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4 January 1842- Father Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Father Claude Girard, Kororareka

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2014

All to Mary through Jesus

Bay of Islands, Kororareka
4 January 1842

I entrust this letter to Mary conceived without sin.

To Reverend Father Girard

Reverend Father
Your letter of 10th November 1940 I found very interesting, because it gave me news about the family, I mean our beloved Society of Mary. So the good Mother thus deigns to multiply her children. May this little Society imitate the grain of mustard seed in its growth [1] – may it spread afar like a great tree, to be specially an ornament in the garden of the Lord, and a resting place for the birds of heaven. How much have I wept for that poor city of Lyons so much afflicted by devastating calamities.[2] I love it because it is a cradle of missionaries. I would almost apply to it that comparison which Fénélon made to the Church in his sermon on the Epiphany, saying it was like a wet-nurse who offers her children a double breast, that of knowledge and charity. Indeed the city of Pothinus and Irenaeus does not tire of providing preachers and alms to the apostolic work of the foreign missions. If the Lord has punished this city, it is because he loves it, and that thought consoles me.
Truly, from whatever place you move to on this wretched earth, you encounter nothing but tribulations. Our beloved Oceania mission indeed has its chalice of bitterness. The Bishop has been absent from the Bay of Islands for five or six months to visit the people of his mission. At the moment when he was thinking of coming back to us, to recover a little from his exhaustion, unexpected news quickly called his Lordship to the tropical islands. This news was that of the death of Reverend Father Chanel who indeed deserved to be described like Moses – mitissimus hominum[3]. The Bishop, in a letter he wrote to Father Épalle, did not refer to him as other than an angel of kindness. I am going, he said, to try to recover the remains of this angel of kindness. I have reason to believe, with my confrères, that the good God has so arranged the circumstances that not only will the Bishop be in safety around the island of Futuna but also will be able to increase the glory of God.
During November 1841 the whole Bay of Islands was put in consternation by an unheard of crime. A woman was living alone on an island near Kororareka with her servant and three children. All were killed in a cruel way and the house was burnt down. The murderer turned out to be a native belonging to the Protestants. The Maori New Testament which had cost him 5 francs[4] and which he habitually carried with him was taken from his grasp, stained with the blood of his victims. The jury which inquired into the event said nothing of this circumstance.[5] Why recklessly put the Bible into everyone’s hands? The real reason is that a good price was got for it.
Here God’s work is going through a great trial, for lack of subjects [men] and finance. It is stagnating, coming to a stop; without that extraordinary providence promised to apostolic workers, one could hardly get the most necessary things for them. At Whangaroa, at the Bay of Islands, we have stopped visiting the tribes, or we see them only from a distance, for lack of men to do the rowing. Our Brothers are, with difficulty, busy putting up a building for our printer under the direction of M Perret[6]: this building is slowly going up, and made of pisé. We have needed to make everything, create everything. Going to gather shells to make lime, burning them, breaking stones, etc etc. M Hiver [Yvert] is working as much as he can on a garden destined to provide us part of our food. Our mission is alive, it even has some sparkle, but it is in a sort of paralysis. God is allowing goodness in this way, against an almost insurmountable obstacle. With the exception of the places that the British government favours and the towns it is building, it can be said that everywhere else white people can do nothing for any religious establishment.
The rights of the Europeans who have had dealings with the natives up till now seem to be threatened; there is every chance that they will receive from their great possessions only what the government will want to leave them. The kauri, [7], the finest trees in New Zealand, and which offer, it is said, the British navy the finest masts in the world, have been declared to be the property of the British Crown – with a punishment of deportation for those who cut down a kauri, even in their own forests. The Bay of Islands is now, for the time being, reduced to a most deplorable situation; its hope lies only in its position, its climate, its building sites and, especially, its fine harbour which is said to be clearly superior to all the others.
A man, I could say a new magus, is waiting here to be given a priest and the means he needs to return to his island.[8] We are informed that many other islands are disposed to receive us, and what ought to encourage us is that once we were established in those places, maintaining the mission would cost little and the natives would be happy with little. Certainly we can bless the feeling of fear – there we would be in security. We are not holy enough to deserve the grace Father Chanel has gained. If one can assign natural causes to his death, which has all the appearances of a true martyrdom, one is that those islands of Wallis and Futuna were rarely visited, they couldn’t have been [visited] by the mission as those people expected. Here are the names of our stations, and the Fathers who carry out the sacred ministry there: Hokianga: Reverend Fathers Servant, Rouleaux [Roulleaux]; Bay of Islands: Reverend Father Épalle (provicar and administrator), Reverend Father Garin, Father Provincial; Wanganoa and Mongonui [Whangaroa and Mangonui]: Reverend Father Petit-Jean; Tauranga: Reverend Father Pèzant; Akaroa in the middle island: Reverend Fathers Comte, Trippe [Tripe]; Kaipara: Reverend Father Petit. Auckland has Reverend Father Baty. The Catholics have built his house through collections. He is a provicar. Matamata: Reverend Father Séon; Maketu: Reverend Father Borjon; Opotiki: Reverend Father Roset [Rozet]. You would need a map; if I had time I would copy one for you on the basis of the British Government one, acknowledged to be an excellent map. My name is associated, it is true with Whangaroa, but my person is at the Bay of Islands. Sometimes I travel around the Bay to baptise the sick, sometimes I carry out the sacred ministry among the English Catholics. Our beloved Brother Elie, the most reliable Brother possible, looks after Whangaroa. We complain at not being able to see him as much as we would like. But we are going to take steps by which this station will be perfectly served. We must thank the Lord for raising up a people who, with its more than twenty thousand ships, cruising all the seas of the world, opens up pathways for the gospel everywhere. Apart from the whaling ships which travel in thousands to the most remote latitudes, and anchor in many parts, the main island groups of Oceania are beginning to be visited regularly. Yesterday two ships anchored in the Bay of Islands were getting ready to leave for Tahiti. Another will follow them in two weeks. I know positively that one of them will visit Tongatapu. I had the pleasure of speaking to the captain; it seemed to me that he told me that Tongatapu and the Navigators [Samoa] were islands where he wanted to stop at. Now the newspapers in New Zealand announce each week the ships which are going into its various ports, they are coming onto the coasts which have no harbours to buy foodstuffs produced by the natives. O Reverend Father, when the world is measured, it seems nothing, nothing at all. If I was told that I had to go to the tropics, I would make my preparations as calmly as if going from Lyons to Paris. The earth is really small, and man, who is in one sense such a small being, visits it as a way of amusing himself. So may the thought of the great ocean not cause the hearts of the new missionaries to beat. O Reverend Father, if we have the happiness of hastening to take possession of the islands of Oceania in the names of Jesus and Mary, the Kingdom of God will be established there forever. They will be forever preserved from the stench of the rotten continents. What an impression of blessedness is left in sailors’ hearts by the sight of the Gambier Islands. I will cite the opinion of Captain Ruffion,[9] captain of the Rose, a ship from Bordeaux. The inhabitants of the Gambier Islands, with their missionaries, he told me, are not men, they are lambs under the guidance of tender shepherds. I imagine that when the Anti-Christ will hold sway in the Church amongst the nations, those blessed islands will be, in part, the desert in which some members of the Church will take refuge.
[In the margin and crosswise on the last page]
In those islands the faithful in peace will be fed peacefully with the bread of the word and the life-giving flesh of Jesus Christ. Oh, I urge, with tears, the priests and the many pupils of the sanctuary[10] to consider all that they can do in these thousands of islands, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and I throw myself at the feet of our Lords Bishops to accede without delay to such pious desires. In these distant missions, new friends and collaborators are awaited with all the eagerness with which young Tobias was, by his father and mother, who, while waiting for the return of their son, were counting the days and in the depths of their hearts were experiencing a cruel suffering.[11]
Please pray for me. I am, with deep respect, Reverend Father, your most humble and obedient servant in Jesus and Mary,
J(ean) Bap(tiste) Petit-Jean, Marist priest, missionary apostolic


  1. cf Mark 4:31 - translator’s note
  2. The writer perhaps had in mind the riots of November 1831 and February 1834 [I think another possibility is the destructive floods that affected Lyons in 1840 - translator’s note]
  3. Cf Numbers 12:3: “Moses was a very humble man, more humble that any man on earth.”
  4. 4 shillings - translator’s note
  5. The murderer was Maketu Wharetotara. The victims, Mrs Roberton and her children. The summary of the story of the tragedy is in Doc 118 [22,23].
  6. Louis Perret and Jean François Yvert (‘Hiver’ below), both laymen, left Europe 8th December 1840 in the 5th groups of Marist missionaries.
  7. Kauri: a large native conifer (agathis australis)
  8. James Hall, a Scotsman, who came from the island of Ponape (cf Doc 163 [10] f/n 3)
  9. “Ruffion” – Jacques Ruffio (cf Doc 106 [1])
  10. seminary students? - translator’s note
  11. Cf Tobit 10:1-7