Reasons for the journeys

Colin’ s agenda for this voyage was quite clear:

  • to settle the question of the branches of the Society;
  • to settle the question of the Oceania Mission and its difficulties; and
  • to clarify some issues of the Rule.

The Brothers
After Colin’s visit to Rome in 1842 it was clear that approval for his multi-branched Congregation would not be granted and he waited for two years before he brought the question to the vote of the Congregation.

The feeling among the members of the Society in favour of unity was as strong as the conviction in the Curia that such a union was out of the question.

The Brothers were so firmly opposed to the idea of separation that they were prepared to go to Rome.

Colin promised that he would broach the subject once more with Rome and he wrote to Castracane on 8th May 1844.

He was clear in his desire to press for a union, and said that only the clear opposition of the Cardinal would make him agree to a split of the branches. He received no reply to this letter and so, reading the signs, Colin put this question to the delegates of the 1845 Chapter: “Is it appropriate that the Superior General of the Marist Fathers be also the General of the Brothers of the same name?”

The Chapter said “no”.

It was argued that the Superior General of several branches would be too overburdened. But perhaps the compelling reason was what was written among the reasons: “The Roman Curia is opposed to the idea.”

When Rome approved the Society in 1836, it stated explicitly that this approbation applied only to the priests and did not include Brothers or Sisters. The Brothers at this stage numbered about 200 living in 30 communities. While they were a solid group gathered round Champagnat, he always considered them united as members of the wider group.

To stress this point, Champagnat was prepared to hand in his resignation to Colin in 1837—at the latter’s request– but was immediately reappointed. The symbolic gesture had been made.

At the 1839 Retreat the two groups of Brothers, the Joseph Brothers and the Teaching Brothers, were separated. A month later, Champagnat resigned and he died in 1841, but faithful to his wish, the Brothers continued to have strong contact with Colin.

After his visit to Rome in 1842, Colin began to realize that union was not going to be possible, and after the General Chapter decision of 1845 he began to leave the entire responsibility for all decisions to Brother Francois.

The Sisters
A second question posed by the 1845 Chapter was: “Should the Society of Mary accept control of religious communities of women?”

The answer to this was negative.

Many reasons were adduced for the separation: the honour of the priests, the edification of the laity, the reputation of the Society. But again, perhaps the compelling reason was that the Roman Curia opposed the idea of union.

We recall that the Sisters had originated at Cerdon under the direction of the two Fathers Colin and remained under the influence of the Colin brothers after the move to Belley in 1825 and it was hoped from the beginning that the Sisters would be able to exist under the authority of one Superior General; Fr Colin certainly did not hesitate to play an active role in the Sisters’ life and organisation.

Until the end of her life, Jeanne-Marie Chavoin hoped, and presumed, that Colin would write the Rule for the Sisters.

Pierre Colin was appointed superior of the Sisters (1839) and Provincial (1841), thereby taking up the authority delegated to him by the new Superior General, Jean-Claude Colin.

Accepting that Rome would not approve the union of the Branches, Colin began to work at ways of composing a Rule for the Sisters. He had originally thought of the sisters as the praying branch of the society. This understanding, different from Chavoin’s, would lie at the heart of subsequent difficulty and tension between the two of them.

Given that the Sisters could not be part of the one Congregation, Colin thought of making them a Diocesan Congregation, taking from them the name of “Marist Sisters”.

This, and other points of his proposal, was opposed by Chavoin and the first Sisters and these difficulties led Colin to set aside work on the Sisters’ Rule, and to cease to concern himself about them more and more.

The years following the 1845 decision to separate the Sisters and Fathers were years of painful tension.

Very few details remain of this period, but we do know that when Colin came to Rome in 1846-1847, the storm clouds had already begun to break, and this tension was a significant factor in his mind.

The Third Order
From the beginning, the idea of a lay branch of the Society was understood by the pioneer Marists as integral to the plan.

After ordination in 1816, the 12 Marist aspirants were sent to different parts of the diocese and while many of them abandoned the idea, but we know that Champagnat, Courveille and Colin continued to work at on it.

Further, from the start, there is evidence of branches being started: Champagnat with the Brothers at La Valla; Courveille with some Marian groups at Rive-de-Gier, St Clair-du-Rhone, and Epercieux; and Colin with some forms of association at Cerdon.

Before 1830 there were clear signs of lay groups being established in Verrieres with Courveille; in Lyons with a layman called Aloys Perrault-Maynand; and in Cerdon with Colin, and later in Belley with Colin and Chavoin.

In Lyons, the development seemed to move significantly. A group calling themselves the Tertiary Brothers of Mary, gathering under the inspiration of a layman and subsequently (in 1822) directed by Pompallier, began to develop. They rented the “tower house” on the hill of Fourviere. The house still stands, and we could say that this was the meeting place for the first real Third Order group in Lyons.

Pompallier was replaced by Father Forest as chaplain after the first group of missionaries left for Oceania, but just before leaving Pompallier started a group called the Christian Maidens. In Pompallier’s thinking they were similar to the group of men, the Tertiary Brothers. The group functioned well, and would meet usually in the Sisters’ place.

One day, a curate in the  diocese made a statement from the pulpit against the group, saying that there were enough groups in the diocese as it were, without this one. Colin’s reaction was typical: “We are starting to stir up the clergy”. The group was disbanded.

For over a year there was no meeting for the group. But under the encouragement of the Cure d’Ars, the group persevered. When Colin heard that they had continued and had insisted on their association with the Marists, in 1845,  he appointed for them the very best man he had: his right hand man, Pierre Julian Eymard.

Very soon, Eymard began to transform the whole Third Order: the Christian Maidens increased in number. Eymard then started a group for mothers, then for young men, then for mature men, then for younger girls. He also established the idea of Affiliation for people who were in isolated places, and of Aggregation by which others, even sinners, the ungodly and the unborn, could be enrolled.

As Colin came to Rome in 1846, this branch of the Marist project was beginning to flourish; already perhaps, too quickly for Colin’s liking and at any event, soon there would be tension between Colin and Eymard over the concept of the Third Order.

The Missionary Sisters
The first traces of what would develop into the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary were already beginning to show themselves.

In the early part of 1845, Captain Marceau was in Lyons seeking assistance from well-to-do families willing to support his plan of forming a commercial maritime company. Fr Colin’s group of 13 Fathers and Brothers was preparing to leave, and Marceau wished to interest him in the project.

While he was there, he was approached by Marie Francoise Perroton who outlined to him her desire to volunteer for the missions for the rest of her life. She wanted a place on his ship which was sailing for the Pacific.

Marceau was struck by the woman’s intentions, but left Lyons without giving her a reply. Francoise then wrote a letter restating her request. Among other things she wrote:

My firm wish is to serve on the mission fields for the rest of my life, and you, Sir, are the only person who can provide me with .the means of doing so by taking me under your care on a voyage that is so long and so expensive…. I want merely to be taken on board your ship as a servant, if one is needed, and can work in this capacity at whatever has to be done…. If… you promise to take me on board, please be so good as to tell me what I must do to act to the best advantage, for I shall have to give notice to my employer and get ready for the journey. I don’t want to make any blunders. At my age, one can’t afford to act impulsively. No, I have given the matter much thought, and my decision is final.

On the strength of this letter, Marceau took Francoise Perroton on board his ship. Francoise was 49 years old.  She left on 15th November 1845 and arrived in Wallis on 23rd October  1846. Colin did not know of her departure until after the event. He wrote at the beginning of 1846: I cannot but admire the courage of Mile. Perroton whose zeal has urged her to go to Wallis Island. I did not have the pleasure of meeting her for I was not informed of her departure prior to her embarking, but I am told she is a woman of merit and great virtue.

And so, as Colin set off for Rome, a new branch of the Marist Family was already in the process of developing.

The Oceania Mission
Many developments had taken place in the Oceania Mission in the time since Colin’s previous visit to Rome.

The two matters uppermost in Colin’s mind were

  • the welfare of the missionaries, and
  • questions relating to the Company he had founded to aid the missions.

The Missionaries
Perhaps we can best trace the developments taking place in the missions by following the fortunes of the 5 Marist bishops working in Oceania.

Pompallier (New Zealand)
This was the chief cause of worry for Colin at this time. Recall that Colin had made four requests of Propaganda during his previous visit to Rome:

  • That a Provincial be appointed for the missions.
  • That missionaries could be recalled if there were serious reasons.
  • That missionaries normally live together
  • That periodic reports on the mission be made by missionaries.

These matters were addressed by 3 successive rescripts from Propaganda. The first, dated 30th June 1842, agreed to the four points.

However, the second and third, dated August 31st and September 16th, added a fifth point, namely, that ecclesiastical superiors were to send matters of graver importance meant for Propaganda to the Religious Superior in an unsealed packet. The Religious Superior would make a copy, and send the original to Rome.

This fifth point was never requested by Colin, in fact, he opposed it on the grounds of the discord it would create.

The point, it seems, came from the Jesuit Superior General, who “did more than our venerated father wanted” (Poupinel to Favre).

Colin was to send this decree to the Vicar Apostolic. In fact, predictably, it made ake matters worse and, after all that, it was revoked in 1845.

At the end of 1841 Colin had sent Forest as Visitor to the Marists in New Zealand. Colin presented Forest to them as “another ourself… one of the veterans of the Society. His age (he was 38), his experience, his tried virtue, his perfect knowledge of the spirit and the running of the Society, promise us the happiest results from his visitation and his charity in your regard.” (4th October 1821).

The choice of Forest was a wise one. He was very acceptable to the Marist missionaries. Moreover, he had been requested by Pompallier.

Forest’s task was to meet with the Vicar Apostolic, to contact the members of the Society and assess their needs, to look at the feasibility of a house for the religious of the Society in the Bay of Islands, and to examine the state of the finances of the mission group.

Forest arrived in New Zealand on May 4th, 1842.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Epalle had been pressed by his confreres, initially with the agreement of Pompallier, to return to Europe to report on the state of the mission. He left New Zealand on May 23rd, 1842, just after Forest’s arrival; and he arrived in Europe in January 1843. And so, as Colin returned from his 1842 visit to Rome, a number of events were converging, all eventually leading to a type of tragic inevitability.

First, on his arrival, Colin found a letter waiting for him from Pompallier. It was dated 15th November 1841, and contained this sort of passage, which was representative of the tone of the whole letter:

May I be pardoned what I am going to say: it is by my own hand, by the power of our divine master, that paganism and heresy have been overthrown in New Zealand, but by a lack of a cordial unity here and the lack of savoir faire on your administration through not being in harmony with my own, which is superior to yours on the apostolic level as it was inferior to yours on the religious level, a defeat is on the point of following on all my victories… All the consequences of the future evils as of those of the past in this mission will be your responsibility before the Lord.

Pompallier claimed that among his clergy there was “one bishop too many ” – “an archbishop at Lyons in the person of the General”.

A clear assigning of all the good in the mission to himself, and all the evil to Colin was a sure way of jeopardising any harmony hoped for by Colin’s request to Propaganda in 1842.

Colin replied with two letters and a financial statement in which he relieved Pompallier of any responsibility as religious superior, refused to honour any future drafts drawn on him, and broke relations with him for the sending of subjects, money, or any other object.

Colin sent a copy of these letters to Fransoni who suggested that the action may be hasty, and that it would be better to look for some more conciliatory approaches.

Colin never sent the letters to Pompallier.

Hardly was this event over, when Epalle arrived from New Zealand in January 1843 bearing bad news. Pompallier had disowned him, told him not to return to New Zealand, and had refused to receive new Marist Missionaries. From this time on, Colin sent no more Marists to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Forest had arrived in New Zealand and made a preliminary report to Colin some time before June of 1842.

The mission is in the most terrible poverty. Its state is so critical that if the creditors were evil men they could bring about its collapse at any moment. Our poor Fathers have had much to suffer; I know some who wait like the natives to ask for pieces of bread from foreign ships that were passing. The debts are enormous.

Forest later modified his judgement a little. The problems were not all one-sided.

Some Marists carried “an unfavourable prejudice that condemns everything without reason.”

In a letter of 5th November 1842, Forest wrote to Colin:

I think that not everything is exactly as it was described to me on my arrival at the Bay of Islands and all over New Zealand. I think it would be well to go gently in his (Pompallier’s) present state of emotion; he says that all these delations have indisposed you against him… Thanks be to God he showed me sufficient confidence.

It was almost too late.

The relationship and correspondence between Colin and Pompallier are a sad story of reserve, apprehension, and mistrust.

Things were already at the stage of impasse and from the end of 1843 the mission was static.

In 1843 Propaganda proposed that Pompallier have a coadjutor in the Vicariate. Colin’s proposals were: Claude Baty (aged 32), Jean-Baptist Epalle (aged 35), Jean-Baptiste Petitjean (aged 32) Jean Forest (aged 39). Pompallier proposed Philippe James Viard (aged 34), then working in New Caledonia. Propaganda accepted Pompallier’s proposal, and on 12th January 1845 Viard was appointed auxiliary to Pompallier and consecrated in Sydney in December.

It was regrettable that not until Colin’s next visit to Rome  in 1847 would some form of meaningful dialogue commence  between himself and Pompallier.

As Colin was making this third voyage, Pompallier had already left New Zealand for Rome where discussions would take place in 1847.

Bataillon (Central Oceania)
On August 23rd 1842, Propaganda had created the Vicariate of Central Oceania: Wallis, Futuna, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and New Caledonia. In Central Oceania, Pierre Bataillon was to be Vicar Apostolic, with Guillaume Douarre as his coadjutor.

Bataillon was consecrated by his coadjutor in 1843 at Wallis and the good news was that by 1845 Futuna was completely converted, however from Wallis and Futuna Bataillon struggled to obtain a foothold in Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

  • Pompallier had left Fr Chevron and Br Attale at Tonga in 1842.
  • Bataillon visited Tonga in 1844.
  • Fiji had been more difficult.
  • Pompallier had tried unsuccessfully to leave 2 missionaries at Lakemba.
  • In August 1844 Bataillon sent Frs. Roulleaux and Breheret to Lakemba.
  • In Samoa Bataillon set up 2 stations.

Bataillon was a man of intense apostolic energy who made great demands on himself and his missionaries. As a result, by 1845 he was able to gain a foothold in all the strategic parts of his Vicariate with the deployment of only 12 men.

However, the cost was high: the  missionaries paid the price in exhaustion and isolation. Colin was aware of this, and already there were signs of tension between himself and Bataillon.

Colin became interested in New Caledonia in 1841, and intended to establish a mission there.

When the Vicariate of Central Oceania was created in 1842, Douarre was made coadjutor to Bataillon with particular charge of New Caledonia. Douarre left Lyons in April 1843 with a team including 4 Brothers: Jean Taragnat, Jean Reynaud, Blaise Marmoiton and Annet Perol. They landed in New Caledonia on December 21st 1843.

By the following year they already had a small group of catechumens thanks to the help of Father Viard.

In 1845 Viard left for New Zealand as coadjutor to Pompallier. Epalle (Melanesia) Colin’s original request to Propaganda was for the erection of 5 areas of jurisdiction. In 1842 two were established (New Zealand and Central Oceania) and on 19th July 1844  the Holy See created two new missions: Micronesia and Melanesia. The Marists never worked in Micronesia.

The Melanesian mission would last for 10 years before coming to an end.

As Colin travelled to Rome, this mission had already gone through two phases.

The first was with Jean-Baptist EpaIle. Epalle had been in the second group of missionaries to leave for New Zealand where he worked for a year before being sent to Europe of behalf of the missionaries to report on the state of things. In the short time he was on the mission, Epalle had done much for New Zealand. He was provicar from July 23rd 1841 to May 1842; his activity in Europe had enabled Colin and Propaganda to make a more precise assessment of the New Zealand mission; and he had succeeded in obtaining extra funds for the mission.

He had also persuaded Colin to send a score of workers for the mission in New Zealand and despite his energetic protests, Epalle’s name was put forward by Colin as Bishop of Melanesia.

Epalle took the vow of stability before his Episcopal consecration in Rome on 21st July 1844 and left for Oceania the following spring with 7 priests and 6 brothers. The group  arrived in Sydney on July 22nd. On December 1st they landed at San Cristoval, the most southern part of the Solomons.

After a brief time here the group moved north to the Island of Ysabel. Less than an hour after he had landed, Epalle was killed and the first stage of evangelization in Melanesia had come to a halt.

On 26th October 1845, Georges Collomb was appointed coadjutor to Bishop Epalle. He left France on 15th November  1845 for Melanesia.

At Tahiti he learned of the death of Bishop Epalle.

Now Vicar Apostolic of Melanesia, he went to San Cristoval to see his confreres, then to New Zealand to be consecrated by Bishop Viard. He arrived in San Cristoval in August 1847.

A second attempt was being made in Melanesia but was soon to come to a halt.

The Oceania Company
A not-too-well-known scheme fostered by Colin for the Pacific was the Oceania Company.

This originated from a discussion in 1843 between Bishop Douarre and a Le Havre shipping magnate called Marziou.

Colin pursued the idea, promoted  interest in it among people of influence, and sent plans for it to Cardinal Fransoni. The idea caught on, and in 1845 two thousand shares valued at 500 francs each were issued. The Company was a religious-commercial concern to serve the Pacific. It would furnish ships to take goods from France to various parts of Oceania. On the return journey the ships would bring copra, mats and artifacts. The Company would provide free transport for the personnel and the goods of the Catholic Missions, thus saving huge amounts of money being spent on transport for the missionaries.

The money saved could then be put to concrete projects on the mission field.

Colin not only promoted the Company but became a large shareholder. His lead was followed by other Religious Congregations.

Rome, too, became interested and Pope Pius IX gave the Company a Brief of encouragement and himself took shares.

According to Hosie: “Fifteen Cardinals, twenty archbishops, thirty-three bishops and the Jesuit General followed his example.”

The Company was flourishing, and it had numerous shareholders.

Captain Marceau was providing a good service for the Marist missionaries. Trading stores were functioning in the Marquesas, Tahiti and Futuna. Company ships were leaving from Italian and French ports for places as far away as Chile, Oregon, Australia and China. It seemed that the Oceania Company was to become a powerful agent for the Association of the Propagation of the Faith, as Colin had promised.

Despite this, Colin was beginning to lose heart because of the difficulty of providing an adequate life for his missionaries. He had heard too many stories about the isolation and the loneliness of his men, plus the appalling conditions they were living in, to hold out much hope that anything better was possible for them. He had already begun to doubt the wisdom of sending more missionaries to the Pacific and from 1845, he began to slow down his contribution of men to the mission.

The Rule
The third major area of concern for Colin at this time was the Rule.

He had continued to work at the Rule, realizing that the Society was not something of his making, but a “given” from God, at which he had been called to work. He realized that the time had not yet come to give the project fixed. and concrete expression. Colin wished to keep his options open.

The text that he had presented and withdrawn in 1842 was discussed and commented on in Retreats because it contained the essence of Colin’s thinking. But it was never used in discussion with the Bishops.

Today, the text of 1842 is still a fundamental document, and as we know, between 1868 and 1870 Colin took the text as the basis of his first revision, which became the Constitutions of 1872. 3.