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22 May 1838. — Fr Catherin Servant to his parents, Hokianga

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, April 2007

Hokianga in New Zealand
(22 May) 1838 [1]

My dear parents
It was after a voyage more than a year in length that Providence willed that your dear son arrived in New Zealand; he is there now, thanks be to God, in the full health and strength; the climate of this country is very beneficial for me, no snow falls here except in the most southern parts. The diet that we have to keep to here, although it may be less generous and stricter than in France, is certainly sufficient and a very suitable for our health. The savages among whom I live have an even more austere diet. Most of the time they have nothing more than potatoes,[2] fish and some fruits; they sell their pigs to the Europeans who are in their island. [2] However, if you saw these savages, you would be in admiration of them; they are robust and have no fear of exhaustion. I often see them from the house I live in; I see them go past when it is raining, head bare and clothing totally drenched, steering their canoes as if nothing was untoward. [3] These savages generally like Catholic ministers very much, a great number of them hasten, sometimes from a great distance, to see them. Their usual way of showing respect is to shake hands, and sometimes they press their noses together, which happens only with people whom they like very much. [4] Common among them are customs which would make you laugh; games, strange dances, weeping carried to quite ridiculous lengths. A little time ago I witnessed a scene of this sort: two old men stood, joined nose to nose, and in this way uttered a lamentation which lasted a good hour. They sang and wept at the same time. This custom occurs when one of their relatives dies. In this same situation, they tear at themselves, scar their faces with seashells. [5] These islanders have a strong sense of humour; they have a good ability to ridicule the customs and actions of foreigners. All the same they seem to me to have good and strong characters; you wouldn't believe how much they like smoking, you see the men, the women and children among them with a pipe in their mouths, to a degree that now tobacco for smoking is the common currency of the country. [6] There, dear Father and Mother, you have a little acquaintance with the people among whom your beloved son is living, and for whose salvation Divine Providence wishes his co-operation. I really believe that when you receive these few lines I am sending you, you will redouble in fervour the prayers I know you are offering for me. For my part, I am pretty faithful to our agreement to pray for each other; it is particularly during the holy sacrifice[3] that I am happy to remember you. I believe I cannot do too much in that way, in view of the tender and much repeated concern you have never ceased to have for me. [7] And neither do I forget my Servant and Blanchard uncles and aunts[4] who would do a really fine thing in remembering me in their precious remembrances to God. I do not silently overlook my former acquaintances who you know are concerned about me and would like to have them continue so, for example, M & Mme Dupré and their respectable family, the Farlet family, the Fayolle family and my old friend Fayolle who, I think, is keenly pursuing his studies, as well as many others with whom you have the same acquaintance. It would be a charitable thing to commend me to the prayers of the respectable community of religious Sisters at Grézieu.[5] What do I say to my two sisters? What has become of them? I am sure that they do not forget their brother, and it is highly likely that they do not cease to be a source of consolation to their dear father and dear mother. I seem to hear you telling me that nothing is lacking to your happiness but my presence; but not everyone agrees with your opinion. Your dear son has left you for good reasons; he is now satisfied beyond anything he can describe to you. Besides, you see that he has only good news to tell you. Isn't there in that enough to reassure you and set your minds at rest about me? Come, dear parents, let us offer our sacrifices generously, we are only in this life for a short time. [8] Soon, I hope, after having put up with a few trials here below, we will see each other again in heaven: unless Divine Providence wishes to dispose otherwise, allowing us to see each other again on earth, which, however, would be against any human expectation.
Your most devoted son, in the hearts of Jesus and Mary.


  1. date inserted later
  2. he most likely means kumara, which was abundantly grown in the north of the North Island then, rather than European potatoes, then only recently introduced
  3. of the Mass -- translator’s note
  4. Servant’s mother was Antoinette Blanchard - translator’s note
  5. Grézieu-le-Marché (Rhone) was the village where Servant was born and where his parents were still living at this

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