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Enough is enough

When Pompallier left for his tour down the coast Servant, the senior missionary, who after more than two years was fluent in Maori and spoke a reasonable bit of English, stayed in Kororareka for the daily religious instructions and the church services. With him was Maxime Petit, the bursar.

Servant had felt guilty for some time. Under the constraint of Pompallier’s censorship he had not been fully honest with his superior general. The picture he had painted of the mission was too rosy, and he knew that at least some confreres felt the same. He had talked it over with Baty. They agreed something should be done. He had gone to Whangaroa and consulted Épalle and Petitjean. As far as we know Petitjean, just new in the mission, had not expressed an opinion. Épalle, always the faithful servant, objected: there should be no complaints to Colin about the bishop.[1] But Maxime Petit agreed with Servant. As procurator of the mission, he was deeply concerned about the way finances were handled. The good of the mission demanded an appeal to the superior general.

Pompallier was gone for seven weeks and could return any day, when an English whaler was about to leave directly for London, Servant grabbed the chance. On 26 April he wrote a strongly worded letter.[2]

The first thing he wanted to put right was the overtly optimistic picture he himself too had painted. The numerous conversions, he tells Colin, that earlier letters may have told you about, must not be taken too literally. There may be a fair number of adherents, but genuine conversion is by far not their first interest. Perhaps carried away by anger, he now depicts the Maoris as often greedy, scheming, ungrateful and devious. They want money for everything, even for the use of their canoes when you go to say Mass for them or the food they give you when you visit them. Many come to church only for the presents they expect to get.

What he really wants to write about is the bishop. Pompallier, he writes, is simply incapable of financial and material administration, while, at the same time, he keeps everything in his own hands. He just paid £40 for a dinghy worth £30, although they did not really need it. He could have bought a church organ worth £300 for £40: but did not buy it. When the owner asked 1250 francs per month for the ship he wanted for his trip around the North Island, he just paid without trying to get the price down. In any case, he should not get involved in financial deals at all. It is painful to hear from outsiders that the bishop is easily cheated and knows nothing of business matters. The bishop should leave those things to the procurator.

To a certain extent the giving of gifts is unavoidable. But the bishop should not be the only one to make gifts. It puts the priest into a position of always having to refuse. As the Maoris put it, the priests have a hard heart. If for that reason priests do not have the respect of the people, they have little chance of succeeding in their work.

The bishop treats his priests harshly. For the smallest things he covers them with bitter recriminations, not only in private, but also in front of Brother Michel. Colin is now told for the first time of the painful incident in Vavau when Pompallier blew his top in public when he imagined the men disagreed with the way he handled things. Recently, when some untrustworthy sailor called, the Bishop offered him hospitality, and then told off his own men in the sailor’s presence. Both Servant and Petit have repeatedly been scolded in front of local people. In this country we could not do without the Brothers, but they are not treated as Brothers. The bishop’s corrections are harsh and humiliating. As a result, the Brothers close up and are discouraged. Brother Michel has repeatedly been treated badly in public..

The bishop is lavish in promising all sorts of things, but he cannot be relied upon to keep his word. The most serious case of course, is the neglect of the missionaries on Wallis and Futuna. Pompallier promised to visit them in six months. Two and a half years later, he has not been there yet. The Fathers who visited them promised to send the ship back in six months: the bishop took no notice. This could have terrible consequences. All the money and all the resources of the mission are used in New Zealand, and specifically on headquarters. The men on Wallis and Futuna are left in dire circumstances. There should be another vicar apostolic for the islands

Servant admits to Colin that he has been on the point of abandoning New Zealand and returning to France, only, when Epalle came to visit them, he and Baty, talked him out of it. He would rather be sent to the tropical islands where he thinks more good can be done and he asks Colin to support his request with the bishop.

Servant showed his letter to Maxime Petit who immediately wrote to back up Servant and get the letter away with the same ship.[3] To make sure nobody but Colin would read it, he enclosed it – sealed - in another, harmless one.[4]

Since his visit of Wallis and Futuna, Petit begins, he has been wanting to write in the same sense as Servant, and he is not the only one. One moment he already did, but when he failed to get the letter on the ship he had thought of, he burned the letter: ‘The reason that made me put off writing to you was the fear that our letters would be opened’.[5]

Petit seconds the complaints of Servant. Pompallier’s obsession with the so-called esprit de corps among his men (meaning they gang up on him), has frequently led to painful recriminations and reproaches. The second group was told off for visiting Wallis and Futuna, the third one for staying too long in Sydney. In a fit of temper Pompallier had even threatened to take his complaints to Rome and to get other missionaries.

Petit adds that Servant should also have told Colin about the row in Valparaiso, when Pompallier turned on the Picpus Fathers because he felt they did not show proper respect for his hierarchical dignity. Colin should know and perhaps straighten things with the Picpus administration. They may well be unhappy anyway with the fact that their ship has been sold. Who knows, he adds, when they will get their money, and if they will get all they are entitled to. In any case, apart from Pompallier, we got along very well with the Picpus men and we all have the highest regard for them.

While he disagrees with Servant that a disproportionate part of the money is spent on Kororareka, he supports his observations on the way the bishop handles money. Two months after selling the Reine de Paix Pompallier paid an untrustworthy trader 2500 francs for Chevron and Attale to travel to Wallis and Futuna. For each day spent at these islands he will have to pay another 250 francs. For his present trip, on what Petit calls a ramshackle and dangerous little ship, he is paying the owner an exorbitant 1250 francs per month, enough, as Petit had pointed out in an earlier letter, to buy the thing in less than six months.[6]

The bishop is a pushover for any smooth talking scoundrel around. Recently some character asked for a loan of £150. Pompallier called me in, writes Petit, and asked me in the presence of the fellow if I agreed! And that was not the first time he did something like it.
‘I do not want to go further into matters such as the loans the bishop makes, or advance payments to dishonest men who know how to get him to agree with flattering talk, or his rash agreement to proposals by clever and greedy fellows who know that they can get whatever they want’.[7]

In the end, he is happy to ascribe the problems with the bishop to his extraordinary zeal and his kindliness. And, like Servant and Viard, he praises Pompallier’s endless patience with the Maoris that, he says, he has often admired.

Petit is also prepared to propose solutions. He knows from the latest arrivals that Colin is thinking already of a second vicariate. He supports that plan. When a second vicariate in Oceania is erected, he proposes, the Society should open a procure in Sydney with a procurator. This procurator could at the same time be the higher superior for the missionaries and all Marists should be free to write to him in sealed letters as if he were the superior general. The subsidies from the Propagation of the Faith should not go directly to the bishops but to the Society. The procurator can divide the funds under the responsibility of the superior general according to needs.

Contrary to what you may have heard, he tells Colin, there are no problems with having a house in Sydney. From the priests who stayed with Archbishop Polding we know that he would be happy to have us. Some people (read Pompallier!) oppose it for fear the Society would be asked to take up work in Australia.

Ideally there should be two priests in Sydney, one could be constantly travelling around the missions. With a property of its own in Sydney the Society would be independent of the whims of a bishop; it is the ideal place. We should do the same in New Zealand, and for the same reason.

Petit touches the root of the problem by pointing to the bishop’s conviction that the mission should put up a big show, and impose itself by an impressive set-up. His comment: ‘This is not how the apostles acted and I personally am convinced that a noble simplicity will gain just as much respect’.[8]

In a veiled reproach directed at Colin as well as at Pompallier, Maxime Petit challenges Pompallier’s principle that the superior general of the Society should limit himself to being a sort of spiritual director, without involvement in the Marists’ pastoral and missionary activities: ‘It is wrong to say that the superior of the Society should deal only with the spiritual welfare of his religious’.[9] It is in this same letter he tells Colin of the bishop’s critical attitude towards the missionaries’ common prayers.[10]

In Maxime Petit the Marist missions had a penetrating analyst and a far-seeing strategist. He was not afraid to speak out boldly. He could see abuses while appreciating the good being done. It had not taken him long to see the structural weaknesses of the Marist missionary undertaking.


  1. LRO, doc. 56 [1].
  2. LRO, doc. 55.
  3. LRO, doc. 56.
  4. LRO, doc. 57.
  5. LRO, doc. 56 [10].
  6. Petit to Colin, 03.03.40, LRO, doc. 51 [1].
  7. LRO, doc. 56 [5].
  8. ‘la persuasion qu’il faut que l’autorité soit entouré d’une sorte de représentation qui la fasse respecter. Il ne paroît pas que les apôtres aient connu ce moyen, et il me semble qu’une noble simplicité (…) attireroit aussi efficacement ce respect.’ LRO, doc. 56 [6].
  9. ‘il est faux que le supérieur de la Société n’a uniquement à s’occuper que de la perfection de ses sujets’. Pompallier formulated this principle already in his letter to Colin from Paris 5 November 1836, LRO, doc. 4 [4 & 6], suggesting it was part of the instructions he got from Rome as well as linking it to his delegation as religious superior. When Colin accepted to be his provicar in France, Pompallier wrote: ‘Now you can not only care for the salvation of our souls, but also look after the interests of the mission in France’, LRO, doc. 8 [4]. Religious priests appointed to a mission territory became, in Pompallier’s eyes, the clergy of the vicar apostolic. They were subject to the religious superiors only in as far as their personal spiritual life was concerned, cf. LRO, doc. 10 [6 & 7]. He must have proclaimed his principle ad nauseam for Petit (who had not read those early letters of course) to take it up the way he did. As far as we know, Colin never expressed agreement, but neither did he challenge it and so far his letters to the missionaries are in fact of the nature of spiritual direction only. The delegation of his religious jurisdiction to Pompallier had in fact reinforced the man’s autocratic tendencies. Cf. above, p. 35ff.
  10. Cf. above, p. 126.

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