From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

3 May 1842 — Father Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Kororareka

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2008

Mary conceived without sin, pray for us.
Kororareka, the day of the Finding of the Holy Cross, 1842

Letter concerning spiritual direction

Very Reverend Father
I have found a letter in my wallet which I should have sent you a long time ago. It is dated 1841. I delayed sending it while waiting for someone from the mission to leave. I am going to make a decision and replace it with another.
First of all I am going to give you, briefly, an account of my conscience. My soul is very dry. The causes of this spiritual dryness are my negligence in doing my spiritual exercises, particularly in personal prayer and particular examen; I am not regular in spiritual reading, I observe the rule of silence very little, I am quick to speak and slow to listen. The time given to my prayers and other pious exercises is almost always spent in a distracted state. Before God, I reproach myself for never having seriously tried to get out of this state. Nevertheless I am trying specially each day to do an hour’s meditation. For a long time now the illusion has vanished, in which I imagined that I would become, in the missions, another St Francis Xavier or someone like him, continually thirsting for the salvation of souls and experiencing that spiritual thirst in an obvious way. Ah, Very Reverend Father, how different is the present reality. Happy are those who do not allow themselves to be seduced by their imaginations while hearing talk of voyages, missions, reading descriptions of islands and savage peoples and even reading reports made by foreign missionaries.
When I am alone, I am subject to obsessions, like making castles in the air and that added to those dreams and worries and added as well to my nervous condition which leaves me sometimes in a condition of moral helplessness, leads to my having a considerable amount of time. I allow myself to get involved in excessively long conversations, which I do not know how to cut short, I begin with useful things and finish with pleasantries. I reproach myself a bit over this.
What has to be put up with among the Maoris, especially in the matter of vermin, has sometimes disgusted me a bit. However I see quite clearly that any sensitivity is for me a little thing. The indifference that I have often found among the Maori has been a lot more difficult to bear. Just consider that since I have been in New Zealand I don’t think I have come across a Maori who was ready to go with me with good grace and without hope of payment even when it involved going to see a person who was sick. I have got over all that. The stay at Kororareka, where we were fairly well housed, weakened my apostolic energy a bit. I felt that I was not like a soldier on campaign, a Maori house would suit me better. When it has been a matter of saving a sick person, I have never hesitated to travel in any weather and whatever distance required. Even with my bodily ills and greater spiritual ones, I rival the most experienced in speed in travelling the valleys and hills, even with a burden on my back, and I have not yet come across a sort of food which repelled me. Everything is excellent, Very Reverend Father, even fern root.
Concerning the virtue of chastity, I have found many fewer exterior occasions of temptation, but to balance that, my flesh has given me terrible attacks, but the good God, although he had good reason to humiliate me, has always brought me triumphant in these struggles. I thank him for strength and I hope also to thank him eternally in heaven. What I try to do is to support the natives as much as I can, and not to say to anyone anything which could be a cause for the loss of a soul. On one occasion I had said something unpleasant to a chief, and I was not completely at peace in giving him the hongi, the common greeting among the New Zealanders which involved touching one another, nose with nose. I excuse myself from offering the most holy sacrifice of the Mass as rarely as I can.
It is now a good eight to nine months since I effectively left Whangaroa. Brother Elie-Regis watched over the station on his own, while I went there from time to time on my rounds: it seemed to me that the visits were not regular enough. I know that you are appalled at one of the members of the Society being left on his own. Fortunately our Brother Elie seems to me to be the most solid of the Brothers. He is very edifying and worries over his work. He has nearly 3000 feet of vines. When I was at Whangaroa I have to say that there was a time when we received what was barely necessary and that I did not have the proper confidence in those who were the administrators, because when we were asking only for useful things we were getting only cast-offs and rather strongly worded refusals. But harmony was neither broken nor altered.
One of the great causes of my spiritual dryness is the cares that consume me about the financial difficulties of our mission. May missionaries be trained to develop the precious art of economy which is often rare because several people do not know about or do not concern themselves with financial matters. It is to myself first of all that I am aiming this lesson. In my letters from New Zealand, I have abstained from making any reflection like those I made to you during my journey out. That is because I am not responsible for anything and the Bishop does not want anyone to write contradictory observations in letters to Europe. We have been given a [rule?] about which you will no doubt be informed and which seems quite wise. Besides, Reverend Father, I am keenly aware of the consequences of something written to France about any matter; as everything must be true, exact and polished. When I have written a letter, if I keep it for some time without sending it, I always need to correct and change it.
I forgot to confess that sometimes I thought about prelatures and dignities, estimating myself more worthy than many others to occupy high ranks, and becoming too familiar with the tasks of priesthood and becoming used to seeing them as ordinary or rather making them seem ordinary to myself, performing them without pious awe.
I believe that someone is encouraging the Bishop to make me the bursar for the mission while keeping me as parish priest for the small British Catholic flock at Kororareka. And I can easily foresee that when Father Epalle goes to Europe he will leave me the portfolio. No doubt I will accept the burdens I will have laid on me. But in the present circumstances, when first of all I have no power of attorney given me by the Bishop, and when Mr Wright’s bankruptcy [1] and other circumstances have thrown our mission into a debt which is growing through interest, foreseeing that I will have to commit myself often by my signature, that I will perhaps have to write letters to France and sometimes cheques which will put our correspondents to extreme risks, I reflect and weigh up the future in the most unlikely circumstances and aware that everything will then be revealed in sight of the whole world, that many things will become clear, I fear risking my family’s honour, small as it may be, my priest’s honour which is greater than that of the angels, but even more that of a foreign missionary and a child of the Society of Mary. This timidity which is part of my nature means that I would really like to divert this responsibility from myself if someone was thinking of giving it to me. Before ending my letter, I would really like to tell you something about the Blessed Virgin. I would like to be able to tell you that I truly love her, but in that matter as well my heart is very cold. I remain, with deepest respect, Very Reverend Father,
your son in Jesus and Mary,
Jean Baptiste Petit-Jean.
Marist priest, apostolic missionary


  1. i.e. the failure of Wright’s bank in London, in which the mission funds had been deposited.