Br Luc Macé to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands, 1 November 1843
Clisby Letter 37
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
When they first arrived in New Zealand, the Marists found Protestant printing presses both at Hokianga and at the Bay of Islands, but they had to wait for one of their own until June 1841 when the fifth group brought a press and a printer. The first building to go up after the group’s arrival was a prefabricated wooden house to serve as a temporary storehouse and residence for the brothers. But the main building project was a warehouse printery started in September on the hillside behind the bishop's house. It was designed by the architect Louis Perret and constructed in traditional French pisé de terre or rammed earth because the missionaries could not afford timber. Priests and brothers worked on it together at times but the latter naturally did the bulk of the work. Perret returned to France in mid June 1842 and it was left principally to the Brothers, especially Marie-Augustin, Colomb, and Luc to complete it. Subsequent additions and alterations turned the original simple structure into a fine looking residence known as Pompallier House, though the bishop never lived there. It has since been restored to its original form and is now a museum. When he returned from the tropics to the Bay of Islands in August, one of Pompallier's first concerns was to put the press to work. "Soon after my arrival ... I hastened to write a long pastoral letter refuting the errors of Protestantism, then I revised my manuscript catechism with all the principal prayers for a Christian, and the whole was printed in a few months by the mission printing press at the Bay of Islands. All of these pamphlets, consisting of two thousand copies, were distributed among the Catholic stations in New Zealand." (Pomp. 81).
Luc refers to several brothers and priests of the Society, some of whom are mentioned in other letters. Of the Brothers , Aurelian (Mathieu Villeveille 1808-1893) entered the Hermitage in 1836 and was perpetually professed in 1838. Like Luc Ardant he worked with the Fathers from then on, principally as a tailor. Eugene, or Joseph-Eugene, as he was known at the Hermitage, (Jean-Baptiste Cartier 1799 - 1800), an orphan in the service of the Colin brothers at Cerdon from 1820, entered the Society at Belley. Colin sent him to the Hermitage for his novitiate in 1834 and he remained there most of the period until perpetual profession in 1836 when he returned to Belley (S2. 306). We cannot, however, with certainty identify Augustine and Jacques. If they were brothers he knew by repute rather than personally, then he may have had in mind Benoit Valla (1809 - 1883), who entered the Hermitage in 1836 and worked with the Fathers after his novitiate (though he had returned to the service of the Brothers in 1839, being Claude-Marie's associate at St Chamond - rf S2. 60), and either Jacques Peloux (qv Letter 53) or Jacques Jourgeon (1818 - 1903), both of whom entered the novitiate of the Society as coadjutors in 1843, according to the Register of Coadjutors, but may have been postulants long before that. But only Jacques Peloux ever came out to Oceania. Of the priests , Louis Girard (1801 - 1844), professed in the Society in 1839, was first appointed to Lyon and then, in 1840, to the Hermitage where he served as chaplain until 1843. Denis-Joseph Maitre-Pierre (1800 - 1872) joined the Marist aspirants in 1831 and was professed in 1836. A close friend of Champagnat and his confessor, he was Colin's assistant at Puylata and also provincial from 1839-1844.
Luc served mainly in the north until the Marists moved to Port Nicholson in 1850. From September 1850 to August 1851 he was at Akaroa. Then he returned to Wellington. After a few years there he may well have felt his work in this European settlement was not what he had been professed for. In 1854 he obtained dispensation from his vows from Bishop Viard and sailed off to Hobart, presumably on his way back to France. We have no further record of him.
The letter is a response to the mission rule that every Marist should write to the Superior-General at least once every six months to declare the state of his soul and body. He has fears of his unworthiness, but takes refuge in the efficacy of sincere and repeated prayer (cf Mt 7 : 7-8 – Ask, and it will be given you, seek, and you will find...)
He is working in the printery with M Yvert and Brother Emery. Appeals to Father Colin for reinforcements of Brothers, apparently at the Bishop’s suggestion.
Is amazed at the memories of the Maori – their ability to learn hymns and prayers so quickly.
Text of the Letter
- Very reverend Father,
- I am happy to be able to write to you today and let you know the state of my soul and even of my body, since it is your wish that we tell you how we are getting on in this country. Since I am writing to a Father whom I trust completely, I am not afraid to open my heart to you to read, so you can prune what is superfluous and provide what is lacking by your salutary and charitable advice.
- Sometimes I worry that a man like me, so poor in virtue, should be more in fear of losing his soul. But I say to myself, Why trouble yourself if you are doing what you can, and you do not do it all? Try your best and don't worry about the rest. Indeed, how could a child of Mary be anxious if he loves his Mother. What should make him afraid is if he does not love her. If he doesn't imitate her it is in vain he claims to love her. That's the thing that causes me to groan, when I reflect on the virtues of our good mother and find myself so far from being her imitator. Alas, how I suffer at living on this wretched earth and not being able to be united with my God to sing his praises with Mary and the saints. I often ask of God and our good mother the grace of dying rather than falling into sin. Each feast of the Blessed Virgin I would like to be able to celebrate with the angels in heaven. On the other hand, I know I don't merit such a favour. Nonetheless I will not cease asking for this grace and I dare to hope I will obtain it, especially if you ask it for me, my very reverend and dear Father, for your prayers are more efficacious than mine. Jesus Christ, our divine Saviour, has told us in the person of his apostle to ask what we will and it will be given us. This is the promise on which I base my appeal and I firmly believe that we cannot fail to be heard, provided we ask with humility, confidence, and perseverance.
- In spite of my desire to be united with God, I still continue to prepare myself for carrying out his holy will in me. Since Jesus Christ, our divine model, preferred the most cruel and shameful of deaths rather than do his own will. What makes death attractive to me are the constant dangers we face of offending God and losing ourselves, for here as in France, and everywhere else we may be, we carry in ourselves the source of evil and all miseries. I would even say the dangers here are more frequent than in France, but the grace is proportionate to the need, and the Lord who has chosen us among so many others who will never have the same privilege will never abandon those who rely on him and put no trust in themselves. For we are our own worst enemies.
- As for me, I have not yet found myself, so to speak, in the midst of dangers like those who live among the natives. I rarely go out as His Lordship has judged it convenient that I stay here with him to work at the printing press with M. Yvert and dear Br Emery. So in changing countries I have also changed occupations. Still from time to time I work at joinery and carpentry, as work is not lacking for Brothers at the mother house. We need double the number of workers, at least eight or nine, without counting a number of natives or Mahoris [sic]. Preparing consignments for the stations, carpentry, joinery, gardening, sewing, bootmaking, frequent trips that require three or four men, the printing and binding of five thousand or more volumes that we have been doing for a little over a year - all these things make work difficult for so few people. If, as I hope, there are still some of our dear brothers who are willing to share in our labours, let them get used beforehand to patience, fatigue, and charity. That will stand them in good stead among this people as yet so uncivilised. Yet they are very good to us and well disposed towards the Catholic religion which they embrace daily in evergrowing numbers, especially since we have given them books. When we first arrived they were quite cool towards us and told the priests they were going to give up praying since they hadn't been given any books. But thanks be to God, they are now leaving the “missionaries" (as they call the Protestants) in great numbers and coming to receive instruction and baptism. On their side, the "missi" do all they can to deceive once more these people who have been too ready to believe them, but they are not paying much attention to them. Sometimes they confound them with their astonishing replies; even well-instructed Europeans would often find it difficult to come up with the like. It is to be hoped that she who is strong as an army in battle array will crush the demons and their allies and it will not be said that the Marists are weaker than the devil. Mary, our good mother, is at our head and she is supported by the arms of the Almighty. Who then can triumph against such odds?
- We often get behind in much of our work, there being so few of us. How useful Brothers like dear Brs Luc, Eugene, Augustin, and Jacques would be to us. Dear Br Aurelian also, for we have great need of a tailor and someone who would not be able to do manual work, otherwise they would keep on putting him on other work and we would no longer have a tailor. See, my very reverend Father, those you judge suitable to send us and don't be afraid they will be too numerous. These last days I was speaking with Monsignor and he told me: Urge them strongly in France to send us more people, for the harvest is ripe and we have no one to gather it in. If you haven't enough people, write to my father and ask him to send my three brothers. I would like to see them all Marists one day, as well as my sisters. God would that they consecrated themselves to him. It would be a great happiness for me and for them as well ...
- Almost everywhere the Europeans are beginning to experience hardship. There is not enough business for all the people already in this country which is difficult to farm. In parts it is only mountain or wasteland. There are some areas which could be farmed but most of them belong to the missionaries - if they really deserve that title. I would call them instead ravening wolves since they seek to snatch from Jesus Christ the souls he has purchased with the price of his blood. Poor, blind people, how they are to be pitied with all their riches which will not last long and then they will be left emptyhanded. I pity them and pray for them that Our Lord will heal them of their blindness. For myself I haven't yet been in want of anything, thank the Lord, if it is only that I sleep in a granary where the wind finds little enough obstacle to enter. But what is that to a missionary. I expect to suffer much more, so that I would be surprised at less rather than more. Perhaps that will come later, God be praised. The best thing, I think, is to expect it so as not to be taken by surprise.
- I have forgotten to mention when I was talking about the printing press that the natives were so surprised to see us operating the press that they seemed thunderstruck. Indeed, one of them, one of the most civilised and well-instructed too, asked if the big statue of the Blessed Virgin which we had brought had been made on the press. In truth, they are very simple, but that only makes them more open to receive the word of the Lord, who loves to reveal himself to simple souls. Their simplicity doesn't mean they are not intelligent - far from it. They have astonishing memories, they learn the hymns by heart as well as the prayers in a very short time. Unfortunately, there are not enough of us to instruct them as we would wish. We plead God to send us help before drought hits the harvest and the ears of grain fall and are trampled underfoot. Do not forget, very reverend Father, that we are in urgent need of reinforcements.
- Time presses and I cannot tell you more. I have asked Fr Girard to speak to you on a matter I wrote to him about. I send my humble respects to all the Fathers, especially Fr MaitrePierre. I don't think he will forget in his fervent prayers one who served Holy Mass for him so many times. Best wishes to the dear Brothers and good courage to them to make great strides in learning the science of the saints.
- Accept, very reverend Father, assurances of profound respect and sincere affection from one who has the good fortune to be your very humble son in Christ our Lord,
- Marist brother.
- This had been Br Emery's experience rf Letter 38. .
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