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Fr Poupinel to Br Florentin, Villa Maria, 16 November 1867



In this letter Poupinel replies to the complaints made by Florentin in his letter of 4 October. This is one of the few examples we have of a reply of his written to a brother. It formed part of the records of the Marist seminary at Greenmeadows until being removed with them to the Society’s archives in Wellington.

The main point he makes concerns the problem implicit in any situation in which religious vowed to poverty are involved with making money. Comte’s development project at Otaki had been so successful that he found it difficult to reconcile with a life of poverty and so in 1854 he had returned to France as a diocesan priest (rf O’Meeghan 45). At Villa Maria, the Marists had opted for employing a business agent [4], although Bataillon had originally sought a brother for the task (rf L 105). When Poupinel agreed to Florentin taking a few months break in Sydney in 1862 (letter to Favre, 7 April 1862, APM), Reignier immediately complained that he would be losing the only one who could run their business affairs (letter of 18 April 1862, APM).

Florentin did not go to Villa Maria at that time but an occasion arose two years after this letter when it was decided he would be better off there. After a transaction he had entered into under the influence of alcohol ended up in court, it was felt it was in the best interests of the mission that he be transferred from Meeanee. He was not, therefore, in Napier to welcome his teaching confreres when they finally arrived ten years later.[1]

Br Owen Kavanagh of the Sydney province made this translation from the original in the Marist Archives, Wellington, in 1989. Fr Jean Vibaud quotes it almost in its entirety in his manuscript history of the Society of Mary in Hawkes Bay, written at the beginning of the 1930s (pp 124-8), also in the MAW.

Text of the Letter

To dear Brother Forentin
My very dear Brother,
I received your letter; I received it with pleasure; also I thank you very sincerely for writing to me; and to show you that I could read your whole letter, I am going to answer it with a few details. You can therefore write to me now and again, to inform me of your difficulties, your trials; through character and duty I will be touched by your confidence, and will love to reply to encourage and help you with my advice. It is quite certain that if you had written to me earlier, I would have hastened to reply.
I have always praised you both in speech and in writing for your devotedness and the perseverance of your devotness for the success of the establishment at Meeanee Flat, on which I have great hopes for the future good of the mission by way of schools, etc… Your work and devotedness will have produced a lasting fruit, and I greatly hope also that you will not lose the merit of it before the good Lord.
The remarks I made to Father Reignier, and which he passed on to you, would require some explanation which however it would be too long to give here. As you express it, when things are going well, nothing is said, but when things take a turn for the worse, people easily blame him who has not succeeded. As I told Fr. Reignier, you are all placed in a false position, because Bishop Viard does not concern himself in any way with your mission, and nevertheless there are things which should not be done without the authorization of the 1st Superior, such as the buying of land, of flocks, long journeys made by a Brother to sell stock, etc. Unfortunately Bishop Viard does not want to be worried with all that, and one is in the necessity of acting without his authorization – which is harmful.
So, my dear Brother, I did not say, I did not think, that you had made those two journeys without permission of Fr Reignier; but I did say that I regretted those 2 journeys, that they presented too many dangers for a religious, that if your Superiors in France knew of them, they would be grieved. That is still my conviction. It leads me to say a word on another part of your letter. I share your opinion and not that of those you mention: I believe that a member of the mission, Father or Brother, (I assume him to be intelligent and devoted), will handle our affairs very much better than an outsider or a servant. I am so much more authorized to support him For I have always found that our Brothers pursue with great interest whatever concerns the welfare of the mission. But there may be in the administration of a farm some operations, such as certain sales, purchases and others that cannot be done conveniently by a religious and should be handed over to an outsider. That is one of the reasons why we have a servant-agent here.
As regards the buying of sheep, I told Fr. Reignier, “you’re a local Superior, you have not of yourself the right to incur extraordinary expenses without the authorization of the Bishop “; and with greater reason I added, “a Brother cannot do it of himself without authorization.” Here is what I wanted to say in those words: “Br Florentin is not the Superior!”
Your position is delicate, my Brother, but with God’s grace you can act as a religious. Fr Reignier is not skilled as you are in farm matters, since he is not always here. He relies very much on you, and moreover he could not do otherwise. What must you do? Since he is the one who has the responsibility before God and our Society, you must not act independently of him. It is good that he leaves you great latitude for ordinary things, since he is very little concerned with the farm and is often away. But for all that is not ordinary, buying, selling, building, important changes, you must have his consent – all the more so since he himself would have to have the consent of his Superior.
Be very reasonable, my dear Brother, i.e. be very religious in all those matters. You are working for God; you are working for the mission; you are working even directly for your Institute and its schools. These motives deserve that you be generous. If the arrival of the Brothers is somewhat delayed, it is a good thing, I think, because of the difficulties of this year; but I count on them, I hope for them.
I regard it as a very small matter, my very dear Brother, that you have taken the pledge, but I am happy to learn from you that you are abstaining, as a result of a good resolution, from all drink that could be harmful to you. Ah! I entreat you, be faithful to it always and above all when outside the house. We need to have a good reputation; moreover our duty is to give good example. Finally, prepare well to receive your dear confreres with joy.
Please tell me in your next letter if you approach the sacraments regularly, if you are faithful to your exercises of piety. Without piety the love of God quickly weakens in us, and without the love of God we are not strong against our trials. Come, my dear Brother, courage! The Blessed Virgin and St Joseph are for us. I don’t forget you in my prayers; I request also a share in yours.
Entirely yours in J.M.J.
V. Poupinel S.M.


  1. Rf E. Clisby, Marist Brothers and Maori 1838-1988, Auckland 2001, p 44.

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