Reasons for the second journey

The main items on Colin’s agenda for this voyage to Rome were:

  • questions relating to the missions of Oceania
  • the rule and constitutions
  • the teaching brothers and the union of branches of the Society.

The Missions of Oceania
By 1835 the Roman authorities saw the urgent need to set up a mission in Western Oceania. Propaganda regarded Oceania as a continuation of the islands adjacent to Africa, and so selected for the mission of Western Oceania Father Pastre, a Picpus priest who had been Prefect Apostolic of Reunion, near Madagascar.

Pastre had returned to Lyons on account of ill health, but Propaganda thought he may have been available for the new mission of Western Oceania. Cardinal Fransoni wrote to him (OM 337) but Pastre replied that age and ill-health prevented him from accepting the offer.

At the same time, Pastre looked to find someone else.

Being in Lyons, he consulted one of the Vicars General, none other than Father Cholleton, who immediately thought of Father Pompallier, who at that time was the chaplain to the boarding school of La Favorite.

Cholleton thought highly of Pompallier who had expressed a desire to go to the foreign missions.

Pastre had a meeting with Pompallier, found him satisfactory, and told him about the proposed mission.

Pompallier had lived apart from the Marist aspirants for two years, but still considered himself part of the group. He consulted his confreres, and then wrote to Colin telling him of the proposal.

Colin encouraged him to accept, foreseeing the possible results for approbation of the Society.

He also asked that the letter to Propaganda should include explicit reference to the branches of Fathers and Brothers, because these could provide men for the mission.

As happened earlier in the story of the Society’s involvement with Rome, the precise course of events remains somewhat unclear. However, a decisive moment was reached on 23 December 1835 a report was presented at a plenary session of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide recommending the establishment of a Vicariate of Western Oceania.

The report, which noted Colin’s offer to provide men for this mission, ends with two questions to be considered:

  • Is it necessary to create a new Vicariate of Western Oceania? The recommendation: Yes.
  • To whom shall this new mission be entrusted? The recommendation: To the priests of the Marian Congregation of Lyons and Belley.

As a direct result of these recommendations, the Society of Mary was recommended for approbation.

Father Jean Baptiste Pompallier was nominated as bishop, called to Rome by Cardinal Fransoni, and was consecrated in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Via Veneto,  on 30 June 1836.

Meanwhile men were being selected for the missions. Fathers Bret, Chanel and Servant had already volunteered and Father Bataillon was invited to join them. Three brothers were chosen: Marie Nizier, Xavier, and Michel.

Father Marcellin Champagnat had also volunteered for this first group but Colin asked him to stay in France.

The Society was approved; the election of Superior General and the First Professions took place on 24 September 1836.

The missionaries packed their bags and prepared for departure. They represented exactly one quarter of the Marists in France at that time.

On 15 October, Chanel and Bataillon consecrated the mission to the Blessed Virgin at Fourviere, and after several hitches, the eight missionaries left Le Havre for Oceania. It was Christmas Eve, 1836.

Even by the time the group had reached Valparaiso, however, tensions had risen between Pompallier and the missionaries.

The mistrust and distance became more marked after Pompallier had landed in New Zealand.

Colin had already some misgiving about Pompallier as Vicar Apostolic on account of his tendency to be arrogant and authoritarian in his treatment of men. But he put off taking any action for as long as possible, hoping that things would sort themselves out in time.

As a matter of fact, they worsened, and Pompallier began to isolate himself from his men, complaining of their lack of trust in him.

Colin received a letter from Pompallier in mid-October 1841. It was 15 pages long and plunged right into business.

Pompallier claimed he had endured perils and fatigues, and had fought against heresy; but that the greatest obstacle to progress in the mission was Colin himself.

“The greatest blow given to the works of this mission comes from the lack of your concord with me.”

This, according to Pompallier, was the “sole evil”, and from it everything else flowed.

The basis of the disagreement was two different conceptions of authority and power between Pompallier as Vicar Apostolic and Colin as Religious Superior. “The mission cannot go on as it has been without accomplishing its ruin or at least falling into a state of lethargy”.

Colin would have agreed with that, but would have seen both the cause and the remedy quite differently from Pompallier.

Colin replied in a letter to Pompallier. He made it clear that Pompallier was free to dispense with the services of the Society if he wished; that Pompallier should try to have greater confidence in the missionaries and not regard them as incapable. He recommended a good superior and provincial for the religious; and challenged the bishop to show that either by word or in writing he had asked the missionaries to be anything but obedient.

Colin in fact never sent the letter.

But he did send Father Forest as Visitor to New Zealand at the end of 1841.

He was “persona grata” with Pompallier, having worked with him in Lyons, and had been asked for by Pompallier.

Colin waited further, and did not act until March 1842 when he wrote to Cardinal Fransoni explaining that for three years there had been friction between Pompallier and the missionaries.

Pompallier also wrote to Fransoni at around the same time complaining that he was in danger of losing most of his converts because he had been completely abandoned by Colin and had no missionaries to follow up his own evangelization. Pompallier begged the Cardinal to send him 100 priests immediately.

Fransoni’s letter to Colin was conciliatory: he admitted that Colin and the Marists had good reason for dissatisfaction with Pompallier.

The Cardinal’s letter to Pompallier was sharp. It attributed to him the greater responsibility for the discord with the missionaries, and concluded by urging Pompallier to show himself a father and a companion rather than a superior.

This was the state of things as Colin left Lyons with Victor Poupinel on 28th May 1842 and made his way to Rome.

Colin’s difficulties were focussed on two issues:

Pompallier’s  style of evangelization, and his financial management
It could be argued that 19th century evangelization was based more on a sense of urgency to rescue people from Protestant missionary endeavours than on a formulated policy. Propaganda was applying pressure to open up mission areas in as many places as possible.

The policy of the first Marist missionaries, and their mandate, was very vague.

When they set out from Valparaiso they had no idea where they might end up.

Pompallier wrote from Tahiti: “I am obliged to follow God’s designs step by step, and they disclose themselves only from day to day in the opportunities it pleases Him to offer me.”

Peter Chanel and Marie Nizier were left at Futuna by Pompallier, almost on impulse; Bataillon and Brother Xavier were left on Wallis; and Pompallier was 1500 miles away in New Zealand with only one priest and one brother. Pompallier had promised the chiefs of Futuna and Wallis that he would return after 6 months.

When he did not return after a year, Chanel lost face with the people who thought they had been abandoned. Interest in Christianity waned, a situation that  contributed to Chanel’s death.

Pompallier cut a fine figure among the people, but he was unable to take advice from others, or delegate authority. His enthusiasm for conversion and gaining a foothold over the Protestant missionaries outstripped his prudence. His methods of gaining converts were at times more than questionable.

Colin had written to Cardinal Fransoni in 1837 asking if subsequent bands of missionaries could spend some time at Propaganda studying and preparing themselves for this mission work. Such a course was unknown, and Rome protested that time and money did not permit such a venture

Pompallier’s weaknesses as an administrator
Desiring to make an impression in order to gain converts, the bishop tended to spend lavishly and imprudently. Where the Anglicans gave gifts, Pompallier gave better gifts. He built large headquarters and planned a huge cathedral.

The crowning blow was his decision to buy a schooner whose upkeep drained away the mission resources already drastically depleted by the collapse of Wright’s Bank in London.

The Marist missionaries had no food; they were forced to join the local people at the wharves, begging for biscuits.

Colin’s generosity to the missions was unquestionable. In 1841 he wrote to Cardinal Fransoni with the information that  in a period of five years the infant Society had sent 42 missionaries to the Vicariate of Western Oceania–of whom 35 had been assigned to Bishop Pompallier in New Zealand.

The Rule
Apart from dealing with Cardinal Fransoni and Propaganda, Colin also had to negotiate with the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars on the question of the Rule.

Recall that on his first visit to Rome, Colin had presented the plan of the whole Society with all its branches, a plan which Castracane had rejected as “grotesque and monstrous” and unacceptable as a plan for a Religious Congregation. Recall, too, that while in Rome on this occasion, Colin had made friends in the Curia who were able to give him advice, and that he had discovered the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, and had been significantly influenced by them.

After returning from the 1833 trip to Rome, Colin worked hard on the Rule, recasting it in line with the advice he had been given and the model he had found in the Jesuit Constitutions.

His “first ideas” were recast in a more flexible way.

At a later date he was to say: Everything in the Rule of the Society is set in general terms. To get too particular, to get too detailed, would be to encumber those who have to apply it. It was on my first trip to Rome that I learned to appreciate this way of doing things and these ideas. Then I set about recasting the whole Rule. It was too perfect. (OM 637)

Colin worked hard on the Rule at the time of the approval of the Society in 1836. He spent a long time working on the text again between December 1841 and April 1842.

From this work emerged the text known as the 1842 Constitutions.

Before engaging in this work, Colin took a month’s rest “to place his soul in a state of great calm, to unite himself to God” (Mayet 5:721) and during this time, he seemed to enjoy a state of consolation similar to the Cerdon years of “extreme sweetness”.

It was a period in which he was full of confidence, seeing a great future for the Society and its apostolate; a Society called to go “in quavis mundi plaga” (to every part of the world) like the Company of Jesus.

This is the text which Colin brought to Rome for presentation.

He showed the manuscript to Father Rosaven, Jesuit General Assistant. Rosaven reacted positively to the manuscript, adding that he could hardly do otherwise since it largely followed the Jesuit rule!

Colin agreed, but later said to Poupinel: “It’s true, the approach is the same, but I had conceived the whole plan of our rules before I had read a single rule of the Jesuits” (OM 544).

Rosaven told Colin that if he presented the manuscript as it was, it would be approved. Colin replied that he didn’t wish to take such a step so soon. He wanted time for these Constitutions, which contained the “marche” and the spirit of the Society, to be tested by lived experience.

Rosaven’ s principal objection was with Colin’s plan of a many-branched Society. He said that the branches would need to be autonomous.

Colin was back to the situation of 1833. And he still had to deal with the same people who had rejected the proposal then.

It was going to be difficult to make headway; and again we will see Colin acting in a characteristic way. He withdrew his request for approval, and contented himself for the moment with a request for some privileges (OM 544).

The Branches of the Project
The question of the Society of many branches was a key issue on Colin’s second trip.

At the 1839 retreat Colin had asked members of the Society to vote on the situation of the Brothers who joined Champagnat as teaching Brothers, and the Brothers who had joined the priests to act as co-adjutors. Despite strenuous opposition from Champagnat and some of the the senior priests, the vote favoured separation of the two types of Brothers.

Champagnat died in 1840, and had been replaced as superior of the Brothers by Brother Francois.

Colin invited Bro Francois and Jeanne Chavoin to join him in Lyons for discussion on the matter during the General Chapter of 1842.

Bro Francois sent two Assistants to present a petition on behalf of the Brothers.

The petition was read to the Chapter, and recalled the long-standing connection between the Fathers and Brothers.

“Divine Providence from the first willed that the Society of the Brothers of Mary began with the Society of the Priests, that they develop side by side and continue in accord together”.

The petition reminded the priests that Champagnat had been one of the first Marists, and that many Marist priests had joined the Society through the Hermitage. In fact, of the 20 Marists to take their vows in September 1836, nine came from Lyons, and five of these had been formed by Champagnat.

In his spiritual Testament, Champagnat had written:

As your wills must be united with those of the Fathers of the Society of Mary in the will of a single Superior General, so I also desire that you be united with them in heart and mind in Jesus and Mary. May their interests be yours; may you find your happiness in going to their assistance as often as is required.

May the same spirit, the same love, unite you together as branches of the same family to the one mother, the Blessed Virgin.

Since the Superior General of the Fathers is likewise the Superior of the Brothers, he must be the centre of unity for them both.

Happy as I was to receive the obedience and submission of the Brothers of Mary, it is my desire that the Superior General always find in them the same obedience and submission. His spirit is mine, his will is mine. I regard that perfect union and that entire submission as the basic foundation of the Society of Mary.  – Spiritual Testament. May 18th, 1840

The Brothers’ petition was in line with the thinking of Jeanne-Marie Chavoin.

At a vote on the matter by the General Chapter, the minutes record that:  “The votes were collected, and the union of the branches was adopted unanimously”.

The mandate which the Chapter presented to Colin as he set out for Rome was clear.

But it was equally clear that the Roman authorities could not approve such a proposal.

A Question about Liturgy
Another matter Colin wished to be discussed and decided was the question of the Roman Liturgy. (FS 58 gives an account of this).