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4 August 1840 — Father Claude-André Baty to Father Claude Girard, Hokianga

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2012

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)

New Zealand
Mission of St Joseph in Hokianga

4 August 1840

Reverend and dear Father[1]
How delighted I was to receive the fine letter you did me the honour of writing to me in May 1839. It was sent on to me by Father Comte in January 1840. I am very aware of the remembrance you gave me in Father Epalle’s letter in February, I think, 1840. The letter I had the honour to write you from here not having got to you, I am beginning again, a bit late, it is true, to converse with you again. This letter will not be so detailed as the first. I would only be able to tell you things you have probably been told of through the various letters which have been sent to France.
I am beginning by telling you that I recall with affection all the kindnesses you have always shown me. For my part, dear Father, I do not forget you, and although an unworthy child of Mary, I cherish in a special way those who are more worthy of that sweet title than I am. I call you to mind in the presence of Jesus and Mary, and I ask them to overwhelm you with their abundant blessings. Child of Mary as you are, as you see the family of your tender mother growing, your heart is truly joyful because of it. We, in these faraway lands, learn by word of mouth that the Society of Mary is growing! Truly, the heart rejoices, but it is not completely satisfied. Because in my situation, out of the way on the sides of the Hokianga River,[2] I don’t have the advantage of seeing the new collaborators who are coming from France. I only know things in a really superficial way. So I would like, and I ask you in all humility and for the love of Mary to grant my request, I would like to receive, with each dispatch of men, an account of the outward state of the Society and the names of the new priests who are members of it; if I do not deserve this favour from you, please ask some Fathers to grant it to me so that this news may serve me as an encouragement to make myself more and more a worthy child of Mary, and a missionary such as God would have me be, and to devote myself completely to the glory of Jesus and Mary.
You do not forget your brothers who have crossed the seas, Reverend Father. Your desires carry you into the midst of the peoples of Oceania, so as to tell them to come out of the deep darkness which hides the true light from them, to shake off the devil’s yoke so as to submit to that of their creator, that of their most loving Father and Mary their mother. If it is not Jesus’ will for you to cross the seas, he certainly wants you to think of those who have crossed them, that you pray for them and for those people entrusted to them. So raise your arms so we can win the victory.[3] How abundant is the harvest, but how weak are the workers![4] If the missionary’s heart rejoices when he sees he is leading a few souls along the pathways of virtue, how much he is saddened at seeing all those whom he cannot reach. He says to himself: wretch that I am, if a saint was here, he could gather together all the people I am losing, and his heart is overwhelmed with sorrow.
Yes, dear Father, we have achieved something in the Hokianga, but there is a lot more to be achieved yet; the rising generation will be, perhaps, easier to win over than that which has been so much imbued from infancy in every error, which has got old in sin and which is enslaved by the devil’s empire. But what am I saying: the rising generation: I do not know what will become of it with the crowds of Europeans, ships, trade, everything which does not create holiness. Take careful note that I am speaking to you about the Hokianga. It seems that in other places the natives are better disposed and have much fewer dealings with Europeans, if one excepts a very few ports. But I hear you saying to me: Make yourself holy and you will do what you wish.[5] That is true. I have to begin now because I have not done it yet, and God will look down mercifully on hearts who have never clearly known the truth. What a pity it is that these people live scattered about and cannot be gathered together to be truly instructed: how good they would be! What development of character! What innocence! What affection they have even now when they are only half-instructed! They have changed for the worse in several matters through contact with the Europeans. O you who are forming missionaries,[6] tell them they must be saints and allow their zeal to grow; an abundant harvest awaits them. Please commend me to the prayers of your fervent novices and to those of all the Fathers you see, and to whom I offer my sincere respects, particularly to the Very Reverend Father General and to the Reverend Father Director, etc. Please also, Reverend and dear Father, remember me in praying to Jesus and Mary. Please accept my affectionate respects and believe me to be
Your very humble and affectionate servant
Mis(sionary) ap(ostolic)


  1. Identified by a later hand “To Rev Fr Girard, Marist”
  2. From earliest European times the Hokianga harbour has also been named as a river. This is for good reason: the harbour is, like all the west coast North Island harbours from Kawhia northward, a drowned river valley in geomorphological terms. When the tide is on the ebb it flows at several knots, like the flow of a river - translator’s note
  3. Cf Exodus 17:10-13
  4. Cf Matt 9:37 and Luke 16:2
  5. Cf St Augustine: Ama et fac quod vis – Love and do what you desire (Rooted in charity, the Christian can do nothing wrong) - translator’s note
  6. Claude Girard, the addressee of this letter, was from 1838-1842 the master of novices, responsible for the formation of Marists, both missionaries and others.

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