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Father Petit-Jean to Father Paillasson, Wangaroa, 18 Mar 1840

Translated by Ronja Skandera, University of Waikato. 2008


Edited by William Jennings, University of Waikato.


Under the protection of Mary
conceived without sin


New Zealand, Wangaroa March 18, 1840


My dear brother,
[1]
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and with all my relatives and friends. In November I wrote you a letter from Sydney, which you have no doubt received. There were several letters in the same envelope; among them one for our cousin Noyé, and one for our Carmelite. Since these letters, the Society of Mary must have received others from my colleagues announcing our successful arrival in New Zealand. These were carried by French whalers returning directly to France, but I was no longer in the Bay of Islands and so this favourable opportunity to write to you was not available to me. At the news of a troop of missionaries arriving in New Zealand, several tribal chiefs hastened to demand the Bishop for a missionary, determined not to return without a priest. Our good Bishop was therefore forced, as it were, to satisfy these fine people. We had hardly a moment to console and rejoice each other; we had to prepare ourselves for yet again a separation. Such is, my dear brother and friend, the earthly life of the religious. To be everywhere in passing, never to grow fond of person nor place, or at least being prepared to forsake all at the first sign of the Lord’s will. One must be ready at all times to leave for a new destination where the Lord will have prepared new friends, new brothers. This certainly contradicts nature, but while the flesh grieves the spirit rejoices, and the heart grows and becomes yet more apostolic.
[2]
Of the four new arrivals to New Zealand, only one of us has remained near the Bishop; another was sent to the tropical islands Wallis and Fortunat, a third priest was given to the establishment in Hokianga. Finally the fourth one left with another Father for a new mission in a place named after the river that flows through it, Wangaroa. I am the fourth priest. The Lord esteemed me worthy of this portion of His vine. I thank Him for this. Our residence in Wangaroa is situated approximately 20 leagues from the Bay of Islands, a little to the north. Fortunately the Father I accompanied was already somewhat familiar with the language of the Maori. Without him what could I have done alone with these people? At present, thank the Lord, I too am beginning to understand the language of my new fellow-citizens, or rather my new brothers in Jesus Christ. I can even stammer a few words on the mysteries of our holy religion and the spirit of God finishes what I cannot, speaking to the depths of their hearts in a clearer and more eloquent manner. The Maori language does not greatly resemble our European languages. It is very basic in its function; it has few words and a great number are composed in a simple manner. It seems to me that three months of studying Maori books with a translation, as well as practising small conversations, are enough to speak even with a certain ease. The pronunciation is not at all difficult, especially for the French. But I confess to you that it is almost impossible to apply oneself fully to anything, so overwhelmed are we with occupations. Those that are purely material often consume much time. It is remarkable to observe in particular our Bishop, who has so few priests for such a vast vicariate, fulfilling all the functions of Bishop, of priest and sometimes even of schoolmaster, businessman and interpreter. He has obliged respect even from the English for his kindness and his manners. When one considers the progress of the Catholic faith in New Zealand, one does not hesitate to recognise great skill in him.
[3]
My dear friend, forgive me for not giving you details in this letter about the country. I write you only to announce my arrival and, to use the language of the New Zealanders, my letter and my words are nothing more than a letter and words of love. Without a doubt there would be interesting things to relate about the customs of these people; the manner in which they greet each other or rather the way they touch each other nose to nose (I allowed my nose to be touched in this way several times by the nose of a chief, I did not believe I should prevent him), the way they harangue while they walk, beating themselves and making many a gesture, their food, their tears and songs of love between people who love each other and who have endured long periods of time without seeing each other. Let us save these things for another time. I will have made better observations. The New Zealand landscape is largely covered by ferns that are burnt in those parts of the land that the people want to cultivate. Here the season now is autumn. The only fruit this season yields are peaches; they were originally imported, I think. They are taste good and are abundant. Their season is drawing to an end now. If only I could send you one along with this letter. It would be a curiosity at this time in France, you would receive it only a little late and at a similar time in which peaches are eaten in France. New Zealand is rich in timber. I was told recently of the size of a tree whose size seemed a phenomenon difficult to believe; according to what I was told, this tree is 13 to 14 feet in diameter. It remains standing, defying all the saws in the world.
[4]
What made me determined not to delay writing to you is the presence of a French whaler ready to set sail for France. Provided that my letter arrives in the Bay of Islands in time, all will be well. Let it be enough at the moment for you to know that I am well, that I am happy; that few days pass, that none pass without me thinking of you and of our families. It is while you are sleeping that I think of you, for here, finding myself almost in the antipodes or even simply on the other side of the meridian, I am awake while you sleep. I think of you, of my parents, of all my friends, especially to commend them to God. Imagine with what ardour I desire your salvation if the salvation of strangers resolved me to leave the people I hold the dearest in the whole world. Yes, God is my witness, to speak like Saint Paul, God is my witness that I continually remember you all in my prayers and that I tell Him from the depths of my heart: My Lord, save my dear parents, save all those I love with the same love with which you loved your [mother] and disciple John. On this earth I have distanced myself from them, I have lost them for the love of You; deign one day to return them to me in Heaven, where I will never lose them again. Far as I am from you, death will successively take from me my relatives and friends, and I will not learn of this until a long time after. But may they console themselves, for I think of them before God in whichever state they may be, whether alive or dead, healthy or sick. If my prayers merit any confidence, I promise often to raise the holy victim especially for them. If they are held in the flames of purgatory, I will pour out the divine chalice, preferably towards them, and then I shall not pray alone but our Lord shall pray with me. I also hope, indeed am certain, that I will not be forgotten and that through prayer I will be assisted in life and death, and the Heavens will also pour more blessing upon my apostolic work. How often I take a turn along the bay where the water at high tide almost bathes the stairs to our house, contemplating upon the instability of human life, recounting for example all the changes that occurred in our two houses in only a few years. I am singularly delighted at the thought that you are not one of those ambitious people who continually want to advance without end and without measure. I know that you yearn for peace, peace of the perfect virtue. More so are you eager to pass on to your children the untarnished inheritance of faith and piety, such as you received it from your parents, in preference to great riches.
[5]
In my letter written from Sidney, I spoke to you of Methodist missionaries living in the Bay of Islands. If this is what I wrote, I must retract those words. There are Methodists in Hokianga I believe; in the Bay of Islands and elsewhere they are generally missionaries who are simply called English. Without doubt they were sent a long time ago with two purposes, to win these people over to English beliefs, then to submit them to their authority; in a word, to make them as English as possible. And now the government of that nation has taken possession of the country in the name of Queen Victoria and it seems that soon New Zealand will be functioning as an English colony. Praise God, the priest does not distinguish between nations, he desires salvation for the whole world. This situation will accelerate all types of our establishments and give them more security especially the establishments for women. The authorities, especially the governor, is far from showing himself hostile towards the Bishop who received his visit. The site of the capital has not yet been chosen, apparently.
[6]
The Bishop is in dire need of priests and brothers. This is one of the missions that also requires the most money as the people of this country do not have clothes, blankets, etc., and appeal mainly to good deeds. Later we will teach them to manage alone by showing them how to obtain these objects by themselves.
[7]
I do not have much paper left. I will content myself by mentioning a few names here that are very dear to me: your father, your sister, our cousin Noyé, cousin Besson, Mr and Mrs Court.
[8]
What can I say to Antoinette and Eléonore, except that I love them and that from afar I give them the same service that I would have given them from close by, yet better still, by praying for them. Have Angèle, the only reasonable one of the sisters, recite a small prayer for her uncle should you one day go to Fourvières. The names of the priest of Mornant and of his vicars must also find a place in my letter as they hold a place in my memory, also that of Mr Berloty. I willingly end my letter in the same way a Maori who wrote to me ended his: Go, my letter, go happily to he whom I love – then – great is my love for you.
[9]
I place my signature here. But before doing so, I embrace you, as well as Antoinette.
Jean Baptiste Petit-Jean
Marist Priest, Apostolic Missionary



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