Fr Reignier to Fr Favre, Ahuriri, Napier, 9 July 1860
The Hawkes Bay mission was established at the beginning of 1851 when Lampila, Basile and Florentin settled at Pakowhai, 10 miles south of Napier, on the east coast of the Norh Island. Reignier replaced Lampila the following year. While he traveled extensively, as far as Turanga Nui (Gisborne) and the Taupo plains in the north, and the Wairarapa in the south, the brothers attended to the local converts and created a flourishing farm. With the death of their patron, Puhara, in intertribal wars in 1857, the missionaries decided to move their establishment to land already acquired closer to the port Ahuriri and the town of Napier.
In 1860 the new station at Meanee had a property of 326 acres supporting the Marists, about 30 Maori, some settler families and about 80 livestock, as well as a house in the town occupied by Forest since 1859. Since the latter was in poor health, Reignier had to help with the town ministry and did not have as much time as he wished for the Maori mission; the brothers, involved with running and managing the extensive farm, had even less. Reignier had been hoping that the Society would respond favourably to a request from Pompallier in 1857 that it take charge of the missions in the south of his diocese, a move which had Viard’s support. But nothing came of this and the three Marists who arrived from France in March 1859 were not assigned to the Maori mission.
Reignier also thought that the station, properly developed, could become a supply centre for the New Zealand mission, but he needed funds and personnel for this purpose. Viard, however, was unwilling as well as unable to provide them. He was also looking for teaching brothers and sisters, with equal success.
This translation has been made from a photocopy of the original in the APM. A rough translation was made from the microfilm copy in the Marist Archives Wellington by Fr Maurice Mulcahy, who dated it erroneously June rather than July 1860.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- The last letter I had the honour of addressing you directly was dated the end of 1858. Last year, 1859, in July I sent a letter by Fr Poupinel to be handed to you. It was on the subject of Bishop Pompallier’s proposals regarding a part of his diocese that he wished to grant to the Society of Mary.
- I regret greatly to learn that these arrangements have not gone ahead. I regret it in the interest of the salvation of the poor indigenous converts of the Auckland diocese whose first Fathers we were. I am convinced that French missionaries and members of the Society are the most suitable for a mission among savages which requires such great devotedness, complete abnegation and perseverance. As my first aim in the Missions was to work among the Oceanians, I feel much more inclined to work among them than among the European settlers. Unfortunately, in the part of the vineyard where I am labouring we came too late after the Anglican ministers. I have only a few more than 200 indigenous Catholics. The European Catholics number about 550. Fr Forest who came to join me is especially responsible for the 240 to 250 Catholics who live in the town of Port Napier. This good Father, unable to travel, has preferred to rent a house at the port and establish himself there to do some good. As for my residence, it is a good league from the port, almost a league and a half from Napier and the port. On the property of the mission around my reduction of more than thirty Maori converts and some settler families, I find it easier to do my traveling from here.
- Moreover, at present the Mission has no residential house in the port. It would be too long to detail for you the difficulties that have up to now prevented the building of a house for the mission at the port. The mission has presently at the port a chapel and 4 acres, most of it hilly, and the better part of half an acre lower down along a street which winds between the hills. We are trying, if we can, to obtain a better property. It is too late now. Land is too dear. The chance was missed. When the land was being sold for a future town the mission was in a shaky position. There was talk of moving away and no land was bought for the mission at that time. I am leaving it to Fr Forest to provide you with information about the port. I go there to help him as often as I can. His health needs a lot of attention.
- I should write to your Reverence much more frequently. Fr Poupinel, your representative and Visitor General, will make up for the gaps in the letters of your so-distant missionaries.
- During the absence of Mgr Pompallier and after his departure, I visited two main places – Taupo and Turanga, offered to the Society to keep the fire burning or animate the courage of the converts and prepare the way for members of the Society whom Providence would have called to these places in the event of arrangements being made with the bishop. It does not matter by whom the good is done for the glory of God – by us or by others!
- Very Rev Superior, as you have learnt, the mission has a property of 326 acres where the mission house is and a piece of land of 80 acres where there is the little reduction of Maoris. I have since bought for about 13 pounds a half-acre situated on the site of a future town further in the country. His Lordship Mgr Viard was not involved in these purchases. They were made in my name when the Crown titles came. I wrote to His Lordship asking him what I was to do. Monsignor replied either to take them in my name or to put them in his name, on condition there was nothing to pay on his part. As these titles were obtained in my name and as they refused to deliver them to me unless I made myself an English subject by naturalization, on Fr Poupinel’s advice I became naturalized. This would have been necessary even if I had transferred the titles to Monsignor Viard.
- I made my will in favour of Mgr Viard. I adopted for that the formula given me by one of our good Catholics who is now the chief authority of the Province.
- Now I am as ready as I should be to follow your directions to the letter. Allow me to say, please, that these properties and these improvements come not from the general funds of the mission but from much care, much economizing, and the work and industry on the part of Brs Basile and Florentin whom I have had under my direction for 8 years now. Two years before the purchase of these lands, I received only 10 pounds a year for the Brothers and myself.
- I prefer that Mgr Viard be not the sole title-holder of these properties, that if your Rev. may judge it necessary or proper to convey the titles to the bishop, that there be at least one or two Marists as co-proprietors with him. When the bishop becomes the sole owner he can dispose of it at his pleasure. So here, for example, at Napier a good Catholic offered me for the mission 22 acres. He consulted me regarding the name of the person to whom to remit it. I replied, “To the Bishop, the head of the mission” – write to him. Since then, Monsignor, at the donor’s request, has sold him the land for much less than half its value and that without consulting R. Fr Forest or me. I regard it as important that such a property as ours, the fruit of individual sweat and work, should not depend solely on one will and the circumstances or debts with which a Bishop gets involved. The plant ought to remain.
- The current year is again going to be a subject of major works and concern. We are preparing to securely fence the mission land, which will cost from 150 to 200 pounds. Moreover, we have a neighbour who has 50 acres included in our property. He wanted to sell, [and] for fear he would bring us a bad neighbour, and for other other reasons, we have had to buy his land which he will hand over to us in a year’s time when we pay him 300 pounds. I am doing all this on my own. Mgr Viard, who has never come to visit our Province and mission, does not concern himself with our works. I regret that we have frequent visits from Protestant Bishops and not yet one by our good Catholic Bishop.
- For the rest, Monsignor cannot reproach me with neglecting the spiritual state of the mission for the temporal, for I do not work with my hands on temporal things, and am continually occupied with spiritual tasks or visiting the people on long and arduous journeys.
- There is the way we begin our third year since the creation of our establishment. I ask nothing of the general Mission except for the Viaticum for here some times. Our property is worth more than 3000 pounds and it will increase in value. Without preliminary funds, it takes time to set up a house of resources. For the present we are content to help our local mission at the port and here. We have about 80 cattle, cows, horses, large and small.
- Last March I made a trip to Wellington to make the annual retreat. I have not had the happiness of making one for two years, since the retreat the V. R. Fr Poupinel conducted in Wellington. I also had the intention of having an interview with His Lordship and asking him 1. for another collaborator, seeing that the health of Fr Forest at the port does not allow him to carry out fully the normal parish ministry, especially on Sundays with the services, two sermons, and catechism. For my part, as well, I find myself overburdened with the visitation of a large province, having care of the Maoris and of part of the town ministry. I pleaded especially for Fr Forest, but in vain. Monsignor replied that he had new stations to found and no priest available for what I wanted.
- 2. I insisted that His Lordship ask for two brothers for our farm, and for their passage I first offered to pay 80 pounds, and I would have promised to pay all the costs if Monsignor had consented to my petition. Monsignor gave me the excuse that he did not want to make any new demands before having seen the success of his previous ones. It is truly frustrating not to be able to get brothers, even at my own expense. I am obliged to employ two servants whom I pay nearly 80 pounds a year in wages. This could be avoided by having brothers. One wishes to set up a supply centre and one cannot obtain either funds or manpower for this purpose. My two brothers have been working in New Zealand for more than twenty years. They are wearing themselves out and deserve to have someone sent to help them. If one of them is lacking, the whole show collapses. They feel that they are necessary and they are exposed to losing the good religious spirit of submission and dependence. Two new ones would do well from both the religious and temporal aspects.
- I would also like very much to get nuns for teaching. What a pity we cannot get teaching brothers or sisters for here! What a disappointment our school masters are!
- If your so worthy Reverence can help me to obtain two brothers for our farm, I would be very grateful to you. The property I have is very fertile and, with help and assistance, being so close to the town, could help the general Mission in a few years.
- I fear to take up too much of your precious time and I am afraid my letter may represent too strongly a situation of unease at Ahuriri, the general dissatisfaction I experience at present. I beg your pardon very humbly for that. I make haste to finish, throwing myself at your feet as the least of your children, begging your paternal blessing and confiding myself to the Sacred Heart of Mary.
- I am my very Reverend Superior, with deep respect and entire devotion,
- Your very humble and obedient servant and son.
- E. Reignier pr. SM.
- Your very humble and obedient servant and son.
- I am my very Reverend Superior, with deep respect and entire devotion,
- See E.R. Simmons, A Brief History of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, 1978, p 54.
- Viaticum: travelling expenses; not to be confused with the liturgical sense of Communion given to a person in danger of death.
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