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31 July 1841 — Father Jean-Baptiste Epalle to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Mary Williamson, September 2020

Based on the document sent, APM 00c 418.1.

Double sheet of paper. In the register of letters, ED 1, bearing the number 72.

Bay of Islands New Zealand 31 July 1841.
[in the margin]
I have started numbering my letters. In this one, number 9, is included the letter that I wrote to you from Valparaiso, that I doubt that you received, as well as the one that was enclosed, amongst others one to Mr Rony, professor of ethics at the theological seminary.[1]

To the Superior General.

My Very Reverend Father,
The Bishop left the day before yesterday [2] from the Bay of Islands for a voyage of about three months around the North Island and the central area. It is an apostolic expedition. Five priests are with His Lordship, Fathers Viard, Baty, Séon, Borjon and Rozet. [3] Father Baty is destined for Auckland, the capital, on the Thames; Father Borjon for Maketu, a large tribe, aggressive and perhaps the most cannibalistic in New Zealand. The high chief of this tribe was in the Bay of Islands before these Fathers arrived; he had come to search for a priest and did not wish to leave without one. Father Rozet will stay in Opotiki, and Father Viard in Mahia, but he will only stay there for a month to six weeks to instruct the natives during the time that the Bishop travels to Port Nicholson, Akaroa and Otago. When he returns, the ship will pick him up again to take him back to the Bay of Islands. Father Séon is going to replace Father Tripe in Akaroa and Father Tripe will probably go to the tropics as is his wish. Father Petit is assigned to the tribes of the Kaipara and Ahipara, which are a three day walk from one another. He is the travelling missionary. Father Servant will remain in charge of the mission in Hokianga and so that he might more easily do battle with the tribes, Father Roulleaux is being sent to present mass instead of at the establishment where he will do his theology. From time to time someone will check on him. Father Comte is in Akaroa, Father Pezant has taken the place of Father Viard in Tauranga. Father Petit-Jean is still in charge of the mission at Whangaroa, but at present he is absent for a short while, the work in the Bay of Islands, where I find myself trying to practice the ministry alone, being more extensive and more urgent. In the absence of the Bishop and with the procure, which I am still in charge of, creating a burden which you are far from understanding, our distress increases terribly and causes great heartache.
In the Bay of Islands there are Brother Augustin, Brother Basile, Brother Colomb, Brother Emery and Brother Pierre-Marie [4] who studies philosophy, all these fine brothers full of good will, are far from being able to face up to all their work. Brother Elie is at Whangaroa where he will soon be able to subsist on the fruits of his labours; Brother Florentin, at Akaroa; Brother Claude-Marie at Hokianga. He is a model of enlightenment, but incapable of being in any way helpful with his work. It is necessary here, so as not to be dependent, to know how to combine the duties of Martha with those of Mary. [5] Brother Justin is going to Maketu with Father Bourgon, Brother Euloge is helping the clergy on board the Sancta Maria, the mission’s ship. Father Rozet and Father Pezant have two former sailors, both Frenchmen, at their service. Father Petit will only have natives for the moment; he has not yet got somewhere to live.
I have only, up till now, mainly informed you of the dry facts, the ones that I thought would interest you alone and would be useful to you, enabling you to understand our needs and the qualities that one should have to be sent out, so allow me now to continue. The young Englishman who I spoke to you about in my last letter has begun his novitiate; he will probably go to Lyon to finish it, he is a fish that I caught: I asked the Holy virgin for him, so that he could at least contribute to doing, in our beloved Oceania, the good that, by my own fault I have failed to do. He is called Henry Garnett. If you pray for him, my Reverend Father, everything will go well. He is the first fruits of our much-loved Oceania and of England, that nation whose conversion the Society should have such a large part of: the conversion of England! Should I say it? The conversion of the universe. England is the universal nation. I am tempted to suggest to you the setting up of some prayers for the conversion of that nation. If one day I see the accomplishment of this work, I will say from the depths of my heart: nunc dimittis. [6] A house in England, My Reverend Father, which at first would seem like a procure, how many interested people would it attract? But we still need a house in New Zealand, independent from the mission, that would nevertheless serve it admirably: The reasons for this seem to me very clear. Do you begin to understand me?
I will go back to my starting details: Fathers Chanel, Bataillon and Chevron are still at their same posts as are Brothers Marie-Nizier, Joseph and Attale. (I will not mention Brother Amon, you already know about his sad end, nor of ex-Brother Michel who is not even still a Christian, I spoke to you about him in my letter of August 1840.) [7] Before he left the Bishop named as provincial Father Garin, who resides in the Bay of Islands and who has no other responsibilities than those that his position requires. He will sometimes have to practice the blessed ministry, but always having to give priority to the duties of his primary position. Everything seems to be settling down on a good footing and seems to me to be in good hands. At our last spiritual gathering there were five priests, all made a culp.[8] The Bishop has named some more pro-vicars, one for the whole mission, placing him mainly in the area of his residence from which he is absent on his travels for the most part of the year; another one to accompany him on his long and frequent voyages, a third to fill the position in Auckland, capital of the colony and residence of the governor. These numerous appointments fit in well with our knowledge of the English and the natives and one can say ad majorem Dei gloriam et Dei genitricis honorem. Father Baty is in Auckland. Father Viard is accompanying the Bishop. I retain the Bay of Islands. Ora pro nobis.
If the delayed plans eventuate (at the moment they are embroiled in doubts), the Bishop, when he returns, will leave for the tropics with Fathers Viard and Tripe. There, if circumstances permit, the following will take place: Father Chanel, pro-vicar for the whole mission and especially for the tropics and Father Tripe will establish themselves on Wallis and will sometimes visit Futuna. Wallis should be all, or almost completely, converted. Father Bataillon wrote not long ago: The Good Lord has provided me with 1200 novices. He was still waiting for the Bishop to come and carry out numerous baptisms. It has been said to us that these people, despairing of obtaining from the King the liberty of embracing the religion of the one true God, saw a ship arrive in their port and went in a crowd to ask the captain if he would be kind enough to take them to Futuna so that they would be free to practice their religion and receive baptism. Father Bataillon, hearing of their request , hurried to say to the King: Would you rather see your people abandon you than grant them the favour that they have been requesting for so long. The King, moved to tears replied: May my people be free and may they stay here. But let me get back to the matter in hand, according to this plan, Father Bataillon and Father Chevron will go to Tonga-Tapu or to Fiji, but probably to Tonga-Tapu where the Protestant ministers have been chased away by those that they call the devils and who they wished to subdue with firearms and using a warship. These devils are the people who refuse to embrace reform and who, we are assured, demand Catholic priests. From the islands, the Bishop should go to Valparaiso and from there to Europe with Father Viard. If this plan fails, I will probably be sent to Europe when the Bishop returns. Fiat Dei voluntas. [9]
I see that I was mistaken, I thought that I still had one blank page. I began this letter to let you know about a draft that the Bishop, before he left, asked me to draw on you and as that is now necessary, I see this instruction in triplicate on another separate sheet of paper and this one, with some others, will leave at the same time as the first copy.
[on an angle in the margin] [7]
As I am writing to you personally, my Reverend Father, it is understood that, if you are happy with it, what I say is kept private. For the details that are not private, whenever I find it possible I will take pleasure in passing them on to others myself, so as not to burden you too much and get the task done: inter seipsos frequens communicatio. Your loving son, Epalle, pro-vicar apostolic.


  1. Pierre-François Ennemond Rony (1806-1891), Sulpician priest, Professor of theology in the Paris seminary, then in that of Lyon (from 1831 till 1844; in 1845 he was named Superior of the seminary in Bordeaux (cf. Bertrand, t. 12, p. 179; Almanach of Lyon 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834; Annuaire de Lyon 1841 and 1844). He was son of Ennemond-Thomas Rony and Madeleine Durand, of Montbrison, diocese of Lyon; received the tonsure at the cathedral of Lyon on 16 June 1821 from Bishop Morel of Mons, bishop of Mende, and the sub-diaconate in Lyon from the Bishop of Pins on 3 April 1824 (cf. AAL, register of ordination, under these dates). No doubt he received the diaconate and the priesthood at the seminary of Saint-Suplice in Paris.
  2. According to Garin, Baty and Pompallier the departure was on 23 July (cf. doc. 111, § 4; 114, § 3; 217, § 1; 218, § 13). No doubt the author began this letter two days after the 23 July and did not finish it till 31st.
  3. The proposed destinations of these priests have not eventuated, except in the case of Borjon and Rozet. Séon is stationed in Matamata rather than Akaroa. (cf. doc. 102, § 2, n. 2; 114, § 3; 124, § 7; 866, § 6-7). Viard does not stay for a certain period of time in Mahia, as predicted, but stays with Pompallier to accompany him to Akaroa (cf. unpublished letter of 14 September 1841 from Viard to Epalle, APM OOc 418.22; cf. also doc. 117, § 2). It is Baty who is left on the Mahia peninsular in a place called Te Araroa (cf. doc. 113, n. 1; 114, § 5-6).
  4. Brother Augustin (Joseph Drevet) left Bordeaux in September 1838 with the second group of missionaries. Brother Basile (Michel Monchanin), Brother Colomb (Pierre Poncet), Brother Emery (Pierre Roudet), Brother Pierre-Marie Pérénon and Brother Justin (Etienne Perret) were part of the fifth group of missionaries, who left on 8 December 1840 from London and arrived in New Zealand on 15 June 1841. Brother Pierre-Marie Pérénon will work in the Bay of Islands for five or six years, then, because of his health, he will return to France where he will fill several posts in the establishments of the Brothers until 1868; He dies at the Hermitage in 1873 (cf. Borne and Sester, Letters from Champagnat, t. 2, p. 425). Brother Elie-Régis (Ettienne-Marin) and Brother Florentin (Jean-Baptiste Françon), having left Bordeaux in September 1838, are in New Zealand from 14 June 1839. Brother Claude-Marie (Jean-Claude Bertrand), having left Brest on 10 February 1840, arrived in New Zealand on 11 July of the same year.
  5. Reference to the tasks of Martha and Mary on the occasion of a visit from Jesus: Lk. 10:38-42.
  6. Lk. 2:29: Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace. (This day, Master, thou givest thy servant his discharge in peace; now thy promise is fulfilled.) This statement from the old man Simeon, after having seen the Messiah, is used to imply that one is free to die after having seen one’s dearest wishes accomplished.
  7. Cf. his letter of 31 August 1840 (doc. 72, § 3-5).
  8. A religious practice whereby one publicly acknowledges transgressions of the rule or other failings.
  9. May god’s will be done (Cf. Matt. 6:10; Matt. 26:42; Luke 22:4; Acts. 21:14: texts already cited in the note, doc. 98, § 3, n. 4).