(Fr Forest to Superior of Brothers, Sydney, 8 July 1875)
The original of this letter, in the archives of the Marist brothers, Auckland (43. NA 1), bears no address or addressee, nor salutation, but it is dated and has a conventional ending. Since it was to be delivered by the young man named  it obviously needed no address. Another hand, however, has written on the back of the second sheet in pencil the words: ‘To Br John, Provincial in Sydney.’ This is certainly a later addition since John, although appointed to this position earlier in the year, did not leave Europe until November. It was, rather, intended for Ludovic, appointed head of the Sydney district in the reorganization of provinces at the same time (rf CSG V. 226). And, in fact, we find a copy of most of this text in Ludovic’s Annales de la Mission d’Australie 1871-1884,, pages 174 to 175, where it begins with a conventional greeting: ‘Very dear Brother.’ So we are most probably dealing here with the draft.
Within a few months of establishing themselves in Sydney, the brothers had acquired a postulant, and the beginning of a novitiate can be dated to July 16, 1872 (Doyle 67). The first entrant from New Zealand was the 17 year old James Clarke in November 1873, later Br Paul of the Cross. David Watt (b 1842) was one of four Irishmen from New Zealand who entered the novitiate at St Patrick’s during 1875. He is recorded as entering on 23 July and taking the vow of obedience two years later in July 1877. That year he appears to have been on the staff at Parramatta, but he left the congregation at the beginning of 1878,complaining, according to John, of ‘having too much work and not enough study’ (letter to Superior General, 16 February 1878, ‘Letters from Oceania’ II, 120, MBAA). Most of the subsequent vocations from New Zealand were Irish born, and it was not until 1880 that the first colonial born, Lawrence Davis, entered.
The rest of the letter is an appeal for brothers for Forest’s school at Napier. Reignier had been writing as early as 1865 (rf LL 176, 178, 180), but Forest since at least 1863 (rf Goulter 118-122). Although he had a flourishing school for girls conducted by the Sisters of the Missions, he was not happy with the progress of the boys’ school run by laymen. He was hoping that his association with Champagnat would give him some priority. Forest had been at the Hermitage from 1831 to 1832, one of half a dozen or so Marist priests who had done their novitiate there between 1828 and 1832, including Pompallier and Servant. But he had to wait on Redwood, who had the advantage not only of being bishop but of being able to put his case in person. Redwood visited Saint-Genis where he presided at the closing of the second retreat in July 1874 (Avit 3: 116). Louis-Marie reports the departure of three brothers for Wellington in the same circular, 21 November 1875, as that of John for Sydney as Provincial for the Missions (CSG V: 275-6). However, he also lists ‘the very important post of Napier’ as one of those waiting to be filled (ibid.). Forest was to receive his brothers in 1878.
An account of the Napier foundation can be found in Pat Gallagher’s history, The Marist Brothers in New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa 1876-1976, New Zealand Marist Brothers Trust Board, 1976, pp 38-43. Gallagher quotes part of this letter in those pages. He also presents the course of instruction which includes the subjects mentioned by Forest . The underlinings in the text are those of the original.
Text of the Letter
- The bearer of this letter is a young man of Napier. His name is David Watt. He has been a soldier for several years but having obtained his demission he has stayed in this country. I have known him for a long time, his conduct has always appeared excellent to me. He is sober and approaches the sacraments often. He has only a little education and I don’t think that he will ever be capable of teaching. His health is reasonably good, I believe. He earnestly desires to enter your Society and I am very far from dissuading him. If he does not become an outstanding subject he will be able to become a good and humble religious.
- We will be able with time to find you some good subjects in New Zealand. But a good way of making vocations rise is to show them some good religious. Two or three good establishments in New Zealand, apart from the very great good they would do in this country, would procure many subjects for your Society, which I could say is also my own since the Hermitage was the house of my novitiate and that of several of our fathers in the beginning of our Society. No, I will never forget the happy days I spent in that house with the good Father Champagnat. It is already many years I have been making requests to obtain brothers from that dear Society to found an establishment in Napier. Would I be able to succeed? Mgr Redwood has assured me that the second establishment to be made in New Zealand will be at Napier. His Lordship is hoping to begin the Wellington one soon. He expects the brothers promised him shortly. May I hope that soon your good brother Superior General will grant my request so often repeated? Ah, dear Brother, please put in a word in our favour when you have occasion to write to him.
- Here in Napier four or even five brothers could easily support themselves and more by means of the schools. Our present schoolmaster has 120 children and certainly a superior school would have more. If we had four or five brothers, we could immediately have two schools, one for the slightly better off people, Select school and a Common school. Moreover we would have a good number of boarders whose parents live in the country where there are no schools or they are protestant ones. The thought has occurred to me a number of times that you yourselves in Sydney would be able perhaps to procure for us subjects of your Society capable enough to take charge of our schools. The ordinary branches of education in our schools are the same as everywhere else: reading, writing, grammar, geography, arithmetic, a little drawing, etc. etc. If I had the hope of obtaining brothers soon to found an establishment at Napier, I would ask you to kindly provide me with a plan for building schools and apartments for the brothers in conformity with the other houses of your establishments. Doubtless in the beginning we would not be able to do everything to be desired but at least we would do the essential.
- I keep on hoping and I am confident that I will not be disappointed in my hope. I hope that the Blessed Virgin will obtain brothers for us. We pray and we will keep on praying until we are successful.
- Farewell, dear Brother. Yours very devotedly in J. and M.
- J. Forest S.M.
- Farewell, dear Brother. Yours very devotedly in J. and M.
- Copy made by Br Alban Doyle from the original in the AFM in 1969. The copy we possess (MBAA) has only those pages referring more especially to New Zealand and the islands (though the first date in the heading, 1861, seems to be an error).
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