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17. Br Michel to Fr Champagnat. Bay of Islands. New Zealand. 17 May 1840

LO 14


Br Michel (Antoine Colombon 1812-1880) was a novice at the Hermitage during Pompallier's time as chaplain there and made his perpetual profession in l834. In New Zealand he served first on the Hokianga mission and then from July or August 1839 at the Bay of Islands. In March 1840 Pompallier made a pastoral voyage to the Bay of Plenty, taking with him Viard and Michel. On the way back they also visited parts of the Coromandel Peninsular. The English had signed a treaty with the Maori tribes of the north at Waitangi in February and were now visiting the other parts of New Zealand to gain the adherance of the other tribes. To encourage the chiefs to add their signatures to the treaty, some Protestant missionaries were spreading anti-French and anti-Catholic propaganda, Pompallier himself - or, Epikopo as the Maoris called him (after the Latin word for bishop) - being the most obvious target. Nothing daunted, Pompallier set up two more stations in the first half of the year, at Tauranga under Viard, and on the Kaipara harbour at Mangakahia under Petit. Michel himself left the Society within a few months of writing this letter. Although he continued to work for the mission until 1846 and considered returning to the Society, he did not do so, but remained in New Zealand, dying at Reefton on the west coast of the South Island in 1880.

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
I have been meaning to write to you for a long time. If I haven't done so sooner, it is not through indifference. The attachment, the affection I have for you and for all my dear confreres is still the same. It is rather from lack of learning than forgetfulness. Please be kind enough to forgive me. A French ship is setting sail for Le Havre de Grace and I will not let this opportunity pass without sending you some news.
I will not tell you much about the mission where I am privileged to work. You probably know all about it from the many letters sent by our dear missionaries. I will tell you, though, that the number of converts grows daily despite the stratagems and the efforts made by heresy to lure them away. It is almost certain that if there were more Catholic missionaries, the heretics would have no success. My last voyage I was with Monsignor and Fr Viard visiting several tribes on the south-east coast of this island near Cape Wai Apou {East Cape}, about a hundred leagues from the Bay of Islands where Monsignor has his residence. We saw many of them disabused of the calumnies their so-called missionaries had filled them with against the Catholic religion and especially against His Lordship. On his arrival in their villages many came to see him, fearful and wild-eyed, because the Protestant missionaries had told them the Epikopo had come to take their land and soon French ships would be coming to destroy them. Some natives informed His Lordship of what they had been told. It was not difficult to undeceive them and make them recognise the lies and falsehoods. Then we saw those poor savages join the other converts who are very numerous and very fervent. In the three or four days we were with them they learned their prayers and other truths of the Faith. They all asked for priests and have built houses and chapels of reeds for them. Fr Viard is leaving today to start a new mission at Tauranga, the largest of the tribes we visited. In a few days, another is going to start at Kaipara, two days walk from the Bay of Islands.
Very reverend Father, I thank the Lord every day for having given me such a fine vocation through your mediation. Please don't forget me in your fervent prayers and especially at the holy sacrifice. All the Brothers in New Zealand are going well and recommend themselves to your prayers.
Please also remember us to our very dear (Brs) Francois, Louis-Marie, Jean-Marie, Stanislas, etc. etc. I retain the warmest and most sincere affection for all my brothers.
I have the honour of being in Jesus and Mary,
Your very humble and very devoted servant,
Br Michel.

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