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Writing to Colin

Even before Pompallier reached Kororareka, Baty had begun a letter to his friend Claude-Pierre Nyd. He finished it a few days later.[1] Others also wrote.[2] Two months later, in August, a French whaler, the Orion entered the Bay of Islands, so they wrote again.[3] The bishop took care of getting them on a ship.

Pompallier himself sent a nine-page letter to Colin, dated 14 August, and entrusted it the next day to the captain.[4] Four days later, 18 August, he wrote what was meant to be a duplicate, but, before he got it away, another whaler, the Pallas, came in, delivering a letter of Colin and one from the novices at Puylata.[5] He quickly answered both[6] and gave the two letters, with the mail that had come from Futuna two months earlier, to the captain of the Pallas, although he knew she would go whale hunting before returning to France.[7] On 28 August he wrote again via Sydney and London, expecting it to be the faster way.[8]

The bishop’s letters are filled with the usual rhetoric about the immensity of the task he had faced for so long nearly alone – presque seul - and the paucity of the means at his disposal compared to the vast numbers of priests in France. He lavishes praise, in a rather condescending tone, on the Maori people: ‘What simplicity, what frankness in those souls, what docility, what fervour for the instructions in the Faith’. He glories in his own role: ‘It is a great consolation for a priest, for a bishop, to instruct those dear souls, to give them catechism and even a school education! Children, youth, men and women, girls and old men, they all crouch down around you and listen with the same docility’.[9]

He is grateful for all the clothing he received and suggests that the benefactors write their names in each piece, so that the catechumens who get the clothes can adopt the baptismal names of the benefactors.

He explains that, even with Reine de Paix at his disposal, he cannot go to Wallis and Futuna until the new missionaries speak enough English and Maori to manage by themselves.

He urges Colin to assign in each group someone who is in charge of packing and listing the missions goods they bring along. In France there should be a procurator to supervise the collecting and packing of mission goods and to help the missionaries who often lack experience in material matters. [10]

He needs a few really competent men to be pro-vicar or apostolic prefect for a part of the mission. He sees the need for someone to visit the missions to represent its interests in France under the responsibility of the superior general. From letters alone it is impossible to understand the situation. [11] He specifically names the Marists he would like Colin to send: Chanut, Lagniet, Forêt, men he knows well. ‘France has enough priests for the salvation of the French. The Society should work for the salvation of Polynesia and its twelve to fifteen million inhabitants.’

Surprising is that Pompallier now asks Colin for someone to supervise the missionaries: someone who makes sure they follow the rule and apply themselves to their own sanctification.[12] Coming from Pompallier, bishop and superior, it sounds like an admission of defeat. After a year and a half with Servant and Colombon, and two months with the second group of missionaries, he in fact concedes that there is something he cannot handle. Not that he has complaints about their religious or priestly life. Nor can it be said that they neglect their prayer life. If anything, he finds they pray too much! Saying they need to apply themselves more to their ‘rule’ and to their ‘sanctification’ can only mean they fail in the sort of obedience he expects from them, and that is something he cannot cope with! The letter he writes the same day to the novices at Puylata confirms this interpretation.

To the novices

It is the sort of spiritual conference one would expect from a visiting bishop to a group of novices, underlining the importance of the novitiate and the value of the hidden life they lead in preparation to their future ministry, but at the same time it betrays the problems and the tensions of the day. ‘We are overwhelmed by the task. Oh, come to our aid, dear Society of Mary! But come to our aid in the way of the obedience that is so dear to you, and that is the most effective cause of success and holiness. Obedience must be the virtue par excellence of missionaries and catechists (i.e. the Brothers) and the children of Mary’.[13]

Equally revealing is another passage. As mentioned above, the men wanted a regular life in which work and spiritual exercises alternated. They would have liked to say Mass every day, but there was only one Holy Eucharist a day, which limited each one to saying Mass every third day and on Sundays. It even happened that they said Mass only once a week, because ‘the work had to go on’.[14] ‘Prayer, pious thoughts and sentiments are good things’, the bishop wrote to the novices, ‘but what we need in the missions is action, the full commitment of all a man’s faculties, full co-operation with God in everything of his service. Piety must not stand in the way of this commitment to the full.[15]

For the first time in all his letters Pompallier also mentions the need for sisters in the missions. ‘for priests, brothers, and soon perhaps sisters, there are beautiful souls to win here’[16] What triggered this sudden interest in the sisters is not clear. Perhaps something in the letter from the novices.


  1. LRO, doc. 32.
  2. Cf. LRO, doc. 84 [1].
  3. Cf. LRO, doc. 36.
  4. LRO, doc. 33, cf. doc. 36 [1].
  5. Colin’s letter dated 01.12.38) and the one of the novices (02.12.38) have not been preserved. Cf. LRO, doc. 34 [14] & 35 [1] .
  6. LRO, doc. 35
  7. LRO, docs. 34 & 35, cf. doc. 37 [1]. On the mail from Futuna, cf. above, p. 109, n. 67.
  8. LRO, doc. 37. The letters sent via Sydney and London arrived in fact first, i.e., in March 1840. Colin himself speaks of the end of April, CS, doc. 185 [4]. Chavas, in the original version of an official letter to the government says it was in March, cf. CS, doc. 177 [5]. As Colin is often careless in these matters, we agree with G. Lessard (CS, p. 288, n. 2) when he gives Chavas the benefit of the doubt. Shortly afterwards, in the first half of May, Colin received the mail sent with the Orion. After its call in New Zealand in August 1839, the Pallas went whale hunting in the South Pacific for eight months, called again in the Bay of Islands in May 1840 and went only then straight to Le Havre where it arrived in September 1840. It must have gone via the Cape of Good Hope. Cf. CS, doc. 200 [1], above p. 118, n. 111.
  9. LRO, doc. 33 [2].
  10. LRO, doc. 33 [9] & 34 [4].
  11. LRO, doc. 34 [16].
  12. (..)dans la charge de veiller spécialement l’exécution de la règle et à la sanctification des sujets dans leur état LRO, doc. 34 [15].
  13. LRO, doc. 35 [4].
  14. Petit to Colin, 27.04.40, LRO, doc. 56 [6].
  15. ad robur, cf. LRO, doc. 35 [4]. Cf. below, Epilogue, p. 3.
  16. LRO, doc. 35 [5].

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