From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

15 August 1839 – Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, April 2013

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
New Zealand, Bay of Islands, 15 August 1839

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

Reverend Father
Pax Christi [The peace of Christ]
My last letter, No 14, was dated 14th of this present month, and I entrusted it to the captain of the whaling ship Orcon, Mr Baxter, which should arrive in France in about eight months and at one of the two ports: Nantes or L’Orient.[1] Although that letter was long, there were several administrative matters that had still to be spoken about, and a lot of interesting news which lack of time forces me to omit, and which I cannot yet talk about at length today.
As I could not make a duplicate of the same letter to preserve a reminder of what is useful for the mission, it could well come about that I repeat several things to you in this one, in my uncertainty as to what I said on several matters in the last letter. Here is what I want to inform you of today. I am going to tell you, quite simply, and in the interest of Jesus Christ, who is as dear to you as to myself, I am going to say what I perceive as defective in the material things and the men of the mission.
1º The personal possessions of the men in the second dispatch were not ordered enough in the lists that were drawn up. Apart from that, the numbers and the letters which should identify them were not written on the cases. Each case should be doubly numbered, i.e. firstly on the wood of the case, and secondly on the heavy cloth which envelops the straw which surrounds the package itself. As well, it is useful that there be two lists for each package, one which is left in the package itself, and another which is written in an exercise book which records all the lists of the packages and trunks belonging to the dispatch. If there is a shortage of time or if too much work is involved in making these double lists, at least make those in the exercise book exact, that the number and quality of the items are clearly described so that the mission procurator can, by reading the exercise book, quickly come to know everything without his needing to make new lists for himself so he can administer things in an orderly way. Father Petit is the man who currently looks after the procure house. It’s much easier to put personal possessions into order in France than out here, where the work involved with our catechumens and neophytes is overwhelming, and where our houses are often visited by the natives who, seeing more or less easily the things we have, are encouraged by that to make importunate demands and requests. The greatest problem that results from that is the waste of time involved in putting in order and listening to the successive requests of the natives to whom I do not fail to give or have given what I receive for them, but so as not to waste time in too frequent distributions of things, I allocate a certain time period when business can be done better, or more fairly, so as not to arouse jealousies, and more quickly. It’s hard to get an idea from a perceptive look around the natives to see whether I am giving more to one tribe than to another, and better things to those among them who are less thought of than others. Making a distribution of things which has good effects on people’s feelings demands knowledge of three things: 1) the things themselves; 2) their variety and quality; 3) the number of catechumens and neophytes, and their social rank; all of this is truly a little affair of State, and requires a thoughtful examination and fairly long bit of work in the storeroom with the lists of things and people under your eyes before coming to decisions. How much a set of belongings in order as regards containers and lists would save time for the missionaries in these circumstances!
On this matter, this is what I want:
1º That you appoint or have appointed in France some of the departing missionaries to supervise the packing of things and the order of the lists, so that appreciation of the whole situation may be fairly easy to grasp.
2º That there be someone in the Society, for example, a priest in the novitiate, who is well aware of the mission’s needs, the things necessary and useful for those leaving, and that this priest alone directs the priests and Brothers leaving in respect of the material needs, because it is fairly uncommon that young priests and young Brothers have already all the knowledge and experience that they have to have, and the information that the missionaries send about their journeys and the places in the mission can give understanding of these things. Every missionary would say, and I would be first among them, that if I had to make another journey from Europe to where I am now, I would want to prepare for it more wisely, more economically and more quickly. I assume, however, that the personal belongings of this second dispatch are not badly packed, although I only have a superficial knowledge of them, because of the many tasks involved in instructing the tribes that are taking up my time. I noticed only that the inscriptions on the packages were missing and that the lists were neither exact nor detailed enough regarding number and quality: in putting things in order in the procure house, our new missionaries have wasted enough time, which is still more or less preventing them from the urgent need to study the languages. Apart from that, when the personal belongings arrive in that state, theft can occur during the voyage or while the goods are being moved to the mission sites: stealing, I say, can take place without being noticed; things can even be forgotten in the ship when they are being unloaded.
It is most important not to have too much confidence and good faith in the purchases which are made for the mission; he or those among the missionaries who are responsible for doing that must get help from some person who is knowledgeable concerning the articles needing to be bought; and especially do not fail to check the parcels and the things which sometimes are got from merchants in the place where one lives. Because if you wait to make this check eight thousand leagues [c 40,000 km] from there, you can be very surprised to be missing a part of, or some things that you had ordered, or indeed to find poor quality things instead of the good quality ones you had paid for. Because of the lack of these precautions this time, we found ourselves to have a burnt piece of cloth, and, very importantly, to have the sorts for the printing press short of one set which is indispensable, ie a set of the letter ‘o’. Nevertheless, a printing press and an excellent printing press is, in the situation this mission finds itself in, quite necessary for successfully combatting heresy. Of all the things that have been brought to the mission, none would have given me greater pleasure than this beginning of a printing press. I had only one regret, which was to see that it was not complete, and that Father Petit and the Brothers were forced to act as joiners, to take some of them, to do their best to make ‘o’s out of ‘b’s by cutting off the tail. On being told the disastrous news that the ‘o’s were missing, I was really thunderstruck. Almost all the Protestant mission stations have a press with which they print in a way that really pleases the readers, and their works, which circulate in thousands in New Zealand, have only been, up till now, opposed by my voice and my pen, but there are so many tribes who hear or read error without having heard or read its antidote. A press, and a complete press, is what I have asked for in several letters already; no one can feel the need for it as I do here. So, Reverend Father, notwithstanding the sorts which got here in poor condition, and even though with all the work of our people, we have a press that functions a bit, today I am asking – with all my body and soul – for not just one press, but two excellent presses, regardless of the cost, one for the northern part of New Zealand, and the other for the southern part. Soon even two presses will not be enough, one more of them at least will be needed for the missions in the tropical zone. But, let us be clear, when I am talking about a press, I don’t mean those sorts of pierre authographiques[2] with which one prints copies of writing; those are useful but a long way from being enough; but I am talking about a letterpress production press, that is what I want, with one or two Brothers who are very familiar with them. You see, Reverend Father, by my demanding style and a sort of indiscretion how much I suffer from the lack of some weapons in the struggles on behalf of our good Master. Your kindness will excuse me, as we are very far apart. I am very concerned that in my reports there is nothing forgotten nor any misunderstanding.
As for the other things belonging to the mission, I will try to send you soon new information after a careful check, so that the missionaries may be provided, on their departure, with neither more nor less than they need. I have to make several corrections to the information that I sent you from Le Havre, on the eve of leaving France. Here is, roughly, what I had to say about things. However I must not forget that on this last despatch the collection of the missionaries’ books was strong in books of piety which are very good but not useful right now. In 6 or 7 years perhaps they will be appropriate.
Now I have several things to say about the men. First of all, none of our priests when they arrived could speak English. In dealing with Europeans, English is necessary or at least extremely useful for any priest working in my jurisdiction, and it is necessary for those who are in charge of some mission stations, in three ways: 1) because the Europeans flooding into our islands speak only English, the ministry for those who are Catholic must be done in English; 2) many falsehoods are uttered against the Catholic Church, and nothing is more frequent in the visits that you receive and are obliged to return for the sake of civility, than to find yourself involved in a conversation on religious matters and maintaining a little peaceful and very civil argument that people raise with you; but all of it is carried on in English, and often the most disastrous impressions would be made on minds if anyone from the mission did not dispel, with solid arguments given in English, the falsehoods and sophisms of heresy; 3) the director of a mission house is naturally its main bursar; he must deal with Europeans in order to make small purchases, in little matters concerning work to be done in the erection or maintenance of mission buildings, and as well, for the food items that are needed; in all these situations English is really necessary. I had already foreseen this at Le Havre before my departure; I must have written to you about it, then and since, several times. But the congregation’s affairs have led you to forget it, no doubt; I asked whether there were two subjects or at least even one who were learning English in France beforehand. It is hard to learn it during the journey out so as to be able to use it in a worthwhile way on arrival in the mission. So what is the consequence for me, because of the lack of anyone in my groups who can speak English? Alas, although I am a bishop, I have to be the interpreter for everyone. Whether it is something to be bought outside, some planks or wood for carpentry, potatoes, garden produce, a pot, a plate etc, I have to deal with the seller over that; I have to give all the explanations for the work to be done in a station to set it up. That distracts me very much, it uses time which is a long way already from being enough to attend to the ministry of the word and prayer and to all that these very important obligations demand of me. Besides, very often you have to preach in English; as well the native tribes are overwhelming in their demands; they come in crowds – they avidly demand instruction; since I have been in Kororareka at the Bay of Islands, I have to lead them in prayers morning and evening, when there is instruction on each occasion and singing hymns. All this is very consoling, but all of this on the shoulders of one single Vicar-Apostolic, because of the lack of men who know the two necessary languages of this country. All of this, I say, overwhelms me and demands[3] the very power of God and the need of performing a miracle so that the worker’s life and health can be maintained. Finally, for my part, I can only bless this wonderfully good master; never has my health been better than amongst the host of concerns and harassments I have on the mission. May the crown come finally, sooner or later, and I will bless him for it even more. The Bay of Islands mission could not be doing better, thanks to the mercies of God and the prayers of the holy souls who raise their hands and hearts to God on my behalf and on behalf of my flock. In a few days adult baptisms will be done, I hope; these tribes have been quickly instructed because of their closeness to the mission station, which has allowed them to come twice a day for instruction and to the school. But if the work at the mission station depends one man [only], it will collapse very soon. So I would prefer that the men were initiated into language study on their arrival, and, in particular, that in each despatch at least one of them knew English. So as to do my best to help you in that matter from this end, I am sending you some little manuscripts which I have made up myself about the English language and the New Zealand language; my own experience has shown me that the processes of simplifying languages greatly help in quickly mastering them. So I am sending you for that purpose the little work I have composed myself.
Could you please get printed, at the expense of Christian charity, the little summary of Catholic doctrine in the New Zealand language, which is entitled Ko nga pono nui ote hahi Katorika Romana [The main beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church]. There is no need to get printed its translation which I am sending you also in French; this is for the congregation and for Propaganda and to be used to study the language a little by comparing the translation which one understands, with the original, which would not be understood without that.
I am also sending you a New Zealand language grammar which I have made in Latin so it can be used by any priest coming to the mission, and for Propaganda.
I am sending you as well a list of New Zealand words which, having been learned by heart, help you quickly to speak.
Finally I am sending you a simplification or notes on the English and French languages; it is of great use in helping quickly to speak English.
If you could get made for me one or two thousand copies of the summary of Catholic doctrine in the New Zealand language, what a benefit it would be for this country. Our printing press is not going very well, and then we are very short of time.
If it were possible that the missionaries that you are sending me or intend to send me left, two or three or as many as possible, every six months, to come to me in my mission, it would be a great benefit for the mission and my correspondence. Your letters only come to me with the missionaries-to-be. I have received from you only two letters by another way. But might the men come directly to the Bay of Islands where I am; it is wrong to go and visit our missions and carry out distributions of things to the missionaries before coming to the Vicar-Apostolic especially when he demands that for the letters. The last men who came really lengthened their journey by going to visit the missions of Wallis and Futuna before coming to me. To travel via Cape Horn, to stop in the neighbouring mission[4] and at the mission stations of my jurisdiction, it’s too long. Without special help from God the mission here would have collapsed because of the delay of the missionaries.
+ J(ean) B(aptis)te F(ranç)ois
Bishop of Maronea, Vic(ar) Ap(ostolic)
PS I have just received two letters, one from you (December 1838) and the other from the priest-novices of the Society of Mary. At the first opportunity I will reply to them.
PS2 I really need one or two men strong in knowledge, virtue and leadership to become pro-vicars and prefects-apostolic. I also need a priest and, if it were possible, one of those whom I could use as a pro-vicar for the southern part of the mission; I need, I say, someone who has a strong grasp of the religious and apostolic spirit of religious life with knowledge of the rules of the Society and a good knowledge of religious principles, in order to make him responsible for specially watching over the living out of the rule and the sanctification of the men in their state. If you could send me Father Chanut, Father Lagniet and Father Forest, whom I know well, I would be very happy, and that without counting the other good men that you have. You see, Reverend Father, there are enough priests in France for the salvation of the French, that the Society is bringing about salvation here in the mission of Polynesia which as at least twelve or fifteen million people.
I believe further that it would be good to send one of my priests from the mission to France for the real benefit of the mission: letters are not enough; someone would be needed who could speak to the Holy See and to the Superior-General of the Society about all the matters concerning my mission. If I had plenty of men and one of them was really familiar with my running of things here, it would be possible that in a few years I could make the journey with a priest. I would visit the Holy See, leave the priest with the congregation to concern himself specially with the mission under your delegated authority: his knowledge of places and all the circumstances would make his correspondence very useful.
The Brothers whom Father Champagnat has sent seem to me to be fine men, but they have little training in social skills and are not level-headed. May piety and religious exercises never harm our spiritual and corporal families for the service of God. All yours in J(esus) C(hrist) and Mary.
+ J(ean) B(aptis)te François
PS3 On my behalf, please send to Propaganda in Rome everything I am sending you in the New Zealand language along with the translations: take a copy of everything and keep the original or the copy as you see fit.
+ J(ean) B(aptis)te François


  1. Lorient (Morbihan) – a port in Brittany. L’Orion, captain Modeste François Baxter, was at the Bay of Islands from 28 July until 15 August 1839, and from 23 December 1839 until 12 January 1840, and got back to Nantes on 14 August 1840 (information received from Peter Tremewan 28 June 2008).
  2. Autographie, a process similar to lithography, which used a different ink composition. - translator’s note
  3. Réquiert should be read as requérir
  4. That is, the mission of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Picpus, in the Gambier Islands, where the missionaries of the second dispatch called in March 1839 (cf Doc 32 [1] f/n 2; Laval p183-4)

Previous Letter List of 1839 Letters Next letter