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2 January 1842 — Brother Claude-Marie (Jean-Claude Bertrand) to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Hokianga

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, April 2007

2 January 1842
Jesus, Mary, Joseph

Very dear and very Reverend Father Superior
Please excuse me, I beg you, for not having written to you sooner, as I should have done and as the mission rule demands, to write to the Superior General every six months. I thought that that article concerned only the Fathers, and not the Brothers, because they are not educated enough to write letters. One day, reflecting on this matter, I opened it up with Reverend Father Garin, our provincial: he replied that it concerned all the members of the Society attached to the mission and committed me to write to you, which I am trying to do today, 2 January 1842, thinking that in the next day or two I will get a letter to the Bay of Islands by way of Father Petit, who has to go there.
A few days after my arrival in New Zealand I was appointed to the Hokianga mission where I am still. From the beginning and up till the arrival of Fathers Séon and the others, I had no fixed rule. But now a general rule for the mission has been made and a provincial has been chosen, who is responsible for our conduct and our souls so that at present everything goes on according to rule, and you would think you were in our houses in France. I am doing my best to follow the rule, and, with the grace of God, I am doing pretty well what is recommended in it.
Since the naming of Father Provincial, I have written to him twice, sharing with him everything of my interior life; I concealed nothing from him, and he was kind enough to give me advice full of wisdom, but which unfortunately my corrupt nature does not allow me to follow as much as I would like. I perform my exercises of piety as the rule requires. I am sometimes obliged, because of my occupations, to omit part of my office. I go to confession every week as often as possible, but my confessions are almost always the same, which makes me really worried. I have the very sweet blessing of receiving Communion three times a week, including Sundays. I experience a lot of consolation in receiving this bread of life, but the distractions and experience of dryness which come upon me before and after makes me sad.
In France I had a strong inclination to caress children, which brought me many thoughts and desires contrary to holy virtue; I thought that here I would no longer be inclined to this vice because of the change in country and customs, but alas, good Father, the contrary is true. I have such a strong inclination to this evil, that although in the morning I make a resolution to do everything I can so as not to touch them with my hands, if the chance to do so comes up, I cannot stop myself, and what had never happened to me before, I corrupted myself three times in caressing them.
I am not very suited to manual work, and am very clumsy, because I had not worked at all in this way before coming on the mission. I thought I would be a catechist, and not a farmer and a cook, but Providence decided otherwise, and may its holy will be accomplished in me. I still had the thought and the very great desire that, as I had done some little study, I could, if it was seen as appropriate, continue it; but seeing when I arrived, what was required of the Brothers, I did not dare to open up the matter. I have, however, spoken about it to Reverend Father Provincial who told me that if the Lord was calling me to it, he would know how to reveal it to the Bishop, and not to concern myself about it.
Although I have a lot of difficulties in gardening and get very tired, all the same I do what I can, seeing that the mission needs it.
I am told that when someone asks me to do something, I am always too ready to show my feelings. It is indeed a big failing in me, and comes, as far as I can see, from laziness which always looks out for what it is easiest to do. I still sometimes complain in secret, especially if the thing I am asked to do is difficult, or tedious, or if I am asked to do several things at the same time. When I see myself overwhelmed with work, which often happens to me, I get worried and anxious about it to the point of sickness. It was for this reason that, in view of the multiplicity of work of every sort on one hand, and my lack of strength, skill and experience [on the other], not being used to all these things, as I have said, while several things were going downhill or not being well done because of my ignorance, I offered these circumstances to the Father Provincial about two months ago, and asked him, if he saw fit, to speak about the matter to Reverend Father Epalle and give me another task which was less tiring, as [for example] in a place where there was only one priest. He did not see it as appropriate, at that time, to accede to my request. I hope however that later on, perhaps, I will be replaced.
I have just experienced something which has really upset me. I had about a dozen pious books, several little notebooks which I had brought from France and elsewhere, and in which I had written, in my free moments on Sundays, in Maori. While getting meals ready or when, in the evenings, I had a spare moment, I read them a bit. But I don't know whether Father Servant was afraid I was wasting my time in reading or writing, [but] he has taken all my books and notebooks from me and allows me to use them only on Sundays and even then I have to ask his permission for it.[1]
It will be very difficult for me to learn the New Zealand language because I have neither books nor notebooks to study it. All I can do is, by talking to them I can pick up a few words.
Apart from that I am very happy and do not miss France at all. I have got used to everything; I get on well with the natives, I love them; and why would I not love them since it was for them that I came to these shores. But I can do nothing for these poor people, buried [as I am] in the kitchen or taken up otherwise in clearing land. I am doing nothing to instruct them. Let us hope that if God wishes it, that will happen later on.
Please allow me, very Reverend Father Superior, to offer my very humble respects to the beloved Fathers of Puylata and my best wishes to the dear Brothers. Do not forget me, please, in your fervent prayers; and please ask for a lot of prayer for me, because you see how great are my woes; and please believe me to be
your very humble and obedient servant
Brother Claude-Marie
Purakau, on the Hokianga River.
2 January 1842


  1. Father Girard notes that in his letter of 26 July 1842 – Doc 174 – Brother Claude-Marie will complain about his Superior [Father Petit at that time] who allows him Communion only once or twice a week "because he thinks I am disobedient".