Br Florentin to Br Francois. Akaroa. 9 March 1842
Pompallier took advantage of the arrival of the "Aube" in July 1840 to establish a mission in the South Island of New Zealand at Akaroa on Banks Peninsular. At the end of the month, Captain Lavaud set sail with Fathers Comte and Pezant and Brother Florentin "who was fairly well up on the catechist work of the mission" (Pomp. 68). Florentin (Jean-Baptiste Françon 1816 - 1903) received the habit at the Hermitage in 1835 and was perpetually professed in October 1837. Although he was, according to this letter, not a volunteer for the missions , he was to spend the rest of his long life there, whether in New Zealand or at the central procure, "Villa Maria", in Sydney. The group reached Akaroa a few days before the French settlers arrived from Tasmania in the "Comte de Paris". On the 2nd of October, Pompallier sailed in on his newly-acquired schooner, the "Sancta Maria", with the remaining member of the mission, Fr Tripe. After visiting Otago he sailed back north taking Pezant with him. For various reasons, one of them being the incompatability of the missionaries themselves, this station did not last long. Comte returned to Kororareka in March 1842 (carrying this letter and another of Florentin's to Epalle [LO 28] as well as others), and by the end of the year the other two were also back in the Bay of Islands. The problems Florentin mentions - not being able to wear the soutane, or work as catechist or teacher, and having to do the work of a servant - are treated in more detail in the letters of Br Claude-Marie (rf Letters.;30 & 31). The latter also gives us some idea of the problems raised by community life, or lack of it, in the smaller stations. Undoubtedly some or all of these factors played a major part in Michel's decision to leave the Society in mid 1840, though Ammon, on his own admission, left for quite different reasons (rf LO 16). His untimely death in December the same year after a shooting accident provided the missionaries with a salutary lesson, according to the thinking of the times. (cf Seon to Colin 8 July 1841. APM Z.208).
Avit has reproduced an extract from this letter in his Annales (3. 27-8).
Text of the Letter
My very dear Brother Director,
- The news of the death of our respected Father Superior I found extremely painful, as much for the loss our Society has suffered as because in him we had a true friend and father. So I am not surprised he should have carried off with him the regret of all his children. I have carried out the exercises prescribed for the repose of his soul all the more zealously as I have performed them more out of gratitude than from a sense of duty. I will make every effort to fulfill his last wishes set out in his spiritual testament, so as to be able on my deathbed to share the same pious sentiments he had on his. If, on this head, your letter made very painful reading for me, on another, it has been consoling, because you have been kind enough to inform me of how our Society is prospering and how fervent the spirit which reigns in it. My most ardent wish is that God will always and increasingly extend his blessings over it and increase the number of its members for his greater glory. The memory of the period I spent in its bosom is a source of recurring joy to me and I cannot speak of the Hermitage without feeling emotion.
- I cannot conceal from you as my superior that I am far from feeling the same delight in New Zealand. I do admire the sentiments of the Brothers who earnestly desire to share our lot. But what has been extremely irritating to me, and always will be, is no longer wearing my soutane, not even on Sundays, with the result that I left it forever on leaving the Society [ie in France]. Renewed protests about this to His Lordship would appear to be useless. I believed I would be teaching and taking catechism here in helping the priests on the mission, but my occupation is reduced to that of a servant. Still, I am able to carry out the exercises of the rule. Such is my situation and that of the other Brothers. I would not complain about it if I had perfectly understood things on leaving France. As you know, I departed my country from obedience rather than from choice. If it were God's will I should return to the Hermitage, only death or obedience would hold me back. I will say nothing of Brothers Michel and Amon (sic). You must have heard they have left the Society and that the latter is dead.
- I send my very affectionate greetings to all the community and recommend myself to their prayers, and in a special way to yours. I am, with the deepest respect, Brother Director general,
- Br Florentin.
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