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23 May 1840 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Father Pierre Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, Nov-Dec 2012

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
St Mary’s Mission, New Zealand
Bay of Islands
23 May 1840

To Father Colin Senior, Superior of the novitiate of the priests of the Society of Mary in Lyons, France

Reverend Father, The peace of Christ
I have just this moment learned that a ship is going to leave here directly for London; it is a favourable opportunity to quickly send some sign of life. The time is short, but I am taking advantage of it all the same; even if it is only to tell you that for more than 15 months, indeed, I have been wanting to write to you, without having been able to find more time than for my mission administration letters only. I will indeed tell you once more to pray for us, for this new flock, and for me in particular, who have such formidable responsibilities and so great an account to render to the sovereign pastor of souls who has entrusted so many of them to me here. If your devoted charity did not assure me that you did not need my requests, and that you pray and urge others to pray very much in the novitiate for everything I suggest in substance, I would go on at greater length on the matter. How fortunate you are, Reverend Father, to pray peacefully in retreat, and to see before your eyes growing in all the virtues and the knowledge of the saints the beloved novices whom the Lord is sending you to add to the numbers of the Society of our good Mother and powerful queen. You carry out your holy exercises without harassment, you are there, quite close to Fourvière, under Mary’s wings, so to speak. How much necessary help comes to us here from that blessed hill and from the august mother and the tender children she has gathered into her presence. It is from communities, from novitiates that the Lord is waiting for those prayers from the just man, which are worth a great deal in his sight to gain us victory over the enemies of salvation. How fortunate I would see myself if I had only a week to spend, like you and your novices, in solitude with God alone. But alas, that opportunity will never be given me! Happy seminary days, happy retreat days – what have you become for me! If God allowed me, one day, to make a journey to Europe, how delighted I would be to visit the first novitiate, the first cradle of the children of Mary! But I have to look to heaven where our crowns are! There it is that we must meet! This whole life is no more than a longer or shorter novitiate for entering the sublime profession of the immortal community of the saints in heaven. In this way of seeing things we are all novices, even the Bishops. So pray that my novitiate be truly good for me, so that the salvation of a great number of my whole flock can be brought about.
I wrote to you on 15th August 1839, that is, to your whole house, the novices and the directors of the novitiate of the priest of Mary in Lyons.[1] Has my letter got to you? It had been dated the 20th August rather than the 15th as I have just said, as I see now by notes I have before me. As a copy of the same letter was done on the copying machine, I see there what I said, which, except for a word forgotten while writing, would be a mistake; it is the one near the first lines of the third page: Mary the Queen, the mother of Jesus Christ and of all his own; after the word ‘queen’ should be added ‘of heaven’ which was omitted, in the host of distractions with which people beset me by coming from all directions to speak to me when I am writing, just as when I am not writing; although the most blessed Virgin is worthy of our deepest homage and very special love, and although it was said of J(esus) C(hrist) in relation to her and S(ain)t Joseph – “he was subject to them”,[2] it would be however a mistake to say that Mary is the queen of J(esus) C(hrist) because her authority was that of a mother, but not that of sovereignty, in respect of his being human; J(esus) C(hrist) is the King of Kings, the King of angels and men, even of his divine mother. I am certain that your faith and your piety were not scandalised by the expression to which I have just given the completion it lacked, but (that) you readily understood that a word had been missing from it through inadvertence.
I won’t give you much news now, because a lot of letters have gone in your direction; they do contain many details on our Oceania missions.
My aim in writing to you today is firstly to express to you my gratitude for the episcopal rings you have sent me. They came at a very appropriate time, because the one from my consecration in Rome was broken almost two years ago, and another which I had brought from France was also broken a few days after I had received yours. I would have only had left the one which the Bishop of the Canary Island[3] sent me as a gift when I made a call at Santa Cruz. That ring is very precious, not just because of the august personage who gave it to me, but even more because of its cost. I use it only on major solemnities, and now one of those you were so kind to send me is being used by me every day as a reminder of you and as an habitual sign of the holy union which intimately binds the Bishop to his flock and the flock to the Bishop, of that sort of totally spiritual marriage which makes the Bishop a spouse of the Church which is entrusted to him. Your gift is therefore very dear to me, Reverend Father.
Another reason for my letter is to inform you of the letters we have sent to the Society and other people in Europe. They have almost all gone by ships sailing from the Bay of Islands to ports in France. The most recent were taken by the whaling ship Pallas intending to go to Le Havre de Grace. They were entrusted to the captain himself, whose name I have forgotten and who is American by nationality or at least by birth. Please be so kind as to inform the Reverend Father General, your brother, about it.
When I am writing routine correspondence about administrative matters, I am careful to number my letters, so that the addressees can easily know which are delayed, and thus as well it can be seen if they all get to you. The two letters addressed by me to the Reverend Father General should bear the numbers 20 and 21, but being in a hurry because the ship leaving was raising its anchor, I didn’t have the time to check my notes to find out exactly the numbers I should have given to them. Accordingly, they bear no number but their dates should identify them: they are dated (Bay of Islands, 14 Mary 1848).[4] All these letters contain a lot of news about the mission.
The much greater part of the North Island of New Zealand has turned to the Catholic faith; everywhere, with God’s help, that I have been able to get to, the people have not hesitated to prefer the ministry of the ‘trunk[5] church to that of a host of all sorts of novelties and error. About one hundred and thirty leagues in length, and 30 to 40 in width are the dimensions of the territory I have visited and (to which) I have sent some of our confrères to carry on and complete the work begun. Five separate stations have been set up, abundant fruits of salvation have been gathered. But what a huge gap is yet to be filled, how many tribes are awaiting the (fulfilment of the) promises which I have made them, to send the priests and catechists from the Society of Mary. Alas, how I suffer until I can fulfil them. Lord Jesus, send workers into your vineyard![6] All sorts of enemies of salvation surround the tribes and spew forth a host of lies, calumnies and errors against me and the Church itself. Ah! Beloved Society of Mary and you, priests of the Lord who are so many in France and in the neighbouring countries, come here to gather souls in thousands! How many holy neophytes and what multitudes of catechumens are left with some knowledge of the true faith without being able to progress further, because of a lack of priests to teach them! Oh all of you, faithful (members) of the Church, pray very much for us! I am waiting most impatiently for the priests whose planned departure on 8 October 1839[7] I heard of with joy by means of a letter from Father Poupinel dated the preceding May or June. Many remembrances in Jesus and Mary to all your beloved novices, to Father Girard,[8] your respected assistant, to our very beloved confrères of the Society who are with you and elsewhere, to our dear brothers and sisters in the Third Order, to our cloistered Sisters from whom I never receive any news, while many other communities and souls whom I have asked [in the margin and crosswise] tell me something in their remembrances in the Lord and of the zeal for my flock. I very much regret that my overwhelming and consoling works prevent me from making prompt replies to the many and dear people who have written to me. I hope to deal with most of them soon. I am truly grateful to Father Foret and Father Poupinel for their interesting letters. My greetings in Our Lord to Father Cholleton,[9] to Father Cattet de St Paul, to Father Marion of Fourvières, to Father Neirat, parish priest of St Francis, to Father Gury, a Jesuit, to the Reverend parish priest of St Irenaeus, to the good Father Rouchon of Valbenoite, to Father Terraillon, to Father Champagnat and Father Séon, to dear Father Déclas etc etc etc. May the blessing of the Good Shepherd come down on you all, may his love grow every day in our hearts, may Mary’s protection be forever over you, your works and the people who are entrusted to us.
+ François, Bishop, Vic(ar) Ap(ostolique) of W(estern) Oc(eania)


  1. Cf. Doc 35
  2. Luke 2:51: Then he went down with them to Nazareth, where he was subject to them.
  3. Thadée Joseph Romo, Bishop of the diocese of las Canarias, living in the island of Great Canary (cf Doc 12 [49])
  4. Cf Docs 58 and 59
  5. A favourite visual aid used by the Catholic missionaries to explain the relationship between the Catholic Church and the other churches was as drawing of a tree with many branches (broken off). The Catholic Church was shown as the trunk, the other churches as branches - translator’s note
  6. Cf Matt 9:38 and Luke 10:2: So pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest.
  7. The missionaries of the fourth group did not leave until 10th February 1840. They will arrived at the Bay of Islands on 11th July 1840 (Docs 64 [1], 86 [3], 143m [1]). Those in the third group arrived at the Bay of Islands on the 9th or 10th December 1839 (cf Docs 47 [2], 62 [2], 81 [1])
  8. No doubt Claude Girard
  9. Jean Cholleton, vicar-general of Bishop de pins (1824-39), suggested the name of Pompallier for the Oceania mission, was professed a Marist in 1841; Jean-François Cattet, parish priest of St Paul’s in Lyons; Father Marion, first penitentiary at Our Lady of Fourvière in Lyons; Camille Neyrat, parish priest of St Francis de Sales in Lyons; Jean-Bapitste Gury, a Jesuit priest; Jean-Bapitste Durand, parish priest of St Irenaeus in Lyons; Jean-Bapitste Ronthon, parish priest of Valbenoite; the four last-mentioned were Marist priests: Etienne Teraillon, Marcellin Champagnat, Etienne Séon and Etienne Declas.

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