From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

Br Claude-Marie to Francis Redwood, Nelson, 24 August 1858


Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


During a visit to Lyon, Frank paid a call on Claude-Marie's brother Jean-Baptiste, a Christian Brother teaching in the city. He also visited Notre Dame de Fourviere, making use apparently of the recently installed funicular railway [6]. A statue of the Immaculate Conception had been erected on the top of the church in 1852, two years before the definition of the dogma by Pope Pius IX. Claude-Marie gleaned these details from one of his friend's letters, but the details of Bataillon's visit to St Chamond he read about in a circular from Fr Yardin, Poupinel's successor as missions secretary to the superior general. Francois Yardin (1824-1904), a Marist since 1846, was later to come out to work in the New Zealand mission. Bataillon had arrived in Europe with three young Oceanians but by the time he was getting ready to return to the Pacific, the Uvean, Motesito, had died. The two 'Ouveans' referred to by Claude-Marie were, in fact, a Tongan, Soakimi, and a Rotuman, Rafaele, both from Bataillon's college on Uvea (rf also L 120:1 [12]).

Europeans settled the South Island of New Zealand in a much more systematic fashion than the North, and as a result the settlements were predominantly Protestant. Apart from the little colony of French at Akaroa, no identifiable group of Catholics arrived until 1860 when a group of about 44, mainly Irish, landed at Port Lyttleton. [1] Garin's congregation in Nelson consisted of English, Irish, and German - the latter members of the first and only organised German emigration to New Zealand from Hamburg in 1843. In a report to Favre on a visitation he was making of the southern part of Viard's diocese towards the end of 1857, Petit-Jean attributed the sparse Catholic population to deliberate policy on the part of the Protestant associations 'to exclude all Catholics from the benefit of emigration' (O'Meeghan 49), and Claude-Marie certainly suggests discrimination against Catholics was government policy [8]. But in fact, the idea behind the establishment of the Nelson School system was to free education of its sectarian ties. The refusal of Catholics to come into line and an increase of Irish attracted by the gold discoveries, however, fueled the bigotry of some, who found a willing mouthpiece in the Rev Howard Elliott, a Baptist minister and member of the strongly nationalist Irish Protestant association, the Orange Lodge [9].

Claude-Marie mentions four boys thinking of going to France to continue their education with the Marists at St Chamond and to become priests [11]. Three were Frank's nephews, Austin and Wilfrid Ward, and Alfred Redwood, and the fourth, a brother of one of his former schoolmates. But none of them followed through with their plan.

Text of the Letter

Very dear Frank,
I was honoured to receive your charming letter on the eve of the Visitation. How happy I was. I do not deserve it, I assure you. You are too kind to me in honouring me with such beautiful letters. May God repay you for, alas! I am nothing and can do nothing.
I was very grateful for the visit you volunteered to pay my good brother. I can appreciate the joy he must have felt on seeing you. I have often spoken to him about you. Your visit would have been impatiently awaited, keenly desired. There is no doubt he was overjoyed with the short time he had with you. If I weren't afraid of asking too much, I would ask you to pay him an occasional visit in the time available to you, now you know the way.
This year your family has had almost nothing but success. That will console you for the misfortunes I told you about in a previous letter. Your venerable father made a long voyage to Sydney with your brothers Henry and Tom. Mr Henry took three of his best horses to compete in the Sydney races. [2] It can be said he was successful beyond all expectation. He won several very important races, and this earned him and his father a big reputation. The papers in Sydney and Nelson have often referred to them in very flattering terms. Who else (asked the Nelson Examiner) would undertake such a long and dangerous voyage, ship their horses to test them against those of such a famous colony as New Holand (sic), and run the risk of being beaten, mocked, after having run up such expenses and gone to such trouble. The gentlemen of Nelson were struck with admiration and apprehension. They said Mr Redwood was a true John Bull, bold, enterprising, fearing neither expense nor danger. It was a great risk, in fact, as you will agree. But he succeeded and the name he acquired is good repayment for his trouble. After the races, Mr Henry sold his three horses for 1500 pounds and used the money to buy many things for the farm, his house, etc. Your father and brothers left for Sydney on 6 April aboard a handsome brig, the Burnette, and did not come back until 10 July. It was a great consolation for your mother, I can assure you, to see them come home, and a great relief for Charles. He had to look after the farm by himself and supervise the butchery. It was too much for him. So he was overjoyed when he saw them back.
Your relatives are all well, except for Mrs Bolton. She suffers and will continue to do so. Last Sunday (feast of Our Lady of the 7 Sorrows) she fainted during Mass. However, with Polly's help, she still does her little work as well she can. What a lovely crown she is preparing for herself for eternity!
I am desolated, my dear friend, for having pressed you so on the matter of donations for our poor, bare chapel. I didn't know all you told me. I imagined that it would be feasible, knowing that the pupils of the College usually come from well-off families, I said to myself, if everyone could give sixpence, with 150 or more students, you should have been able to collect 3 pound 15 sh. With that amount, what pretty things you could have been able to buy? But we won't consider it any further. I made a mistake. I beg you to forgive me.
Thank you for the news you have sent me about Lyon. I cannot understand how a railway line can go to Fourviere. It is truly wonderful.[3] And the good Queen of the diocese of Lyon, from the height of her dear church protecting the city consecrated to her, what a beautiful statue! How lucky you are, my dear friend, how I envy you! My heart leapt recently when I read about the admirable things happening in our houses in France in a beautiful circular Fr Yardin kindly sent us. What a pleasure it was to read about the two gracious visits of Mgr Bataillon to your college, the fine reception you gave him, the blessing of the foundation stone of your beautiful chapel, the first communions, the confirmations, his reception into your holy confraternity, the retreat to more than 150 priests, who went in solemn procession from the College to St Peters and returned the same way singing the praises of God, to the whole town's admiration. Finally, the last farewell to His Lordship, the beautiful compliments in verse paid by the students, and a staged dialogue between two natives of Ouvea... Oh, how my heart beat. How pleased I was to think you were an eyewitness of such impressive ceremonies. Though far from the scene, I could not help weeping. As for you, there on the spot, seeing and hearing for yourself every action and word, what must you have felt! O lucky Francis, happy Francis. Don't be ungrateful for so many favours that you have! Alas! As you know, we are deprived of all the lovely ceremonies we used to witness. May you profit at our expense, rejoice in your good fortune.
Nelson has also changed since your departure. Big fine buildings have gone up, imposing stores have been built in Bridge and Trafalgar Streets. A big Methodist chapel, a very pretty one, has just been completed across from the depot. It cost more than 200 pounds, including the acre of land on which it is built. There is talk of many other big, superb buildings, etc. in the near future. But if the town is growing, I cannot say the people are getting better - quite the contrary. We see great crimes being committed here. Recently, William Harley, eldest son of the Mr Harley who keeps the Wakatu Hotel, killed Mr Ross the baker with a violent blow on the head. Last year another was killed at Wairau. Add to this a good number of other crimes it would take too long to enumerate, and you will see that Nelson is indeed a wretched place.
We still have the fierce opposition of the Protestants against us. The Government, those in authority, do everything they can to keep us downtrodden, to humiliate us. So the College,which receives all the children of the well-to-do, then the free government schools for the children of the poor, defraud us of all the support we used to enjoy. Moreover, the fathers of families preferring to send their children to our school have to pay a pound every year to support the free schools of the Government. Your father, even Fr Garin himself, who has everything to do to pay his schoolmaster, and he costs him no less than 35 pound a year. See if that is not a crying injustice! What a blind, wicked creed Protestantism is! You inform me that France seems to be on the brink of a volcano. Alas! That's only too true. But in France it's only the rabble who are bad, whereas here it's those worthy to be called Esquire, Gentlemen, the people at the head of the Government who oppress us and want to see us annihilated. They talk about freedom of conscience, but I don't know where one may find this freedom - if it exists, there is none in Nelson. How fortunate you are to be far away from this wicked people, heretics and hard of heart who mock everything.
Recently Mr Eliott (sic) attacked St Ignatius and the Society of Jesus in his paper, saying the saintly founder was just like the leader of the Mormons in every way, and that the latter were following in the footsteps of the Jesuits. Fr Garin refuted him in several letters under the pen-name of Veritas, explaining clearly what that holy Society was, the good it has always done and was doing in the Church by preaching, missions, schools, etc. etc. the sanctity of its members, etc. but Mr Eliott was not honourable enough to give in. He found it better to reply with derision against this celebrated institute.
Build up a good supply of knowledge, my dear friend, while you can. You have the ability for it. Make yourself perfect in everything, even in singing, in vocal and instrumental music. Learn to compose and transpose easily all sorts of pieces. I assure you that is more important now than ever. We have some beautiful pieces here, but we can't sing them because we have no one able to adapt them for the harmonium. Charles Bonnington is the only one who could do it, but one hesitates to ask him in case he gets annoyed. I repeat, make yourself perfect in all the sciences necessary for your holy vocation. You have good opportunities, good teachers, profit from them while you can. Know that it is a friend who speaks and who desires your good, your advantage, and the salvation of souls, which you can lead to virtue according as you succeed in becoming perfect yourself. Don't be worried about the expense. Your good father is rich, he can support you, and he will even be happy to contribute to anything connected with your progress in the sciences. It will be an honour for him and you know how to benefit from it. I am assured that your father values his goods, properties at 60,000 pounds. So you see he can well afford the expense. The good God is blessing him, he prospers beyond his expectations. Your other relatives are all doing well except for Mr Bolton. I don't really know how he is doing. It appears he is in the Wairau looking after other people's sheep, for he has none of his own. What a heart-break for your good sister.
You will be pleased to learn that Mr Ward is thinking of sending his Austin to France to do his education with you. Wilfred, who is boarding here, is keen to go to France. He wants to be a priest like his uncle, and Fr Garin thinks Alfred will follow your example too. We also have Francis O'Sullivan, one of Dan's brothers, who is getting ready to leave. He has been learning Latin and French for two years. But I am annoyed to see that, in spite of his good intentions, he is wasting his time here, seeing that Fr Moreau is only giving him an hours class three times a week. How can you expect him to make progress? It's impossible and that's a shame for he has a lot of [ ].[4]. I have often told him to urge his parents to let him go as soon as possible, but he doesn't dare speak to them about it.
O what great news I heard just before finishing this letter! You inform Fr Garin of a present for our poor chapel, 2 magnificent branched candlesticks. I see from the price you have quoted that they must be beautiful. They will be real ornaments on the altar on the big feasts. How I would like to be able to put them out for the first time at Christmas. How the faithful would admire them, especially your dear parents who regularly assist at midnight Mass. And when the Catholics learn that we owe them to your generosity, how grateful they will be to you. Yes, generous friend, keep on sending us as much as you can according to your means, so we may have some pretty things for our church. Things we really need would be: attractive vases with artificial flowers, a handsome Roman Missal with its stand, and some altar cards.[5] I do not say send us those things, I am just letting you know our urgent needs. What a joy will be yours when on your return to Nelson you have the consolation of seeing an altar embellished, adorned with your gifts.
May the Lord, may Mary our tender and good Mother, patroness of our chapel, reward you a hundredfold and obtain for you resounding success in the holy and angelic vocation for which you are destined!!
Ora pro me semper [Pray for me always],
Believe me always your devoted
Br Claude-Marie.
PS. The last pages were written only on the 2 October. I was still waiting to receive news from my relatives. I was putting off sending it, thinking to write to them at the same time. But I haven't received anything from them for a long time.


  1. Michael O’Meegan SM, Held Firm by Faith. A History of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch 1840 – 1987, p 58.
  2. Henry Redwood Jnr was the first New Zealander to race New Zealand bred horses in Australia (Harris 144)
  3. The words and expressions in italics are written in English in the letter.
  4. [ ] indecipherable in text.
  5. Altar cards: three printed cards or charts containing the fixed prayers of the Mass placed on the altar as memory aids for the priest.

Previous Letter Letters from Oceania: 1858-9 Next letter