Fr Euloge-Marie Reignier to Fr Jean Forest, Opotiki, 27 June 1843
APM Z 208 27 June 1843
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July 2005
Describes a visit to lake Taupo, and seeing the central volcanoes - well covered in snow at this season. Hot springs very common he says, Priests never before seen here. Celibacy a cause of wonder. Speaks about their poverty – they have been robbed of some things by the Maori.
Text of the Letter
- J M J
- Opotiki, 27 June 1843
- Reverend Father
- I received your letter of 28 April. You inform me in a definite way of the shipwreck of Father Borjeon [sic: Borjon] and of dear Brother Déodat; if the mission has suffered a great loss, it has at least the justified confidence of enjoying the help of their prayers. Mr White of Matatā, the last time I saw him, informed me about the loss of the Speculator.
- You remember that I left you at Tauranga to go and rejoin Father Paysant [Pézant] at Rotorua; I met him the day after my departure. We left together for Taupo. We visited only one kāinga [village] [de travail – of work?] in this district. We had the consolation of baptising sixteen children who became as many little angels, a source of blessings for this district and the first fruits given to Jesus Christ. People wanted us to practise poverty, we were stripped of our tobacco, we had no choice but to immediately go and rejoin Father Comte. We left this first site of our mission which was in the middle of a forest. After three hours’ walking we met Father Comte who was going back to Opotiki. We retraced our steps, Father Paysant went back, his heart tormented by the most lively regret at not having seen the sea and the well known mountains of Taupo.
- I made later on, on my own, a journey to Taupo. I spent twelve days getting there; my absence from Opotiki lasted 55 days. This time I saw the sea of Taupo; it is at least 50 leagues [250km] around. On seeing it at first, I could not stop myself from ardent sighs for the salvation of those poor people who live on its shores. I consecrated them to the Blessed Virgin and begged the Lord that he might bless, through the work of his unworthy servant, this new mission territory. The great lake is quite dangerous in high winds; it often happens that wakas [canoes] capsise. One night, threatened with being swamped [quelque overture] by the high winds, I took off my soutane so as to be less encumbered in case of danger; at last we got to the shore and I was thrown onto land. The interior of the North Island is hardly touched by humans, it is covered with mountains and swamps. The two main mountains are Tongariru and Ruapeu [sic: Tongariro and Ruapehu]. The first is covered in snow, with the exception of the summit where there is, according to a European who has climbed up there, a river of hot water; the second mountain is entirely covered in snow and presents, from a distance, the finest of sights; at each step you come across most interesting springs of hot water.
- I had the consolation of preaching Jesus and Mary in places where their so beautiful names had never been uttered by the mouth of a priest. These unfortunate people had never seen any priests, and they were also most astonished to learn that we do not have wives. They cannot explain such a mystery, and asked us questions about this matter of all sorts and sometimes so coarse that I had to remind myself of their ignorance so as to not become indignant. In the places that Father Comte got to, he was asked if he would like to choose among the women… I have been further than him, however I have not up till now been accorded the same favour. Already people are beginning to be aware of our feelings. I believe that, being in relationships of many sorts with these people whose weakness is only too obvious, and who show it only too clearly by their easygoing ways, a priest is not clear of danger if he is not united to God by prayer and an awareness of a justified mistrust of himself. Taupo has roughly a thousand souls, of which 300 call themselves Catholic, and 400 missionaries [Anglican]. The good God has given me the consolation of baptising 25 people in this district.
- I came back from there via Rotorua; at Tauranga I found Father Paysant excessively occupied in getting ready for a first communion. He held me back for ten days with him, we carried out together the ceremonies of Holy Week just as in a parish in France. There were 22 communions on Easter Day; my catechist, whom you know, was among them. I also had the pleasure of seeing [p3] Father Séon who arrived on Good Friday.
- When I left Father Paysant, he had only one blanket, and no tobacco. Rotorua has not been able to be visited since your stay in Tauranga, either because of a lack of tobacco, or because, as well, of pain in the priest’s feet; it is a great misfortune for such an interesting district. Father Paysant is depressed about being sent nothing; we are sending him some of what we have just received, and are encouraging him not to carry out the plan he has of going to Kororareka to make known his poverty. He has been told that the Bishop did not find a ship (I have just been informed that he has already left; we are sending him nothing).
- We have also been in want, forced to sell our shirts. I myself have only five.
- We have to be separated, Father Comte and myself; one will be at Wacatane [sic: Whakatane], the other here. It is however a great advantage to be together again; for the rest, we could have been more useful to each other by means of advice, which we have not yet been wise enough to act upon; I have sometimes pointed out its great usefulness.
- You have blessed the mission at Opotiki by your presence; at the time of your visit we had performed only one or two baptisms, since then we have had perhaps 130. However Opotiki is still stagnant [stationnaire] and miserable for us. I am waiting for the Bishop’s arrival with impatience.
- No ship has come here for an extremely long time. I feel very frustrated at not having been able to send you your mail. A ship from Tauranga which is here, is going to Auckland; I do not dare send you your mail by this means which is not direct, and because we are daily awaiting the Bishop’s arrival.
- Brother Justin is more at peace, and he commends himself to your prayers and those of the Brothers. He forgot to ask for a jacket and a hat; he commends himself to you for those things.
- For myself, I have worn out three pairs of shoes in my travels to Taupo. I have no more than one left, I have only one good soutane. So I need: 1) shoes, 2) soutane, 3) underpants, 4) cord or belt, 5) shirts. I have only one solitary hat which will not go far.
- Father Comte is asking for one of the little breviaries which we brought from France; I have agreed to give him mine, which I left in Kororareka.
- I urgently commend myself to your fervent prayers, and am not forgetting all the good advice you gave us. In the hearts of Jesus and Mary,
- Your very humble and respectful servant and friend,
- E[uloge] Reignier
- M[issionary] ap[ostolic]
- PS I am not writing to the Bishop because I think that my letter would not get to him.
- the ship on which the two Marists were travelling from Auckland to Wellington, wrecked near East Cape in August 1842 - translator’s note
- the Maori often refer to the lake as Taupo-moana – the sea of Taupo – on account of its size - translator’s note
- About 150km would be more accurate, but maybe not too bad an error - translator’s note
- Was he feeling jealous? - translator’s note