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15 November 1841 - Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa

Based on the document sent, APM OOc 418.1.

Translated by ChatGPT

Two sheets folded in half, making eight written pages.

(No. 27) J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph) Assumption of Mary Mission, New Zealand, Tewai Pounamu Island, Akaroa Bay November 15, 1841

To the Very Reverend Father Colin, Superior General of the Society of Mary in Lyon, France.

My Very Reverend Father,
Peace of Christ.
I have just received one of your letters addressed to me through the corvette L'Allier. I have very little time to tell you some very important things, as a departing ship does not afford me sufficient time to write to you as extensively as I would wish. Quickly, here are some important points.
1º I am most grateful for the open, candid, and devoted proposals you make in this letter dated Lyon, May 20, 1841, and in another one, November 21, 1840.[1] Please accept, my Very Reverend Father, the expressions of my deep gratitude, although my conscience is far from reproaching me for the false reports that have reached you and led your paternal charity to inform me and provide spiritual advice accordingly. Believe in my sincerity before the good Lord; I am truly grateful! I greatly appreciate the way you deal with me. In my opinion, known wrongs are half repaired. I am very glad to learn about the falsehoods that have been told about me and which have rightfully saddened you. If I write these lines to justify myself in your eyes, it is not for self-justification, but for the sake of my dear mission, which is compromised by the loss of trust that I need concerning the two vital sources of my work: the congregation that sends me collaborators, and the Propagation of the Faith, which provides the only resources I have in these distant regions. However, if despite what I am about to say and what I will say later, there is still mistrust towards me, as Father Poupinel suggested, I promise to assist you in finding a replacement for me as an apostolic vicar, and even more, I will submit to the feet of His Holiness! My person is nothing; the cause of God and His Church is everything. God has given me the hearts of the New Zealanders, the esteem, respect, and even cordiality of the Protestants in this country, but with His grace, I can show that I can entrust all of that into other hands. As long as we all meet in heaven, that is what matters. However, I would not want to be in the place and have the responsibility, before God's tribunal, of those who, through uncharitable and un-Catholic sentiments and opinions towards the Holy See, have harmed my person and my ministry.
Therefore, I must first tell you that it is false, very false, that I have threatened excommunication or suspension over trivial matters or breaches of form. I wish that this fact alone would make you understand that you should not take like the Acts of the Apostles the reports from some missionaries or catechists of this mission as absolute truth. Believe that there is a vast difference between desiring to be an apostolic missionary and possessing all the qualifications and knowledge right from the very beginning. I must admit that if I hadn't been afraid of losing some tribes of catechumens, I would have already sent back two or three priests and as many catechists. Nevertheless, for almost all of them, the threat of sending them back has been enough to improve their state. With a heavy heart and the humiliation of not succeeding well, a lack of humility leads to confusion, resentment, distorts judgment, and generates false reports that are sometimes mistaken for the truth. No one knows well, except those who are here, the profound humility that apostolic missions require from the missionary and the catechist. Very often, without the interference of superiors, the obedience to be practiced must be heroic. Liberalism and its spirit of the day find no nourishment here; it is only God, through circumstances, who reveals its vices and compels its rejection. In communities within countries of ancient Christianity, one can design pious meditations and practice the virtues of humility and obedience. However, in apostolic works, there is not enough time to meditate on these virtues; instead, one is constantly obliged to practice them more than they would desire. I sincerely admit that I am passionate and deeply sensitive to anything that jeopardizes the salvation of souls, the purity of faith, and the thrice-sacred authority of the Church. On this matter, I wage war not only against people's wills but also against any deficiencies that may contradict these principles under my authority. I acknowledge that it is possible that I have sometimes been too quick to reprimand others. I humbly ask for forgiveness and caution not to expose me to such situations; it's something stronger than me, especially when I see that my admonitions are disregarded, and there is no improvement despite repeated warnings. But I do not have time to elaborate further on this; we must move on to matters concerning the administration of the mission.
All I can tell you is that you have been misled by falsehoods and exaggerations, and those who do not have the trust of the people have brought it upon themselves, due to their faults, their lack of necessary qualities, and especially because they have not gone among them with the sentiments that unite the faithful and the priests with the Episcopal paternity of their first pastor in me.
Secondly, allow me, my reverend father, to speak to you openly. Without realizing it, you have been one of the main causes of the lack of cordial unity between my subordinates and me, and the lack of trust on their part towards me, although most of them, I believe, have changed their views. Not that they had such an attitude here, but rather that they brought it with them from the novitiate. It would have been much better from the beginning, when I left France, to inform me that your resolution was to exclude from the congregation those whom the Holy See raises to the episcopate, rather than telling me that I was a distinguished member and giving me your delegation regarding the rule, which put me in a position where even the most skilled spiritual director could never govern. Do not lament anymore that I did not have the abandonment of your children to their religious direction because it was withheld in practice when it was given in principle. As soon as I positively recognized this practice and consequently your will, I would have believed that I was failing in my delegation if I did not quickly entrust it to another [person], whose advice and orders, as you wrote, will be more direct and effective than mine. Now that they obey me clerically, that is all I ask for; before the Lord, I leave all the consequences of future and past evils in this mission upon you. In any case, everything is settled now. You know all my thoughts from a long letter that I have written to you. I am deeply aware of the practical denial of me within the congregation by your administration. The unity of action in this mission will probably suffer. May the Lord save it! May Mary continue to protect her own in France and Oceania! These are the most fervent wishes of my soul! The most painful of my crosses, which has crossed and will continue to cross this mission, is the disunity that the congregation itself has brought so far across the seas. Alas! I hope, my very reverend father, that you will not reap, from your children and the religious who have advised you, the bitter fruits of the loss of religion and the priestly spirit! All I can assure you is that a Catholic bishop, after being insulted by those of his clergy from the same congregation, has been and will undoubtedly be sacrificed to a spirit that I dare not qualify other than as one that is not from God. Please forgive me for what I am about to say: it is by my own hand, through the power of our divine Master, that infidelity and heresy have been defeated in New Zealand, but due to the lack of cordial unity here, and due to the lack of savoir-faire in your administration to correspond with mine, which is superior to yours in the apostolic aspect, as it was inferior to yours in the religious aspect. A defeat is about to follow all my victories, I earnestly hope not to be mistaken. Soon you will learn distressing news about this very interesting mission; my heart is filled with bitterness, but Jesus Christ consoles me. The august Virgin whom I have loved since my tenderest childhood will not abandon me; I have confidence in her, even though I am unworthy of her maternal affection.
3º I received around six thousand and 800 pounds from the last shipment of subjects directed by Reverend Father Séon on the route. But for more than a year, due to the purchase of the mission schooner, I was without money, with more than 20 subjects on my hands, and the ship itself, which alone cost me twelve to fifteen hundred francs in expenses per month. I was living on borrowed money, relying on the regularity of the allocations from the Propagation of the Faith. Upon the arrival of Father Séon and his company one year after Father Pezant and his, I was heavily in debt; even the sum Father Séon brought was not enough to accommodate him and his company. Without the bank in Kororareka, run by devoted Protestant gentlemen who came to my aid with their trust and loans of bills of exchange that I drew on you, Reverend Father, the mission in New Zealand would have been doomed. We would have had to sell everything we owned, our ships and establishments, to pay off my debts. The bankruptcy of Mr. Wright is undoubtedly the cause of my distress, but to counter this blow, Lyon should have promptly arranged for a loan at five or six percent on the upcoming allocations from the Propagation of the Faith, instead of forcing me to take one at 10 to 15 percent here. I was fortunate to be able to do so; otherwise, the disaster would have been complete. Don't they realize back there that the temporal aspect of the mission is to the mission what our body is to our soul? To kill our body is to remove us from our work; even if our tongue were cut, we could only pray here, but we wouldn't be able to preach anymore. It would be better for us to be in heaven because our prayers would be more effective there. Alas! To cut off provisions, as is done, from troops on the battlefield and in the path of victory, is undoubtedly to throw them at the feet of their enemies. In May 1841, I received your recommendation to be economical! Alas! I can assure you that we have been so economical up until now that we have elicited pity from all those who know how the bishop himself lives! As for me, I recognize a kind of miracle from God so far, sustaining my strength in almost continual distress. The mission ship is indeed very expensive, but without it for the mission, there would be almost no mission left. When the Allier arrived here, how painful it was to find no funds available! Our debts amount to over 20 thousand francs here; I doubt that Father Épalle in Kororareka and I, if I were there, could find more to borrow to pay off these overdue debts. I would not be surprised to arrive and find a forced sale has taken place, much to the triumph of furious heresy against us. Nevertheless, now I must depart to sell the mission ship to pay off these debts that can no longer be postponed. Farewell to my indispensable voyages at sea, where I could be present everywhere, extending or at least defending the ground conquered against both infidelity and heresy.
May the Lord save the mission, as the administration of its own people is ruining it more than all its enemies combined! Help me, my reverend father, in this salvation until I can awaken the attention of the Holy See and throw myself at its feet. Believe me, your devoted servant.
+ François, Bishop, Apostolic Vicar
P.S. To console you, my reverend father, I am pleased to inform you that since I created three provicars and a provincial, I have noticed more respect, obedience, and attachment towards me. However, I fear that the lack of tact and savoir-faire may lead to another bishop in this clergy and flock and an archbishop in Lyon as the superior, resulting in misunderstandings and actions contrary to the wishes of the Holy See and what it has established for this mission.
As I do not wish to harm you, my reverend father, or the dear Society of Mary, I do not want to write to the Holy See against you (as I am obliged to do in these circumstances) without you being aware of everything I say, so that with a letter from you, you can excuse yourself and fend off any damage it may cause to yourself or to the benevolent congregation of this mission. The letter and the attached documents are so securely sealed that you can read everything, and I urge you to do so. I also ask you to show the notes and documents to the council of the Propagation of the Faith and have a copy made for their records.
Have mercy on this mission; if help arrives in time, it will recover admirably from the dangers it is facing and where it is on the verge of perishing. God save it; I am almost forced to cry: save yourself if you can!
Please believe that if the mission recovers from the mortal blows inflicted on its temporal aspect, a great good may result, which is to show the clergy the danger of going against their bishop and to you, my reverend father, for having too readily believed what was reported to you and having acted with them as mothers in colleges do, who coddle the children that their teachers have scolded. God bless all and save our souls! + François, Bishop, Apostolic Vicar.


  1. Cf. CS, doc. 262, Letter of de Poupinel to Pompallier, 17 et 20 may 1841; and CS, doc. 218, Letter of Colin to the missionaries, 21 November 1840.
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