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Brother Elie-Regis to Father Colin

Wangaroa. 7 May 1842 (LO 31)

LRO Doc. 148

Clisby, Letter 28

Translation and introduction by Br Edward Clisby FMS Click here for Fr Brian Quin's translation of the same letter


The Whangaroa mission extended around and inland of the harbour of that name. The station consisted of a wooden house, a raupo chapel, and a boat. North at Mangonui harbour was an outstation with a chapel. Such a large area could not be adequately served by one man even continually on the move and thus, unlike some of his confreres, Elie-Regis had plenty of scope for his zeal as a catechist. This work consisted essentially of leading the people in prayers morning and evening and taking catechism lessons after the evening service. Since the Protestant missions were already well established in the north, there was fierce competition between the Churches for souls, and the ministers did not hesitate to raise the spectre of the Inquisition with its rack and auto-da-fe among their followers (rf also Pomp. 54-6). Eli-Regis seems to have acquired something of a reputation as a polemicist himself, as we can judge from a letter he wrote to the Hermitage a few years later (Letter 65).

This letter was probably written when Garin visited him having heard he was seriously ill. By the time he and Petit-Jean, his guide, arrived, however, the invalid was well enough to come out and meet them. The letter would have gone back with the priests to the Bay and then been taken by Epalle to Europe: A slightly edited version appears in AM (123-6), and part also features in the biography of Elie-Regis included in Vol 2 of Champagnat’s letters edited by Brs Raymond Borne and Paul Sester (S2. 211-4). The original is in the APM.

Text of the Letter

Reverend Father,.
I thought you would be pleased to hear from me and team a little of what is happening in the mission, and how I am employed. As for myself, I am at present in good health. As far as my employments go, I was sent to a station with two priests, Frs Epal (sic) and Petit-Jean. A short while later, Monsignor withdrew Fr Epal to make him his pro-vicar. Fr Petit-Jean lasted longer with me, for I have now been in this establishment more than two years, but as the need for missionaries, becomes more and more pressing, he was withdrawn too some time ago. So I find myself quite alone at present with a little native servant who cooks for me and keeps me company. But it is not the same as the company of a Father or a Brother. The priests from the Bay of. Islands come to see me from time to time. I am deprived of holy Mass and the Bread of the strong, but let God's will be done. One has everything when one is under obedience, because one is doing God's will in carrying out the superior's. I have, however, been given hope that a priest or brother will come to give me company and support. I certainly hope so.
My occupations are many, for I have to be catechist, carpenter, joiner, gardener, tailor, laundryman sometimes, and occasionally cook too. Then -there is the care of our livestock, the fowls and other animals we have. There are truly special graces for missionaries; for with all that, there is more than enough work for three and it all has to be done by one. When we first arrived at the station, we had to think of building a house - no other worker but me. Its true houses here are built of wood, much faster than doing it in stone: Then we had to consider making a garden for food. One gets nothing free here, you have to buy everything, and we are poor. But we should be happy that our way of life is in such conformity with our profession. Pork, potatoes, corn are the staple diet of the country. We have also sown wheat; it grows very well, but we can't sow much because we haven't the means - no plough, that is, no oxen to work. We have to do with the pick. We cultivate the vine. It will do very well here. The first one we planted will be three years old this year and should be producing grapes. This year we have harvested, on our land at Wangaroa, the land His Lordship purchased for the station, about a hundred baskets or bichets [A measure equivalent to 22 lbs.] of potatoes, about ten of wheat, and the same of com, not to mention other vegetables, so that we will have almost enough food for the year without having to buy any.
Of all, my functions, that of catechist takes first place. That is to say, that if I learn there is someone sick in a tribe, I leave everything to go and see him, instruct him, and, if he is in danger of death, baptise him. I take the natives living closest for prayers morning and evening. But I like it better when I can go to the more distant tribes, because then l have the opportunity to teach them the truths of our holy religion. They are very ignorant but very attentive too. It's not that they give you anything. On the contrary, when you go to their place they immediately look to see if you have a little tobacco for them. Nor is it more comfortable, since on occasion you have to row, half the day, then travel on foot along wretched tracks. If you have to sleep on the way, as sometimes happens, you sleep on the ground and fully dressed, in the native fashion, against the cold. But how pleasant it is to suffer for Jesus Christ when you love him.
The Protestants do much mischief. They are continually spreading lies against our holy religion, making the natives hard, almost unbelieving. They send their native catechists into our Catholic tribes to try to turn them their way. One day I heard that two of them were with one of our tribes. I went immediately and found them there, in fact, with their bibles, -but as soon as I appeared they went away. They are. afraid of confronting us since they well know the truth is not on their side.
One day the Protestant minister himself met a chief of ours and asked him: "Epikopo i a koe? Epikopo i a koe?" which means "Are you a follower of the bishop?" The chief replied: "Yes, I am one of the Bishop's people, and I am proud to be one." The missionary then told him: "The Bishop and his priests are evil men.' If they were strong enough to make you all obey them, they would make you prepare a pyre of very dry wood. Then they would tell you to take us and throw us on the pyre to bum us alive." The native replied to him: `The Bishop has done no harm so far; he hasn't murdered anyone. On the contrary, he has done nothing but good up to now. You are the ones who have killed." And he went on to reproach him: "You used to say the Bishop comes to take away your land. That's a lie. You can see he hasn't taken any land. Quite the opposite, you are the ones who take it." So you can see from this example what falsehoods the Protestants are capable of. Most of the natives don't listen to them. There are some who know how to prove to them the falsehood of their religion and the truth of ours, but as the natives are impressed by outward show, they still have a certain regard for them.
We need a church here at Wangaroa to make a better showing, for the Protestants have a temple which is quite imposing, while we have only a poor chapel of reeds, like the native houses. The natives are poor, but they don't have the spirit of poverty. They respect only those who impress by their clothing or their dwelling. They often say: "If we had a beautiful prayer house we would be assiduous at prayer, but in this place we don't have the taste for it." A little expense would not be wasted, and the good God would certainly be glorified even so. Mass could be said there occasionally to give the natives a spectacle as well. But let God's will be done. If we are poor, we are not the first, since Jesus Christ, our Master, was so himself.
Your very devoted servant,
Br Elie-Regis

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