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Br Claude-Marie to Br Francois (I), Hokianga, 26 Jul 1842

CSG I. 358-366


Claude-Marie was sent to Hokianga shortly after his arrival at the Bay of Islands to replace Marie-Augustin. He set out on 22 July in the company of the Baron de Thierry, spending five days as his guest at Mt Isabel, his home on the Waihou River. Charles Philip de Thierry (1793-1864) had caused a furore immediately before his arrival in the Hokianga five years earlier with a boatload of colonists from England, by claiming title over New Zealand as sovereign chief on the strength of land purchases made previously. But his settlement foundered when the money ran out a few years later. Claude-Marie eventually reached Purakau on 3 August. The Brother he was replacing had been at Hokianga since the previous year. Marie-Augustin had been Claude-Marie's companion at the novitiate and had made perpetual profession with him in October 1836. At the time this letter was written he was still at the Bay of Islands, but a few months later he left New Zealand for Wallis. The "two or three other" Brothers at the procure [7] were Deodat and Luc and, probably, Lampila.

Biographies of some of the Brothers mentioned later in the letter, especially Stanislas and Barthelemy [8] , can be found in the second volume of the Letters of Father Champagnat. These two were among Champagnat's earliest recruits, both having entered the Society in its cradle at Lavalla. The former was sacristan at the Hermitage, among other things, while the latter, it appears, was or had been recently at Claude-Marie's old orphanage at St Chamond. Among the others mentioned, Denis (Joseph Bron b 1812), one of his former Directors (rf L 18), had spoken to Marcellin of his wish to go on the Polynesian mission and been encouraged in this by the Founder (cf S1 D.168 331-2). But he left the Institute at the end of 1843 and died not long after. The "Brothers of the Hospital" [8], however, were not religious but dedicated laymen who served the sick. They also had charge of the orphanage before it was confided to the Marist Brothers in 1839 (S2 572). With regard to the proposed life of the Founder [9], Colin had already informed Francois and his Assistants the year before that he wished all available information about Champagnat to be collected without delay, and Jean-Baptiste had been charged with this responsibility.

A copy of this letter is to be found in the AFM Cahier on pages 98-106 but it has not been included in the LO. Extracts from this and other letters of his are included in Claude-Marie's biography in S2. (136-9). An English translation appears in the Appendix of Pat Gallagher's The Marist Brothers in New Zealand, Fiji, and Samoa 1876-1976 (Auckland 1976) [pp 177 – 181].

Text of the Letter

Very dear Brother Director,

I suppose it's about time I took pen in hand to give you some particulars about the time I have spent on the mission and where I have been posted. It is more than a year ago (14 June 1841) since I had a letter for our good Fr Champagnat carried to Kororareka, but the Fathers there, having heard of his death, did not judge it fit to send it on to Europe. So if you haven't received news of me earlier it is not all my fault.
You have probably learned of my destination but in case you haven't, I am going to let you know now. We dropped anchor at Kororareka on the 11 July 1840. After 11 days at the Procure His Lordship sent me to the mission of Hokianga to replace dear Br Marie-Augustin. I set out on the 22 July accompanied by a native who carried some of my luggage. I was with the Baron de Thiery (sic) who was on his way home with two natives carrying his boxes. It would be difficult for me to give you an idea of what I had to endure on that journey. It was in winter, along narrow tracks where we frequently missed our way, with hills to climb, rivers to cross with the water up to our thighs, dense forest to traverse, our way blocked by fallen and half-rotten trees, and in the middle of these frightful tracks, mud all the way up to our ankles, so it was a real effort just to get your shoes out of it. The first day we walked from 9 o'clock in the morning and arrived exhausted in the evening among a tribe called Waimata [Waimate] where we spent the night in a native hut. They made a fire and we were able to dry our stockings a bit. We had a bite of the food I had brought from the Bay of Islands and then we tried to sleep, not on a bed but on an armful of ferns spread on the ground. I soon realised the natives I was staying with were not Catholics, for I had hardly begun to doze off when I was awoken by the singing of their hymns. What grimaces they make when they are praying.
When the sun was well up on the 23rd, we started off again and after many trials, and with the encouragement of the Baron who kept telling me we were not far from the end of our trip, I arrived at his residence about 4 in the afternoon covered with mud and with the sweat streaming off me. I was happy to find there what I needed to clean myself up a bit. They were at dinner and when we were ready we sat down at table. But though I was feeling very hungry I was so tired I couldn't take more than a cup of tea.
I had all the time I needed for a rest in this house because the bad weather and rough waters forced me to stay there five whole days. On the 28th 1 said goodbye to the Baroness and her children and embarked in a little waka [canoe] with the Baron, his eldest son, and a native. But we had gone scarcely an hour from his house when the wind became stronger and we ran the risk in our frail craft of capsizing. We were forced to land near a forest and wait for a better opportunity. We made a fire, and some time later some natives came bringing us some potatoes. We cooked these and while we were eating our copious repast we saw a large waka manned by 10 sturdy natives passing. We signalled to them to come close to the shore and, after some discussion, they agreed to take us on board and convey us as far as Manguga [Mangungu], a missionary village, where they were heading. I had to stay there three days because the wind was too strong and our waka too small to handle the waters. I spent two nights in a native's hut sharing his meal of potatoes and kumara. One evening I was just getting ready to go to bed without supper when a missionary, who heard from the Baron where I was and the state of my appetite, had the kindness to send me four or five thick slices of bread and butter and some tea. I ate and drank with good appetite and then I sent back with thanks the native who had brought me such a good supper. The second day, at lunchtime, an Englishman who was living nearby and had learned of my predicament came to see me in my hut. He sat down opposite me and started speaking, but as I couldn't understand a word of his language, he simply said the word "bread". I remembered what this word meant and when he signed to me to follow him I rose immediately and went to his house. His wife got me something to eat. When I was thinking of leaving, she indicated I should stay, made a good fire, gave me a chair, and I stayed there until the following morning. Then the Baron called me to go and visit a man who would take me to my longed-for destination. I boarded his "boat" but as he was not leaving for another two days I went only as far as Koukou [Kohukohul where I stayed with an Irishman, a good Catholic, who treated me very well. Despite that, I was not very happy because I was not where I wanted to be. I fretted, I wept, but not having any English, I couldn't express my feelings and just had to be patient. At last, on the 3rd August, at 3 in the afternoon, the Englishman who had promised to take me to my destination came looking for me. I thanked my good hosts for their generous hospitality and set off, arriving at night at Purakau, the site of our mission station. I followed a little track up through the bush. Dear Br Marie-Augustin was saying his rosary on the terrace and when he heard me he called in French, "Who's that down there?" I replied in Maori: "tangata Wiwi”, that is, a Frenchman, but my voice gave me away. He responded at once, "Welcome, my very dear Brother Claude-Marie, welcome!" We warmly embraced. He led me inside into the kitchen where I found Frs Servant and Bathy [sic]. I handed over my letter and we had a good talk about the progress of the Society of Mary, the Fathers as well as the Brothers. By then it was already very late, and since dear Br Marie-Augustin had to leave the next morning for the Bay of Islands, we went off to bed.
My work is not what I envisaged before my departure, but may God's holy will be done. Cooking and manual work are my lot. To my regret I have had to put aside the poor habit of Mary for that of the world. What a sore trial that has been for me. Nor, as you know, was I much accustomed to wielding a pick or a shovel, and still less an oar. But I submit with good will to all these trials in expiation for my many sins.
Although I am telling you this, don't think I regret having come to these distant shores. Not at all - far from it. And if I don't have the consolation of catechising these good savages and teaching them to love Jesus and his most holy Mother, the good Mary, I have the satisfaction of working for those who instruct them. How my heart rejoices when I see these fine New Zealanders coming in their canoes to assist at the divine mysteries of our holy Faith, saying their prayers and singing the hymns the Fathers have composed for them in their own language! When the priests return from visitation and tell of the fruits with which the Lord of the vineyard has blessed their labours, when they talk of the natives they have baptised, etc. etc. how satisfied one feels. All that amply compensates for the little trials we have to put up with.
We are all well scattered, very dear Brother, some here, some there, and we have little or no opportunity to meet. So, for example, dear Brother Marie-Nizier, who recently spent two months at the Bay of Islands, has left for Ascension Island.[1] The dear Brothers Joseph-Xavier and Attale are on Wallis. Dear Br Elie-Regis is at Wangaroa. Brs Pierre-Marie, Marie-Augustin, Basile, Emery and two or three others are at the Bay of Islands. Dear Br Euloge is at Tauranga, dear Br Justin at Waikato. Dear Br Florentin is at Banks Peninsula right down south, and dear Br Colomb and I are at Hokianga. You can see from that how difficult it is for us to see one another, since we are separated by hundreds of leagues. Such is God's will, and we trust that if we can't see one another here below, we will have the consolation of being all reunited in heaven, never to be separated again.
Allow me to greet and say a word or two to some of the Brothers I will never forget, to very dear Brs Louis-Marie, Jean-Marie, Jean-Baptiste, and you, my very dear Br Stanislas. Thank you for the beautiful letter you so kindly sent me. I will fulfil the commission you gave me with regard to our poor savages, but that is not enough. I hope in time I will have the pleasure of a longer exchange with you by letter in return. While waiting, recommend me to those whose altars you have the privilege of decorating. Dear Brothers Louis-Xavier, Paul, Julien-Marie, Hippolyte, I thank you, and you, dear kind Br Barthelemy, for having remembered me in your beautiful letter to Br Marie-Augustin. You always have a place in my heart. How useful you would be to the mission with your ability to do all sorts of things. If the Lord of the vineyard calls you to come to our aid, don't hesitate to respond with a firm “yes", and don't be afraid to cross the seas. In the meantime, look after your little flock, the children of the Providence I love so much. Present my regards too to the dear Brothers of the Hospital, to the good Sisters of St Augustine's Hospital and of St Joseph, particularly the good Sister Superior of the Hospice of Charity. If you see the parish priest and think it fit, please pass on my regards. If you could let me know how the orphanage is going, you would be doing me a favour.
I will never forget my dear cousin, dear Br Abrosime, nor the dear Brs Bernard, Colomban, Agricole, Bonaventure, Pie, Denis, Luc, Aurelian, Damien, who conducted me into the holy Society of Mary, Pothin, Jerome, Jacques, Victor, Joseph, Liguori, Charles, Clement, and all the other Brothers I am acquainted with and whose names have slipped my memory. It is a very long time since I wrote to my sister. If the Brothers of our school in Saint-Sauveur would kindly give her news of me I would be very grateful to them. I would like to know if you have the little sum of money I left you by promissory note on leaving; if not, I will write to my relatives about it. I have suffered a loss which has much afflicted me and which I cannot make up for in this country. A long time ago I noticed my cross was slightly damaged, but not wanting to part with this reminder of religious life I kept on wearing it all the same. Alas, it ended up one day breaking off completely and I lost it without noticing. Another day I was reciting my rosary walking along the seashore; I don't know how I lost it and I couldn't find it again. I would appreciate an indulgenced one with little beads and a simple but strong chain. My office book is wearing out and needs replacing. If dear Br Louis could send me a new one I would look after it as a precious souvenir. In that case I would ask dear Br Hippolyte to cover it with a piece of cloth or velvet. I would very much like to have a copy of our holy Rule and the account you promised of the last illness of our good Father Superior, together with his portrait. I only learnt of his death thirteen months after the event, that is on 6 July 1841. What a shock that news was! It opened in my heart a wound that will bleed for a long time. I recited the prayers prescribed in the circular as best I could, not for his deliverance from purgatory - I was convinced he was already in heaven - but to comply with your orders and to commend myself to his prayers. One thought occurred to me and I want to share it with you. It comes from seeing in libraries the life of Father de la Salle, the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. There are without a doubt many admirable things in the life of that great man, but I believe that in our saintly founder's there are things sublime. I would be very gratified then to learn steps had been taken to get such a life ready for printing. His children would find great benefit in it. I leave all that to your wisdom and that of the Very Reverend Father Superior General.
If you are obliging enough to send me what I have asked above, please wrap them all up in a parcel and give it to a brother for delivering to me when he comes, or get it to me by some sure means.
I see my letter is already rather long, but before finishing .1 feel compelled to ask you for a very special mention in your fervent prayers, and in those of the very dear Brothers and novices at the Hermitage as well as in the houses. Yes, dearly beloved Brothers, pray for me and never forget me, at the Hermitage or in the parishes where you are working, during retreat, the month of Mary, and especially when you have the consolation of receiving our heavenly Master, asking him to change my wayward heart and give me the virtues of humility, charity, and obedience, a deep religious spirit, and the grace of final perseverance, so that I have the great happiness of sharing with you an everlasting crown.
Please present my very humble and very respectful good wishes to good Fr Matricon, my spiritual director, and the good Fr Besson, asking them to remember me every day at the Memento in the Holy Sacrifice.
I forgot to confess a pious theft from dear Br Jean-Baptiste. It's a book entitled "The Love of Mary". I found it so much to my taste I resolved never to part with it. It has travelled with me everywhere and I have the pleasure of reading it at least once a year during the month of May.
It would be a real bonus for me if you could add to my little parcel something that belonged to our Reverend Fr Superior, such as a little book, a rosary, a holy picture, etc. The smallest thing would be of the utmost value.
am afraid of wearing out your patience and I am truly ashamed at the number of requests and the trouble I am giving you. Forgive me my importunities and believe me to be, very dear Br Director ....
Br Claude-Marie.


  1. Refer preceding letter, No 29 [8]. Marie-Nizier was, in fact, back on Futuna, and Attale in Tonga by this time.

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