From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

31 August 1840 — Father Jean-Baptiste Épalle to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Kororareka

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2012

NB I have already written a few lines to you in a letter to my parents via Valparaiso.

Kororareka, Bay of Islands New Zealand

31 August 1840

Very Reverend and dear Father
(for Reverend Father General only)
I don’t want to try to justify myself for such a long silence on my part, because I realise that no occupations, so many as they might be, can serve me for an excuse. I am personally quite surprised at having put off something needing to be done at any moment. So today I am making the promise that a New Zealander, far away from his beloved home territory, made, and I use the same language: “Blow, wind, blow, and carry in an instant my respects and my love to my good and tender Father.”[1]
Anyway, Reverend Father, it is hard for me to be forced to limit myself today to telling you things which will sadden your heart: but you really need to know that the great enemy of salvation does his work here as elsewhere; and his efforts and his anger are greater here than elsewhere, because it is extremely painful for him to see such a long reign pass into the hands of his powerful conqueror, our divine Saviour master Jesus Christ whose kingdom has no bounds, “from the rising of the sun to its setting”,[2] and to whom belongs the whole world and everything in it: “Mine is the whole earth and the fullness thereof”.[3]
Brother Michel[4] is no longer a member of the little family of Mary; he was dismissed from it more than a month ago, and he deserved to be for a long time, but the circumstances and a sign of hope that the measure taken would correct him led his Lordship Bishop Pompallier to put off such a painful matter; but the passion to steal is like that for wine; people overcome it only with difficulty especially when theft is committed to satisfy the even stronger passion, that of love. This wretch loved, it could be said, to distraction, a family. It was so he could give presents to this family that he stole things from the mission, and also in order to dress himself in a manner inappropriate for a Little Brother of Mary, to say no more. As soon as there were two stations in New Zealand, the Bishop hastened to distance him from the centre of his affections, but after a year, or almost a year of separation, they were as intense as ever, and the obligations of justice and religion were no better observed. Could the Blessed Virgin put up with such behaviour in her family? And she knows, that good Mother, about the shameful and too well founded suspicion about his behaviour that came down publicly on this wretch. What is quite certain is that his special affection is for the woman in the beloved family.
When I saw crossing his doorstep the one who had for a long time crossed that of religion, I choked back my tears. The wretch still had a heart of bronze, cum in profundum venerit, contemnit[5] How awful is that saying, “I will harden his heart”[6] And so it was the will of Jesus and Mary – may God be blessed.
That is not the end of it. We have to take stock of another desertion – Brother Amon[7] is no longer in our ranks. In a few words, here is his story: During the journey on the L’Aube coming to Oceania, this young man was caught out and perhaps punished for some failing by the Father responsible for carrying out the rule drawn up for the journey; he used that as an excuse to break away and saw himself from then on as independent. Having arrived in New Zealand, he said that he wanted to leave the mission. The Bishop has taken every prudential step possible to bring back that poor wretch to his duty, and it was only with difficulty that his Lordship eventually decided to give him a month to reflect on the situation. When this time was up, the young man declared that it was not because of what had happened on the ship that he was leaving, but rather because religious life was not his vocation. I entered religious life, he said, because my parents wanted me to marry a woman, while I wanted to marry another whom I loved, although she was not as well off. If I came here, it was only to distance myself from my parents. During the nearly two months he stayed in the mission, he acted like an upright man. Presently he is a cook in an hotel[8] near us. May the name of the Lord be blessed.[9] The former Brother Michel is probably in the Hokianga. It is known that he spent a few days with his beloved family, whose father is absent. May Mary not abandon him completely.
For the rest, let me say, Reverend Father, that these happenings do not create scandal here, where people are hardly aware of our Brothers’ activities. The harvest is great but the workers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest,[10] and that he prevent his enemy from snatching away the few who remain for him. You have to know the needs of the mission to experience how distressing such losses can be. May Mary see to it that those who remain may be worthy, insofar as a useless servant can be worthy.
So you see, Reverend Father, the need to carefully discern vocations. We need a great number of Brothers, but Brothers carefully chosen, men with skills, men in good health. In the midst of so many tasks, how can we employ a Brother who cannot do anything? The time has not yet come to employ him in teaching. We have to begin to attract the savages by something more human. We have to improve their material condition before moving into spiritual matters. It would be creating a really false idea of things if we believed that they have become spiritually minded as soon as they are told of the existence of one sole God, the superiority of the soul to the body, and the state of that soul after this life. In a word, we have to secure the savage before working to convert him, and he is secured by material good deeds. Besides he is, in this respect, in the greatest need. He is as naked as an earthworm, he has none of those things produced by industry. The kings and chiefs were delighted to have in their tribes, in their islands, Europeans who have trade skills, and who can make something for them, even if only a box to hold a shirt they have been given.
Ah! Reverend Father, when will the good God arrange that people in France become aware of the needs of this mission, the enormous amounts of money needed to do good, the vast extent of the harvest, its perfect maturity, the little ones wanted bread but there was no one to break it for them.[11] What am I saying? May it please God that someone cannot be found to break it for them. Because hunger would be really preferable to eating bread which is not the true bread of life; the flock would not be led into poisoned pastures; but these swarms of sects, as much divided among themselves as was their founder from the true Church, and most greatly united in calumniating the Church of Jesus Christ, have spread throughout the whole of Oceania with astounding zeal since Catholic teaching has come to disturb them in their temporal concerns.
We here noted with great disappointment the small amount of clothing that the last two dispatches have brought, and the hopes of our poor catechumens and newly-baptised have really been frustrated. I think that the clothes we left at St Etienne on our departure have not been sent. That matter must be taken up with Mlle Antonine Vocanson who, along with other pious women, should have augmented the amount which was already considerable. When I left I spoke to you about this work, and you urged me to encourage it, but not seeing any result, I fear that for some reason the work has been left undone; that is why I do not dare to write to them. Only I am, at last, sending a reply to Mlle Vocanson, to a request about which I cannot, perhaps, talk to you further. I am addressing this letter to our confrères at Valbenoîte who will only get the envelope. Please pass it on to them.
I hope that a later letter than this will however arrive beforehand, because this one is going to the whale fishery.[12] It will be the letter of a son to his father, it will be accompanied by several others, I hope, which will not have the merit of brevity.
The whole Oceanian family is well, and Fathers Petit and Tripe, who are at present at the Bay of Islands, join with me in asking for your blessing and an offering from us made through you to the good Mother; after having read that letter I am asking you for the same grace for all the members who are in Oceania and who are unaware that I am today making such a request to you. I am tempted to weep because I cannot speak to you any longer.
I am all yours in Jesus and Mary.
Epalle, mis(sionary) apost(olic)


  1. Perhaps a reference to a Maori proverb - translator’s note
  2. Cf Ps 49 (50):1 and Ps 112 (113):3
  3. Cf Ps 49 (50): 12
  4. Brother Michel Colombon (Cf Doc 71 [5]. f/u8 and also Doc 209 [10]
  5. Cf Proverbs 18:3 [Impius, cum in profundum venerit peccatorum, contemnit, sed sequitur eum ignominia et opprobrium – When the wicked come, scorn also comes, and offence brings shame].
  6. Cf Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 14:4
  7. Brother Amon (Claude Dupéron) Cf Doc 71 [4] f/n 6
  8. Read autel as hotel.
  9. “May the name of the Lord be blessed”. Cf Ps 112 (113):2; Job 1:21; Daniel 2:20
  10. Matt 9:37-38; Luke 10:2
  11. Lamentations 4:4. “Children ask for bread but no one gives them any.”
  12. He is going to send it by a whaling boat which will spend some time hunting whales before returning to France - translator’s note

Previous Letter List of 1840 Letters Next letter