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Br Claude-Marie to Francis Redwood, Nelson, 20 January 1856


Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


When Claude-Marie wrote him this letter, Frank Redwood was a student at the secondary school in St Chamond taken over by the Marist Fathers in 1850. They had moved there from their boarding school in Valbenoite, bringing with them a statue of the Blessed Virgin which had survived a major flood the year before (rf S 2 p 602 - English ed.) The brothers moved their boarding school into the vacated premises in 1856 (rf L 120). In St Chamond they were still running the orphanage of which Claude-Marie had been foundation director (rf L 14), and ten years later were to be invited by the fathers to assist with the teaching at St Mary's (S 2. 572-3).

In Nelson, Garin's school, also to be called St Mary's, was making good progress. It had started in 1850 with about 40 boys and girls under a Miss O'Dowd. In 1853 Mr Harrigan (the unfortunate Hourigan mentioned in [9]) was in charge of the boys. He was succeeded in 1854 by C.A. Richards and when the latter married, his wife took over the girls' school. In 1856 the boys numbered 131, the girls 35 (Harris 26). According to Claude-Marie [10], the school's popularity stemmed not from its discipline but from Moreau's teaching of foreign languages, subjects not available at the rival Campbell's School. In a later letter (12 October 1856), the brother again bewails the lack of discipline under Richards: 'If only we had here 2 or 3 of our dear Brothers or the Brothers of the Christian Schools, what a change there would be!' But the Marist Brothers and the Irish Christian Brothers did not come to New Zealand until 1876, and Richards was to stay for 25 years (Harris 26).

Among others of Redwood's relations, Claude-Marie mentions Joe Bolton, a nephew, son of Frank's eldest sister, Mary, who features much in the brother's correspondence. Claude-Marie himself was regularly referred to and addressed simply as 'Mary' [12]

The translation was made from the copy in Br Basil Ward's collection. Extracts from these letters can be found on pages 44 to 45 of Harris' history of the Nelson parish.

Text of the Letter

Very dear Francis,
We have been waiting a long time, a very long time for news from you, expecting you would write from London. But we were surprised at not receiving anything, not knowing what could have happened to you. In November Mr Henri (sic), your brother, received a letter from your brother Joe in London, including another you had addressed to him in passing through the city. It assured us that nothing had happened to you on the voyage, but we heard nothing else about you. The same day we were having our tea party, the 8 January 1856, while the children were playing at freeing the chicken in the jug, we saw the signal that a ship was coming in from the direction of Wellington. I hoped at the time that it could be bringing us some good news, and in fact, after our dinner next day, James Tomlinson was sent to the post office and brought us back your welcome letters. We were filled with joy to learn that not only were you well, but that you were also very pleased and satisfied to be in France.
I think I may say that if your letters were a cause of joy for all who had them or heard them, they gave me a pleasure I can't express. Oh! Yes, my very dear friend, how my heart beat on reading the one you so kindly addressed to me! How often have I interrogated the Fathers to hear every detail of the news you gave them! And when I saw you were at St Chamond, at the College of St Mary, I promise you I burst with joy and I greatly blessed the Lord. I know that town like Nelson. I was there about a year and a half in the Providence near the hospital, which I left to come to New Zealand. Although the town is a small one and may seem dirty to you, I ask you to consider it is one of the towns in France I find most attractive, because of its people's piety. It is a very middle class town and full of holy institutions, as you will see in due course. Yes. I am sure you will love St Chamond as I do when you know it better. At St Chamond you are close to the Hermitage where I went and was consecrated to Mary's service in 1835, when I left Egypt and entered the promised land. My birthplace is only 15 miles away in the same diocese and department, at a little place called St Sauveur. What should be most agreeable to you, though, and should help you to put up joyfully with any inconvenience you might find in that town, is being in a college like the one where you are, a College entirely dedicated to Mary, and one which has the distinction of possessing the beautiful miraculous statue the Fathers brought from Valbenoite. Perhaps you already know the place, which is only 4 or 5 miles from your college.
The good news I promised you in my last letter, dear Frank, has not , unfortunately, been fully realised. Joe Bolton stayed only a little time as a boarder. A little indisposition lead to his going home and he has not come back. True, he is with us at the moment, but that is only for a few days until Mrs Bolton has made some recovery from her confinement. Marianne hasn't been able to go to Wellington; she has been prevented by obstacles they found insurmountable. Mrs Bolton has had all sorts of trials; she certainly is the well-loved daughter of the cross! Pain from her husband, seeing him so far from the truth and not knowing when his stubborn heart will see the light; pain from her children, who don't at all live up to her expectations. Unfortunately she is too weak and not strict enough. Pain from her neighbours, who are always quarrelling with her. Since she is by herself most of the time, she has to do everything. How she suffers! But for all that, when the Lord took her baby from her last year, she set to work for the chapel. She made 2 albs, 2 large surplices for the Fathers and some small ones for the children, sashes, etc. etc. She presented them all for the feast of the Assumption, so that the good God, through the intercession of his holy Mother, might grant her Mr Bolton's conversion and better health. But God's designs are impossible to fathom. He has reserved a very fine crown for her, without a doubt, but it will only be through suffering that she will win it.
It appears that Fr Garin managed to convince Patrick Corrigan's father that he would find it hard to succeed in his studies, but that he would accept him on condition he helped Mr Richards in the classroom. Poor Patrick was very happy with that, but when he thought he was going to come back his parents were adamantly opposed. Patrick was in tears. We have heard nothing since.
Since I have received no reply from my brother who is with the Brothers of the Christian Schools, I am not writing anything to him. But if you could do it conveniently during your holidays, I beg you to go and see him, tell him I have written to you, my health is reasonable, and, probably, if it is God's will, I will be seeing him again, but I don't know when. I have been disappointed again this year. His Lordship doesn't want to discuss it until the letters he is expecting arrive from Rome and Lyon. It is nearly three years now as I told you when you were here. Once the letters arrive, could I obtain my passport? God knows. Be sure that if I ever see France again, my first thought on going to the Hermitage will be to get off the train at your College and have a long korero [talk] with you. What a pleasure! What a joy! I assure you that if there was anything for me to do in the College, I would stay there willingly, so as to have the pleasure of being with you. I will not ask for anything, however, so as not to follow my own will.
Oh! How lucky you are, my dear Frank! What a great grace God has granted you through the good Mary's intercession! Doubtless you have done your best to correspond to it. God does not want much from you. The smallest things done to please him are more acceptable than great deeds without purpose. Follow the Rule of your college well, be humble, friendly to everyone, and you will see that the result will be the greatest contentment. And by that you will prove that you are truly grateful to the one who has done great things in you.
I will never forget you in my feeble prayers, you are too dear to me. For your part, I implore you, when you are close to our good Mother, whether in your pretty chapel at the College, or at Valfleurie (sic), where I presume you often go on walks, or at the Hermitage, or especially at Fourviere, which you doubtless have the good fortune to visit during the holidays, or at La Salette, or anywhere else - Oh! don't forget me. You know how much I need, what dangers one runs in half savage countries like these and among people of all religions. So say many prayers for me and recommend me to the prayers of your fervent fellow students.
Frs Garin and Moreau, as well as your dear parents, didn't want me to write you much about your family and the news of the country so as not to be repetitious. I will refrain from telling you about them in case I get too tedious. I think, though, I should tell you it would be good for you to write a special letter to Mrs Bolton to console her. She thinks a lot of you and I heard that when she learned we had received news from you, she sent to the post office and was rather surprised to find there was nothing for her.
Our old schoolmaster, Mr Hourigan, has just drowned at Massacre Bay. He was fishing with some other Europeans and it seems he got cramp and was not able to get back to shore. He drowned in a spot where the water was only two feet deep. Poor man! He was in Nelson about 3 months ago. Fr Garin encouraged him to put his conscience in order but he was not willing. He said he hadn't time for that, and where is he now?
You will certainly have heard that our school is prospering, but I must add a word so you know the full story. It is no better run now than it was when you were in Nelson. Mr Richards is still in charge. They still talk, turn around, study when they like, just as before. But what contributes to its success are the French and Latin classes taught by Fr Moreau. It's the bad conduct of Mr Ball who was imprisoned last year for something he did and for debt. He was replaced at Campbell's school by a Mr Skitt, a very well educated man with a Cambridge degree, but he was not a success, being too abrupt in manner. So Campbell's school was closed for 2 or 3 months. Eventually, in June, the governors of this celebrated school came to an arrangement with Messrs Hawk and Ball who reopened it and continued to run it very successfully. Still, since Mr Ball has a certain notoriety and considering they have too many children and cannot teach foreign languages, the gentlemen prefer to send their children to us. Mr Richards has married Martha Clarke. They live in the house where Mrs [O'] Dowd was teaching the girls. She had to leave (poor old lady) to give them room and Mrs Richards is looking after the girls.
I cannot help congratulating you once more. Ah! What a good thing you have done in going to France! What a difference you must find between your classes and the Nelson ones! How right you are to be satisfied. Bless the Lord for it, [and] the good Mary. Say many prayers for the poor souls suffering in Purgatory. I assure you that they have played a great part in your vocation without your being at all aware of it.
I inform you in passing that Joe Bolton and John Armstrong are keen on going to see you. They said to me: Mary, when you leave for France, we will go with you to see Frank. That would be alright if we only had the Pas de Calais [Dover Strait] to cross, but the trip is a very long one.
Still, I must finish. It is nearly midnight, but I want to send it next Monday by the 'Spray' which is off to Sydney. Adieu, my very dear friend, say many prayers for me, and believe me to be,
Still and forever your very devoted servant,
Br Claude-Marie.
I have reason to think that you go to Our Lady of the Hermitage from time to time. Please remember me then to the old Brothers. Tell them it seems they have forgotten us. It is a very long time since we received any news from them. But at least they might pray for me.

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