Br Claude-Marie to the Brothers of the Hermitage, Opotiki, 6 January 1846
CSG 1. 409-417
Before he left for Europe, Pompallier made some last appointments. Moreau and Claude-Marie were assigned to Opotiki. They travelled from the Bay of Islands in mid February with Forest, who was going to Auckland, and Baty, who was to preach the retreat for the Marists at Tauranga in March. At Auckland they picked up Petit-Jean and sailed on to Tauranga, where they joined the priests and brothers of the southern stations for retreat. There were 11 in all, a record number for this area and probably for anywhere else in the mission for those years except for the procure. After the retreat Baty returned to the Bay with Petit-Jean and Justin who were destined for the northern stations. By the time they arrived, the war in the north was over, with Kawiti's pa at Ruapekapeka having been taken on January 10th, a few days after this letter was written. Claude-Marie went on to replace Justin at Opotiki.
Opotiki is centred on a small harbour in the southwest corner of the Bay of Plenty. The station of the Annunciation was begun in 1841 at Waioheka at its southern end, and by 1846 numbered about 600 baptised Catholics (Simmons 93). Of these about a third resided in the pa itself, while the rest were scattered over an area extending along the coast to Te Kaha and inland along the Waioheka River, bounded in the east by the Raukumara Range and in the west by the Uruweras. Most of the other Maori there were Anglicans, but a few were still pagan, not from conviction, this letter says, but from laziness!  The Anglicans were looked after by the Rev J.A. Wilson, a deacon of the Church Missionary Society, not an ordained minister (q.v. refer Letter 65). At the beginning of 1847 Bishop Viard visited the mission to bless the new church. He also inspected the school, which had 60 pupils. Claude-Marie remained until the end of that year when he was transferred back to Kororareka. Euloge then moved from Rotorua to replace him. Delphin Moreau (1813-1883), a Marist from 1836, remained at Opotiki until 1850. He later worked at Nelson and in Otago in the South Island, and then in the North at Otaki and Wanganui, where he died in 1883.
The last part of the letter shows Claude-Marie had received the list of postings mentioned in the letter received from the Hermitage of 20 January 1845 (L 52) but not included in the Circulars. Nor is it included in the AFM Cahier (pp 148-155) or LO (59).
Text of the Letter
- Very dear Brothers,
- This day on which I am sitting down to write to you these few lines, thanking you for the very beautiful letter you have graced me with, is a very special day for me. It is the feast of the Epiphany. That was the day, very dear Brothers, I had the joy of hearing our venerable and saintly founder, Fr Champagnat, say to me: "You have just been appointed to the mission of Oceania. Get ready to leave as soon as possible (for Lyon). "I can assure you I was filled with joy and at the same time overcome with sadness; joyful in that I was going to a Mission I had been long dreaming of; sad because I was leaving, probably forever, so many good confreres and a house so dear to me (the Hermitage), and, finally, France itself, my homeland, to go and live in a distant, unknown country, among savage cannibals. My determination was unshaken, but I still needed a good dose of faith to convince myself it was for the glory of God, and certainly for the salvation of souls, that I had just been called to this Mission.
- I have been here now for six years, very dear Brothers, and I have not until now had the pleasure of hearing any news of our dear Society. (Our dear Br Stanislaus was indeed kind enough to send a letter for me with Br Deodat, but he didn't tell me anything about our progress). I was waiting for a long time to hear something, and at last the moment I had been so looking forward to arrived. Fr Moreau sent me with seven natives in a canoe to Whakatane to fetch some things we had been sent from Auckland. On meeting dear Br Elie-Regis who is at that station, I learnt of the arrival of your welcome letter. He had already had it for several days and gave it to me to read. Oh, who could express to you how happy I was and how avidly I read it! I cannot find words strong enough, very dear Brothers, language fails me to describe what filled my heart on reading your affectionate letter. It was with real pleasure I read all about the astonishing progress of the branch of the Brothers of Mary, the number of children in our schools, and the number of establishments opened each year. But what filled my joy to overflowing were the unions of the good Brothers of St Paul-Trois-Chateaux and those of Viviers with our Society. How fortunate these good religious are now to be members of the Society of Mary. Like all Christians those good Brothers were children of Mary before, it is true, but by becoming Marists they become her privileged ones, her Little Brothers in a very special way. Let them congratulate themselves then on such a fine choice, such a great favour.
- I have written letters at different times to various of you, some from Purakau or Te Rengi (Hokianga), others from the Bay of Islands where I had the good fortune of living for some time with dear Brothers Pierre-Marie, Basile, and Emery. Today it is from Opotiki in the south of New Zealand that I am privileged to write.
- The 9th of February 1845 Monsignor appointed me to replace Br Justin at Opotiki. I was quite put out by this order for many reasons since I was feeling perfectly at home with the good Brothers of the Bay. But I had to obey and make the sacrifice of my will to God anew. On the 11th I embarked on the "Flying Fish" with Frs Baty, Forest, and Moreau, and we set sail for Auckland. But a contrary wind kept us out to sea and it wasn't until the 18th that I had the joy of seeing the capital of New Zealand. There was nothing much of interest to me there except the Anglican Protestant "church" and the military barracks, which were both built of brick. For the rest, what does it matter if Auckland equals the Bay of Islands in its situation and the beauty of its port! ... We landed and went to the mission establishment, where I had the honour of greeting Fr Petit-Jean and dear Br Florentin. We didn't stay there long. On the 21st, about 9 in the morning, we went back on board and sailed for Tauranga with a very strong westerly, arriving on the 22nd at 4 in the afternoon, after 36 hours sailing. The sea was too rough for us to land. We had to wait 2 days before we could greet Fr Bernard who is at that station. There ended my voyage by sea, not a long one but very painful. The sea did not let me alone until I had paid its tribute, and it cost me dear, since I was sick the whole crossing. I still had 25 leagues to go to Opotiki but it was decided I would complete it by land and I would stay at Tauranga to make my retreat.
- The retreat started on the 9th March. It was very encouraging for me to see there Fathers Reignier, Pezant, Comte, Lampila, Petit-Jean (whom Fr Forest had replaced), Bernard, and Baty, who was giving the retreat, and dear Brothers Elie-Regis, Justin, and Euloge, 11 in all. We were exhilarated at finding such a large number of us together in a country where such gatherings are so difficult. For their part, the natives could not conceal their admiration, saying: "Katahi ano, ka nui te Ariki me te katekita" ("What a lot of priests and catechists there are now"). Others said, "Ka turuturua!" ("How splendid!"). The retreat finished on the 18th, and on the 19th I set out with Fr Lampila and dear Br Elie-Regis for Opotiki. I finally arrived there on Easter Monday, March 24. I cannot pass over the more outstanding features of our retreat. I assure you I found much edification in all these good religious, priests as well as brothers. I found so many qualities to admire, but I was especially struck by their modesty, goodness, and considerateness. We brothers slept in a new kitchen not yet in use. I was next to Br Euloge, and during the night the good brother gave up some of his blankets to provide me with covering. I heard him several times weeping and lamenting over the sufferings of our divine Saviour, especially one night when we had been given the passion as the subject of meditation. What a good Brother he is! How good they all are! They are all real religious. I was ashamed to be in the presence of such an assembly of saints, I who am so imperfect, so full of vices and faults - I am serious about this.
- We were enjoying the consolations and peace of the retreat at Tauranga while at the Bay of Islands, as we learned much later, John Heke, at the head of the natives of the area, was devastating, looting, and burning the town of Kororareka (Bay of Islands). Everything was given over to the flames except the Catholic establishment, which the Blessed Virgin preserved intact, and a few other houses, though the latter were badly damaged by cannon fire or by the natives. Since troops have come from Sydney and England, there have been a number of battles in which the English have been humiliated and suffered many casualties. They are getting ready, they say, to put an end to it. What will the result be? Let us note in passing that the calumnies of those gentlemen, the Protestant ministers, have rebounded on their own heads. They used to say: "He hahi kohuru te hahi o te Epikopo he hahi kino rawa" ("The Catholic Bishop's church is a church that wishes only death; it is a very evil church”). The natives now see the contrary. They also used to spread it around that "Ekore he maroro te Wiwi i te wawa erangi te Ingarihi" ("The French are no warriors but the English by contrast are good at war"). At present they cannot beat a handful of natives who have risen against them in the north - what would happen if the whole island rose!
- A few words about Opotiki. The pa, they say, is one of the biggest villages in New Zealand. It houses about 5 or 6 hundred natives, which is a lot for a country depopulated by massacres which took place in times past before the Europeans arrived on these shores. Of the natives some, the majority unfortunately, are Protestants. They have only a European catechist as minister, an Anglican named Wilson. He has been here for more than 12 years. He has won the affection of his disciples with gifts and leads them where he will. In general, they are very zealous at prayer and attend in great numbers even on weekdays. Our Catholics number about 200. They are good enough but not so enthusiastic about coming to church on workdays. They are all wakama (ashamed) that the protestants have a huge bell of 250 to 300 pounds while they have one of only 8 to 10 pounds which can scarcely be heard from the edge of the pa. The natives who are left are noho noa (nothing) because, they say, going to prayers and religious exercises means putting yourself out, and that is a nuisance. Poor people! Faithless people! Pray for them. The Opotiki mission is not confined to the pa, it extends to the west a 3 day journey and to the southeast as far as Father's zeal and strength will take him. There are numerous natives who cannot be visited for want of evangelical workers to carry them the bread of God's word.
- I will say nothing about our good Brothers in New Zealand. I have every reason to believe that they are all anxious to show you their gratitude for the very beautiful letter you have honoured us with. They will be able to tell you so much better than I who am so far south of what has been happening in the wars which have broken out on these shores and of the things that will interest you.
- Very dear Br Stanislaus, I am still waiting for the account of our holy Founder's last illness, and his portrait and something that belonged to him as I asked you. I tell you once more, if you would do me this favour I would be really grateful. Send me the measurements of the mat you want for the chapel. I know the people with the skills and, with His Lordship's permission, could get a very fine one made for you. Don't forget me at the good Mary's altar.
- I am very pleased, dear Br X, to learn of your safe arrival back among our confreres in Europe. I think you will have passed on my little aroha to the good Brothers as I asked you to before you left the Bay. Today I give you a good Tena ra katoa.
- And you, dear Br Benoit, who have care of the orphanage of Saint-Chamond, pass on my news to the poor little children I used to know. If you think fit, present my profound respects to the parish priest of Saint-Pierre, to Mr Dugas, to the dear Sisters of the Charity and the good Brothers of the Hospital. Do the same, my dear Br Aquilas, for those of the Chemin-Neuf orphanage.
- I am very pleased to know that you are still at Saint-Sauveur, very dear Br Charles. You must be doing a lot of good and reforming the young people there. I have received nothing from my relatives for a long time. Are they dead? Are they in good health? I know nothing about them. Please be so good as to pass on news of me. I can't see why they don't write to me. I beg you to send a few details about the parish, about your school, and about my relations. Please do me this favour.
- Very dear Brothers Marie-Jubin, Apollinaire, and Victor, who have had the generosity to write, you have certainly succeeded in informing us about what we have been waiting so long to know. You couldn't have responded to our wishes better than by giving us this survey of the most important developments in the branch of the Little Brothers of Mary. Accept my very humble and sincere thanks. May the Lord give you a long life so that while you continue to instruct our little countrymen, you have the goodness to provide us with further news equally encouraging.
- Finally, all of you, very dear Brothers and novices, whatever house or novitiate you belong to in our very beautiful Society, accept our very sincere greetings and the testimony of our warm affection. Let us firmly remain united to this body of which we have the honour of being members. Let us love Mary, our tender Mother, and make her loved by those we are fortunate enough to teach. She loves those who proclaim her. She loves those who love her.
- My very dear Brothers, allow me in finishing to ask you to do us the honour from time to time of sending us news of yourselves. If you realised how much we look forward to your letter and how joyfully we received it, you would write to us more frequently. You would have to be like us, my well-loved confreres, a long way from our native land, from our good confreres, in a distant country living among savages, to have an idea of the satisfaction we experience in receiving a letter from our very dear Brothers in France. I assure you I have often caught myself saying, "Perhaps they have forgotten you because you don't belong to the Society of Mary any more." Your cherished letter has proved to me this is not the case. What a joy! What happiness! For my part, I would not be ungrateful. I promise you, as I have already done in the past, to write to you at least once a year.
- Please present my very humble respects to the Rev Fathers Matricon and Declas. I ask you for one thing especially, and that is to continue your fervent prayers for one who has the honour of being, very dear and warmly loved (Brothers),
- Your very unworthy Brother in J(esus) and M(ary),
- Br Claude-Marie.
- Your very unworthy Brother in J(esus) and M(ary),
- The X in the text stands for Colomb who had in the meantime left the Institute (rf L. 46).
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