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14 August 1839 —Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2009

In the present letter, numbered 14 by Pompallier, the author speaks of a letter numbered 13, dated 14 May 1839, but in a later letter of 28 August 1839 (Doc 37 [3]) he says that the 14 May 1839 letter was never sent and that he had destroyed it. So there should be a letter numbered 12, date unknown, but which is not in APM.

(No 14) New Zealand, Bay of Islands,
Vigil of the Assumption, 1839

To Reverend Father Colin, priest, Superior-General of the Society of Mary in Lyons, France

Reverend Father, pax Christi [the peace of Christ].
It was with a truly afflicted heart that I last wrote to you: my letter was dated 14th May 1839 (No 13). I believe it will safely get to you, and I have entreated the Lord to kindly temper the affliction of your heart at seeing the afflictions that I was so keenly experiencing. May that divine Master be blessed, and his august Mother, who protects us, be so as well. A great consolation and the most lively joy have followed my suffering. The three priests and the three Brothers whom you sent me have at last arrived. I have them now, in rugged good health and full of zeal for apostolic work. Here they are, in the midst of a truly ripe harvest,[1] which error and the power of evil desperately dispute with me. How many struggles I have had to endure almost alone in New Zealand! And the spiritual hostilities are far from over; is not the whole Church militant on earth, and mustn’t it be so until the end of the world, the time of its great and eternal triumph? Anyway, imagine the joy and the renewed strength of a fighter assailed from all sides and in need; exhausted by struggles and successes and on the point of losing everything, but who, at that very moment, sees reinforcement and help coming to him: such was my joy in the Lord, to whom all glory be given for the successes obtained, when the little schooner,[2] which was carrying our subjects, appeared in the Bay of Islands of New Zealand. It was the 14th June last. I had left at this Bay, for many months, in the care of an English Protestant trader who is devoted to me; I had left him a letter which he had to pass on to my missionaries when they arrived, so as to inform them of my plans, which were that they were to stay at the Bay and wait for me at his house, after having sent me straightaway advice of their arrival.[3] The place where I was staying was twenty leagues away [about 100 km], in the interior and on the Hokianga, which is on the opposite coast to the Bay of Islands, that is to say in the northwest of New Zealand. Our missionaries’ schooner could have gone directly to the Hokianga by rounding the northern cape of the island, but as the entry to the river is a bit difficult for foreign captains who have no experience of our shores, I was somewhat afraid for the schooner and especially the passengers; besides, a few months after beginning my mission, I realised it was important to have an establishment at the Bay of Islands for the mission’s communications; American, French and British ships coming there frequently, then the natives belonging to the tribes of that place, had made urgent requests to me to have at least a priest from my jurisdiction to instruct them; I had promised them that for nearly a year, and I told them from time to time, when I made the journey from Hokianga to this Bay, that I was daily awaiting a ship which was bringing me missionaries so I could keep my promise to them. And finally the Bay of Islands is a very appropriate and safe enough place to be the site for the mission Procure. So I necessarily had to settle one or two missionaries in that place when they got here; and if they had all come to the Hokianga with the ship, I would have been forced to get it to return to the Bay of Islands to drop off the mission’s goods there and to take there the priests I had destined for the new station to be erected. So it was better that the ship came there directly and that I myself came by land from Hokianga. Everything was carried out as I had intended in my letter of instructions. As soon as he arrived, Father Baty wrote to me, an express messenger brought me the letter promptly, after two days the happy news so much awaited was communicated to me; I left immediately, and two further days later I was at the Bay of Islands and at the home of the trader where the whole reinforcement group was waiting for me. What a consolation in the midst of my efforts! What an inexpressible happiness to bless again and to embrace children of Mary, new soldiers under her standards, new missionaries and catechists, new apostles for my beloved souls who were overburdening me and who would still overburden me even if I had a hundred men right now. How many tribes of islanders here have turned to the Catholic faith! How many others there are who are only awaiting the first appearance of Jesus Christ in his legitimate ministers to have the same happiness! How many there are already complaining that this appearance is delayed! How many demands are made on me! And every time my soul is torn by my present powerlessness to satisfy them. How many islands, how many archipelagos, how numerous are the souls who are still, alas, in umbra mortis.[4]What! I have only six priests in my whole mission! And there are more than thirty thousand in France, my Catholic homeland. Perhaps even on their own, the dioceses of Lyons and Belley have between them more than fifteen hundred? Good heavens, what a disproportion of means and what a superiority of needs on my side! Twelve or fifteen million souls in the thousands of islands that make up my mission, and only six priests with me! With resources like that, I do not think of giving these peoples solid instruction, but of teaching each of them only the Creed, or what we call in theology the necessary truths and means for salvation. And meanwhile I ought to set up schools, a college and soon a seminary. Am I not in spiritual need for my poor sheep? In a situation like this, does not the love of the Church demand that help be given with a little from what is necessary and not just from what is superfluous? I want to make myself clear, I am talking here only of my need of subjects, and I mean that the charity of the Church, our mother, would be properly understood, it seems to me, if her ancient dioceses of France and other countries in Europe provided a bit of what they need in the way of ecclesiastical subjects to the foreign missions and especially to mine which is so spread out over the seas and even poorer in apostolic workers. How grateful I am, after God who gives the call, to the venerable prelates of the Lyons, Belley and Boulogne to which belong, by birth and their clerical education, the six priests I have with me! There are four of us from the diocese of Lyons, two from that of Belley (formerly three, but one is in heaven, where he is not a stranger to our work, and, in a way, to our regrets), and one from that of Boulogne whom I had the joy of receiving from you quite recently.[5] Now I have the confidence that our Lord, the master of the vineyard and the workers,[6] who is much more grateful than men can be, has not failed to grant these dioceses the great fruit of his promises: date et dabitur vobis.[7] Happy are the dioceses which lose apostles! God will know how to recompense them in the order of grace which is a mystery for us, and a good deed which will go on growing for souls and people who are charitable: gratia pro gratia.[8]
It is very possible that in a certain number of years I will be able to find among the young neophytes men suitable for study and clerical virtues. Already several of them have asked me to gather them round me to instruct them, and they have made clear to me their resolve to observe a religious and perpetual celibacy, but I am testing them, or rather, the hosts of mission tasks are; my frequent absences from my place of residence and then my poverty have forced me to test their desires and their constancy by leaving them in their tribes and their forests until God gives me the ability to receive them. How many beautiful souls the evil one has kept under his yoke in our islands. They were ugly only because they did not have the enlightenment of faith and the sacraments of salvation. O altitudo…[9] What simplicity, what openness there is in these souls! What docility, what zeal for the truths of the faith! It is a very great consolation for a priest, for a Bishop, to instruct these beloved souls, to teach them catechism and even to teach them in school. Children, young people, men, women, girls and old people – they all crouch around you and listen to you with the same docility. However, unfortunately, they often enough have in front of them the scandals which the Europeans, already a bit numerous in these districts, give them. Then lies and calumnies are directed against the Catholic Church. [There are] several hundreds and, without exaggerating, more than a thousand heretical missionaries whose activities would astonish you and whose speech seems to amount only to this: the Catholic Church is evil, it is the anti-Christ. Alas, it is enough to make you shiver with horror when you hear everything that ignorance, error, jealousy and malice utter in blasphemies against the spouse of Jesus Christ, her ministry and her teaching! Does not all this opposition highlight again the need I have for subjects, and must it not arouse the apostolic zeal of the clergy? However, in the midst of these difficulties the savages warmly love us, and have no faith in what people say. A certain number nevertheless remain hesitant about adopting the practice of Christian virtues. But thanks to the Lord and the efficacy of his grace, every day hesitant people commit themselves! Oh, how many sweet consolations there are in the midst of many crosses! What joy, known only by heaven, when we see savages, who for the first time are invoking with us our infinitely good God and say by heart, with eyes raised to heaven or towards the cross Our Father who art in heaven &, in their tongue Hail, Mary, full of grace & I believe in God the Father almighty & in Jesus Christ, his only Son, Our Lord & I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church & … What inexpressible happiness, especially, to make them children of God and of this holy Church through the august sacrament of baptism. Great already is the number of those who have had this heavenly favour! But I have lacked the time and strength to prepare many others for this blessing as quickly as they wished. There are a certain number of them as well who are asking me for confession and to receive the other sacraments, especially the Blessed Eucharist, whose greatness and mystery have been a little unveiled to them, without their having been instructed at length on this point. Oh, Reverend Father, workers, apostolic workers, children of Mary, fervent missionaries, fervent catechists! I will not tell you how many I want, send me as many as you have, if possible, do not stop until I tell you: that is enough, but I believe that that will never happen in my life. I seem to foresee that the life of a Vicar-Apostolic can only be short, (and, may it please the God of mercies that mine may be of few days [but] full in the sense of faith) in these numerous islands with overwhelming tasks. If I write sometimes, it is only too late into the advancing night, because during the day I have to attend to many other urgent tasks and satisfy islanders who leave you neither peace nor rest. Yes, Reverend Father, concerning the number of subjects to send, do not fear that I will say “enough” and especially that there are too many. Providence will provide for everything, through the charity of the already-established faithful of the Church, and through the charity of the new faithful who are being formed in this country. So it is in the name of that charity of Jesus Christ that I am asking you for subjects and that I will keep on asking you for them! It is in the name of numerous and beloved souls, a multitude of whom still do not know that I represent, in their midst, the Good shepherd who has purchased them, and his august Vicar, the successor of St Peter to whom he has entrusted them all, and who has deigned to send me here for their salvation. Alas! They do not know either that I represent them in their spiritual interests, that in some way they write through my pen and that they solicit the charity of the whole Catholic Church, especially the zeal of the young priests, the sacred tribe of his sanctuary and the Society of Mary which has the responsibility of providing them with apostles to snatch them from the devil, from error and to give them to Jesus Christ, our life, our bliss, our love, our Heaven, our everything! Oh! May Mary, the queen of the apostles, obtain for me from her Divine Son new subjects and holy vocations for our mission in Oceania!
Since I have been on the mission, I have done nothing but ask, and I am a long way from stopping, in spite of the great weight of gratitude that I feel for the Association of the Propagation of the Faith and so many charitable souls who have helped me personally or through my collaborators. It is to their good deeds and to their fervent prayers that I, along with my men, owe the success which God has deigned to grant us. Continuity! Continuity! Till the end of my days I will be a seeker because there are no spiritually poor people as much in need as the flock and the pastor of this mission. I am doing it with all the more urgency because I am in areas most distant from the centre of the Catholic Church and the old countries which have received its faith, and I do it all the more willingly because I know I am, because of that, useful both to those asking and those asked, and because I have great trust in the charity and zeal of that holy Church, the lawful and only spouse of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God! May the apostolic zeal of the Propagation of the Faith hear my voice from here, along with the whole Society of Mary and so many souls whose salvation I worked for in France, whom I do not forget in my works far away. May their names be written in the book of life forever! May God give the Society of Mary a hundredfold of the subjects it sends me, and remain hers on these shores! May he bless in this way the dioceses and the venerable prelates of the French Church and the other churches making up the unity of the Roman Catholic Church, who raise up young Levites in the sanctuary, see them adorned with the virtues of the priesthood, gather the first fruits of their august ministry and then sacrifice them generously to the will of the Most High, when He asks for them for the apostolate among the pagan nations! May God shower with consolations and saving gifts the parents and families some of whose members find themselves chosen by Heaven in this way, and happy to leave everything to follow Jesus Christ and so as to soon see each other again in eternal happiness! May God bless, finally, with the best of the hundredfolds, in other words with the growth of living faith, all the souls who co-operate in our apostolic works.
I received here, by the ship which brought our new missionaries, many of the clothes which charitable faithful sent to clothe our new catechumens and neophytes. The Christian names of these faithful were sewn onto these clothes to show that people wanted the catechumens to be baptised to bear these same names when they were clothed. I was very mindful, in the presence of the Lord, of the kindness of this thoughtful generosity and sharing by godfathers and godmothers in my mission. The godsons and god-daughters have not forgotten in their recent prayers the people of Lyons, St Etienne, St Chamond and other places, who have given them clothing and have suggested the names of their patron saints. I already have the consolation of informing them that since we have received these things, the names of Mary, St Joseph, St John the Baptist, St Francis, St Peter and St Virginia have been given to catechumens here in the Bay of Islands. It is, anyway, a practice I have established in every place where my mission has catechumens and neophytes, to recite together at evening prayers, an Our Father and a Hail Mary for all the benefactors of the mission in general. All these new Christians, and those aspiring soon to be such, recite these prayers with understanding and gratitude.
The funds which the Association of the Propagation of the Faith has given you to send on to me and which I have received (with a deduction made for the costs of transport and the things for the mission) in the amount that you tell me in your letter, have been used up to now for setting up a second mission establishment in the Bay of Islands, that is: 1) for purchasing a painted wooden house which is in fair condition, then for a piece of land for a college, a school, a church and a cemetery; all of which is costing me ten thousand francs [₤400]; 2) for buying a half share of a little schooner which is for use in Bishop Rouchouze’s mission [Eastern Oceania] and mine. This vessel is indispensible and is of the greatest use – I believe that soon it will also be necessary that each mission has its own in these seas. Without one, communication will be slow, and at the time one will be needed, the sole vessel will not be available: it has been agreed that it will be six months in one mission and six months in the other. My share in the purchase of this schooner is ten thousand francs [₤400]. The costs of the voyage for our missionaries and the items for their mission amount to about thirty thousand francs [₤1200]. Alas! This mission is so distant that travel eats up half the funds we are allocated. Then, right here we find ourselves confronted by the fine establishments of the heterodox missionaries; in the sight of the natives we need to seem in some way not to be lower [than them] in view of the rather basic thinking of the tribes who are not [yet] instructed. That does not alter the fact that the roughly 27000 francs [about ₤1100] that I have borrowed here at the Bay of Islands have been of the greatest use. There is now a Procure house set up for the mission in this Bay, and on the very site of the mission, consequently a very advantageous thing! There it is, in future, that all our missionaries will come directly from Europe by the quickest and most economic way, which is to round the Cape of Good Hope, cross the Indian Ocean, and round New Holland [Australia] near Van Diemans [Tasmania], but I think you have received my previous letter which sets out my wishes on this matter and on several others which are important for the mission.
I have received definite news from the islands of Wallis and Futuna. The missionaries and the catechists along with the two missions are doing fairly well but slowly. I need to pay a visit there, but I am putting it off until the new priests who have arrived in New Zealand can speak the language of this place adequately; because right now I am the only one here at the Bay of Islands who can speak the natives’ language and instruct them, and as well, the English language, for dealings with the Europeans who are nearly all English and Protestants. I had the satisfaction, several times, to have them on Sundays at the holy offices which are celebrated in the biggest room of the house I have bought, and I have given instructions in their language which the grace of God has enabled to be generally appreciated. All the people living here have shown me signs of esteem, affection and devotion; everyone is contributing to the Catholic chapel to be erected and were the first to suggest the idea of it to me, and as well they have offered to send their children to the school I am going to set up. I have secured for that a young Catholic Irishman[10] who has some skill in this important task. All the Protestants here seem indignant and very antagonistic towards their sect’s missionaries; there are signs of impending conversions, or at least I am aware that grace is working in several.
A few days after our missionaries’ arrival I made a provisional disposition of them; I placed Father Baty at Hokianga to direct the mission in my place, among the twelve or fifteen tribes who are there or in the surrounding districts. He has with him Father Servant, Brother Élie and, right now, Brother Michel.[11] Father Servant still has his partial deafness, however he helps a bit inside the house; he has a rough grasp of the natives’ language, and now his main concern is to hasten its acquisition by Father Baty, who is beginning to understand it a bit.
For myself, I have stayed in the Bay of Islands to begin the new mission; Fathers Petit and Epalle are staying there with me with the two Brothers Augustin and Florentin, and as well, the English schoolteacher. I have stayed because I foresaw that the establishment would have a lot of difficulties to overcome from its first weeks, because there is, opposite us, on the other side of the Bay, the main establishment of the heretical missionaries in New Zealand,[12] and heresy at this moment is furious with spite and jealousy; there is no type of objection against the Catholic Church which has not been put to the natives of the Bay area, but the natives, when they hear all these repeated falsehoods against it, do not fail to come to me to find out the answers I could give to refute what they have heard so often, and they go away satisfied; both the tribes which are close to the mission station and those which are at a distance have all flocked to the legitimate ministry and have made haste to quickly understand Catholic teaching; every day there are two instructions, one at morning prayers and the other at evening prayers; our house where worship is carried on each day is filled with these good natives. I am longing for one of the two priests and even both, to be able to speak the local language, so as to relieve me, because for six months I have been forced to front up to everyone on my own, even at the school for the natives whose language is not known by my English schoolteacher. Besides, as neither of my two missionaries here at the Bay knows English, I have to get involved in the least details both inside the house and outside it. How frustrating it is, Reverend Father, that none of those who have come knows English! It is a language that is useful for all my missionaries on these shores, and necessary for some, especially for those I could get ready for some mission station. I had realised [this] when I was at Le Havre before leaving France and I wrote to you about that: from now on, I urge you to have this language learned by anyone you judge to be able to properly lead a mission and a mission station, that they are at least able to make themselves understood at the time of their departure; during the journey they can finish acquiring it, otherwise it is a crushing task to be forced to learn two languages at once on the mission territory.
I also believe, Reverend Father, that it would be very advantageous to the mission if there was someone from the Society in Lyons who acted as procurator-general of the mission; who took care to prepare the departure [of a group of missionaries] in an orderly way, because it is hard, when arriving at our stations here crowded with natives, to sort out possessions, and then how much time can be lost in putting order into affairs that have not been appropriately arranged beforehand. The boxes ordered so that people are not forced to turn everything over and over in looking for something; it should be that when lists or a property set-out book are sighted, everything should be seen written down without putting your feet in the place where the items are. Let care be taken to properly check in France the things that have been bought, because on this occasion the characters used in printing were not checked, and the letters ‘o’ were missing; the merchant had completely forgotten to put them in the set he had sold. [13] Then the printing press had to be put together; how much time organising all that takes, to the detriment of the urgent need to learn languages. I hope that those in the next dispatch buy a very good press, it is the mission’s most valuable piece of equipment. These men here have found it hard to get the one they brought to work.
Let us work together, Reverend Father, to form subjects to have a piety which perfectly allows the head and all the faculties to be really at ease in exterior matters, because the missions involve a mixed life. Subjects who are tactless, distant, forgetful, slow, untidy, careless about good order in a house do not do well in the tasks we have to do.
Please send us a good printing press, pictures of our Holy Father the Pope, etc etc.
Those gentlemen of the Propagation of the Faith must be clearly shown that the costs of running this mission are very great, seeing that we need a ship, that the savages cannot provide us with what we need, and that the Europeans force us to pay exorbitant prices for everything.
I am going to write at the first opportunity to those gentlemen on the Council [of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith] and to the other people who are dear to me and who have written to me and are awaiting replies. My respects to His Grace the Archbishop of Lyons, his Lordship the Bishop of Belley, my real gratitude to them and to all who co-operate through their good will, their prayers and their good works, in what we are doing.
Please tell M Perret[14] that he may come to Oceania as soon as he is able. I will welcome him with real joy into the task force of my mission; there is a worthwhile share of the work that he knows how to do. If the sea drains his energy at the beginning of the voyage, it is good for him to lie on his back on his bunk and to remain peaceful and patient: the sea, the journeys and the mission are good for the health when you do not over-tax yourself. And then God helps all those who serve him contentedly and leave everything for him. In this state of mind and in the sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
Reverend Father
Your humble and most obedient servant
J(ean) B(aptiste) François, Bishop of Maronea and Vicar-Apostolic of Western Oceania
PS Our printing press here is not going. Please get me printed, at the expense of the gentlemen tertiaries this little catechism which I don’t have the time to translate for you.[15] Soon I will send it to you with a grammar which I have made for New Zealand. I would like 1000 copies of the little New Zealand catechism.
+ François


  1. See below [1], f/n 6
  2. The Reine de la Paix (Queen of Peace). Cf Doc 32 [1]
  3. Cf doc 32 [2]
  4. “In the shadow of death”. He is quoting from Zechariah’s song of praise: “He will give light to those in darkness and who live in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79 – which seems also to reflect Ps 88:7)
  5. The four from Lyons were Pierre Bataillon, Jean-Baptiste Epalle, Catherin Servant, and the writer, Pompallier; those from Belley were Claude-André Baty and Pierre Chanel; and the one from Boulogne was Louis-Maxime Petit. The third from Belley was Claude Bret, who died en route. Although he was born in Lyons, he did his studies in Meximieux and Belley and at the major seminary at Brou and worked in Belley diocese up till he joined the Marist project (Cf OM 4, pp 206-207, Departs en mission (1836-1959) APM)
  6. Cf Mt 9:37-38: “Then he said to his disciples: ‘The harvest is abundant but the workers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest.’” See also Luke 10:2.
  7. Luke 6:38. Date et dabitur vobis “Give and it will be given to you, a good measure, heaped up…”
  8. Cf John 1:16. Et de plenitudine eius nos omnes accepimus, et gratiam pro gratia (from his fullness indeed we have all received, and grace for grace).
  9. Romans 11:33. O altitude divitiarum sapientiae et scientiae Dei… (Oh, the depth of the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge of God…)
  10. Very likely Henry Garnett, whose name occurs in several later letters (cf Doc 152 [17]). At this point Pompallier is hesitant about his nationality, but in [8] he says he is English. Garnett, who will in fact be the teacher at the Bay of Islands, is said by Epalle to be English (Docs 103 [4], 104 [3]) and Garin (Doc 186 [12]) says he is from Liverpool.
  11. Father Claude-André Baty and Brother Élie-Regis (Etienne Marin) who were among the second group of Marists, had just arrived in New Zealand. Brother Michel (Antoine Colombon) had arrived in January 1838 with Pompallier and Servant (Docs 1 [3], 21 [2], 22 [5], 24 [1, 3, 13], 27 [1, 3], 28 [17], 32 [2]). In August 1840, accused of theft and a relationship with a married woman, he will be dismissed by Pompallier (Docs 71 [5], 72 [3].)
  12. Paihia, where Henry Williams arrived in 1823 and his brother William Willilams in 1826. There it was that William Colenso set up the CMS printing press in 1834 (Encyclopaedia of NZ, Vol 2: 569-571, 869-870, and Dictionary of NZ Biography I, 87, 593,597).
  13. At the Protestants’ printery at Paihia there was also, at the start, a shortage of characters and even of printing paper; nevertheless William Colenso improvised and in 1835 produced a booklet of 16 pages; a Maori translation of two of St Paul’s letters (Encyclopaedia of NZ II, pp 869-70; Dictionary of NZ Biography I: p 87)
  14. Louis Perret, a layman and a tertiary of the Brothers of Mary whom Pompallier had known in Lyons; he was in fact in the fifth group if missionaries who left London 8th December 1840 on the Mary Grey. After stopping at the Cape of Good Hope for some time, he arrived at Kororareka on 13th September 1841 where, having concluded that there was little opportunity for an architect in the mission, he left again towards the end of May 1842, to go back to France (Cf OM 4, pp 326-327).
  15. The ‘tertiaries’ were the Tertiary Brothers of Mary for whom Pompallier had been chaplain and spiritual director in Lyons from the end of 1832 until his nomination as Bishop for the Oceania missions in 1836. The ‘little catechism’ is no doubt the summary of doctrine titled Ho nga pono nui o te hahi Katorika Romana, which the author mentions four days later in another letter with which, however, he sends the French translation (cf Doc 34 [8])

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