12 May 1843 - Father Jean Forest to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands
Translated by Natalie Keen. July 2013 Summary by Fr Brian Quin SM
He intends to say something about himself, his struggles, and then something about suggestions for the improvement of the mission.
He thinks his greatest spiritual problem is the Bishop’s conduct – his words and actions seem ridiculous. He is aware of the consequences if he showed this attitude publicly, especially in the presence of younger confrères. There is an attitude gaining ground among the men that the work in NZ is useless and it would be better to go elsewhere. He repeats his willingness to work as provincial for the time being, but without the title.
The provincial must not live in the same house as the Bishop – several reasons given. Also, it would be good to have a separate house for the men newly-arrived from France in which they could more easily prepare for their coming work. The Bishop’s house is very noisy, with many visitors. The contrast between the Bishop’s largesse to the Maori and the poverty of many stations creates dissatisfaction among the men.
From source APM Z 208.
Two sheets, “Bath” paper, forming four handwritten pages, the fourth also bearing the address and the Poupinel annotation.
- To Monsieur Colin, Superior General of the Society of Mary, Mount Saint Barthélemy no.4 * Lyon France
- [Poupinel annotation]
- New Zealand * Bay of Islands 12 May 1843 * Father Forest
- 8th letter from New Zealand to very reverend Father Superior General
- Bay of Islands - 12 May 1843
- My very Reverend Father
- It’s one whole year that I have been among the New Zealanders and it seems to me no more than two months since we were setting out on this long voyage. May eternity, which must bring us together again, come quickly and how I fear that it will surely find me wanting. What faults I believe I shall have to regret when I arrive before the great master from whose eyes nothing is hidden. My aim in this letter is to talk to you a little about myself, my soul, and I’ll give you too some information which will be helpful to you for the good of this mission
- In my seventh letter immediately preceding this one and dated 15 March 1843, from the Bay of Islands,  I gave you details of what I’ve been doing and of my visits since I’ve been in New Zealand. That letter was sent to you along with some from my colleagues recently arrived from Europe on an English ship going directly to London. It was addressed to Mr Cooper who should receive it postage paid since we paid the postage here to make doubly sure. When you write to me, I should be most pleased if you could tell me if you received all those letters.
- I have now, my very reverend Father, visited all our priests and brothers who are in New Zealand. It’s taken me nearly eight months to see them all. Since travel here is only by sea, you often have to wait a very long time to find a ship to get to the place you want to go. My last visit was to Hokianga, birthplace of Catholic mission in this region. It was there that Bishop Pompallier landed with Father Servant when he arrived in New Zealand. This station is located approximately northwest and two days’ journey from the Bay of Islands.
- I stayed there about three weeks. The first week was spent giving a small retreat to reverend Fathers Petit, Garin and Lampilas and Brothers Luc and Claude Marie. Father Garin and Brother Luc didn’t have the time to make one in the Bay of Islands at the same time and along with the others and so they went with me to Hokianga which was more convenient. As soon as the retreat was finished, they returned to the Bay of Islands to take up their usual work.
- I myself stayed on for a few more days to concentrate a little on myself after spending a long time looking after others. Holy Week was spent entirely like this. But, sadly, here I surely didn’t have those beautiful and touching ceremonies that you have in France and especially in Lyon to edify me during this beautiful week. I heard none of those eloquent preachers of St. Bonaventure who cry out to the Lord: Courage, Seigneur, Courage [Courage, Lord, courage]. I could well have done with someone who could say to me: Courage, pauvre missionaire, courage[Courage, poor missionary, courage]. For I was at times truly spent. However if help from men was lacking, God our good father and Mary our good and tender mother surely didn’t abandon me. I saw myself during this retreat as truly wretched and worthless as far as all the virtues are concerned and I’m really sure I’m not wrong when I tell you that up till now no real virtue, and I really fear that I’ve been deluding myself a great deal thus far by often regarding as a virtue something which was not, which was nothing but the product of an overactive imagination and hypersensitivity which loom too large within me. The occasions and differing circumstances which test the virtues arise very frequently here and that’s when I’ve seen that I was much weaker than I had initially believed. In a thousand cases calling for manly and stout courage, deep humility, I find myself very weak and very arrogant.
- But I believe it is good for me to give you chapter and verse about my large battlefield at this particular time, the reason for my struggles and for my inner concerns. I have constantly in my thoughts the Bishop’s behaviour which my mind both disapproves and refutes. Everything he says, the way he acts, seem ridiculous to me. They say there is a certain illness called jaundice which makes those afflicted see everything their eyes light upon in a yellow hue. I truly believe that I have a good dose in respect of our Bishop. However, up till now God has given me the grace to reveal very little of these inner worries. And I realise all the harm that communicating this disapproval to young colleagues would do -----and, besides this continuous struggle that I have to wage ceaselessly within myself to suppress these sorts of thoughts, I’m obliged as well to quell them in almost all my confreres especially in the older ones. This disapproval has been so widespread and so intense that even today one can find almost nothing good in all that the apostolic vicar does. And yet there is no disobedience but neither is there that blind trust which makes a person espouse and lovingly and joyfully carry out the things entrusted to him. I am very much afraid that I might let myself be won over like many others by that unfair prejudice which condemns everything without reasoning.
- Truly I am often very embarrassed: on the one hand, the Bishop pompously praises his mission and shows us everything is going well; on the other hand, a number of our missionaries paint me terrible pictures of it. Only in these last few days, Father Pezant wrote to me saying that he can’t make any headway in his missionary task, that he is having no success at all and he attributes this fruitlessness to the lack of human means suitable for carrying out the good one might be able to achieve; he says that in this mission we’ve achieved nothing good, nothing carefully prepared, neither in the way of prayers , nor books, nor doctrine, that in every respect we are very inferior to the protestants, that these very same protestant ministers laugh at us, publishing in the newspapers that the Catholic bishop and his priests have a strange way of attracting converts by means of loose-fitting robes and gowns. He adds that we would be very much better to leave these parts and carry the flame of faith elsewhere, that there’s nothing to be gained here. There you have one of those poor priests who is suffering a little from the illness I call jaundice. The retreat seemed to have helped him recover a little but I’m very much afraid that it will return.
- Ah good Father superior, how difficult, how painful is the situation in which you have placed me. On the one hand, the Bishop unloads on me the troubles he has with his missionaries; on another hand, the missionaries tell me their problems with the apostolic vicar, and I, like the poor fall guy that I am, take upon myself the sins of everybody and often not say a word about it; but I hope that you will take pity on me, my reverend Father, that you will pray and have prayers said for me and that finally you will grant me permission to go and cultivate a small island in the tropics. I hope that soon you will give us a good provincial who will help us and strengthen us. In the meantime, the Bishop has deemed it opportune to give me the duties of Father Garin so that we have one more priest for the holy ministry. I didn’t raise any great objections to accepting these temporarily, given that they are partly, not to say specifically, included in those which you have given me. However, I didn’t want to accept the title of provincial which he had given to reverend Father Garin. This surprised him a little and he didn’t know to what he could attribute this refusal of mine. I simply told him that being here under your orders I didn’t want and couldn’t accept any responsibilities other than those you would give me, that all the same I would fulfil the duties of this office without receiving the title which you yourself would soon give to someone else.
- And so, my reverend Father, you must therefore give us, as soon as possible, a superior who is priest-like, a superior carefully chosen by your own hand; Everyone is waiting for this impatiently, and when you have chosen him, point out to him most scrupulously how he will have to behave in his new position, which seems very difficult to me, especially when you are dealing with a bishop -- the limit of his authority over the religious community......I very much doubt that the bishop’s house can be his home. Bishop will not allow anyone to be in charge of anything at his place; he wouldn’t even be allowed to give a word of advice to his priests, to lecture to them without his consent, which is not always forthcoming quod experientia constat [As experience shows]. In the Bishop’s house, the Provincial would occupy only third or fourth place, which would belittle him somewhat in the eyes of his inferiors who could accordingly feel even superior to him. I think he would be very uncomfortable in the bishop’s house. Another thing, I think it would be a really good time for us to have a house where the new priests arriving from France can devote themselves to the study of languages and make a sort of on the spot preparation before launching into their work. Furthermore, it would be useful to have a place where the mission priests, when they come to the Bay of Islands, could retire for a few days for a bit of refreshment. We’ve received as a brother or novice a young Englishman, a carpenter by trade,  and for him to go through his novitiate as well as for others who might come later, we would need a retreat house. We have a few brothers (brother Florentin, who seems discouraged); Monsieur Rozet, who is seeking a short novitiate in order to join the Society; brother Michel,  who seems to be feeling better disposed and who could possibly re-enter the mission; but all that would call for a house where we could do exercises and tests so to speak.
- The bishop’s house is not right for that; it’s a house where there is a lot of noise. Many natives visit there from all sides, sometimes even spend a few days there; Europeans come from time to time to see the Bishop. Moreover, Bishop doesn’t much like all these sorts of small exercises which are carried out in a novitiate though he is very fond of well-trained priests. The bishop is called upon to receive ordinary folk at his table from time to time; for this reason, the `food has to be a bit better. The new priests who see all this and who subsequently see the wretched situation of the stations can’t help muttering about it. The bishop gives lots of presents to his natives (I’m not questioning his reasons for this), the priests who haven’t the means to do likewise in their own mission get annoyed to see they are so poor while their bishop is seen as rich, as a man who is full of good deeds. In a word, I believe that the bishop must look better from a distance than from close-up. --- But let’s come back to Hokianga.
- On Easter Sunday, I was truly edified: 32 natives made their Holy Communion. A good number were baptised. These poor folk have great worth; they come from a long way off, from 20 to 30 leagues away, to hear holy Mass on Sunday. They come in simple little dug-outs, bringing with them wives, children, old folk, pigs, dogs cats, chickens – in a word everything comes, they bring provisions for all I’ve mentioned and they stay till the Monday. During all this time, that is to say from the Friday night or Saturday, they stay in small straw huts they have put up around Father Petit’s house. They spend their time learning their catechism, their prayers. They practise singing hymns. Never have I seen anything more uplifting. It is true that sadly the number of these is not very great -- and yet this station is the best we have in the whole of New Zealand. The mission, my reverend Father, is well below what was mooted at the outset. Here is the idea that I’ve had about it, but all the same I’m not claiming this idea as necessarily correct. When the Bishop arrived here, he attracted a great following: the large number, attracted by the desire to receive some clothing from the bishop, called themselves the bishop’s followers; the small number, motivated by higher motives, really had the desire to discover the true religion. Unfortunately people believed and took all that at face value but subsequently the first group, receiving nothing or very little, reverted to their old ways. The others persevered but they represent the small numbers. And yet I believe that, if we had priests in sufficient numbers to give good instructions to all these folk, we would be able to win over a good number of them. But up till now, according to everybody, nothing suitable has yet been dreamed up. Instruction has been no more than highly superficial. Qui trop embrasse mal étreint [You shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew].
- Finally, my reverend Father, the ship which is to carry this letter is weighing anchor. I must end here. All our group have now made their retreat. Bishop himself wanted to make it privately and even stretched humility to the extent of inviting me to direct him in it. Everything is going reasonably well on that score. -- Everyone is more or less content. I don’t know anyone who has major problems. I’m not mentioning the tropics at this point. I scarcely know what is happening there. -- How I’d like to go there.
- I commend myself much to your prayers -- and to those of all our priest colleagues and brothers in France.
- Of all your children the most unworthy,
- Apostolic Missionary
- Of all your children the most unworthy,
- Note. In my 7th letter, I asked you on behalf of a French lady who is here to please have a message or a letter sent to her mother who is in Paris: when some of our priests are coming here, she would like her mother to come to stay with her: but this is the only thing that you would have to do: write to M. le Colonel d’Arcy, rue des Juifs no. 1 in the Marais that at a certain time priests will leave for New Zealand.
- Cf. doc. 247, letter dated in fact 26 March 1843; the writer would probably have begun it a few days earlier.
- Cf. doc. 244, § 7. He didn’t persevere for long (cf. doc. 281, § 8).
- Brother Michel (Antoine Colombon) had been dismissed by Pompallier (cf. doc. 71, § 5; 72, § 3; 102, § 1; 122, § 17, n. 3; 209, § 10; 228, § 10). Forest seems to be reviewing the rather unfavourable opinion he expressed in March 1843 about Brother Michel (cf. doc.247, § 35). This creates an even more sympathetic impression on Father Jean-Simon Bernard (cf. doc. 272, § 2-3).
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