Footprints in the ocean. History of the Catholic Church in Western Oceania - Frans A. Lenssen - ebook

Footprints in the ocean. History of the Catholic Church in Western Oceania ebook

Frans A. Lenssen



The history of the founding and development of the Catholic Church in the South Pacific is the tale of strongly motivated men and women who went out to spread the Gospel in a region with thousands of islands. In spite of years of planning and preparation.

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History of the Catholic Church in Western Oceania

Edited by

Frans A. Lenssen

Engelsdorfer Verlag




Your way led through the sea,

your path through the mighty waters

and no one saw your footprints.

(Psalm 77:19)

Bibliografische Information durch die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek: Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet über abrufbar.

Copyright (2012) Engelsdorfer Verlag Leipzig

Alle Rechte beim Autor

Hergestellt in Leipzig, Germany (EU)


Part A
The Beginning and Expansion of the Catholic Mission in Western OCEANIA FROM 1827 to 1855
1. Circumscription of Oceania
2. The Prefecture Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) - 1825 [6]
3. The Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania
4. Pompallier Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania 17 April 1836
5. New division between the Vicariates of Eastern and Western Oceania - 1838
6. Pompallier leaves Valparaiso for Ponape in Micronesia 10 August 1837
7. The Beginnings of the Catholic Church in Australia
8. Pompallier makes New Zealand his headquarters - 1838
9. The Vicariate Apostolic of Central Oceania - 1842
10. Vicariates Apostolic of Melanesia and Micronesia
11. Bishop Epalle is killed in the Solomon Islands - 1845
12. Collomb is ordained bishop in New- Zealand for the vicariates of Melanesia and Micronesia -1847
13. New Caledonians put the Marists to flight - 1847
14. Collomb dies on Rooke Island 16 July 1848
15. Further Developments in Central and Western Oceania 1847-1850
16. The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions of Milan (P.I.M.E.) takes over the Vicariates of Melanesia and Micronesia 1850
Part B
A New begin of Mission Activities IN MELANESIA 1881
17. The Vicariate of New Guinea entrusted to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart 1881 [23]
18. Return of Marists to the Solomon Islands
19. The Divine Word Mission [26]
Part C
Between the Two Wars [27]
20. The Divine Word Missionaries enter the Highlands
21. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC)
22. The Marist Mission
Part D
Further Development of the CathoLic Church after World War II [28]
23. Early SVD Mission activity in Vanimo area
24. Australian Franciscan Mission in the Sepik Region
25. Australian Passionist Mission in Papua New Guinea
26. Ecclesiastical Hierarchy Established - 1966
27. The Canadian Montfort Mission in Daru-Kiunga 1959
28. The American Capuchin Mission in Mendi/ Southern Highlands
29. The Australian Dominicans in the Solomon Islands -1955
30. The Dutch Mariannhill Missionaries in Lae/Morobe
31. Salesian Presence in Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands - 1980
32. The PIME Missionaries return to Papua New Guinea 1981
33. Religious Communities at present in Papua New Guinea
34. Visits of Pope John Paul II to Papua New Guinea in 1984 and 1995
35. Dioceses of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands 2011


This book is not the result oprofessional study of sources of the history of the Catholic Church in Melanesia but icollection of relevant texts compiled from publications of various competent historians. Hence it does not make detailed references to the paragraphs extracted from other authors. However throughout the text general references are made to relevant works listed in the bibliography.

This collection is meant ahandbook for private use with information about the origin and development of the Catholic Church in Western Oceania witspecial focus on Papua New Guinea.

8 September 2011

Mariannhill College Bomana NCD

Papua New Guinea

Frans A. Lenssen CMM

Part A

The Beginning and Expansion of the Catholic Mission in Western OCEANIA FROM 1827 to 1855

1. Circumscription of Oceania

Oceania[1] is the collective name for the islands scattered throughout most of the Pacific Ocean between Asia and the Americas. The most popular usage excludes Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines from the Pacific Ocean, because the peoples and cultures of those islands are more closely related historically to the Asian mainland. Oceania then in its most restricted meaning includes more than 10,000 islands.

Oceania has traditionally been divided into four parts: Australasia (Australia and New Zealand), Melanesia[2], Micronesia[3], and Polynesia[4]. As recently as 33,000 years ago no human beings lived in the region, except in Australasia. Although disagreeing on details, scientists generally supportheory that calls foSoutheast Asian origin of island peoples. By 2000 about 12 million islanders lived in Oceania (excluding Australia), and many indigenous cultures were revolutionized by intensive contact with non-Oceanic groups who had intruded from various parts of the Western world.

Part A of this book covers the period from 1827-1855 summarising the chapters 1-35 of Ralph Wiltgen's[5] comprehensive volume on this period. In the Parts B, C and D, this book focuses mainly on the history of the Catholic Church in Melanesia – especially in Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands - in the context of wider Western Oceania where the Church was initiated in various regions since 1827.

2. The Prefecture Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) - 1825 [6]

First initiatives

Jean-Baptiste Rives (1793-1833), a French ship’s crew member who arrived in Honolulu between 1803 and 1806, became very interested in the Sandwich (now Hawaiian) Islands and decided to settle there. He succeeded to establisgood relation with the royal family about 1810 and became their factotum, serving as interpreter, teacher, secretary and doctor of medicine. Eventually he received an invitation to accompany King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu on their voyage to London The royal couple however died of measles in London. Instead of returning directly to Honolulu, Rives sailed for France, hoping to realise his dream of becoming the first French consul for the Sandwich Islands. To obtain priests for the religious part of his program he called upon Father Charles-François Langlois (1767-1851), superior of the well-known Paris Foreign Mission Seminary founded in 1660, which later became the Paris Foreign Mission Society (M.E.P.). Rives told Langlois of the great possibilities for Catholicism in the Sandwich Islands. In all of the islands these missionaries had only three churches, he said, but they did havschool on each island for teaching the children reading and writing. When Langlois asked if the Protestant missionaries might prove hostile to incoming Catholic missionaries, Rives assured him that the Catholics would be able to work in peace.

Rome contacted

The Protestant missionaries referred to by Rives were actually sent out by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which had been founded in 1810 at Bradford, Massachusetts. Its first missionaries to the Sandwich Islands arrived there in 1820 and numbered two ordained missionaries and about ten co-workers.

Langlois lost no time in contacting Rome. While Rives was still in Paris he wrote on 23 March 1825 to eighty-year-old Giulio Maria Cardinal Della Somaglia (1744-1830) who, in addition to being the secretary of state to Pope Leo XII (1823-9), was serving provisionally as pro-prefect of the Sacred Congregation ‘Propaganda Fide’. This sacred congregation or commission of cardinals, today called also the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelisation of Nations, had been founded by Pope Gregory XV on 6 January 1622. It was Rives’ strong attachment to the Catholic faith that made him want to take along to the Sandwich Islands some Catholic missionaries, since he was convinced that very many of the people there could easily be won over to the Catholic faith. Langlois gave some details on the Protestant missionary work there and referred to the seven-page questionnaire filled out by Rives. The Rives-Langlois proposal onew mission for the Sandwich Islands was handed over for action to Archbishop Pietro Caprano, secretary of the Evangelisation Congregation since 1823.

Picpus Congregation looking for Mission

On 15 July, the founder and superior general of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (SS.CC. also called ‘Picpus’, the name of the street of their headquarters in Paris) Coudrin presented to Archbishop Caprano, secretary of the Evangelisation Congregation, a memorandum expressing his community's readiness and eagerness to serve in missions in Europe or in foreign missions. The Sacred Congregation could send the first three members at once to whatever mission it considers best. It was this memorandum which now prompted Della Somaglia and Caprano to see if they could interest Coudrin in accepting the Sandwich Islands. But before approaching Coudrin they sought clearance from Pope Leo XII, since the Picpus Fathers up to this time had never been engaged in foreign missionary work."

Oceania Mission offered to Coudrin (Picpus)

Della Somaglia's letter said thanew evangelical harvest seems to be springing up which could well be entrusted for cultivation to the sacred labourers' of Coudrin's religious community. `If in your ranks you have some members who are fit to launch this new mission, then let me know so that we can make the necessary arrangements.' It was Coudrin's ardent zeal for the propagation of the faith', the cardinal added, that forced him to hope for an affirmative answer. This letter reached Paris on 29 September and Coudrin set to work immediately reading books and contacting people. He wanted to find out all that he could about the Sandwich Islands and how his missionaries might get there. From Langlois, mentioned in the cardinal's letter, he learned that the `certain Frenchman' so interested in getting priests was Rives, and he obtainecopy of the Langlois-Rives questionnaire that had been sent to Rome. Ten months earlier Rives, who wanted the French government to name him consul in the Sandwich Islands, had giveglowing report to Baron de Damas, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on how advantageous for French commerce it would be to havtrade route in the north Pacific from the west coast of North America via the Sandwich Islands to Canton, China. Rives had also said in his report to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that French influence in the Sandwich Islands would be more lasting if French priests were to establismission there.

Coudrin accepts the mission on Hawaii (Sandwich Islands)

Coudrin wrote back to Della Somaglia on 6 October 1825, exactly one week after the cardinal's letter had reached Paris. He wrote that he gladly would take charge of the mission on the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) which he cardinal had offered to the Picpus Fathers. He was already negotiating witFrench ship that would sail to those islands in November and expected to have two or three men available to get aboard. Coudrin also begged the cardinal that the faculties to appoinprefect apostolic would be given to him. Was Coudrin asking for too much here? Designating the prefect apostolic omission walong-standing prerogative of the cardinal prefect of the Evangelisation Congregation, and he might not want to surrender this right. Coudrin went on to say that the mission withoudoubt would soon need more priests. The ‘obstacles’ created by bishops on these occasions would be eliminated completely, Coudrin declared, if the pope were to authorise ‘any Catholic bishop in communion with the Holy Apostolic See to ordain ... the professed members of our congregation who are assigned to the Sandwich missions or to other foreign missions that may be entrusted to us.’

The Prefecture Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) - 24 October 1825

After posting his letter to Della Somaglia (Pro-Prefect of the Evangelisation Congregation) on 6 October, Coudrin lost no time and visited Baron de Damas, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 7 October in order to request free passage for his missionaries aboarship of the Royal Navy. The French government ultimately promised free passage for the missionaries and 4,000 francs asubsidy for their first foundation. Coudrin's concern fospeedy decision was shared by Cardinal Della Somaglia who took action in Rome long before the letter for Cardinal Pacca had arrived. Della Somaglia asked Archbishop Pietro Caprano, secretary of the Evangelisation Congregation, to see Pope Leo XII on 24 October 1825. At this audience Caprano requested the desired ecclesiastical privileges and powers-technically called faculties-for the new prefect apostolic and for the missionaries still to be chosen by Coudrin for the Sandwich Islands. By granting these faculties the pope also created the Prefecture Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands.

Coudrin's haste, however, kept preying on Caprano's mind. Coudrin explained further that after getting the first letter from the cardinal he had visited the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the king of France. This official had promised free passage for his missionaries aboarFrench ship which had delayed its departure and was now scheduled to leave for the Sandwich Islands in December. Then Coudrin listed the names, birthplaces and birthdays of the three missionaries chosen for the Sandwich Islands. And he requested that Father Alexis-Jean-Augustin Bachelot, born 22 February 1796 at Saint Cyr-Orne, France, be named the prefect apostolic with the faculty of sub delegatinvice-prefect, if circumstances should require it. He also asked that the three missionaries `be given all faculties and privileges that were given to the Jesuits when they were first assigned to the Indian missions in America, since the circumstances are the same'. Inquiry was made as to whether the Reverend Coudrin, superior and founder of the new Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and Vicar General of Troyes, would be prepared to take charge of the Sandwich Islands mission in the Pacific Ocean, a mission for which the Fathers of the Company of Jesus (Jesuits) did not believe they could offer themselves.

Bachelot Prefect Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands

Finally Alexis Bachelot was named the first Prefect Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands and letters patent were issued to his priest companions, Fathers Abraham Armand and Patrice Peter Short. Extraordinary faculties were also granted to the three missionaries in accord with the wishes previously expressed by the pope. Actually the nuncio had senletter to Della Somaglia dated 30 November 1825, but this letter and the cardinal's second letter of 3 December crossed in the mail. In three large pages the nuncio attempted to show how inopportune it would be to starCatholic mission in the Sandwich Islands at this time. `The people still adore idols, and onlshort while ago stopped sacrificing human blood', he said. In the entire population of 500,000 `there was nosingle Catholic', although two men without being well instructed had been baptised bFrench priest aboarship which had stopped there.

Coudrin while in Paris on 26 December 1825 received from the Holy See the decree approving the rule submitted by him for his religious community. Impatient with Rome's apparent delay in sending the necessary authorisation for the Sandwich Islands mission, Coudrin on the following day visited Nuncio Apostolic Macchi. It is not difficult to imagine that his enthusiasm made Archbishop Vincenzo Macchi, nuncio in Paris see many reasons which guaranteed the success of the Sandwich Islands mission. Macchi now also had information on the three priests chosen for the mission. As for funds, Coudrin had promised to provide his missionaries witcertain amount of money. And the French ship, which was to bring the missionaries to the Sandwich Islands free of charge, would also bring them back again, if for some unforeseen reason they should not succeed in establishing themselves there.

Coudrin, expecting the faculties for the Sandwich Islands mission to arrive in the offices of the nuncio apostolic at any time, paid him another visit on 1 February. As Macchi informed Della Somaglia, the letter of 17 January from Rome, authorising him to hand over the official documents to Coudrin, had arrived just prior to this visit. Returning to his house on rue de Picpus after seeing the nuncio, Coudrin had the community sing the Veni Creator in praise of the Holy Spirit and on that same day handed over to Bachelot his official appointment as Prefect Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands. At the same time he informed them that the Holy See had entrusted the Sandwich Islands to them amission field.

Departure for Oceania 16 November 1826

Now that Coudrin had the official documents, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Baron de Damas, was approached again and on 13 February and he renewed his promises to help the Sandwich Islands missionaries. Meanwhile the departure of the missionaries was delayed for many months, due to unforeseen circumstances. New obstacles especially the fear that the Protestant mission on Sandwich island would cause great trouble when Catholic missionaries would arrive there, delayed the final departure fowhole year. The missionaries finally embarked in Bordeaux on 16 November 1826, which was exactly one full year after the original sailing date mentioned by Coudrin in his first letter. Coudrin wrote to Della Somaglia again on 3 December 1826, saying `a complete year' had elapsed since the cardinal's important letter of 3 December 1825 entrusting to his community the Sandwich Islands.

Arrival in Valparaiso (Chile)

Their ship reached Valparaiso (Chile) on 8 February 1827 and made stopovers at Quilca and Lima (Peru) and also at Mazatlan (Mexico) before reaching Honolulu. Father Patrice Short wrote from Honolulu on 27 July 1827, saying, `We arrived here in good health on the 7th of this month, which was the 20th day after our departure from Mazatlan and the 230th day after our departure from the mouth of the Garonne at Bordeaux. We were under sail for 150 days and spent 80 days in the various ports. . . .' The difficulties initially caused for them by the Protestant missionaries there, he said, were overcome under God `by the joint efforts of the American and English consuls'. He said that the English consul had been particularly civil toward him, `promising me from the very beginning complete protection as an English subject, saying that it was his duty to protect me, no matter what religion I might have'. On 14 July the missionaries said Mass for the first time in the Sandwich Islands.

3. The Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania

Prefecture Apostolic of the South Sea Islands – 10 January 1830[7]

Fr. Gabriel de Solages, a French priest who had volunteered for mission work in the South Sea Islands was offered the position of Prefect Apostolic of Bourbon (now La Reunion), a French colony in the Indian Ocean 684 km from Madagascar. This position was vacant since the Prefect Apostolic Pastre (since 1821) had resigned for reasons of bad health. De Solages accepted although at the same time he hastrong interest in the South Sea Islands in the Pacific Ocean and was also told that the two missions were not compatible. He was named Prefect Apostolic on 17 August 1829. But he wanted in addition to the powers and title of Prefect Apostolic of Bourbon the new position of Prefect of the South Sea Islands including New Zealand, in spite of the enormous distance between the two regions. His idea was to set ukind of pastoral institute on Bourbon that would provide missionaries for Madagascar as well as the South Pacific. For personnel he counted on Coudrin and his Picpus community.

De Solages Prefect Apostolic of Bourbon and of the South Sea Islands

De Solages’ project onew mission on the South Sea Islands was accepted by the Evangelisation Congregation in Rome on 22 December 1829. On 10 January 1830 Pope Pius VIII confirmed the decisions of the cardinals and thereby formally established the Prefecture Apostolic on the South Sea Islands and appointed Father de Solages as the Prefect Apostolic. Fr. Coudrin of the Picpus Fathers had been too slow in submittinrequest for support of the eastern half of Oceania.

After many discussions and frictions de Solages set finally sail from France to Bourbon on 27 September 1830 without donations from any of his benefactors. There were only two priests anlayman with de Solages. De Solages was Prefect Apostolic of Bourbon and also still of the South Sea Islands, but he did not have in his compansingle man for Oceania. The voyage from France to Bourbon took four months. When he reached Bourbon on 7 January 1831, it was the end of his ambitious dream and the beginning of harsh reality. Less than two years later de Solages died in Madagascar. De Solages was dead but not his dream. Others would make it come true, the Picpus Fathers in Eastern Oceania, the Marists in Western Oceania and the Jesuits in Madagascar.

The Marists interested in the new Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania[8]

The premature death of de Solages in Madagascar on 8 December 1832 left vacant the two offices of Prefect Apostolic of Bourbon (near Madagascar) and Prefect Apostolic of the South Sea Islands (Oceania). Without losing any time Cardinal Prefect Pedicini of the Evangelisation Congregation on 27 July 1833 wrote to Father Fourdinier, superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, saying that Father Pastre could go as soon as possible to the Island of Bourbon to take up once again his previous office as Prefect Apostolic of Bourbon. Rome had great confidence in Father Jean-Louis Pastre of Lyon, whom Bertout as early as 15 January 1823 had described for Pro-Prefect Consalvi of the Evangelisation Congregation apriest in Bourbon who is truly an apostolic man. Pastre had arrived there on 18 May 1817 and was named prefect apostolic of Bourbon in 1821 and resigned because of ill health in 1829.

In 1829, when Pastre was making his plans for returning to Bourbon, Fransoni, the new cardinal prefect of the Evangelisation Congregation on 21 November 1834 wrote to him on 4 July 1835, asking if he would like to become head of the mission of Western Oceania left vacant by the death of de Solages. Pastre, an experienced missionary, was known in Rome as ‘a hard worker' and was highly esteemed. Believing that he was still interested in devoting himself to missionary work, Pastre thanked Fransoni by return mail on 17 July for the great honour of offering him this new mission, but declined because of his age, being already 55. At the same time Pastre - much annoyed that he was not able to accept the new mission of Western Oceania -, contactepriest of the society of the Marists, and the two of them discussed the Vicariate Apostolic of the Friendly Islands (Tonga), Fiji Islands, etc., etc., and also New Zealand, which the Sacred Congregation was planning to found in Western Oceania. This priest then consulted with his companions for very many days and then proposed to Pastre to ask the 33-old Father Jean Baptist- François Pompallier (1801-71), one of the approximately twenty Marist priests residing either in the Diocese of Belley or the neighbouring Archdiocese of Lyon. Pastre interviewed him without delay.

Pompallier proposed as Vicar Apostolic

The superior Father Jean-Claude Colin (1790-1875) who was the founder of the or Society of Mary as the group of priests came to be called, wrotletter to Pompallier, which Pastre in turn forwarded to Rome. Colin had already reacted to Rome's earlier request for missionaries. He had made alreadformal request for papal approbation for his society. If Pastre were to tell the cardinal prefect of the Evangelisation Congregation that members of the Society of Mary were available for Western Oceania, Colin reasoned, ‘this offer of ourselves could not but be well received, and it would also prove of advantage to our society'.

Colin's strategy was simple. If Cardinal Fransoni, prefect of the Propaganda Fide had the well-founded hope of getting Marist priests for Western Oceania and if he saw that Colin was holding out for papal approbation of his society prior to assigning priests to that mission, the cardinal most likely would use his influence with other cardinals of the Roman Curia and even with the pope himself to obtain for the Society of Mary the desired papal approval. Before foundinVicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania, the big question still had to be resolved, who would supply the staff for Western Oceania? Four archipelagos in the Vicariate of Eastern Oceania had nevertheless been assigned to the Picpus Fathers on 2 June 1833, and this new mission required nofew members to staff it.

Colin with his new Society of Mary was most likely to be entrusted with the new vicariate. However, before accepting this mission he wanted to have his group better organised and had decided to wait for the brief containing papal approbation. The final point in the report stated that when the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Lyon was invited by the Sacred Congregation to procure excellent priests for the mission of Western Oceania, he had praised the priests of the Society of Mary, had said that it could provide five or six members to start the mission, and had announced that the society would also oblige itself to supply as many priests as would be needed to maintain the mission in the future.

Two questions were to be answered by the Evangelisation Congregation: 1. shoulnew Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania be established? 2. If so, to whom should the new mission be entrusted? As for the second question, it was clear from the report that the Picpus Fathers had responsibilities enough in the Sandwich Islands, in the archipelagos south of the equator in Eastern Oceania, and in Valparaiso (Chile).

On 29 June 1834 the Congregation for Bishops and Religious voted against the approval of the Constitutions of the Marist Society. Nevertheless the Evangelisation Congregation wanted Colin to accept the proposed new Vicariate of Western Oceania. Colin was told that if he did accept the mission, he could hope to obtain approbation more easily for his institute insofar as the official recognition of the congregation of priests is concerned.

The Vicariate of Western Oceania established 10 January 1836

Pope Gregory XVI was informed of the decision of the Evangelisation Congregation to set up of the new vicariate on 10 January 1836. After hearing the report and learning of the decisions of the cardinals, Pope Gregory XVI created the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania and entrusted it to the Marists. At the same time he authorised Cardinal Sala and the Evangelisation Congregation to proceed with their strategy as planned. He also said that after Colin had accepted the mission, the matter should be taken up of findinsuitable candidate for the dignity of bishop and vicar apostolic.

When Cardinal Cappellari was prefect of the Evangelisation Congregation from 1826 to 1831, he had been largely responsible for the creation of the Prefecture Apostolic of the South Sea Islands on 10 January 1830. Now, after having become Pope Gregory XVI, he had already created the Vicariate Apostolic of Eastern Oceania on 2 June 1833. Now in 1836 he created the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania, which later would become the Vicariate of Melanesia.

The Marists accept the responsibility for Western Oceania - 1836

Cardinal Fransoni informed Father Pastre under date of 23 January 1836 that the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania had now been established and had been entrusted with the pope's approval to the priests of the Society of Marists. Fransoni also praised Pastre for his zealous initiative and said that he must now help bring this project tsuccessful conclusion. The cardinals had given ‘all due praise to the outstanding zeal' which Archbishop de Pins (administrator of Lyon) had manifested for the propagation of religion. They now wished him to see to it that Colin would not refuse this mission, since by accepting it he could more easily obtain the desired approbation for his congregation of priests.

Both Pastre and de Pins's vicar general Cholleton informed Colin and his priests of the letters received from Cardinal Fransoni. The tiny community was elated with the news that the Evangelisation Congregation wanted it to take over ‘the western part of the islands in the Pacific Ocean. Colin at once wrote to Cardinal Fransoni from Belley on 10 February 1836, saying that `the superior and the priests of the Society of Mary, full of confidence in the help of the Lord, joyfully seize this favourable occasion of fulfilling one of the purposes which they propose for themselves. They accept with gratitude the offer of the Sacred Congregation.' Colin gave assurance that the cardinal would learn very soon through Archbishop de Pins the number and names of the priests preparing to take up work in this new mission.

Approval of the Rule of the Society of Mary

But shrewd Colin wanted papal approbation in fact, not only in promise. ‘Our joy in the Lord would be complete', he added, if before the departure of the missionaries ‘a Brief from the Holy See were to encourage our enterprise and to permit at least the priests of the society to tighten even more securely the bonds which have united us icommon purpose’.

On 29 April 1836, bbrief called Omnium gentium, Pope Gregory XVI formally and publicly announced that he was giving approbation to the Society of Mary. ‘The salvation of all peoples', he said in part, ` . . . compels us constantly to be vigilant and leave nothing untried through which the name of the Lord may be praised from the rising of the sun until its setting, and by means of which the most holy Catholic faith - without which it is impossible to please God - may thrive and shine forth all over the earth’. It was now the task of the Society of Mary to make the Catholic faith ‘thrive and shine forth' all over Western Oceania.

4. Pompallier Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania 17 April 1836

Pope Gregory XVI, when creating the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania and entrusting it to the Marists on 10 January 1836, had given instructions that the business of findinsuitable candidate for the dignity of bishop and vicar apostolic should be taken up as soon as Father Colin and the Marists had accepted the mission[9]. The Evangelisation Congregation had to seek for no candidate, however, because one was presented spontaneously and without delay. His name was: Father Pompallier.

Pompallier appointed Vicar Apostolic

On 4 March Bishop le Pin of Lyon formally announced that Colin had accepted Western Oceania, and that the Marists would be sending five priests and two Brothers there, and that they had assumed responsibility for sending additional personnel as needed. In charge of the first group, would be Pompallier, ‘born in Lyon on 11 December 1801, a priest of rare merit and piety, and I recommend him to the cardinal aperson of distinction in all respects'. Colin, too, was in favour of Pompallier, having encouraged him as early as 3 August 1835 to accept responsibility for heading the mission, because ‘at the present moment I can think of no one else but you who can fill the position that is offered to you'. On the basis of the recommendations Fransoni had his secretary, Father Mal, taken up this matter with Gregory XVI. On the basis of the favourable data the Pope immediately gave his consent, thereby making Pompallier the first Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania and raising him to the rank of bishop-elects. He was thirty-four years old and had beepriest for six years and ten months.

The dimension of the new Vicariate

The new Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania from the very beginning covered an area approximately 8,000 kilometres long from east to west and just as long from north to south. This was one-fifth the circumference of the earth in each direction, but the shape of the territory was more liktriangle thasquare. Thuvast array of islands which no man to this day has numbered was put under the spiritual jurisdiction of Pompallier. Their names could easily filparagraph! They were the southern Cook Islands, Tonga or Friendly Islands, Samoa Islands, Tokelau Islands, Phoenix Islands, Kermadec Islands, Fiji Islands, Wallis Islands, Ellice Islands, Kingsmill Islands, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Loyalty Islands, New Zealand, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Santa Cruz Islands, Louisiade Archipelago, Trobriand Islands, Solomon Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, New Britain, New Ireland, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea (the largest island), and also parts of the Moluccas or Spice Islands between New Citdnea and Celebes, the Marianas or Ladrones Islands with Guam and Saipan, and the Caroline Islands which contained the Palau Islands, Yap Islands, Truk Islands, Mortlock Islands and Ponape.

Pompallier must have shuddered at the vastness of his vicariate and in his audience did ask the pope to exclude at least Micronesia, the part above the equator. But Gregory XVI aformer cardinal prefect of the Evangelisation Congregation knew better than Pompallier the difficulties connected with foundinfirst base of operations and wanted the new bishop to have as vast an area as possible in which to begin. In time parts of the territory could be cut off and entrusted to other bishops.

Departure of Pompallier announced

The L'ami de la religion, the principal religious newspaper of France, announced the departure of Pompallier in its issue of 20 August 1836. It was reported that the prelate would first visit Tonga (or the Friendly Islands) and then go to New Guinea. Pompallier wished to bind himself by vows to the rules and constitutions of the Society of Mary but it was not proper to do that abishop. He wanted to bfull member of the Marists but in fact he never made the vows. When the first group made their first profession, Pompallier madsolemn declaration of spiritual attachment to the Society of Mary.

Before his departure he accepted the request of the superior (and founder) Colin to be the religious superior over the missionaries being sent with him, though he was not member of the Society of Mary. Unknown to Pompallier and Colin, the mutual pact which they now entered was to cause endless strife between them. It would even threaten one day to bring to an end the very work that now before God they had resolved to begin. The mission in Western Oceania in time would suffer great harm. In fact, it would almost certainly have been destroyed except for the wisdom, the patience and the ultimate severity of the Evangelisation Congregation in Rome. What had been calculated by these two men to help avoid an explosive situation was in reality destined to bring it about!

Pompallier and his companions set sail from Le Havre - 1836[10]

Bishop Pompallier booked passage for himself and his missionaries aboard the Delphine