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31 May 1841 —- Father Catherin Servant to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Hokianga

Translated by Mary Williamson, February 2020

Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.

Sheet of four written pages.

[p.4] [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
New Zealand / Hokianga 31 May 1841 / Father Servant

31 May 1841. Hokianga New Zealand.

Very Reverend and dear Superior,
When writing to me on 5 January 1840, you asked me for a confidential letter. As I believe that I have already responded to your wishes in at least two letters that I sent you in preceding years, that speak of the things that you wish to know, I thought that you would not find it unsuitable that the reply to your last letter differed according to the circumstances and to my occupations. I returned to Hokianga about eleven months ago. I found the mission in a very poor state; scandals with the whites, the relentlessness of the heretics, the moving of our establishment, the departure of the Bishop from Hokianga in the preceding year, all that had put the natives in a state of coldness and indifference, they almost never came to our residence any more.
About ten months ago, the Bishop sent Father Petit, whom he gave me as superior, to Hokianga. Father Petit was sent to Hokianga to replace Father Baty. Whatever the case may be, both of them are well received and loved by the natives, who admire Father Petit’s enthusiastic and lively nature and Father Baty’s goodness of heart and perfection in their language. Now the natives are more cooperative and, as they become more enlightened they become less greedy and less troublesome. But, according to my way of seeing things, the work in the mission at Hokianga will be lengthy because here the natives are too widespread and there are many difficulties to overcome. This particular mission is very different, according to me, from those in the tropics where infidelity is almost the only battle and where the main mass of people can be won over when one has their confidence.
As for the rest, Very Reverend Superior, I cannot tell you anything about the other missions, not knowing anything about them myself.
But now I want to speak to you about my current position. Before leaving the Bay of Islands, the Bishop gave me to understand that when this mission was running, I would leave for the tropics. As well, since then I understood that soon I would be employed in a way that would provide services to the mission, but in what way? I do not yet know anything about it. I do not like hearing confession for the English because of the difficulty that I have in understanding people with a rapid and breathy pronunciation. But it is not the same with the natives whose sonorous pronunciation I understand quite well and whose candour and simplicity I like very much. As well, I find that the ministry here is too complicated for me; that is why I lean more towards work in the tropics. My health is good, but my temperament is fragile. Although the climate is quite temperate, I think that for my weaknesses the climate of the tropics would suit me better. However, may God’s will be done; I peacefully await the decision that will be made on my behalf. Now I think that the clouds have faded away and I have surfaced again, at least I am not aware of anything to the contrary. Although I have learned that I am reproached for having an independent spirit. I admit this fault in me; I am quite fond of my small freedoms, but nevertheless, it seems to me, if I am not mistaken, that I love the duty of obedience. As for the regulations, it often happens that I only partly fulfil them when I am amongst the natives. I dearly wish that with your help someone might be given the special task of having frequent contact with us to watch over us and inspire us with the religious spirit, or at least maintain it. The reason that I have this desire is that in the midst of the multiple occupations of the holy ministry and this lifestyle which is almost always outdoors, it is easy to forget the inner spirit, if a prophet does not come to say to us: tu es ille vir. [1] This could apply especially to me personally, as the priests that you have sent up till now and that I have known, are very fervent. I cannot tell you anything about the Brothers; I only see Brother Claude Marie, who is here with us and who is very pious.
Father Petit has been absent for two months; I presume that he will not be long in coming back.
In concluding, Very Reverend Father, I would remind you of a thought that you expressed in one of your letters, your wish that I might become a saint, but I ask you to create a blessed upheaval in the heart of Jesus and Mary so that I might be fortunate enough to become one. I hope that your kindness will achieve this blessing through the power of prayers and by the good advice that you will give me yourself, or by the holy leaders who will represent you in these distant missions.
Please accept, very reverend and dear Father in Mary, my deep respect and affection.
Your very humble, very obedient and very devoted,
Servant, missionary apostolic.
P.S. I forgot to mention the dangers that you asked me about. Here is what I think, these thoughts only come from me: The risk of losing my life amongst the natives is non-existent. The danger of losing one’s life whilst sailing is possible, if one does not take care in bad weather. The danger as far as the heretics are concerned is because of their hateful attitude towards the Catholic mission, but the number of whites who think of putting up obstacles are few and besides we have strong support among the natives. The danger where morals are concerned can exist because of the simplicity of the natives, but for me, up till now, I see this sort of danger as less than in civilised countries. The natives tell us about a Protestant minister’s scandalous life, among others, in all its details.


  1. 2 Sam 12.7: Dixit autem Nathan ad David: Tu es ille vir. Haec dicit Dominus Deus Israel: Ego unxi te in regem super Israel, et ego erui te de manu Saul (Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man. This is the word of the Lord God of Israel to you: “I anointed you king over Israel, I rescued you from the power of Saul.)

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