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Br Pierre-Marie to Br Francois, Kororareka, Bay of Islands, 20 May 1842

LO 34


The fifth group reached Sydney on 7th May 1841, and after a stay of a month or so sailed to New Zealand on the "Earl of Durham", arriving at Kororareka on 14th June. At the end of July, the "Sancta Maria", flying the flag of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, to whom the mission was dedicated, and carrying Pompallier and the missionaries for the new stations, sailed out on a voyage which would eventually take over a year and take in parts of both main islands of New Zealand, Tonga, Wallis and Futuna, and Fiji. Before leaving, Pompallier ordained Roulleaux-Dubignon to the priesthood in the little chapel of the mission which also doubled as schoolroom for the European students. Early the following year, Viard and Marie-Nizier arrived from Futuna with the remains of Chanel. It was undoubtedly from Marie-Nizier himself that the Brothers learned of the circumstances of the martyr's death and the sudden death of King Niuriki [3]. Chanel's relics were kept at the Bay of Islands, probably in the sacristy, until 1849 when they were transferred to Auckland, and then to France (Simmons, op cit. 65). Such was the financial state of the mission at this stage that it took Viard 2 months to obtain provisions for the islands. He set sail again on 3 April 1842 with Marie-Nizier and Servant and Roulleaux, the latter having been professed in the Society prior to departure. It seems Pompallier was envisaging a new station on Ascension Island (Ponapé / Pohnpei) on the edge of his vicariate, far to the northwest in what is now the Federated States of Micronesia, but in fact all three ended up re-opening the mission on Futuna. On the 4th of May a further group of missionaries arrived from France, Frs Jean Forest, Jerome Grange, Euloge Reignier, Brs Luc and Deodat, and the scholastic Jean Lampila, whom Pierre-Marie lists among the Brothers as he was not yet ordained. Shortly after their arrival, Epalle, after consulting with Forest, the Marist Visitor, and Garin, the Provincial, departed for France to report to Colin on the precarious state of the mission and to try to raise the necessary finance.

As for Pierre-Marie himself, in a letter to Colin the same day (LO 33) he reported he had finished his philosophy and was moving on to theology. Garin was his teacher. He was also giving lessons to the 10 or so English Catholic children at the school. Although he does not mention the occupations of the other Brothers at the procure, some of them must still have been working on the building of what is now known as Pompallier House. Despite their good intentions, neither Aquilas nor Hermogène came out to the missions of Oceania [9]. Deodat was the last of the Hermitage Brothers to come to New Zealand until 1876, and he and Luc were the last Brothers to be appointed to the mission for almost 30 years.

Text of the Letter

Dear Br Director General,

I believe I am becoming like the Brothers who preceded me on the mission, the ones the rev. Fr Superior complained about on our departure from Lyon, that they weren't writing often enough. That is certainly not from ill-will but for want of time or opportunity. You know that in a mission where there is everything to be done, you cannot always dispose of your time as you want. Divine Providence has not assigned me any heavy work as my constitution could not stand up to it, but I am just as busy. Firstly, I am carrying on with my studies as the Rev Fr recommended. I am sacristan, bell-ringer, and I have the task of supervising some English children who come to our school for six hours a day. These are my main occupations. Opportunities for making contact with Europe don't present themselves every day and even when they do, the letter has not been written and there is no time to do it, and while waiting, days, months pass by without one's noticing. As well, to tell you the truth, I prefer to continue with what I am doing rather than write, because the Brothers here at the Procure[1] learn of what is happening in the mission only by report, and then only in scraps. As a consequence, I warn you my letter will not contain much detail. I would prefer to be short rather than give you inaccurate information.
1 can tell you, however, that the mission has already made great progress and does so daily, thanks to Jesus and Mary. But it is impossible for such a small number of workers to cope with all our needs. The Protestant ministers are making more effort than ever to halt the progress of Catholicism. They continue to spread the most shocking calumnies against His Lordship and his priests. They don't stop at calling Monsignor the old serpent and the priests devils. But their calumnies frequently misfire on them. Despite all the horror these wretches try to inspire in these poor people, Monsignor and the Fathers are held in high regard. Everywhere he goes, they flock to him in crowds; the word Epikopo is held in veneration throughout Oceania. But there are not enough priests for him to leave behind him to cultivate the first seeds he has sown in passing, so they remain without germinating, or are devoured by the ministers of error. That is a telling reason for praying that the Father of the family send labourers into his vineyard.
This mission has real need of the Blessed Virgin to raise a great number of vocations among the clergy of France. Good Brothers, strong and sturdy, are also very necessary. The priests are forced to travel alone for lack of someone to accompany them. Although Fr Chanel has fallen on the island of Futuna under the blows of some of the natives, there has been no bloody persecution. The king of that island was always opposed to the conversion of his subjects and one day, having learnt that his own son was going to be baptised, he became so enraged he immediately sent someone to kill Fr Chanel. Now this king is dead and already the people seem much more disposed to embrace the Catholic religion, but Monsignor has no more priests to send. How happy it would be to walk in the footsteps of the first martyr of the mission. I assure you if I were a priest I would be envious of that post. That blessed death has not caused us any fear - far from it; it has simply inspired us with a greater desire for the same grace. I don't want any revolutions, but I dare, unworthy as I am, to ask God daily, and especially on communion days, for the grace of martyrdom. I ask for it as insistently and confidently as I asked to be sent on the mission. Having obtained the first encourages me to ask the second. Even when I see I won't be of much use to the mission, I don't give in to the temptation of thinking I am in the wrong vocation. I trust in the peace of soul I have always experienced since I left France, despite the hardships the missionary life brings with it. It would have been frustrating to have died in France before departure, but at present I would die happy whenever the good God wishes to call me to himself.
I cannot help recalling how much we were favoured all during our voyage. How good, then, is the life of a missionary - it is a life of continual blessing. If all the circumstances of that voyage were recorded there are enough to make a very interesting volume. The crew were quite disgruntled to see the end of our voyage approach. Every now and then they would complain that the time was passing too quickly, that it was already time to leave us. The one who was giving us English lessons has since written to us, and he says, "Where is the time gone when we were all like brothers?" If the greatest peace reigned among the crew during the whole of our voyage it was owing to the presence of God among us without their knowing. But as soon as we landed and the Real Presence of our Saviour Jesus Christ was no longer among them, the dissensions among them surfaced and came to a head, ending with 4 or 5 of them in prison.
We arrived at Monsignor's residence on 14th June 184l. Within a few days, news of our arrival had spread throughout New Zealand and soon we saw a crowd of chiefs come running to His Lordship asking for ariki.[2] That's the name for priests in the language of the country. But Monsignor with 4 priests was a long way from being able to satisfy them all. It must be very hard for his fatherly heart to hear his children ask him for priests to instruct them and not have any to give them. Appeals for priests come from all sides in the same way you in France are asked for Brothers. The four chiefs who were assigned priests would not go home without their ariki for fear of losing them, and that meant they had to wait nearly a month because His Lordship, who had to conduct them, could not leave any earlier. He has not since returned to the procure. His zeal is indefatigable, nothing costs him too much when it is a question of rounding up so many straying sheep. When he was still in France he used to say he asked only 10 years of labour and then martyrdom, and I believe he will be heard. On his travels he is frequently obliged to sleep under the stars or in the native huts where there are no beds but simply mats spread on the ground. You have to reduce yourself to 4 feet high to enter the huts, and they are so low you cannot stand upright inside. The same room serves as dining room and bedroom. The missionaries establish themselves in a corner, but during the night they often end up with children on their heads or feet, and it is not unusual for them to pick up things I can leave to your imagination. But all vile things will be turned into very precious pearls in heaven. The title of missionary has an unction which makes one accept joyfully all the miseries and hardships encountered on the way. So the life of a missionary is a continual blessing.
To return to those messengers of falsehood: Monsignor and the Fathers invite them now and then to discussions on religion. They are always bested, but they are not converted; they simply try to recover their influence by means of new falsehoods. Unfortunately, they can do more than us, seeing they are richer and more numerous. The means they use are gifts. We must hope they will not prevail, that Mary will triumph as Queen in a mission which is especially consecrated to her. They are labouring in vain; we have the consolation of seeing European Protestants who have become converts and natives who have turned Catholic persevere. We are poor and few in numbers, but these characteristics, signs of likeness to Christ and the Apostles, draw down the most abundant blessings on the mission. It is a lucky sign for the future that the mission can already count a martyr, for what is watered by a martyr's blood produces a great harvest.
New Zealand, where we have our procure house, is an island about 400 leagues long and I don't know how many wide. During the months when it is warmest in Europe, there are only cool winds at times and rain quite frequently, but it does not freeze over. Yet I don't find the summer heat as fierce as in France. We almost never hear thunder, hail never falls, and the days here are not as short or as long as in France. It appears to me the sun rises on the same side it sets in Europe. Although the country is very mountainous, covered with forest and bracken, there are no wild animals or reptiles dangerous to man, so that you can safely sleep outside anywhere. You don't even see thorns. The natives grow only potatoes and corn. The Europeans have already introduced many kinds of vegetables, but the only fruit you find is the peach. Pigs, goats, and fowls are numerous. Cows, horses, and sheep are beginning to appear. All the natives smoke pipes, men, women, and children. They go barefooted and bareheaded, but they cover their bodies. They have lost many of their barbarous habits since they have been mixing with Europeans. They do a lot of travelling and have an aversion for hard work. Their memories are good and they learn by heart everything they want to. It is very edifying to see them make the sign of the cross or to hear them respond to the prayers and sing the hymns. Almost all of them know how to read and write. They love their books. The place where we live in New Zealand is called the Bay of Islands and the town is called Kororareka. Although small it has a mixture of Catholics, Protestants, and undecided. The waves of the sea breaking on the shore are for us a continual reminder of eternity, just as at the Hermitage.[3]
There are 12 of us, 5 Fathers, 5 Brothers, the painter and the architect. The priests are Fathers Epalle, Servant, Petit-Jean, Garin, and Rouleaux (sic) - the latter was ordained by Monsignor Pompallier on our arrival. The Brothers are Marie-Augustin, Emery, Basile, Colomb, and I. All the Brothers who came before us are out on mission with the priests except Br Marie-Augustin who is at the procure. We have also seen Br Marie-Nizier who came to stay here some time at the Bay of Islands after the death of Fr Chanel. He escaped being murdered with the good Father because he was away that day. He left on the 3rd April to go and rejoin His Lordship on Wallis. Monsignor will take Frs Servant and Rouleaux from there to the island of Ascension to open a mission. At present I don't know if Brother Marie-Nizier will be staying on Wallis or if he will be going with Monsignor. We have not seen His Lordship since he sailed a month after our arrival, and we don't expect him back for several months. Fr Viard is travelling with him on his voyages. Br Euloge is on mission with Fr Seon. Br Justin is also on mission with Fr Bourjon (sic). The other Brothers, ie. Brs Marie-Augustin, Emery, Basile, Colomb, and I are at the procure. We are as happy as the Blessed in the midst of our occupations. Every day we thank the good God for having given us such a beautiful vocation.
Please let Brs Hermogène, Barsanuphe, Aquilas, and Alexandre know that I received their letters with pleasure, but even with the best of intentions it has not been possible for me to write to them. The Fathers and Brothers of the last party arrived on the evening of the Ascension in good health. Fr Epalle left a few days later so I have not had the time to reply to those good Brothers who have done me the honour of writing, but I will try to take advantage of the next opportunity that comes my way. While waiting, I will not forget them in my prayers so they will persevere in their good intentions, that Brs Aquilas and Hermogène, who have told me of their desire to come out on the missions, will not become discouraged, and that the others who wish the same will come with courage. I am convinced they will be as happy as we are in sharing our trials. We are all very well, Fathers and Brothers, even better than in France. Among others, Br Basile, who you know trailed his wing at the Hermitage, is now the sturdiest of all. Time weighs on me no more heavily in these far off lands than if I had been born here. I can't imagine I am more than 7000 leagues from France. I have learned with pleasure that the three branches of the Society of Mary, our good Mother, have grown considerably. Although my prayers may not be very efficacious, I dare to offer them to Jesus and Mary for all the Society so they will deign to bless it always more and more.
Best regards to Fr Matricon and Fr Besson and all the Brothers. I name no one in particular because all occupy the same place in my heart. I wish for them all fervour and perseverance to the end in the great family of Mary so we will all be united around her in heaven.
The only thing missing in our mission are workers. Let us pray the Father of the family to send many. The Brothers at the procure would like to have written to you but they are so busy they have had to be satisfied with writing a few lines to their relatives. They have asked me to pass on their respects and gratitude while waiting for an opportunity to write. I commend our poor savages to the prayers of the community, and those who share with them the word of the true God which they have never known.
My dear Br Director, the Brothers have the honour, as I do, of telling you they are all your devoted brothers in Jesus and Mary.
Br Pierre-Marie.


  1. The term refers to the headquarters residence and supply centre of a mission. Up to 1845 the Bay of Islands was the centre of the Western Oceania mission, but after that the newly founded Marist establishment in Svdney became the Procure. The Brothers sometimes refer to the Bay of Islands centre as the “mother-house”.
  2. The term actually means “Chief”. Religious rites were appropriately performed by chiefs or specialists (Tohunga). Hence these words had the secondary meaning of “priest”.
  3. This cryptic reference appears to be to the rushing of the Gier river which ran through the grounds of the Hermitage.

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