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5 November 1842- Father Jean Forest to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Source APM Z 208 One sheet with three written pages, the fourth bearing only the address and Poupinel annotation.

[Address]
To: Monsieur Colin, Superior General of the Society of Mary, Mount Saint Barthélemy 4 - Personal - Lyon France
[Poupinel’s handwriting]
New Zealand * Bay of Islands 5 November 1842 * Father Forest


5th Letter from New Zealand to reverend Father Superior
Bay of Islands - 5 November 1842


My very reverend Father,
[1]
You possibly haven’t yet received my last letter dated September/October 1842 from the town of Auckland.[1] In that letter, I told you of our concerns for Father Borjon and Brother Déodat who had embarked on 1 August for Port Nicholson and of whom we had had no news. The newspapers made us even more worried with the report that the ship they had boarded had not arrived at Port Nicholson where it was heading. Today we hear something a bit more encouraging but which doesn’t remove all our worries. This Father and brother were seen in Port Nelson which isn’t very far from Port Nicholson but the crossing from one to the other is a difficult one.[2] I know. We came through these parts on our way here. This poor priest and brother make me very worried. They left with three shillings, no more no less. Moreover, they still owed half their passage, that’s 200 francs, which was to be paid by the Catholics on their arrival if they could manage it ; in addition. this poor priest had to provide everything for himself on his arrival, taking nothing with him. How much then in the destitute state of the mission do we need divine providence to take care of us like little birds, for we are, you might say, lacking in everything just as they are and we must wait from one day to the next for what she may wish to give us. But how wonderful she is! We have never yet lacked what one might call the bare essentials!
[2]
In my last letter I also wrote you a little about each of my colleagues. Today since I have seen Bishop Pompallier, I can give you something more definite on lots of things. Bishop arrived in the Bay of Islands from the tropics on 25 August 1842. He was a little surprised at Father Epalle’s departure for France. He would have liked to go there himself. A number of letters from you which I brought him upset him a good deal. He complains that he has been grossly misrepresented to you, my reverend father, and perhaps even, he says, to the Propagation of the Faith, but may God who is all-seeing judge him more favourably than men.
[3]
I actually believe in fact, my very reverend Father, that a number of folk have got a bit worked up in the mission, either among the priests or more probably among a few French who have come here and who, he says, have made false reports about him, telling M. Dumont d’Urville[3] when he passed through the Bay of Islands that the French bishop was receiving a million francs every year and was spending it all and without being able to get out of the wretched state he was in. I truly believe in fact that everything was not quite as it was described to me even, when I arrived in the Bay of Islands and in the rest of New Zealand. I believe that we will do well to tread very carefully regarding this state of irritation which he is experiencing; he says that all these denunciations have set you against him and that this is the reason why you haven’t regularly sent him his funds from the Propagation of the Faith -- nor even as many subjects as you could and should have. I’ve tried to pacify him as well as I can; thank God he seems to have a reasonable amount of confidence in me. All the same, I haven’t been able to talk him out of these false prejudices.
[4]
The letter which described me as a visitor was another thing which soured him. He thought he detected something in that letter which exceeded your authority: and so at number 1* in that letter, these words: the general wellbeing of the mission[4] offended him. He said to me that everything which was to do with the wellbeing of the mission, general and specific, was his business and that it was his duty to account for it to the Holy See and to no one else, that since the Holy See had entrusted him with this mission, the management of it was his responsibility and his alone. What wasn’t understood sufficiently in France was that they sent young inexperienced subjects with the express instruction to report to headquarters everything that happens here on a matter which concerns only him and the Holy See and that up till now that hadn’t been understood. In number 2 of the same letter, these words: what in short are the most suitable measures to take to establish and maintain the Catholic faith in the islands especially of New Zealand[5] only made him more and more bitter. He maintains that your only concern here is the maintenance of the rule and the personal conduct of the subjects.
[5]
In number 3 of the same letter, he didn’t see great difficulties in the Society’s having a house of its own in the Bay of Islands, [6] but it wasn’t yet the right time, that authority from Rome would be needed for that, that he would willingly seek this, that he would even offer land for that; but that basically he hardly saw the purpose of this house unless it be for them to live separately from him -- that in any case it could be considered later.
[6]
Number 4, what resources do they believe they have available.[7] All that, he says, is my responsibility and that of the Holy See....Then again, same reply whenever one touched even slightly on what he calls the administration of the mission. -- It’s a matter so sacred that one doesn’t dare say anything to him on that subject.. ... So in the final analysis as far as I am concerned, he willingly allows me to see all the colleagues, to correspond with them on all matters which concern their spiritual selves but without touching even in the remotest way on what he calls the administration of the mission. I will do my best with the grace of God to be faithful and never to become involved in any of the matters which could cause me to fall out with his Lordship. I shall not be able to make all the visits I need to through lack of funds. The Bishop has told me that to visit the lot, I would need at least 600[8] pounds sterling (15,000 francs). I will be forced to make only a few short visits close to the Bay of Islands.
[7]
In the opinion of all my colleagues, a visitor here would need to have a designated sum available to him, otherwise he will not be able to make all the visits he needs to -- especially with an administration like the present one. The smallest journey here is very costly, so that the trip to Port Nicholson alone, which is not very far away, cannot be made for less than 25 pounds sterling (625 francs). The Bishop has spoken to me about responsibility for the Provincialate, telling me that this responsibility is part of what I have received from you, that he would use in some other way the priest now responsible for it. I replied to him, after a few comments, that I would do very willingly what His Lordship might deem apposite and which would fit in with the responsibilities I already have. --- Perhaps he will give it to me, while we wait for you to write something more formal to us. Try to do this as soon as you can. I swear to you that we are truly in need of wisdom for we are all on a mighty bumpy road. --- The bishop will be very pleased to see that you yourself name a superior for our colleagues and for me, if I accept this responsibility provisionally, I shall implore you to please release me from it as soon as possible. I see even now all the problems for a poor provincial in this land, especially with regard to the Bishop.
[8]
The word that some of our priests have heard that Bishop wanted to remove them from the Society are a few of the Bishop’s words which have been misunderstood. For example the following: that the bishop and his priests are from the Society of Mary and not of it. This is the exact wording of several documents given to Bishop Pompallier in Rome. The bishop and his priests are of the Society in spirit, they said, by virtue of the links which bind us all to the same Society. They are not of it in the sense that they are under Rome’s authority in respect of the work they do. All these things being misunderstood have raised the hackles of several of our fellow priests. Add to that the continual lack of clarity which usually accompanies our good bishop in everything he says.
[9]
But on the other hand there are lots on the good side. Bishop has tireless enthusiasm. At this very moment, he is composing a Maori work which is being printed at the same time. We’re hoping that this work will bring back lots of Maoris who have given up Catholic prayer. This good bishop has the best of intentions but he has shortcomings like all men. -- I forgot to tell you that the letter he received from Rome about bishops to send to his mission particularly annoyed him. He keeps saying that they want to disband this poor mission and while they cannot already support the existing one, they want to set up another. This is what he doesn’t understand. But I could go on. It’s all complaints, but the most serious and the one you hear most often, the daily one is this: that they are keeping his money in Lyon and because of this they are causing his whole mission to fail. It’s not my place, my very reverend Father, to give you advice but if you allow me, I’ll tell you that I believe that if you could get rid of this responsibility of the mission and have it transferred to someone other than the Society as far as money to be sent or cashed is concerned, you would be getting rid of a huge burden and remove the source of many complaints about you. Everything I am saying to you here, my very reverend Father, is only and solely for you. While putting you in the picture about everything, I surely need to retain the Bishop’s kindly attitude towards me.
[10]
In a month, we will have a little retreat here for the brothers and priests who are in the Bay of Islands, for those in neighbouring stations such as Hokianga where Father Petit is, and Whangaroa where Fr Rozet is. This last named is finally asking to begin his novitiate; perhaps in the end he will decide to join the Society. After the retreat, I shall try, if funds allow it, to visit Fathers Séon, Pezant, Compte and Reigner. I’ll try to make sure of a small retreat for them. They tell me that some of them have made none at all since leaving France. Every day, I understand more and more the need and importance of a visitor, but what can we do without money?
[11]
Bishop has told us wonderful things about the tropical islands. Wallis and Futuna Islands have converted entirely. Fathers Bataillon and Viard are on Wallis; Fathers Rouleaux and Servant at Futuna. Fathers Chevron and Grange at Tongatapu, a new mission which is very promising. -- For the rest, nothing new in New Zealand. I forgot to tell you that Bishop has sent his boat to Valparaiso to be sold. The main grounds for the expense. God be praised. But one must confess that a boat would be very important here, but a small boat of 30 tons which could carry two or three men would suffice.
[12]
My health is tolerable. Please be kind enough to have word sent to my brother by M Poupinel that I am well, that I shall write to them all soon....
[13][in the margin]
My best regards, please, to all our good and worthy Fathers, Cholleton, your brother, Father Terraillon, Father Girard; to my good Father Maîtrepierre, Chartinier, Séon, to all the priests in Belley I firmly commend myself as well as all my fellow priests and brothers in Oceania to your prayers and to theirs. I have the great honour to be, my very reverend Father,
Your most devoted servant and unworthy son
Forest - Apostolic Missionary

Notes

  1. Cf. doc.205
  2. This report is clearly false, for they eventually found “ in the open sea on the East Cape side recognisable mast debris from this ship” (cf. doc.247, § 3).
  3. Jules Dumont d’Urville (1790-1842), French navigator, Captain of the Astrolabe (cf. doc.50, introd.). During his second voyage of discovery, he called in from 26 April to 4 May 1840 at Kororareka, where he met Father Petit (cf. Dunmore, vol.2. p.380), but the latter made no mention of this either in his two letters dated 27 April1840 (cf. doc.56 and 57), nor in his following letters.
  4. Cf. CS, doc. 301, § 3.
  5. Cf. CS, doc. 301, § 4
  6. Cf. CS, Doc. 301, § 5
  7. Cf. CS, Doc. 301, § 6
  8. Number read is uncertain: 600 or 300; 600 being more logical considering the value of sterling (= 25 francs) given in the following paragraph.