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Brother Elie-Régis to Father Colin, 7 May 1842

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July 2008 click here for Br Ted Clisby's translation of the same letter.

To Reverend Father Colin, Superior of the Marist Fathers, at Lyons, at Pilata
New Zealand, 7 May 1842
Reverend Father
I thought you would be pleased to hear news about me and to find out a little about what is happening in the mission, what we are doing. For myself, I am well right now; about what I am doing: I have been sent to a mission station with two priests, Father Epalle[1] and Father Petit-Jean. Soon after the Bishop withdrew Father Epalle to be his pro-vicar; Father Petit-Jean stayed a long time with me, because I have been in this station more than two years, but as the need for subjects is still becoming greater, some time ago he was withdrawn as well; so I am alone right now with a little native servant who prepares my food and keeps me company, but it is not the company of a priest or a Brother; the priests come to see me from time to time from the Bay of Islands; I am deprived of Holy Mass and the bread of the strong, but may God’s will be done, we have everything when we are under obedience, because we know we have done the will of God in doing that of our Superiors; I have however been given reason to hope for a Father or even a Brother to keep me company and help me, that is what I very much want.
I have a lot to do, because I am obliged to be a catechist, a carpenter, a joiner, a farmer, a tailor, sometimes a laundryman, a cook sometimes as well; and beyond that I have to look after a vegetable garden, hens and the other animals that we have. There are, truly, special graces for missionaries, because in all that there would be plenty of work for three people and it has to be done by only one. When we got to the site of a station, we had to consider building a house – I was the only worker; it is true that houses here are made of planks. It is preferable to stone.
Then we needed to think about cultivating a garden to get food, because here people give nothing. We have to buy everything and we are poor, but we must rejoice that our life is in conformity with our profession; pork, potatoes, maize – there you have the usual fare of this country. We have certainly sown wheat. It is coming along very well, but we can’t sow very much of it because we don’t have the means of doing it here; we don’t have a plough, that is to say, bullocks for ploughing, we have to dig the land. We cultivate the vine, it will do very well here, the first one that we planted will be three years old this year. It will begin to bear grapes. We harvested this year, at Whangaroa[2] on our land, that is, the land that the Bishop bought for the mission station, a hundred baskets or bichets of potatoes, about ten bichets of wheat and about ten of maize. I am not speaking about other vegetables, except to say that this year we will have almost enough food without buying it.
Among all my tasks it is that of being a catechist which comes first; that is, that if I find out that there is a sick person in a tribe, I leave everything so as to go and see him, instruct him and baptise him if he is in danger of death. I lead prayers[3] for the nearest natives, morning and evening, but when I can go to the most distant tribes, I experience a lot of consolation, because then I have the chance to instruct them about the truths of our holy religion. They are very ignorant but very attentive as well[4] it’s not that we receive anything from them. On the contrary, when we go to them, they first look to see if we have a bit of tobacco to give them; but that does not allow us to feel more comfortable, because sometimes we have to row half a day, and then travel across land by rough paths. If we are forced to stay overnight, which sometimes happens, we have to lie on the ground in native style, and fully dressed, we put up with the cold. But how sweet it is to suffer for Jesus Christ when we love him.
The Protestants do a lot of harm. They make people resistant,[5] some almost incredulous as a result of their lies which they endlessly spout forth against our holy religion; they send their native catechists into our Catholic tribes to try to get them to turn to their views. One day I was told that two of them were among one of our tribes. I went there immediately – they were indeed there with their bibles, but immediately, on my arrival, they left because they are afraid of verbal exchanges with us, because some know that they do not have the truth.
One day the Protestant missionary himself met a chief from our tribes. He said to him: Epikopo i koe? Epikopo i a koe? That means “You are among the Bishop’s people, are you? Are you a supporter of the Bishop?” He replied, “Yes, I am with the Bishop, and I even glory in being with the Bishop.” The missionary then said to him, “The Bishop and his priests are evil people; if they had the power to make all of you obey them, they would make you prepare a pyre of really dry wood; then they would tell you to seize us and to put us on it to burn us”; the native answered him: “The Bishop has not yet done any harm, he has not yet committed murder, to the contrary, up till now he has done nothing but good. You are the ones who have killed.” He made this complaint to him as well: “You formerly told us: ‘The Bishop is coming here to take your lands; it is untrue, you can clearly see he has not taken any lands; on the contrary, it is you who take them’”; so you see from this example what evil talk these Protestants are capable of; most of the natives do not listen to them. They have among them people who well know how to show them the falsity of their religion and the truth of ours, but as the natives only consider outward appearances, they still have a certain favourable view of them. We need a church here in Wangaroa to put on a bit of a show[6] because the Protestants have a pretty good church, and we have only a poor chapel made of reeds, like the natives’ houses. The natives are poor but they do not have the spirit of poverty; they esteem only those who shine by means of their clothes and their dwelling; they often say: If we had a fine building for our worship, we would be keep on worship; but for this one we have no liking; a little spending would not be wasted. The good God would be glorified with it even if Mass was said in it only rarely; it would stand for something in the natives’ sight. But may God’s will be done; if we are poor we are not the first, since Jesus Christ our master was so himself.
Your entirely devoted servant,
Brother Elie-Régis


  1. Written by the author as “Epal” throughout the letter.
  2. Written “Wangaroa”
  3. Je fais la prière
  4. but? – word missing
  5. dur
  6. pour figurer un peu