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9 August 1841 — Father Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Mary Williamson, November 2020. See also extracts from this letter in a different translation.

Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.

Five sheets of paper sewn together, forming twenty written pages. In the register of letters ED 1, it was numbered 75.

I dedicate this letter to Mary, conceived without sin.
Everything for Jesus through Mary.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 9 August 1841.

To the very Reverend Father Colin, Superior, Lyon, France, 4 Saint Barthelemy Rise.

My Very Reverend Father and venerable Superior,
May I wish all the members of our Society the blessings and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Glory be constantly given to the merciful blessing of God for the abundant fruits of salvation that multiply in our mission. This New Zealand, so long hidden in the shadow of death, at last passes into the admirable light of the gospel; despite its distance and isolation, this land has not been able to escape the beneficial rays of the light of justice which should illuminate all the moral world, non est qui se absondat a calore ejus. [1] Nevertheless, while rejoicing in the present, I cannot help shuddering when I think back to the past. Sometimes I walk alone along the seashore and, stopping before the waves that are breaking at my feet, I wonder how many times this sea, in flowing in and out, has approached and withdrawn from this shore, without bringing the ships fortunate enough to carry ministers of salvation and deep sighs rise from my heart. Here I feel that one must remain silent and admire the justice of God, who usually withholds his visits of mercy as punishment for the dissolute ways and crimes of the people; how fortunate we are to be chosen by divine providence to be, at a certain time, the instruments of salvation amongst these poor people. I know my Reverend Father, that you will welcome with fatherly enthusiasm, all the little details that even the least important of your children will offer you.
The good Lord continues to give me an ever-growing love for the people committed to my care. Naturally one already tends to love a people blessed with great simplicity and an amazing intelligence, a people who are still childlike and whose needs rouse our pity and bring to us the core feelings of a father. Venerable Superior, I dare not speak ill of our dear children as you know, a father and mother hide the failings of their children. The New Zealander is angry and arrogant because his natural wildness has not yet been tamed by religion and he has in his character a depth of greatness which he uses wrongly. One must be patient, waiting for this soil, up till now lying fallow, to be cultivated, waiting for it to be watered by the sweat of the missionaries and then we will see it bear all sorts of abundant and delicious fruits. It is true that for nearly 30 years these people have been in the hands of certain Protestant ministers, but what a difference between the church of Jesus Christ, the true nourisher of people and the mistaken one which more or less gives the care of a stepmother. New Zealand has been frequented by Europeans for 40 years, but alas all the foreigners who abound on these shores do not set a good example, honest people have been troubled by many scandals. What can one expect of certain travellers who, in their relationships with other people, vaunt their vices, which will always be shameful in the view of an honest Christian. For me, amidst scandals from which we have not been able to protect our flock and of which they have all too often been the victims, I thank God for the good that has been done, I admire the strength of the blessings that triumph over the most terrible obstacles. My Reverend Father, my greatest pleasure is to find myself amidst my people. In my travels I have no other shelter than what they provide, I share their food, their potatoes, their kumara and their marrow. The Europeans sometimes say to me: Do as we do, on your travels take with you a supply of more substantial food. No, I say to them, to present the gospel proudly and successfully it is important to conform as much as possible to those to whom you are offering it; you must be everything to everybody, Greek to the Greeks, barbarian to the barbarians, French to the French, English to the English, in order to win everyone to Jesus Christ.[2] My Reverend Father, this sentence from the ecclesiastical story of Henrion in the tenth or eleventh volume passes through my mind. [3] I do not remember which page, it is in an area where it is about the missions in China. You made the readers repeat it, it was expressed in more or less these terms: Misfortune to he who believes he can earn the title of missionary apostolic other than through privation and suffering. I might add, the divine word, descending to earth from the highest heavens to become flesh [4] means everything to us and also by these means it happens that everyone is drawn to Him. [5] The thing that discourages us more when dealing with the natives is their lack of cleanliness and I can tell you frankly that I feel like weeping when I find myself attacked by a hoard of insects that are called here kutu and that I would have to translate into French as lice. I can see them running all over my clothes, they get down to my skin, I am upset by this, but my astonishment is overwhelming when I see the natives eat them; I take this up with them kindly: Why do you do that, I ask them. Mo te aha! Mo te utu, they reply: To pay back, for satisfaction, for revenge for what they have done to us, they have eaten us and we eat them. That is to say that in the minds of the natives it is justice that rules the fate of these unfortunate parasites. My Very Reverend Father, I am far from being discouraged when I think that I have left everything, my homeland and my family, as these people have become my homeland, my brothers and my father and mother. I find a remedy that fortifies me against my disgust, I feel myself armed with courage when I think of a mother who adapts to the most disgusting child with a persistent tenderness. I have sometimes taught the New Zealanders to put on trousers. It is a new garment for some, it has even been necessary for me to button them up myself, then I enjoy the pleasure of seeing them like small children, beside themselves with joy at the sight of this new garment. I am always recommending that they wash themselves, some of them do it and others ask me for soap. A bit of patience and compassion is needed. That being the case, tena ko tenei, as they say in their own language. The Europeans only approach the New Zealanders with extreme caution. They do not allow them into their living quarters and they quickly say to them: Haere ki waho, go outside. So my New Zealanders leave hastily saying: the strangers are angry, Karirite pakea nei. On the contrary, if these people come to me, I say to them: Come my friends. I let them see everything and sometimes touch things; they ask me questions about everything they see: He aha tenei, he aha tenei? What is this what is that? I explain things to them; when they are satisfied, reassured, they are the first to say: Haere tatou, let’s go and away they go, blessing me. The priest is good they say, he is not like the foreigners. And what would we be, we the ministers of Jesus Christ, if we distanced ourselves from these poor children? As I get to know these Maori better, Maori being their proper name, I will tell you about some of their customs that will charm you. I often travel across rivers and even the sea to get to visit these dear island dwellers; the Europeans who sometimes see me on the canoes with a number of natives can easily recognise me from a distance by my soutane, my triangular hat and the crucifix that I have hanging on my chest. My crucifix, ah, that shows all my experience, it displays all my strength. It is the source of my explanations to our novices and the one that they understand best. Mine was blessed by the late curate of Perreux, [6] in the parish of the diocese of Lyon, the memory of which has tears flowing from my eyes and to which perhaps one day I should bear witness to my affection. The white people recognise me easily by all these symbols. They say, here is the Catholic priest visiting his flock, no doubt he is going to see someone who is sick. They know very well that our trips only have a spiritual purpose. The white people that I get along with have often spoken of the comparisons that they see between us and the Protestant missionaries. These Protestants visit their vast territories and to tour around them they need to walk for several weeks without stopping. They distribute bibles, but they are cowardly enough to sell them for some potatoes. One Sunday after mass a Protestant, who created a great fuss about our disinterest, came into my house. He said to me, you go around looking for small children and other people who are in danger to administer baptism. Our Protestants are not as sensitive as you; if they are told that one of their flock is ill, that he is dying, they do not bestir themselves and why? They have wives and children. Besides, the natives have the New Testament which is sufficient to save them. But, if one of their shepherds comes to tell them that one of their cows is in danger, they leave everything to rush to its aid. There you have the true outlook of the Protestant who comes to see me accompanied by one of his friends. My love of the truth and the respect that my heart is happy to offer him, means that I cannot refuse to speak the truth, even though my enemies and adversaries benefit from it. Having asked the Protestant missionary in Whangaroa for some corn to sow, whether for our house or for my natives, he wanted to make me a gift of a bushel which he could sell for 8 shillings, 10 francs. Several of them offer remedies to their sick followers. Some of them are without malice. One day a Protestant woman, the most honourable in my mission, said to me: you should not be angry with our minister, he is a good man. Have pity; he is a man born in the colony of Sydney, he was a simple gardener before teaching the bible.[7] These poor ministers are completely disconcerted when I show them the Catholic church in the tree of the true vine. This proof is obvious and historic, as their eyes can see. Their only means of defence is to accuse us of throwing them into the fire, which can be seen alight at the bottom of the picture. You have no charity, one of them said to me, throwing us into the flames like that. For pity’s sake, I replied, on what basis do you accuse us of such cruelty? We who, far from judging anyone in our private capacity, find ourselves endlessly crushed by the weight of fearing God’s judgement. We promise that all children amongst the Protestants who die having received baptism will go to heaven, that the adults of good faith, whose sins have been forgiven by true contrition can also achieve the same happiness because two types of person, although bound to a different way of thinking, nevertheless have inner bonds, understand the faith, the hope and the charity spread in their hearts by the holy spirit and, by these sacred bonds, belong to the soul of the church of Jesus Christ, which is the sole source of salvation.
How can they accuse us of throwing men into the flames, we who have distanced ourselves from everything most dear to us to come to the opposite end of the world from Europe to bring the news of salvation, to preach the only truth that can save us from the eternal fire; it is not we who judge. We only threaten the judgement of God. It is Jesus Christ himself who declares that the branches that are separated from the trunk are dead, without fruit and destined for the fire. We cry out to the unfortunates who are in danger of falling into the eternal fire, we cry out to them to take care, we hold out our hand: to save them from disaster we sometimes expose ourselves to the same danger as them. I explained all this to the minister in front of the Maoris, who understood it perfectly well. Recently one of the high chiefs made us a gift of a beautiful site right on the river at Whangaroa. He said himself that one day a Catholic church could be situated there. He is called Uruuru Roa, abbreviated to Uruuroa, meaning the long hair. You would think that he is a Catholic; but no, he is still wrong thinking, but his goodwill towards us earns, I hope, in the eyes of a merciful God, the favour of salvation. The state of the Maoris who are ill could easily bring tears to the eyes. Their bed is the ground, more or less covered with some grass and leaves or perhaps a mat. Their food is more or less the same as when they are in good health, potatoes, kumara, sometimes some fish; their drink is cold water. Compare these conditions with those of the poorest of ill people in Europe. Where are our admirable Sisters of Saint Vincent? With them, those poor ill people throughout the civilised world find refreshment and some rest. Alas, if only I was able to bring to my dear ill people at least a little sugar, but my poverty does not always allow it. For almost a month now we sometimes take a little tea, my Brother [8] and I, but will have it without sugar. Tea is very common here. It is the usual drink of the white people with lunch and supper. One day I took some sugar in my pocket handkerchief to a sick chief, a chief who was one of those who had turned to the Anglican Protestants and he was so grateful that he could not express himself. He squeezed my hand saying Kotahi ano… It is the first time….it is the first time that … The sick people stay outside their houses, protected from the sun by leafy branches; if it rains, they drag themselves into their houses. Dreary places, I usually have to bend down to enter. Inside I can only lie down or sit on the ground, often suffocated by the thick smoke of a fire lit in the middle as if in an oven. There, I administer the sacraments, I comfort them, I lie down beside them or else I keep watch beside them. They want you to stay constantly with them until they breathe their last. If I leave on the same day, they are angry and tell me that I just come and then go away, which they express to me by a gesture resembling the movement of a shuttle passing to and fro.
If someone dies they come to me asking first for some fine fabric for a shroud, then some planks and nails for the coffin of the deceased, then they even request the help of our Brother. I am rarely in a position to provide these things. These people accord great honour to their dead. Their love is great, they say. Once, I lent them some tools to dig a grave and they did not wish these tools to be returned to profane and ordinary use, but wanted them to be declared holy tapu (pronounced tapou) and as such to be placed on the tomb of the deceased and to stay there forever, inviolable. You can easily understand that I refused this suggestion. To lose, with each death, a pickaxe and a spade and have them made tapu is simply not possible. In such a situation, my Maoris, to save themselves embarrassment and save their tools, dig the grave with pieces of wood and remove the earth with their hands. They like the tombs to be exposed to the daylight. Those who carry the dead to the place of burial are tapu for several days and do not work etc. I have seen a son carry his mother to the tomb. The grave dug, they greatly fear that it might be desecrated and as long as the coffin or casket has not been placed there, they leave a bundle of leaves or ferns so that nothing will disturb the ground where the body is going to rest.
We are, little by little, disrupting the habit the Maoris have of cutting themselves with shells to mourn the dead or even more to prove their love for a friend or relative who they have not seen for a long time. Apart from this, which we could not approve, the mourning customs of these people are very touching. From the time that the ill person dies right up till the time they are buried, there are always weeping mourners around them. At least that is what I observed one day when I was called to give a religious burial to a Maori. I have perhaps never assisted at a sadder scene. In the centre was the deceased, wrapped and covered with his most beautiful clothes; at a distance a coffin was being made and further away a busy group was occupied with digging a pit. Around the deceased were seated several women who continuously made the saddest wailing, between them they created a veritable concert. They were songs of love and lamentations that I was not able to understand, but the sight of these people, their plaintive voices accompanied by crying and floods of tears was more than enough to make me feel very sad myself. My heart was greatly moved; if I was not grieving for the dead person henceforth released from the miseries of this life and who I believed happier in the next, at least I was weeping for the general miseries of this world and all the vanities and afflictions of our poor humanity. These weeping mourners seemed to encourage each other. Without having understood the tune all together, it seemed to me that the dominant air of one part was la la la za za la or perhaps la sol la za la sol la — whilst other voices were on ut or even re above the others. [9] Meanwhile, I noticed a man standing alone making the most natural gestures of suffering, sometimes bringing his hands together, sometimes stretching them out, raising them and lowering them turn about; sometimes his hands were turned towards the deceased while his face was turned away; he shed a flood of tears and exhausted himself with his lamentations. All these cries were followed by moments of silence which, seconds later, were interrupted by moaning which made the mournful singing begin again. In this song what I made out was that it was to do with the parents of the deceased; it seemed that they spoke of his father and mother. My heart was deeply moved and my shaken imagination took me back to the time and place where Jeremiah and other prophets, seated or standing in the ruins, wept for the ill-fated Jerusalem. Oh! How interesting the customs of these people are, but already contact with the Europeans has altered them greatly. Here I am just recounting isolated facts that I have witnessed. I do not know enough about the whole ensemble of things to give a full description.
Here is another solemn situation in which I found myself. A tribe in the area of my mission had carried off a girl to please a chief who desired her. This was almost enough to ignite a war. The tribe of the young girl begins to start, with the other tribe, what is called here a taoua, which I think could be translated as a hullabaloo. A taua is a gathering of men who go to a tribe to complain, make a fuss and demand either a payment or satisfaction for a received insult. Satisfaction was not given on the spot on this occasion and the tribe guilty of this abduction prepared to pay their enemies a similar visit. I heard these warlike rumblings and prepared myself to also interfere in the matter to try and pacify everyone. I went post haste to the camp of those who felt they had been offended. I joined a large circle of chiefs who were deliberating together on how they should receive their adversaries. Suddenly, lookouts posted on top of the hills announced that they were arriving. Here they are, someone shouted, here they are. Food was hastily eaten; I see the chiefs and their men dress themselves hastily and wrap around their waists leather belts with cartridge pouches attached. Having done this, they throw a blanket over themselves, covering themselves as if with a coat and then sit down again peacefully. Their arms were nearby leaning against some trees. As I was asked what I would do if things got serious, I simply said to them that they would learn how a priest conducted himself on such occasions. I had sent a message to the Anglican minister to inform him of everything and to ask him to come here to exert his authority and prevent a war and especially to demand reparation from his followers who were in effect the aggressors. He did not come. God be praised. At last we could see the enemy canoes gliding smoothly over the water. Their movement was accelerated by a hundred oars moving in unison. A man standing in the waka or canoe encouraged his paddling companions with a rhythmic chant. All repeated after him toiha. [10] It is the usual chant of those who paddle. He stood with a baton in his hand, waving a handkerchief. So, they soon reached the shore. They jump from their craft and run forward, shouting till they lose their breath. Someone steps forward to meet them; he stops them; he seems thus to act as a drum major. Suddenly a new signal is given; the chant of the war dance begins, a single voice which had chanted was then joined by the whole crowd. The cries of the Greeks, assembled in the past at Corinth to hear the announcement of their liberty and who, it is said, made several crows fall into the crowd, were certainly not more piercing nor louder than those that rang in my ears, with only one single cry. The flow of movements of all these people follow the voices and are in perfect synchronisation, first the right hand is raised then the left, the feet moving in the same direction and in perfect rhythm. The dancers spin round fast on themselves, all the movements carried out to one rhythm and one action, without it being noticeable to the eyes. Truly you would believe the crowd given over to the spirit of Python. All the voices stop at once, the dance finishes too and calm returns. The two groups are face to face or seated. The discussions are about to begin. On each side it is only the most distinguished chiefs who speak. Each one speaks in turn, in an orderly fashion and with no interruptions. Each speech is preceded by a few lines of an ancient chant, no doubt in honour of the Maori god who will inspire him. While this chant lasts the orator walks up and down peacefully, but as soon as it is finished the orator hurries forward and rushes, breathlessly, to deliver his speech. He continuously walks up and down within a certain area. He strikes his thighs, turns his head in all directions, projects the sound of his voice, his gaze is animated and often strained and furious, his face is soaked in sweat. I had great difficulty in following these speeches, the substance of which was recalling the origins of the abducted girl and repeating the same ideas but with persistence and energy. When they had finished speaking, I saw them sit down very peacefully. Here is how a high chief finished: Heoiano, that is enough, kua riro taku wakaaro, my thoughts have come out, they have left, in other words I have expressed my thoughts; they are gone from my mind. Then a chief who was mediator finally appeared bringing words of peace — about his only words were Kua mau te rongo, peace has been established. He repeated it, commented on it energetically, then he started the song for the war dance and here they were again all taking part in this mesmerising dance. The dance having ended, the chief guilty of the abduction rose and stood and gravely approached the offended chief. He leaned forward to press noses. This was a sign of total reconciliation, as a sign of satisfaction the aggressor took off his cloak of dog skin which is a chiefly garment, the girl was solemnly handed over and numerous rifle shots were fired into the air. In these large meetings the decision of who is going to marry a person is not really a matter of justice, it is a matter of subordination worked out between them, that is to say the minor chiefs gather under the banner of the person that they recognise as their highest chief. When I see a New Zealander succumb to the ferocity of his nature and prove that he was not long ago a cannibal, a man eater, I admire and bless the power of the divine grace that brings about such great changes in them every day. When I see them in our churches just like Europeans, soothed by the voices of the priests, nourished by the holy word and taking part in the sacraments which are the common nourishment of the Christian, I suddenly recall this beautiful passage from the prophet Isaiah: The wolf and the lamb will go and graze together, the lion and the cattle will eat straw.[11] And these others, who the shepherds are obviously meant for. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down beside the kid; the calf, the lion and the lamb will all live together and a child will watch over them.[12] Oh the miracle of mercy, that subjects a priest without arms to these people who are easier to destroy than to tame.
In my tribe, close to my residence, three women started a lively argument, which was likely to escalate and I thought I should go to see them and calm it down. As I could not make myself easily heard and as one person was determined to stoke up the quarrel, I went and got my small bell and rang it to drown out the voices; the rest became a farce and a laughingstock, so this unusual measure succeeded wonderfully. The way New Zealanders greet each other when they have not seen each other for some time I find very interesting and I always observe it with great pleasure. They can greet each other with a handshake, but this is only a European habit introduced to the New Zealanders. They call out from a distance to the person they see arriving: Haeremai ekoro, come young man (if it is not an old man). This invitation is repeated often. Nevertheless, the people who are receiving the guests do not move forward and if they are seated they stay in the same position. (A chief will not invite a slave to approach him and is only approached by those who are chiefs or members of the chief’s family). Thus the person who arrives bends down, the other advances his face and, in a friendly silence, they press noses. Sometimes it happens that they remain as though embraced, nose against nose and begin to weep, or they begin a chant of love; it is an accord between the two different groups carried out by the two friends. When they have confirmed their friendship, they separate and dry the genuine tears which soak their faces. This greeting, which sometimes lasts a quarter or even half an hour is called a hongi, because it is done with the nose and the action of smelling is expressed in Maori by hongi, even though the nose is called ihu. One day I was admiring the way in which a child of eighteen months was being taught to give this greeting to everyone present. Each person in turn said heare mai, come, and the small child went round the whole circle presenting his nose to each person in succession, in such a serious manner that it astonished me and made me want to laugh. While the New Zealanders give and receive this greeting, it is done in silence and with respect for friendship. In one of my travels, my guide wounded his foot. He did not hesitate to inform me, in haste, that in the nearby neighbouring village they would be happy to serve us food. It seems that they have special consideration for those who injure themselves when walking. I am offering small facts, not in order but as they come mind. I met a high chief to whom I spoke of the blessing of holy baptism. I suggested baptism to him, indirectly,[13] to see what he thought and his only response was: Look, I have two wives. Be happy with one, I said to him: Kia kotahi, One will do. Then he showed me his finger which he was holding bent right over: When my back is like that, bent over by old age, then I’ll be baptised, it will be time then. Alas, poor sinners, the language of passion always inspires the same response. The tribe where I live are all Christians, everyone has received holy baptism; only one woman resists being blessed and holds firm to her old superstitious beliefs. Nevertheless, I should recount here how she bore witness to the truth of our blessed religion. Having seen a Protestant family come to my house, she came of her own free will with all her children and introduced them to those present: Here are my children, she said, introducing them all by their names. These are the names of take, the trunk, the church that is the trunk. For more than a year now I have had a young man living with me who provides all sorts of consolation, at his baptism I named him Boniface in memory of the day[14] he arrived in my house. He has had the good fortune to make his first communion and since then he seems very content. Sometimes he calls me and says: E hoane papita e toku ariki, Jean Baptiste, my priest, e hari tonu toku ngakau, my heart is constantly happy. But nothing equals the fervour of a Maori woman married to a European who is my nearest neighbour. She never once misses prayers. She arrives at the first ringing of the bell with the punctuality of a religious worker. Her husband has assured me that Catherine (that is her name) is not content with just the communal prayers but that, inside her home she ardently embraces the same practice, shedding floods of tears. Here is an example of the naivety of a European Catholic who, wishing to marry a New Zealander, came to me and asked to be married, but he wished to be married, he said, in the English way, that is to say maintaining the liberty to leave his wife according to English law which permits divorce. I told him that I was not able to marry him except in the Catholic way, if I can say such a thing, that is to say irrevocably and with ties that only death can break according to divine law, and which can never be permitted by any human power. He consented to this and I arranged for he and his wife to receive the sacrament. Boniface, who I have spoken about converted his mother by his ardent prayers and also by his respectful advice, for he wrote her a letter full of feeling to encourage her to convert and to live a holy life. This woman came to me to ask for baptism. I obliged her and with this sacrament came the joy of a clear conscience and the firm resolution to die rather than to besmirch baptismal innocence. Returning to her family, Monique, her baptismal name, had to put up with some problems. She was even encouraged to sin, but she responded with proud composure: Leave me alone, I have received holy baptism, I am filled within myself with the word of God: Ka nui te kupu ote atua ki rota i a hau. She even preferred to spend the nights on her doorstep so as to have more peace. The Anglicans at first encouraged the New Zealand people in an extravagant idea of the holiness of Sunday. It seems that in that way they aimed to prove that theirs is the true church. Just lately, I heard a Protestant woman express a respect for the sabbath that was even more extreme than the Jewish attitude: Oh, Sir, she said to me, if I was able I would do no cooking on Sunday, but I would prepare all the food for myself and my family on Saturday. I have needed to expand the understanding of a large number of our neophytes. One Sunday, I was passing a woman who was chopping a piece of wood for the fire. Suddenly, remembering that it was Sunday, she reproached herself saying Wareware, I forgot. Several of the tribes who have joined different separate groups eat their potatoes unpeeled on Sundays. The food that has been served on Sunday, being holy and consecrated to the Lord’s day, should not be served again on another day of the week. A Protestant, whose wife had died, came to invite me to perform her burial service. He was fairly certain that she was not a Catholic. I was also fairly certain that she had not been baptised. I said to him: My friend, do you think then that my prayers will be of some use to your wife after her death while you thought that I could do nothing for her salvation while she was still living. The duty of a charitable minister would have had me rush to her bedside when she was suffering. Now that she is no longer here, I cannot accord her the honours and assistance of my ministry. One can only shudder in such circumstances at the ignorance of some and the misfortune of others.
The people of my mission have sometimes had me pass as a miracle worker. One day, being out about my work, I was guided, as if by the hand of God towards an ill person who was not only in great danger but who was dying; his forehead was already covered in the sweat of death. I hastened to confer on him the sacraments of the church. He was a Maori and, independently of the case of necessity, I knew that he had had sufficient instruction. The Maoris said to me very sadly: You will not go away will you till our sufferer has expired. I had not even finished the prayers of the sacrament before our invalid came to his senses and he survived two more days. This fact surprised me and still produces an impression on me when I think of it. The natives were so impressed by this that they came to the Bay of Islands to recount that I had carried out the miracle of resurrection of a dead person, which I denied, explaining what had actually happened. Here is another sign, singular in a different way, of the divine goodness that wishes to save all men. I was in the area of my home when I learned from some Maoris, who had come to sell us some provisions, that a child in their tribe was ill. I did not hesitate to board their canoe to go and see and save this little child. Of course I was well received. This tribe recites our prayer with enthusiasm, it is called Mata Nehunehu. Nevertheless, these people, whilst adopting our prayers, are not so keen to give up their superstitions. The father of this young child, when I asked if I could baptise his daughter, sent me off till the next day. After that I feared for the good will of this father, but with the hope of winning my request I decided to sleep there. The next day the problems were even greater. The father claimed that, once baptised, his daughter would die the same day. He also said that he would not be free to mourn her in the Maori fashion after her death. I replied to him with all the inspiration that I could muster. I explained as gently as possible that this was not good for his daughter, that the soul of this child, if she was not purified by the waters of baptism, would never enter the home of the great spirit which is the seat of happiness, that she would have to suffer eternally and that he, the father, was the author of this misfortune, that he was therefore very cruel to his daughter. Nothing would shake this father. You will mourn her as you wish, I then said to him, I will leave her body so that you can dispose of it as you wish; all that I ask of you is that you let me save her soul. My God! What anxiety, what anguish! To have in your care a child who has only a few days to live, have all the means of salvation at hand and not to be able to use it because of the blindness of this poor father. What to do? Me, I prayed, I entreated, one by one, the holy angels, Saint Francis Xavier, the patron saints , Saint Joseph and especially Mary so that the soul of this little child be given to me. Food was prepared for me, it was offered to me, I refused it in good faith. I cannot eat, I said to them, my heart is heavy, it is troubled, Ka nui pouri taku ngakau, greatly troubled because you will not let me baptise this child. The father moved away, holding his child wrapped in his blanket. And I followed him like a dog who follows his master to get a morsel of food and went and placed myself beside him. I was still hopeful. I was not mistaken in my hopes. Be aware that I had no means of baptising this child secretly. The virgin Mary, to whom I had dedicated this soul, made things very easy for me. It was morning. The sky was slightly cloudy. A few drops of rain were falling. At my feet was a leaf which gathered enough water to serve for the sacrament. I picked it up without seeming to do anything and holding it out I said to the father: Baptism is nothing to fear. It is almost nothing. If you let me baptise your infant, this is what I will do whilst saying these words. I actually let a few drops of water fall on the face of the child and I hastily uttered the words of the administration of baptism. At this moment, I did not pronounce the name of the child but just before I had thought of calling her Antoinette, a name that I was very fond of in France.[15] The father did not notice anything or if he did he was not annoyed and I managed a great success for God’s glory and for the salvation of the little Antionette who is now in Heaven, stainless, praying for our mission, for the church and for the dear associates of the Propagation of the Faith! In fact, this child had been declared tapu by a high chief of New Zealand and this created a great obstacle to be overcome. The Maoris and very fixed in the opinion that heaven is only for foreigners and that for them their destination after death is the centre of the earth, together with their fathers.
My Reverend Father, there have been about 120 baptisms in my district. I have celebrated two marriages, three I mean. Amongst others I have married a New Zealander to an American Methodist, after dispensation. I received abjuration. There was a Protestant woman who, having recanted before me, and having received conditional baptism the same day, was married according to the laws of the Catholic church to an Englishman who was a Catholic. Five or six Catholics who were prepared for death have passed away. Three or four children have died after baptism. Apart from those, there are at least five more. I have just recalled that one Sunday I noticed a small child whose parents rarely came to services. I asked to baptise him. They consented and the following Wednesday this little child was brought to me dead. Poor child, I adopted him, I kept him in our house. I had a coffin made for him by our Brother and he was the first of the deceased to repose in our cemetery. A Catholic in my area died suddenly, struck down by a stroke; I knew perfectly well that he was a Catholic, everyone knew that he was from America and of Irish parentage. The Protestant minister came to bury him. There is no means here for legal proceedings against the minister. I well know that these men do not have the same unselfishness as us and that they would go to the aid of the dead rather than the sick. But after all I would rather believe that the minister was behaving as he thought right and that he did not know what faith the deceased professed.[16] My Very Reverend Father, rejoice with me, I have just erected a monument. Before coming to the Bay of Islands to receive the Bishop’s instructions and fulfil other essential duties, I wanted to leave my people under the protection of a cross. I am able to say that it was a true monument. It is fifteen feet high; it is thoroughly painted and will resist the onslaught of the weather for a long time. I carried it on my own, accompanied by Brother Elie to the high point where out cemetery is situated. We certainly thought of Jesus carrying his cross helped by Simon the Cyrene [17] That is not all; we collected some large stones from a quarry that we had bought on the instructions of the Bishop. Our Brother shaped them as much as he was able with his carpenter’s and joiner’s tools. We two, accompanied by two children, went at night to load the stones into a canoe (the quarry is on the river’s edge). I did not wish to work during the day out of respect for my soutane and not wishing to be observed by a crowd of people. By moonlight we loaded our stones. One was very big and to carry it to its final destination we needed six men. God be praised. I am convinced that the first rock to be struck by a chisel in New Zealand was the stone of our pedestal. That reminds me of l’Electa digno stipite tam sancta membra tangere.[18] The most touching circumstance is that I blessed that cross on the day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a moment after it had been erected. We needed some cement. Seashells fired for a long time provided it. A speech was made before some Europeans and a good number of Maori. I explained to these latter how they should salute the cross and in what way it was, for all of us, an object of honour, gratitude, confidence and love. It dominates to perfection all the surroundings. It directly faces a chapel of the opposing Anglicans. I say: On one side there is Gerizim, on the other Zion. [19] Oh the beautiful sign of the cross. How my eyes longed to see it in this country, alas, still so deprived of religious monuments. Up till now I have celebrated the holy mysteries in a chapel made of rushes. I made up my mind to convert my house into a chapel and give it up to the King of Kings. I will stay in a little outhouse. Our Brother, having put the roof on his house, put a cross on it with little wrappings as in the French custom. You would not believe it but the natives have copied it perfectly; I have since seen amongst the natives, a new house with its little cross and wrappings of different colours.
Oh my Reverend Father, how moved we have been by the account that our colleagues have given us of the terrible flooding.[20] We were only consoled by the hope that this scourge, combined with so many others, will bring to their senses many people who have strayed and will bring back to the faith and piety of their fathers the hearts of so many children perverted by the unfortunate wisdom of the present. Above all I haven’t the words to express how much I have been distressed by the disaster that has happened to the reputation of the religion that inspires, that almost commands, with the terrible bankruptcy of Mr[21] It seems to me that God cannot permit a greater trial for the people of the Christian community and I place this latest misfortune above the flood. I must here find space to humbly thank His Lordship the Archbishop of Lyon for the pictures which he presented to our New Zealand churches. I owe him particular thanks as he has left for me a beautiful picture representing the adoration of the three wise men. The Epiphany is held by the mission of Whangaroa and Manganui. I hope that we will soon be in a position to have a chapel in this particular spot. Twelve inhabitants have already promised 53 pounds sterling. What I am going to assure you of will seem impossible to you. On board one of our country’s ships, I met with a reproach. A young Frenchman who was also aboard, knowing that the mission owned a small piece of land in the bay, gift of the godly generosity of an Irishman and intended for the site of a chapel and school etc. chided me for having accepted it, saying that we priests always took the best of things. It was on the invitation of the captain that I was on board. Imagine my surprise — to hear these things from a compatriot, on board our ship, I who could truthfully say that I had never spent a night in that area of our mission and at that time relied on the charity of good Catholics. I am repeating all this so as to convince everyone that the most impressive works of our blessed religion have slanderers all over the world. I will astonish you even more, my dear Superior, if I add that this particular young man has benefited from our mission and that despite my hardship, I had given him the most generous hospitality possible in my own house in Whangaroa. After all the sacrifices that our religion imposes on us, there remains one last one to crown all the rest, that of enduring everything, excusing everything as much as possible, cherishing our enemies and thirsting for the salvation of their souls. Besides, My Reverend Father, it is amazing to see the respect and goodwill that the whole population surrounds us with, regardless of nationality or beliefs. I can say unhesitatingly, without fear of anyone denying this, that Bishop Pompallier delighted everyone. My Very Reverend Father, have pity on his Lordship. The weight of his responsibilities overwhelms him, the concerns consume him, but what disappoints him most of all is his powerlessness to support and nourish his flock because of the lack of priests and pastors. I wish that all those who have been sent could be sufficient to support, in New Zealand, for a certain length of time the terrible struggle [22] of good against evil. But these are heavily populated islands, full of hope for the future, islands that attract people and seem to open their doors and if we do not make haste we will unfortunately see them invaded by the devil and evil habits. It is easy to warn about this enemy, but once it has taken possession of a soul, a town, an empire, experience has proven that it is very difficult to dislodge. Mistakes set off so many unexpected repercussions. They disguise themselves in so many different forms that, even in Europe, in the heart of enlightenment, good people will sometimes be seduced; how can we conceive of the people of the islands of Oceania being able to protect themselves from the traps of such an enemy. It seems to me, my Reverend Father, that we have arrived at crisis point. Here is the question I ask, will the devil count amongst his empire, perhaps for many generations, these numerous islands of Oceania, or will the true ministers of the gospel be happy to embrace them under the banner of Jesus and Mary. We rush in our desire to seize these islands and save these innocent lambs from the hungry mouths of cruel wolves. We fear that we will not be able to save them in time. My dear and venerable Superior, please accept that I am offering you my very deepest thoughts. It seems that this mission ought not to follow the general rules, it seems that God is calling it to expand rapidly, as His work expands and his needs multiply and become more pressing every day. The European Catholic community must come to the aid of Oceania; when the danger has passed, the help will not be needed, which will be all in good time. Here everything is welcoming to clergymen and even pious lay people who would like to be associated with our great work for Christian civilisation. There is no need to fear for one’s health. Nothing is lacking in the Bay of Islands for those who do not wish to go further afield. They will find sustenance and in times of need remedies from clever doctors. There are all sorts of roles to fill and something to satisfy all tastes and all of one’s heart’s needs. It is neither too hot nor too cold. Some Protestants have come from distant islands to caste themselves at his Lordship’s feet, begging for some priests. They stay for six months at a time, waiting to be able to leave with some priests.[23] Mary is obviously watching over her mission, she protects the priests and the peoples in a striking manner, not one single sick person amongst us. So, it seems to me that I can hear a host of generous apostles crying out in Europe, in France and in Lyon: Depart for Oceania, let us go and join in the works of Bishop Pompallier. I still recall Mr Dubois, the Superior in Paris,[24] saying to us: How happy you will be to work under Bishop Pompallier and he repeated again, Bishop Pompallier. After all, dear and venerable Superior, it is still to the father of our families that one must address oneself to acquire workers, rogate </ref> Cf. Matt 9:38 and Luke 10:2 </ref>
I am, with the deepest respect, my Very Reverend Father, your very respectful and very obedient son in Jesus and Mary,
Jean Baptiste Petit-Jean, Marist priest, missionary apostolic.


  1. Ps 18 (19): 7 Nec est qui se abscondat a calore eius (and nothing escapes his warmth).
  2. Cf. 1Cor 9:19-23.
  3. Auguste Henrion, Histoire Générale de l’Eglise (1835-1836, 12 volumes) (cf. doc. 184, § 51, n. 18).
  4. Cf. John 1:14.
  5. Cf. John 12:32.
  6. the Abbot François Fleury Moigne (1761-1838), curate at Perreux, near Roanne, from 1797 until his death (cf. Borne and Sester, Country Letters, t. 2, p. 404); Petit-Jean was his vicar at Perreux from 1836 to 1838.
  7. The Protestant missionary in Whangaroa / Mangonui, a man born in the colony of Sydney and formerly a “simple gardener”, was the catechist James Shepherd (1796-1882). According to Edgcumbe (p.2) , these facts are in agreement with the biographical notes in the CMS Missionary Register.
  8. In the context of the mission at Whangaroa, this is Brother Elie-Régis (Etienne Marin), carpenter and joiner (cf. below, § 10; also doc. 109, § 1).
  9. The author writes the abbreviation “br” above some of the names of notes; he possibly wishes to indicate that the note marked in this way would be shorter than the others. He writes “za” three times to indicate a note; perhaps he means to indicate the note “fa”.
  10. Maori word: toi ha; toi means to “encourage , incite” or “paddle fast”; cf. toitoi waka, a chant to encourage the paddlers of a canoe.
  11. Cf. Isaiah 65:25: “ The wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like cattle”.
  12. Cf. Isaiah 11:6: “Then the wolf will live with the sheep and the leopard lie down with the kid. The calf and the young lion shall grow up together, and a little child shall lead them”.
  13. The numbering of the pages14-18 do not correspond to the order in the text.
  14. No doubt 5 June, festival of Boniface German apostle; the Roman calendar also has on 14 May, the festival of Boniface, third century martyr, but the calendar published in Lyon at the time (cf. Almanac of Lyon 1834 and Yearbook of Lyon 1841) only shows the festival of 5 June.)
  15. Antoinette is the name of a sister of the writer (cf. doc. 87, § 1).
  16. After the word “deceased”, three lines of text are crossed out; This text begins: “Divine Providence …”.
  17. Cf. Matt 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26.
  18. Two lines of the hymn Vexilla regis prodeunt: “the wood you have chosen deserves to touch such holy limbs”.
  19. The opposition of Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans had built a temple and Mount Zion, the place of the temple of the Jews (cf. John 4:20).
  20. In 1840 flooding for ten days transformed Lyon into a huge torrent; six hundred houses were destroyed in Vaise, in the Brotteaux and in la Guillotière (cf. Steyert, t. 4, p. 69-70).
  21. No doubt the bankruptcy of the Wright bank (cf. doc. 100, § 4 and n. 2).
  22. The author has attached to the word “struggle” the following sentence, added in the margin: “There are ways of increasing our numbers and facing up to these adversaries by taking ourselves wherever there is a battlefield.”
  23. In the notes that Petit-Jean will send to Colin a year after the current letter, he will speak of the “formal promise” of Pompallier to “lead an Englishman to the Ascension with some priests” (doc. 192, § 24). This “Englishman” was probably the Scottish Presbyterian, James Hall, delegate for about eight Europeans from Ponape Island (Ascension) who sent him to the Bay of Islands to seek Catholic missionaries. He perhaps arrived there in February 1841 (according to this paragraph, six months before the current letter), certainly before 23 July 1841 when the vicar apostolic left for a visit which took him to Akaroa (cf. doc. 104, § 1, n. 2; 111, § 4; 114, § 3; 217, § 1; 218, § 13) from where, having learned of the death of Chanel in November of the same year, he went directly to Wallis, accompanied by Viard (cf. doc. 136, § 15-16). The latter will return to the Bay of Islands with Chanel’s remains, then leave again for Wallis on 2 April 1842, accompanied this time by Hall, Servant and Roulleaux. According to Epalle, these last two should have gone to Ponape, but Pompallier kept them on Futuna. (cf. Wiltgen, p. 276-277, quoting the “note” sent by Epalle to Rome on 14 July 1843; see also doc. 138, § 1; 163, § 10, n. 3; 172, § 1, n. 1). The plan of Pompallier and the Marists to establish a mission on Ponape will not be followed up (cf. doc. 192, § 41).
  24. Jean-Antoine Dubois, Superior of the seminary of foreign missions in Paris (cf. Rozier, Writings of Chanel, p. 132, n. 5).

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