themselves, that one has difficulty in understanding, but not in believing that one is six thousand leagues from home. Miss Perroton, who is of a unique character for this country, has nevertheless suffered greatly in her first year, but her devotion and the strength of her character allowed her to triumph over all that naturally disgusted her."

October 2017. Mary Williamson again translating Fr Junillon, who is writing to the director of the Third Order, Fr Eymard.

"Now can I say a few words to you about Miss Perroton. She is a woman of rare merit, with a phenomenal character and capable of enduring the greatest of trials. She is of great use to the mission, in fact I could say a necessity. She has an angelic patience with the natives. If she cannot yet teach them by her words, at least she does so powerfully by her example, for she has wisdom without equal and a buoyant piety."

How a Mission Station is Established

Aug 2016. Mary Williamson has translated Xavier Montrouzier's fascinating account of the initial set up of the Woodlark Mission.

A LONG Letter

December 2015. Mary Williamson has just provided the translation to:

It is a fascinating and lengthy account of the conversion of Wallis to Catholicism and of the early days of Christianity in Samoa. It is approximately 50,000 words - so a major task of translation.

Robert Sutton

Wendy Di Tirro made contact asking about Robert Sutton. He is mentioned in several letters, the best account being by Xavier Mountrouzier in Doc 674 who says: "an Englishman called Sutton had just been massacred. (This Sutton was a young man of good family who, with talents enough to certainly make him shine in the world and a fortune sufficient to acquire him many of life’s pleasures, had had the singular idea of travelling through the islands of Oceania and living there like the natives. He had been to Australia, New Zealand, Tanna, Anatom and finally New Caledonia. I have seen this bizarre character twice and I must say that his behaviour was a problem for me. He spoke good French, knew Latin and Greek and read Homer in his native hut!)"

Wendy wrote to say: " A big thankyou to you and everyone who translates for your website. Without it I would never have known what happened to Robert Sutton. He was English, but completed his university education in France so he and the missionaries would have been able to understand one another, even if they didn’t see eye to eye. He travelled to Australia and New Zealand and was reported to have been killed on the island of Mare in November, 1843. This report was disproved when he was seen on New Caledonia, and the rest is recorded by the Marist Missionaries."

The Mighty Quin

In a letter dated 9 June 2015 Fr Brian Quin, the most prolific of the translators of these letters, reports: "I took the MS of my translations from the beginning of 1842 up to doc 187 over to Killian 2 or 3 days ago. [...] all the gaps in 1842 up to doc 188 should now be filled in." It will take some time for Killian de Lacey to type up all Brian's work, and then more time for it to be re-formatted and uploaded, but it does mean that the early part of the story will soon be all there.

Most of these letters have now been received and are slowly being uploaded. I've just uploaded

It is a terrific letter, especially when Épalle writes a section intended "only for Father General" - complaints about the cost of the Bishop's ship, the Sancta Maria, "A ship is a bottomless pit which endlessly demands money." Complaints about the attitude of the Maori. A frank division of the brothers of the mission into the useful and the not-useful.

Sydney Procure in Action

December 2014 - a new translator, Sr Marie Challacombe, has had a go at the letters of 1854 and among other things gives us insights into the operations of the supply base in Sydney

February 2015 - Sr Marie has continued her series, including some impressive complaining!

December 2015 - Sr Marie has continued and has done the last letters in the Girard volumes (i.e. the most recent ones, we have still many that are untranslated) - the final letter that Girard includes in LRO is this one from 1854:

Retribution in the Solomons

August 2014 - Mary Williamson has translated an account of the French reaction to the deaths of the missionaries in the Solomons.

And then some information about the situation on Woodlark of the missionaries who had left the San Cristobal

Marist Procure in Sydney

April 2014 Mary has added the translation of a letter from one of the missionaries from New Caledonia, who appears to be unimpressed by some of the Marists he is dealing with in Sydney.

March 2014 - Mary Williamson has just translated a series of letters from Fr Etienne Chaurain giving something of an insight into how the Marist Procure in Sydney was coping with the influx of Missionaries and New Caledonian locals who arrived there after the collapse of the New Caledonia Mission in 1847.

Less current events - past news