From Marist Studies
Lettres recues d’Oceanie (CD) Doc 167, pp 250-255
Joint letter from the missionaries of New Zealand to Jean-Claude Colin, 22 May 1842
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, November 2008
- New Zealand
- 22 May 1842
- Joint letter from the missionaries about the state of the mission.
- Very Reverend Father
- I am undertaking to reply to your letter, full of solicitude, addressed to the priests and Brothers of the Society of Mary in the Oceania Mission. Reverend Father Epalle, pro-vicar of Bishop Pompallier, who is going to France, will very fully inform you about the state of the mission. However, in order to fulfil the tasks you made me responsible for, I made haste to see particularly the Fathers and Brothers who could gather at the house at the Bay of Islands. I conversed often and at length with these same Fathers of our Society gather in council. By informing you in a summary form of the result of these discussions, I think I can be in a position to summarily answer the questions about which you need enlightenment.
- 1) I think that it can be generally said about the Fathers and the Brothers that there is among them only one heart and one soul; peace and unity reign among all of them. The same thing cannot be said about the Bishop and his priests. I will explain myself: most of them have been in union, peace and perfect understanding with His Lordship, though groaning under the process of the administration. Several and four especially have had lively disputes (I ask to be excused for that expression) with the Bishop. There are some who have received permission in writing to return to France, and notably those who came in the first dispatch were threatened with being sent back to France, under interdicts, before even arriving at the mission stations.
- The Fathers’ and Brothers’ sufferings. With the exception of the house at the Bay of Islands, it can be said that the majority of the stations have suffered a great deal. And as well, the missionaries travelling among the tribes have nothing for food at all but potatoes and kumara. The stations do not always receive what they need to buy pigs. In the tropics the men continually experience hunger. In New Zealand it has been said, “The Bishop’s priests have nothing to eat.” There has been suffering as well in the matter of clothes. People remember being forced to use bed sheets to make clothes for the Brothers who were cold. In the tropics the men were in extreme need. So they went about barefoot so as to keep their shoes for service at the altar. On apostolic journeys, the nearly normal occupation of the missionary when he has the means for travelling, he has no other bed than the ground usually covered with a few reeds or fern fronds, or a mat, or on the bare ground, sometimes under the open sky. The priests’ houses mostly provide only poor shelter. There is no church building, apart from a few Maori houses, except at the Bay of Islands where we have a little chapel made of wood which holds forty people. There is no cemetery, which shames the Catholics and saddens them. We have seen a Protestant step-father of a Catholic child refusing priests for the burial of that child, saying that he wanted the child to be buried properly. Now, in his opinion, he found this decency and tidiness in the Protestant cemetery sited around their church and carefully surrounded with fencing. The spiritual hardships are much more considerable. The Fathers are generally on their own, some don’t even have the company of a Brother; in one station there is a Brother on his own and who has been three or four months without being visited. To sum up, all the Fathers feel the need to have two priests together, following your special recommendation and the formal wording of our rule. They regret having been forced to depart from those. That situation has as well been a cause for discouragement, for slackening and failure in proper observance of spiritual exercises.
- The dangers to which the missionaries in New Zealand are exposed are really very much the same as those listed by the apostle St Paul in 2 Corinthians, Chapter II. Dangers from the rivers which the rains cause to flood and which in the course of journeys which are quite short and only a few leagues in length, have to be crossed sometimes twenty or even thirty times. Very frequently as well you have to go through wet places, full of water and mire – dangers from robbers – recently a Father was stripped in his house of everything he possessed. Ex genere.. One of the greatest wounds to our mission was created by people of our own nation, against whom we were not sufficiently on guard. Father Epalle will give you the complete details of this. Periculis ex gentibus. This is perhaps our least danger. Solitudine. It is easy to get lost in the forests and on these narrow tracks. Reverend Father Petit’s story we know, and recently Father Servant almost died in this way. In mari.  You can go almost nowhere without crossing wide rivers, arms of the sea, you are fairly often on the high seas on very small schooners and even in Maori canoes or small craft paddled by two oars. Falsis fratribus.  How many false friends try to harm the mission through their words and even through their actions. The least they do is to alienate the natives against our mission. (Father Servant spent at least two days in a small boat like this, in the open sea, carried along by the winds and the waves, without any food.)
- Concerning ways of lessening these privations and preventing these dangers, the quickest and most effective seem to us to set up a good administration and the house about which you speak, Very Reverend Father, and on the basis that you have in mind, a proposition supported by everyone without exception. We are undecided as to the place. People have mentioned the Bay of Islands, Auckland and Wellington on Port Nicholson. To hold to the carrying out of the advice and the Rule which enjoins going two together on mission. I will say something here concerning the holy virtue, although it is likely that passions ought to be much less aroused by this people than they would be in Europe, nevertheless the Maori is not very modest, he doesn’t wear much clothing, and a great difficulty is often having to sleep in houses in which both men and women sleep. It is quite customary for the Maori to have only one dwelling in which the whole family sleeps. So it can be said that on these occasions the priest has no other protection than his virtue and the respect that he can inspire in people.
- Ways of establishing the faith: 1) Books to be distributed to the natives. On the face of it, it is the greatest need. A book is, in the sight of the New Zealander, the greatest thing. He has such a great desire for knowledge and is so eager to possess a book! They leave us because we do not have books to give them as do the [Protestant] missionaries. 2) Making frequent visits to the tribes. 3) Training catechists among the natives. For that, having schools and little boarding establishments. In view of the spirit of this people catechists, it seems to us, would provide huge advantages. 4) Finding ways of safeguarding the young Maori women, who are pretty well taken away by whites from an early age either as domestic servants or to go on ships, and it is well known that in these cases there is no marriage involved. These Maori women and girls who live like this with Europeans do not receive the faith, come only from time to time at best to Sunday worship, and are even discouraged from it by the Europeans among whom they live. What I have just described is a reason for very rapid decrease in the New Zealand population. It can be said that the Maoris lack women.
- Among the Europeans, having schools for the children of both sexes and even a college (there is hope for some vocations), hospitals, churches, priests who speak English well, bringing in good books, getting people to subscribe to the fine Catholic newspaper from Sydney, etc.
- Resources which the country offers. Agriculture. Clearing the land involves some difficulties because of the fern and scrub which generally cover the New Zealand land. The Brothers will be the main helpers in that European labour is prohibitive in cost and the Maori is demanding, niggardly, unreliable and fairly careless in his work. There is hope of cultivating the vine with success – it is already planted in some of our stations. European plants and fruit, established in good places, will do very well. There is neither harmful hail nor frost, at least throughout the northern region. There is reason to believe that the towns will support their clergy, but in this category there are as yet only Auckland and Wellington. Further, it is hoped that where 300 souls (Europeans) are found, the priest will receive an allowance from the government. But right now its resources can hardly allow this.
- The things that the mission can get for itself here are all much dearer than in Europe except some food items. The Procurator going to France will deal with this matter himself. It is enough to note at this point that things made of iron, wool and perhaps cotton must be bought in England and the rest in France.
- I have asked the priests presently in the house to read this letter and to add their signatures to it.
- I have the honour to be, Reverend Father, your humble and devoted son and servant
- Forest (missionary apostolic)
- Epalle (pro-vicar)
- Petit (missionary apostolic)
- J[ean] B[aptiste] Petit-Jean Marist priest, missionary apostolic
- a likely reference to Acts 4:32, “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul” – often cited by Father Colin as an ideal of the Society of Mary – translator’s note
- See in particular 2 Corinthians 11:26 (the sufferings endured by the apostle): “… in dangers from rivers and in dangers from brigands, in danger from my own people and in dangers from pagans, in dangers in the towns, in danger in the open country, danger at sea and danger from so-called brothers.” Jerusalem Bible translation
- dangers from my own race
- Dangers from pagans
- Dangers in the desert
- Dangers on the seas
- Dangers from false brethren
- This anecdote seems out of place here. It would seem to be better placed after in mari - translator’s note.
- he seems to be referring to chastity - translator’s note