Br Claude-Marie to Br Francois, Hokianga, 1 Nov 1844
Claude-Marie was transferred from Te Rangi not long after he had written his letter to the Brothers of the Hermitage in mid-October 1843 (L 36). He gives the reasons for the move in a letter to Colin the following February (LO 47).
At Kororareka he was employed as gardener and then replaced Elie-Regis as schoolmaster for the Maoris when Pompallier took the latter with him on his pastoral voyage south. The European children had a school and a lay master of their own attached to the mission by this time (Simmons 79). Tripe, who had had a difficult time at Akaroa, decided to return to France and took advantage of the "Rhin's" visit to begin his journey home. At Akaroa he had been working mainly with the French settlers. Forest's pastoral work, too, was mainly with the Europeans, and when he was at the Procure between visitations of the Marists he appears to have exercised a very successful ministry in and around Kororareka. In March 1845 Pompallier gave him faculties as a priest of the mission and appointed him pastor of the church in Auckland. Claude-Marie was reappointed to Hokianga, probably in October, but he was not there for long. The following February he was assigned to Opotiki.
Text of the Letter
- Very honourable and dear Brother in J(esus) and M(ary),
- My last letter was addressed from Te Rangi. My stay in that new station was not very long, and for several very serious reasons I was forced to leave sooner than I expected. I left on October 26 (1843) to go to the Bay of Islands, which I reached on the 28th. How happy I was to see the Fathers again and dear Brothers Pierre-Marie, Basile, Emery and Luc. On the 31st the arrival of the "Rhin", a French warship, added the finishing touches, as it were, to our joy. It anchored in the strait of Kororareka, we paid a visit, and the Captain told Monsignor that if he wished, he and his officers would attend Mass on All Saints Day with the fine band they had on board. At the time appointed, the bandsmen arrived with their instruments and took their place in the chapel with the Captain and the other officers. His Lordship celebrated a Pontifical High Mass and everything went off so well that not only the Europeans were impressed but also the natives. Hearing these beautiful chants for the first time, they exclaimed: "Ko tatou ano te iwi rangatira ko te wiwi!" (The French are the people of chiefs) "But as for the pakeha mauri (English) they are nothing but pononga (slaves, common people)". The "Rhin" departed several days later for Sydney taking Fr Tripe. The feast of Christmas was also celebrated with great solemnity; many Protestants were present at the divine offices. February 5th 1844 provided us with yet another cause for celebration as the corvette the "Bucephale" anchored off Kororareka. As soon as the natives, and there were quite a number of them, saw it appear with flag flying, they shouted: "Te kaipoti wiwi! Kaipoti wiwi!' (A French ship! A French ship!). On Sunday, which was Sexagesima Sunday, holy Mass was celebrated with solemnity by His Lordship in the new chapel, not then finished, in the presence of the Captain, his officers, and a large number of sailors. A good number of Protestants joined the Catholics in the new chapel and heard His Lordship preach on the parable of the Sower. But what really distinguished this ceremony was the presence of almost all the priests who were gathered at the Bay, and who assisted at the celebration, some in dalmatics to serve at the altar, others in capes, and some in surplices. The chapel was more than full and the natives kept on repeating: "Kapai, kapai!" (how beautiful! How beautiful!).
- You can see from that, very dear Brother, that from time to time we see some beautiful ceremonies, but that is only at the Bay. For those who are in the stations, who live among the savages, as I do at present, they see nothing of such beautiful things. But to return to my subject. All the great feasts have been observed with great solemnity and always with quite a crowd of Europeans. But in these last months especially, Fr Forest has reawakened the lethargic souls of the Catholic Europeans, English or Irish. He has shown the light to Protestants of all sects, and a good number have entered his net and become fervent Catholics. There are some who, before their conversion were like the old sea-captain who said: "Me, change religion? No, never! I want to live and die in the religion of my fathers." The poor man spoke this way because he did not know what grace does when it wishes to possess a heart. It was stronger than he, and he is so happy now that he has often been to thank Fr Forest. Grace acts powerfully in certain souls and when Father speaks to them about the falseness of their religion and the reliability of the Catholic faith, they are quite amazed and say: "How can we be so blind!" One day the Protestant minister of Kororareka was bitterly lamenting at the sight of most of his flock turning to the Catholic Church, their mother. To console him, his wife said, "What a good man you are, Bruce (that is his name), to be so concerned. Don't you know that in time all the inhabitants of Kororareka will be Catholics?" Happy indeed if this prophetess is right. Many are convinced the Catholic religion is the only true one, but for reasons of self-interest, or so as not to be badly spoken about, they do not have the courage to break with the demon. Prayers, then, my very dear Brothers, prayers, and the Catholic religion will triumph in these distant lands, and our own erring brothers return to the bosom of the Church, their mother.
- The new chapel I told you about has been completed. It is pretty, well constructed and fitted out, and big enough to hold all the faithful of the town. Monsignor blessed it on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as the cemetery above. He did it with all possible solemnity. Everyone in Kororareka came and listened most attentively to the commentary explaining the different parts of the ceremony. Since then Mass has been said in the chapel every Sunday at 11 o'clock and Vespers for the Europeans. When the natives see the chapel they are amazed. "Aue!" they cry, "Te pai ko Roma ko hahi ano te" (Oh, how beautiful! We haven't seen a prayer-house like that!). Then they sing inside and say "Mea ate te tangi" (What a noise it makes) because it echoes.
- My occupations at Kororareka were gardening, cooking, and, in the mornings, teaching the natives who stay at the house. Really, very dear Brothers, that is the station where I find it relaxing to work, even when I am very tired, because there I am with very good Fathers and very fervent and pious Brothers. Yes, I tell you, they are all models, and I used to say to myself often enough, reflecting on my good fortune to be in such a house, in such agreeable company, "You are not fit to live with such good religious; you are full of malice, you are misery itself." If only you could have seen those good Brothers walking in the yard, eyes cast down with angelic modesty. They speak with simplicity, frankness, and compassion.
- They are kept very busy. There is dear Br Pierre-Marie with the sacristy, the garden, and the infirmary. This good Brother has been well tested since the end of March with stomach trouble, but he suffers it all with patient resignation. That is what has forced him to put aside his theology and busy himself with manual work. Dear Br Basile makes the shoes, does the cooking, he is the baker, butcher, etc. Dear Br Emery is the tailor and very skilful; he renders great services to the mission; he is also printer and looks after the Procure. How good this Brother is. To see him you would think he was another St Louis of Gonzaga. We also have another Brother you are probably not familiar with because he stayed in Lyon with the Fathers. He is also very good, his name is Br Luc. He is carpenter and printer. All do their work with admirable regularity. What contributes most to this good order is the timetable they keep to faithfully. At fixed times the bell calls you to prayer, the refectory. etc., and everyone responds instantly. That is what most pleases me, I assure you. Finally, the brotherly union which exists among us all, the love we have for one another! All that certainly makes for a paradise on earth.
- So there I was, dear Brother, in that sweet haven and living quietly among saintly confreres when Providence called me to go to Purukau, Hokianga, to cook for the priests. How painful an order that was for me! I am far from being reconciled to being here. But like it or not, God wills it, so let his will be done. I hope my time in this station will not be long and that soon I will be reunited with my dear confreres in the Bay of Islands. The station of the Hokianga is much better off than the Hermitage in animals and land. It possesses a very great extent of uncultivated land covered in bush, an area of cultivation with corn, a vineyard, meadows, and gardens, 7 cows, a bull, 18 goats, 100 to 150 fowls, 10 geese, 24 ducks, 1 dog, 3 cats - see if with all that we are short of animals.
- We have been expecting new confreres now for a very long time. Will we wait in vain? We are really looking forward to them. Since dear Br Deodat we have received no news from the Hermitage. Although many letters from France have arrived they are all for the priests or His Lordship. How impatient we are to hear news of you and the establishments. If only you realised how much your letters mean to us, poor exiles on these distant shores, you would certainly not be so miserly with your time, and take a few minutes to tell us what is happening in the Society of Mary, which is the apple of our eyes.
- Dear Br Florentin is at Auckland, the capital of New Zealand, with Fr Petit-Jean. Dear Br Elie-Regis at Opotiki with Fr Chouvet. I think he will be coming up soon. Dear Br Justin at Whakatane with Fr Lampila. Dear Br Euloge at Rotorua with Fr Reignier. Dear Br Michel is at Wangaroa in the north of the island with Fr Rosey (sic). I know nothing of those in the islands. Fr Grange wrote some time ago, he said everything was going well, but he did not mention the Brothers.
- Farewell, my dear Brother. I am sending my warmest regards to all the dear Brothers and novices of the Society of Mary. I am expecting letters from them at the next opportunity, and I will reply according to their wishes as soon as I can after receiving them. My very sincere respects to Frs Matricon and Besson. Please pray for me and have prayers said; my needs are great. I have great hopes of the prayers of the Society of Mary.
- Believe me to be always, very honourable and very dear Brother,
- your quite unworthy confrere,
- Br Claude-Marie.
- your quite unworthy confrere,
- If a good Brother from St Sauveur would be so kind as to pass on news of me to my relations, and especially to my sister, he would be doing me a great favour.
- The reference is most probably to the CMS minister, Rev Robert Burrows.
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