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For the first year and a half the Catholic Church in New Zealand consisted of a bishop with one priest and a lay-brother in a remote corner of the country. Mid 1839 saw significant developments. By the end of the year the Catholic Church was well established in what was then the political and commercial centre of the country: a bishop with two priests and two lay-brothers in a good house on a nice property and a ship for anchor. A second station on the west side of the island from where two priests and two brothers provided pastoral care to the local settlers and were constantly visiting the Maori tribes.

In tropical Polynesia the four men divided over two small islands were no longer seen as derelicts, dropped on the beach and left to fend for themselves. They were now recognized as representatives of a vast organization introducing a lotu papalangi that was significantly different from those already established in Tonga and Samoa.

A third group of missionaries was on the way, no longer by the long and dangerous route around South America, but by the safer and shorter way via Australia.

In France, when the right man presented himself the superior general grabbed at the chance and appointed him general mission procurator. Colin stepped over his tendency to keep things in his own hands and allowed the young procurator – twenty-four – all the room he wanted, even when it meant getting involved in politics. Until now there was no attempt to keep letters and documents orderly at hand. Colin gave him whatever was found and Poupinel set up a filing system. He understood what Bataillon wrote around the same time: the Marist missions are part of an English-speaking world.[1] Perhaps it was not so uncommon in his native Normandy as in land-locked Lyon, but Victor Poupinel quickly became proficient in English.

The new procurator felt that the constant complaints of Bishop Pompallier about Colin’s poor communications were not entirely unjustified. He came to an understanding with Heptonstall in London over mail and money transfers. He notified Pompallier when missionaries left, and of money sent, how much and by which way. He acknowledged the letters received and kept Pompallier informed of significant political developments.

Advisors from Lyon, London and Rome thought it a good idea to buy land. The missionaries gave preference to the moral advantage their celibate state gave them over the Protestants, who had to buy land to provide for the future of their children.[2]

The prudish Colin kept fearing for the virtue of his religious, while the missionaries moved around alone, unconcerned by the airy fashions of Polynesia.

Colin’s devotion to Mary wanted his missionaries to bury medals and put statues everywhere. He wanted the missionaries to take possession of a house or of land ‘in the name of Mary’. This was more than devotion. ‘On my visits to Lyon, I said to these gentlemen: «Messieurs, whenever you are sent anywhere to establish foundations, never buy anything in your own name». They did not understand what I meant. «Yes, buy everything in the name of the Blessed Virgin»’.[3] ‘For Colin, even in questions as profane as the buying of a house or of furniture, the reference to Mary is immediate, concrete, present at the very centre of the intention of the buyer, who by that very fact will never allow himself to use the thing bought as if it were the full property of the Marists’.[4] The missionaries’ first concern and their success lay in learning the island languages, observing the customs and simply making friends. Perhaps we must conclude that not all Marists shared Colin’s immediate and personal relationship to Mary.

Colin wanted his religious to become saints through unquestioning obedience to their bishop. The absence of more balanced structures must have contributed to turning that bishop into an impossible autocrat.

In spite of all, the Gospel was being proclaimed. An visiting globetrotter expressed his surprise when he saw the same Pompallier treat a native chief with grace and respect. A Maori chief refrained from waging war on the word of two Marist missionaries and another one curbed his just fury against a man who took his wife. A Wallisian chief, notorious among sea-captains for looting ships,[5] held his people back from doing so again. A Polynesian ariki asked Chanel to care for his defeated enemies and a Futunan granny was surprised when a papalangi gently turned down the offer of her granddaughter.


  1. Bataillon to Colin, September 1939/May 1840, cf. LRO, doc. 38 [25]. The division into an Anglophone and a Francophone Pacific is of later date!
  2. Pompallier to Francis Murphy, Vicar General of Sydney, 05.07.1841. OPM H00872, p. 14.
  3. FA, doc. 193 [2].
  4. Jean Coste, Points of Continuity Between our Founders and Us, Talk to the Sisters’ General Chapter, Rome, 30 April 1994, p. 11.
  5. Tuugahala, the catechumen on Wallis. On his reputation, cf. CE, p. 376, diary 30.08.38.

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