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Br Claude-Marie to the Brothers of the Hermitage, Hokianga, 18 Oct 1843


The territory covered by the Hokianga station extended along the west coast from Ahipara Bay in the north to the Kaipara Harbour in the south until a separate Kaipara mission was created in 1844. The trip Claude-Marie narrates in this letter covered the northern part of this territory as far as Ahipara but also included Waima just south of the Hokianga harbour. His companion, Jean Lampila (1809-1897), first professed as a Marist in 1841, had been ordained only the previous Christmas, having arrived in New Zealand with the sixth group as a theological student. The Hokianga was his first appointment, though it is not clear whether he was ordained there or at the Bay of Islands. After the creation of a new centre in the area at Te Rangi (Rangi Point) on the northern shore near the harbour mouth in August 1843, he and Claude--Marie were transferred there.

Brother Francois in a circular to the Brothers of 17 (or 27)[1] February 1843 records a visit by Epalle [6] to the Hermitage: "We also had a visit on the 16th from the Rev Fr Epalle who has returned from Polynesia. He gave us news of our Brothers who are all in good health. They labour without ceasing and are successfully bringing the land under cultivation. Fr Epalle will remain some time in Europe and then return to Polynesia with all those he can muster" (CSG1 72).

The copy of this letter occupies pages 106-112 in the cahier in the AFM. Parts of it are included in the brother's biography in the reference volume to the letters of the Founder:(S2 137-8).

Text of the Letter

Very dear Brothers,
After writing to our very reverend Brother D(irector) G(eneral) and replying to the letter of dear Br Stanislas, I decided to write about some of the little things that have happened here since. I am writing to all the Brothers and even the novices of the Society in general because there are many among them I count as friends, whom I came to know more intimately at the mother-house or in the establishments, who have rendered me services I will never forget, either in their letters written to other dear Brothers here or by word of mouth to the Fathers or Brothers coming to New Zealand who were good enough to remind me of them and give me news of them. Finally, for those I have not yet had the privilege of knowing, I am writing to them too as to Brothers whom God in his mercy has chosen to draw from the mire of the world to unite them with the holy and beautiful society of Mary so as to make a single body out of many members. Yes, my very dear confreres, what more have we done than our friends who remained in the world for this God, full of kindness, to have singled us out especially and caused us to board this vessel of election, so we might navigate more surely and reach harbour successfully.
I will pass on now to a trip I made in June 1843 with Fr Lampila to visit some native tribes. On the 30 May Fr Lampila and I set out to spend the night in a Kainga [village] called Waima. There the Father baptised 8 children the next day. Afterwards we set out for Makora but on the way we met some natives of that tribe. They stopped us and told us there was no one at home in the village but they would take us there the next day. They invited us to spend the night with them and we accepted. These poor people had killed a pig and cooked it in the homa, [2] a pit dug in the ground. At supper they did not exactly ration it out, but we had to eat it by itself, without potatoes. Each one took at least two pounds in his hands and tore it to pieces as best he could with his teeth. We were no better off for sleeping, for we were camped in a deserted spot. We had to sleep under the open sky. It was cold (it was winter), the sky was overcast. We had had a warm walk and were afraid of catching a chill. But what to do? Over to Providence! The natives made a big fire, we sat around it and said night prayers in Maori. Then the priest and I broke off some branches and with my rainproof cloak we made a little hut to shelter us at least a little from the wind. We slept well enough and after prayers in the morning went and had breakfast at Makora. Then we went to Wanga to spend a night. We left there the following day in broad daylight so as to reach Ahipara by sunset. We stayed 11 days with that tribe to give some instruction to the poor savages who were far from the mission station and did not often have the good fortune of receiving spiritual help. Six children were so fortunate as to receive baptism. We had a hard job there challenging their notion of tapu [sacred] things. We had no success, unfortunately, in dissuading them from their useless and superstitious practices. On several occasions I deliberately burned their tapu wood to show it was just like any other, but they only got angry, declaring that if we burned it they would die. One day when they were all away at a hakari (a feast of the country) I took the opportunity to collect the tapu wood and burn it. When they came back, a good number of them gathered in our hut and it was only after a long discussion that we were able to make them see reason. We left that tribe on 12 June and went to Herekino for the night. We stayed there 5 days which coincided with the beautiful octave of the Blessed Sacrament, without mass or a chapel or anything. How painful it was to me to think that in Europe, and especially in France, people were having beautiful processions and majestic ceremonies, and here there was nothing at all. It must be admitted, however, we did have some consolations, and while you were having your procession of the most Holy Sacrament, singing joyful hymns, dispensing incense and flowers, we, poor weak missionaries, were in a poor native hut with hardly space to stand up in. Yes, we opened the gate of heaven to 6 young children by pouring the holy water of baptism on their foreheads and making them brothers of the One you were carrying in triumph. We left after the feast and as we were passing through another village a chief called out to us: "Haere mai, haere mai, mo te iriiri aka tamariki" - "Come, come, and baptise my children." We stayed there the night. The chief was so happy with our staying he had a pig killed for our meal. The next morning 7 children became God's children. After dinner we left for Wangape [Whangape] where we stayed for three days. As soon as we arrived the chief sent 3 of his children off to catch pigeons, but alas! they were not successful and came back empty-handed. So the chief had a pig killed and we had pork to eat instead. From there we crossed the river in a little waka and went to Makora where we stayed 2 days . 8 children had the happiness of receiving the sacrament of regeneration. Finally we headed for Waima and again had the pleasure of seeing three children cleansed of the stain of original sin by the holy water. After 2 days there, we went to Taerutu, Kaiwitiki, Miti Miti where again we stayed 2 days and 3 children were purified from the stain of Adam. Then we boarded a waka to return to Purakau.
So, very dear Brothers, the gates of heaven were opened to a good number of children of all ages, but not without hardship and privation. During that month we had to sleep on the ground covered with a bit of fern, put up with the cold, having only one blanket between us, hunger, living like the natives on potatoes and some kumara. As you have seen, we had pork sometimes, but it did not last long - I can tell you a pig makes scarcely two meals. And then exhaustion, rivers, muddy tracks, and add to that the nits and fleas with which we were infested; you will have a faint idea then of what we had to endure. Still, we counted all that as nothing, and very happy we were when we could win some souls for Jesus Christ. God was also pleased to work through our ministry some very quick cures in a way we found astonishing. We are not doctors but we visited the sick along our route and, with hardly any remedies, they recovered health. Thus we passed in their eyes as being very skilful and everywhere they talked about our remedies. At Wangape a man and a little girl were quite sick. We made some tea, added a little sugar, and made them drink it hot a couple of times, and a few days later we heard they had recovered. At Herekino we found a man with a splinter of wood buried near his eye from a fall. His face was all disfigured. We made him a poultice of gourd, kumara and onions all boiled together and applied it to the wound, and after 4 days he was healed. The remedies gave us a great reputation and I don't doubt they provided a strong motive for people allowing us to baptise their children.
In the last days of July we had a very pleasant visit from His Lordship and he remained at Hokianga until the 16 August. During his stay he did great good among both Maori and Europeans. A good number of adults were baptised and many natives had the joy of receiving their God, especially on the great feast of the Assumption. Monsignor also felt the Hokianga station was too big and spread out. He has divided it into two by setting up another station near the mouth of the Hokianga, at Te Rangi. Fr Lampila and I were named to this station. We went there on the 21 August. But what a house! If only you could have seen it! His Lordship had asked the natives to build it following a plan he had left them, but not used to building in the European fashion, they did it very badly, without proportion, narrow in certain places and wide in others. It is nearly 6 to 7 feet high, 25 long, 16 wide, with 4 rooms, 2 on either side, and the chapel in the middle - you can judge its size. We have put some order into the interior with planks but all rough, since we have no plane. But it is the chapel you would be sorry for. It has absolutely nothing necessary for the Holy Sacrifice, no ornament, nothing at all, even a bell. We use a hoe which we strike with a hammer to summon the natives to prayers. It wasn't ours and when one day someone came to get it back, I bought it with 10 plugs of tobacco. Anyway, our poverty is not displeasing to God. On the contrary, he sees into our hearts and knows if we had what we needed we would use it well. I don't doubt He is pleased with our good will.
Although this letter is already rather long, still it was my wish to tell you much you would find of interest. But I must leave the rest till later because the person who will take this letter is leaving tomorrow. I haven't the time, moreover, it is very late at night and I am still writing. My hand is hurting me but I am speaking to my brothers and the time flies. I beg you, very dear Brothers, pray and have others pray for your poor confrere. Alas! there are many physical miseries here but even more spiritual ones! How often one is at the mercy of the storms the evil spirit raises against us! Pray, I beg you once more, that we do not succumb, but instead, victorious over the world, the flesh, and the devil, we have the joy of all being reunited in eternal happiness, following our good Father Superior and the other very dear Brothers who are now with our tender Mother before the face of God.
I want to ask you two other things. Please have the kindness to write to me at length and give me some news of the Society, and especially of the branch of the Brothers. Yes, write to me all of you I have had the pleasure of knowing, and with whom I have been united in the closest bonds of friendship. Don't always keep silence. In two years I have not received a thing. Are you alive? dead? I know nothing about it. If you only knew how welcome your letters are, with what joy and concentration they are read and reread; you have no idea. You would have to be in our position to realise how much your letters are anticipated. I beg dear Br Stanislas or someone from Saint-Sauveur to kindly pass on news of me to my relations, especially my sister, by letter or by word of mouth. If you think it appropriate you could lend her this letter or give her a. copy of the most interesting parts. I don't have time to write to her. For a long time we have been waiting for new workers from France and when they come I will write further about the things I am regretfully forced to leave out this time. My very humble respects to Frs Besson and Matricon. And you, dear Br Luc,[3] convey them to Rev Fr Superior General - I will write to him soon - and to Frs (P.) Colin, Poupinel, Girard, Dubreuil, and especially Fr Epale (sic) if he is still there.
Goodbye, my well beloved Brothers, let us be steadfast in the vocation God has chosen for us. What a noble vocation it is! Let us try to appreciate it, keep always in God's grace, in his holy Presence. Let us observe our holy rules well, and that way we will have the joy of persevering to the end. Let us have great confidence in our good mother, pray to her frequently, especially in temptations, and she who loves her children more than all mothers put together, will protect us, and through her we will be victorious over everything.
Believe me to be your poor fool,
Br Claude-Marie.


  1. CSG dates this the 7th but internal evidence indicates the later date.
  2. This appears to be a copyist’s misreading of oumu or umu, the word for an earth-oven.
  3. Br Luc Ardant, a fellow-novice at the Hermitage, now working at the central house in Lyon (rf Introduction L.34).

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