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5 September 1841 — Father Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Kororareka

Translated by Mary Williamson, March 2021

Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.

Sheet of four written pages. The fourth page has one part of the letter on two folds and on another fold in the middle, the address and Father Poupinel’s annotation.

Mr Colin Saint Barthélemy Rise / no. 4 Lyon France.
[ in Poupinel’s handwriting]
New Zealand / Kororareka 5 December 1841 / Father Petitjean.

My Very Reverend Father, I happily consent to you being able to read my letters, even those concerned with directives and besides your prudence will make use of whatever you consider appropriate.

New Zealand Kororareka 5 September 1841.

I dedicate this letter to Mary, conceived without sin.

My Very Reverend Father and Superior,
If I was having to appear before you, I really believe that I would be feeling a certain confusion. How different I find myself now from the person that I was when I left France. The feeling of being blessed deserted me almost as soon as I set foot in this land. No doubt the Good Lord wanted to test me, to teach me what true virtue meant and show me that I was far from possessing it and that a good leader is blessed with it. Even while instructing me, was he not also punishing me, as I well deserved, for my negligence of my sacred duties and my failure to follow the rules. I admit in particular to having been especially negligent in two areas, prayer and personal scrutiny. Nevertheless, I have great faith in God’s mercy, he will be considerate of the difficulties and outside intrusions to be endured in his holy ministry. I like to believe that I am still in his blessed care. What is obvious and beyond doubt is that he has truly protected me from many physical dangers. Those of the soul do not seem to me nearly as great as in Europe; as for the foreigners, you look upon them more cautiously than you would your compatriots and as for the poor natives, who do not have the luxury of understanding virtue, when you see them you usually only feel compassion. In my placements, which included Whangaroa and Mangonui to the North of the Bay of Islands, I was with the Reverend Father Epalle to begin with, then I was on my own, though I went to the Bay of Islands from time to time, so I was not completely isolated. As well, I had the constant company of the good Brother Elie, whose company was very enlightening. He is totally devoted to the good of the mission. An accident befell him. When he had just arrived in this country, he was bitten by a pig that was being chased and since then he has continued to have pain in his leg and more than once the wound had healed then was reopened by some accident. It is right on the front of the leg that he has pain and as you know, that area is very sensitive and very exposed. He is now, I hope, heading towards a complete cure. At the moment, my Reverend Father, I am in the Bay of Islands, visiting the local tribes; On Sundays I offer some instruction to the English. I am with the Reverend Fathers Epalle and Garin. The Bishop is away travelling. Whilst waiting for his return and his instructions I will be staying in the Bay of Islands, occupying myself with a few trips to Whangaroa and Mangonui. I really like this feeling of uncertainty; when you are likely to be moved, you are in the hands of your superiors, you are more virtuous, you are less interested in worldly matters and you have the energy to pursue the path of obedience. I avoid accepting the particular truth, that one is always likely to naturally become attached to a place, to a way of work; the numerous miseries and the aching boredom do not prevent one from becoming attached and even, for certain types, the difficulties of a place are exactly the bonds that hold them. His Holiness will place me according to his wishes; if it is necessary to go to the islands, I will hasten there, I will fly there. Oh, My Reverend Father, everyone must redouble their efforts to thank the Lord for all the blessings that he deigns to accord our society, in these distant islands; even though in France people do not have a true idea of the eagerness of the New Zealanders to embrace the Catholic faith, we should not present it as more perfect than it is, but we can nevertheless present it as great, so that the faith can be established in their hearts. It is time to make some final efforts, to employ all sorts of resources to keep hold of these people, to make them Christian people; the vast amount of contact that these poor natives will have with the white people, who will soon arrive here in greater numbers, is a time of crisis. How much money and how much help will be needed for our men to succeed in such an undertaking? But above all, it is the tropical islands that will offer abundant success to the missionaries who go to water their lands with the sweat of their labours. Here, I have to say, it will be a question of a miracle. We have here in the Bay of Islands an English Protestant [1] who has come from a distant island to ask His Lordship for priests, his voyage closely resembling that of the three wise men. I hope, my Very Reverend Father, that when you hear the stories of all these things, your heart will be comforted, touched. I move on to a very sad matter! In my travels (here, my Very Reverend Father, I am going to wrench your fatherly heart), in my travels, I happened to see, near to a tribe, a young man who had, for a long time, helped in our mission and who had left under not very pleasant circumstances. He bears the family name of Puylata. [2] As he provides certain services to the tribe he is with, and whose prayers he presides over at least on Sunday (he has bought a rather fine piece of land) and for other reasons too, I keep up certain contacts with him and I am sometimes even obliged to accept hospitality in his house. You can imagine my embarrassment. Then, if I eat with him, if I sleep in his house, it is perfect for me. I dream of saving this soul who is dearer to us than many others and with each visit I try, with certain words, to reawaken this young man, but perhaps his sleep is very deep. It is his contact with the Europeans that has been the cause of our losing him. You can imagine, my Very Reverend Father, that from necessity, we were obliged to have some very bad sailors as servants and they mix with our Brothers. Let us hope, my Very Reverend Father, that this will be the first and last misfortune of this nature. The more Brothers you send us, the safer they will be, because they will have more of a community and we will not be obliged to have recourse to the services of strangers.
In saying that the Bishop has won many hearts in this country, I am only echoing the masses. I sincerely thank you, my Very Reverend Father, for having sent us the Reverend Father Garin. He has become our provincial Father and I certainly believe that he is the man we needed to support us, to help us grow in the spirit of the Society, in the true spirit of the ministry. Oh the apostolic life, the truly apostolic life, a very difficult life. Without a lively faith, constantly animated by prayer, one loses enthusiasm, one becomes dull; in this state of mind, the privations and suffering cease to be an exercise in virtue, as they should be, because one becomes used to suffering in a way that is not natural, especially when one sees foreigners exposed to similar trials leading to totally worldly ends. We need, my Very Reverend Father, to pray that priests, Brothers and generous alms will come to us; that the Lord wishes, in a particular way, to help the dispensers and administrators of the precious treasure that the charity of the faithful provides. Money and alms certainly seem a human way of pleasing divine providence and serving to propagate the faith, but in a way today, that is more important than at any other time; what will become then, of a mission as vast as that of Bishop Pompallier, if it is lacking in funds? Please think of me in your prayers, my Very Reverend Father, as soon as you receive this letter. I very sincerely renew here the three vows that I made to you before I left and ask, very humbly, for your blessing, and wish you also, as an apostolic missionary of the Society of Mary, an abundance of peace, mercy and charity in the blessed hearts of Jesus and Mary.
I am, with the very deepest respect, my Very Reverend Father and Superior, your very humble and very obedient servant and son,
Jean Baptiste Petit-Jean,
Marist priest and apostolic missionary.
My Very Reverend Father, I feel I should add a few words here, to join my voice to those of so many others who are going to bring to your notice a cry of distress. Our needs are vast; when you see the exact extent of our expenditure, you will see that the absolutely essential costs are enormous. It is true that some misfortunes have befallen the mission, but even with all that we could wish for, we need prompt and extensive help so that we can carry out the work of God. It is dreadful to see that the expenses for transport, food for the various establishments, upkeep and wages for the people that we have to hire to assist with our travels by land and sea take up a large part of the charitable donations that we receive from France. And nevertheless, our food, like everything else is found as locally as possible, usually potatoes and pork. Now we cannot provide our establishments with what is necessary to buy pigs; we are short of everything; that is not all. Nevertheless, it is not finding food that troubles us. With enough Brothers, enough helping hands, we could soon produce vast resources from agriculture.
I should tell you, my Very Reverend Father, that the Lord has given me the gift of facility with languages. When I arrived here, I was almost able to preach in English. Now from time to time I improvise, but I confess that my improvising is not very good. I must say that being continually with the Maori people, I have had few opportunities to gain a greater knowledge of English. As for the Maori language, after two months living in New Zealand, I was immersed in the mission and therefore it was necessary for me to learn as fast as possible. I am saying this to encourage my brothers who will be arriving later.


  1. James Hall, having come here from the island of Ponape (cf. doc. 107, § 11, n. 24).
  2. The patron saint of Puylata is Saint Michael; the “young man” who left the mission is no doubt the former Brother Michel Colombon (cf. doc. 71, § 5; 772, § 3; 209, § 10).