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Jean-Simon Bernard to Jean-Claude Colin, Kororareka, 5 October 1843 -

Translated by Amelia

From dispatch APM Z 208.


He has had some basic missionary experiences since his arrival , visiting tribes, sleeping in the open, eating basic food – but has spent six months mainly trying to learn English and Maori, without any teacher – he and his two companions – Moreau and Chouvet, so progress has been slow. Has been told that he and Moreau are going to be sent to Akaroa, which disappoints him because they know there are very few people in the South Island, while there are densely populated areas in the North where there are no priests. (In Akaroa the whole of the South Island will be their parish!)

Has met the former Brother Michel (Colombon) and is much impressed by his dispositions – no bitterness towards the mission – he has expressed a desire for reconciliation with the Society.

On his arrival, was surprised by the difference between what he had heard/read in France about the progress of the mission, and the reality. Heard/read that NZ pretty well Catholic already; in reality, very few neophytes and catechumens.

Text of the Letter

[One sheet of paper, ‘Bath’ paper, comprising four pages, three of which are written on; the fourth bears only the address and Poupinel’s annotation. ]

[p. 4]
[in an unidentified handwriting:] per “Constant” via England •
[in Bernard’s handwriting: ] Fr • Fr Colin, Superior • of the Priests of Society of Mary • in Lyons Depart(ment) of the Rhône • in Lyons • (France)
[Postal stamps: ] PAID SHIP LETTER DE 20 1843 SYDNEY —
COLONIES &c.ART.12 — B 22 AP 22 1844 — 3 ANGL
[---] — PARIS 24 APRIL 44 (60) — LYONS 26 APRIL 1844 (68)

[in Poupinel's handwriting: ] N(ew) Zealand • Kororareka 5 October 1843 • F(athe)r Bernard

[p. 1]

G(lory to) J(esus) t(hrough) M(ary)
Kororareka 5th October 1843.

My Very Reverend Father[,]
I think that you have received all the letters I sent you since my departure from France 13 months ago. The 1st from Bahia[1] in Brazil, the second from Hobart-Town in Van Diemen’s Land and the 3rd on my arrival in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.[2] I am taking this opportunity to let you know of my current state. My long trip, as I mentioned to you, had left me a little indisposed; so that I was not well on my arrival in Kororareka. I had to pay for accommodation for the first few days. Today, thanks to the Lord, here I am an acclimatised citizen of the Antipodes of my fellow countrymen.[3] Since I have been in New Zealand, I have already done all sorts of jobs; I have been to Maori festivities where I had the honour of sleeping on the ground and sub Dio.[4] From there, the Bishop sent me to war as a surgeon to bandage the wounded.[5] As a good soldier, at least of J(esus) C(hrist), I had to cross rivers with a bag on my back and rain on my body, sleep outside, live off potatoes cooked in very fresh water. This has not affected my health though. Quite the opposite, I am perhaps stronger than ever. For a long time I have wanted to be among the natives to be able to acquaint them with the religion while learning their language myself. But I think that God delights in frustrating my wishes. All three of us[6] have been left to our own devices for six months in an unsuitable room. Here we were both teachers and students of English and Maori. Not one single teacher to guide us. My only book was a Maori New Testament. I also had to make up my [own] dictionary. So that we could have learned in one month what we learned in 4. Then they had neither a ship nor money to send us to stations. The Bishop appointed me to the Akaroa station with F(athe)r Moreau. We should have all Te Wai Pounamu[7] island for a parish; in other words, an area as big as France. Unfortunately it is a land without inhabitants. [8] It is perhaps an exaggeration to say there are 3,000 people there, and what’s more [they are] scattered throughout all parts of the island. At Akaroa[,] in a radius of 20 leagues[,] you will barely find 300 native inhabitants with about sixty foreigners speaking all kinds of languages. These days it is said that they are all leaving. A mission of this kind is disappointing for me; to see us[,] two priests[,] destined to do nothing, while so many other places[,] which have many inhabitants[,] do not have priests. Here, in New Zealand, it is necessary to cover a very large area to be able to bring together 3 or 4,000 people. Still may God be thanked, if it is His will for us to be here doing nothing but crossing mountains, rivers and seas to run after two or three of the flock. Even though I still do not have [p. 2] a permanent post, I am not without things to do. I can say that I am on my feet all day without stopping[,] so to speak. I spent a month at war, a fortnight with a tribe leading prayer there morning and night, from time to time here and there, in the kainga[9] visiting them, seeing the sick and leading prayer and catechism. Ever since I started making ointments for natives’ illnesses[,] they do not give me a moment’s rest. There is a daily crowd in Kororareka wanting to get remedies. Some time ago[,] I cured a Protestant catechist; in this way I am attracting some of them to the Catholic religion. I will probably miss out on the Akaroa station because of this reputation as a doctor that my little remedies bring me. The Bishop wants to have someone around him who takes care of the natives; and at the moment I am the only one for the task. He has just sent F(athe)r Garin to a station[10] and he has given me his tiresome responsibility as supplies officer, of vicar of the Kororareka station for administering sacraments. [Along] with this[,] the medicine which continues to give me a lot of work.[11] I have to lead prayer and catechism for the natives morning and evening. I still do not understand the language well. However[,] I make myself understood a little; and for a while[,] I have ventured to explain the catechism.
When I left for war in the month of March, to F(athe)r Rozet's station.[12] I met the former Brother Michel.[13] F(athe)r Forest had told me his story. He still living next to F(athe)r Rozet. I must confess to you, My Very Reverend Father, that I was surprised at the good state of mind I thought I perceived in this poor man who has turned away from his commitment. As soon as he learnt of my arrival at F(athe)r Rozet's, he wrote to the F(athe)r to tell me to go to his place to see three sick people for whom he was caring. I found him to be a man who was far from fleeing priests and hating them like most of those who have left the religious life. I had the opportunity to see him two or three times at the F(athe)r's and have a talk with him. On Easter day when he had lunch with us, he took me aside and opened up his heart to me, as far as I could tell. He indicated to me that he wanted to stay with a Father and live a better religious life than he is doing now. He told me his story quite innocently more or less as I knew it already. About his desire to come and live next to me when I am appointed to a station, I told him that this would also please me. I was thinking more of his soul than his body. He wrote me a letter in which he indicates again the strong desire that he not abandon God and that he can not wait for the time when he will be with me in order to be reconciled with the Lord. But alas, that time is not coming. I talked about it to the Bishop, who greatly approved of his [Michel’s] coming to live next to me, and even with me, since we are short of Brothers. He said to me himself that he [Michel] would come as a servant, to more carefully consider if it is God’s will for him to come back into the Society. I believe that the [combined] circumstances of unfortunate times and people greatly contributed to his failing in his vocation. He does not seem to me to be cut out for this life and he feels it himself in his remorse. It can be said that he does the greatest possible good for his fellow man. I believe he does not keep much for himself and hardly ever thinks about the future. Nevertheless he earns 100 f(rancs) a month. [p. 3] Father Forest and I prayed to Mary and the Blessed F(athe)r Chanel[14] for his companion on his journey. It was also at that time that he talked to me and that he felt so keenly the desire to be reconciled. He tells B(rothe)r Hély,[15] and he also tells me, that he still had some devotional books, but he could not bear reading them; that as soon as he opened them, he felt so tormented that he was forced to close them immediately.
This is, Very Reverend Father, the state of your prodigal son. He greatly needs the help of your prayers. Alas, it seems that God wants to test him more, or punish him. Because the months go by, and I have no permanent post. This poor man is by a Father’s side, but it is not the one to whom he wants to show the wound in his heart. Therefore our lost Brother greatly needs all his Brothers’ prayers.
Since I am talking to a Father, I am not afraid to open my heart to him. When I set foot in New Zealand, I could not have been more surprised by its religious aspect. I can say that when I was in France, I was mistaken about this country. Only the positive side of things is shown and care is taken not to show the other side. This is what disconcerts many F(athe)rs, but in particular B(rothe)rs. I must admit to you I have been struck by all these gloomy and sad faces. Like the others, I thought I would find all of New Zealand converted to [the true] religion; and a land full of inhabitants. And I only found a few baptised neophytes. I do not believe that in the whole country there are as many as one thousand with the [--] and out of the 150,000 inhabitants said to be in New Zealand, I [can] not be sure that there are 40,000 of them in the two islands, scattered throughout in little handfuls. It is this fact that has particularly disconcerted me. However I have given myself to God as a sacrifice; I am resigned to the will of the Lord who sent me to this part of the world to remain inactive[,] so to speak[,] while so many populated islands in the tropics are without priests. Sit nomen Domini benedictum![16]
In commending me in your holy prayers, My Very Reverend Father, dare I also ask you to commend me to those of the Fathers Maîtrepierre, Girard, and Favier, [17] etc. etc. whom I do not forget in mine. The latter are of little value, because I am completely worldly. Oh! How good it is to have a good supply [of prayers] before coming here.
I am with the deepest respect,
My Very Reverend Father,
your very humble and very obedient
son in O(ur) L(ord) J(esus) C(hrist),
J(ean-)S(imon) Bernard
Apost(olic) miss(ionary)


  1. Bahia, now called Salvador, is a port on Brazil’s Atlantic coast. During this port of call, Bernard sent a letter to Colin on the 21st of October 1842. This letter, in dispatch APM OG 31, remains unpublished. (Girard, 2008, vol. 2, doc. 767, p. 767, n. 1)
  2. Girard’s note: Cf. doc. 242, § 1-3.
  3. Sic. Bernard writes that he is a ‘citizen of the Antipodes of [his] fellow countrymen’ ( ‘des antipodes de [ses] concitoyens’, and not ‘at the antipodes of [his] fellow countrymen’ (‘aux antipodes de [ses] concitoyens’).
  4. Latin: "under or below God" meaning "in the open air".
  5. Pompallier mentions this war in his letter dated 30th of May 1843 to Father Epalle (cf. Girard, 2008, vol. 2, doc. 259, § 3, pp. 780-781). In 1843, clashes between Te Patu hapu of Te Rarawa and the Nga Puhi tribe began over the selling rights to land in the Oruru Valley (now called Peria) in Northland. (Ballara, 2007, Dictionary of NZ Biography website)
  6. Presumably, the two others are Fathers Chouvet and Moreau (see note 22).
  7. The Maori name for the South Island of New Zealand, literally the island of greenstone.
  8. Girard’s note: See the notes of Father Comte, doc 151, § 3; cf. Anderson, p. 74.
  9. Maori: village.
  10. In 1843, Father Antoine Garin ‘was sent to the Kaipara mission station at Mangakahia, near Tangiteroria.’ (Broadbent, 1990, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography website)
  11. Sic.
  12. In 1843, Father Louis Rozet was stationed at Whangaroa. (Keys, 1957, pp. 202, 211).
  13. Girard’s note: On the ex-Brother Michel (Antoine Colombon), cf. doc. 254, § 9 et n. 3. [Brother Michel left the Society of Mary in the early 1840s. He continued to work as a catechist in Whangaroa for a few years before abandoning religious life altogether (Simmons, 1984, pp. 49-50).]
  14. Father Pierre Chanel was a Marist priest and martyr. He was murdered on Futuna Island in 1841. (Simmons, 1984, p. 65; New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2003, vol. 3, p. 378)
  15. Girard’s note: Brother Elie-Régis (Étienne Marin). [Bernard spells the name ‘Elie’ as he hears it.]
  16. Girard’s note: Jb 1.21: ‘May the name of the Lord be blessed’. (The same phrase is found in Ps 112 (113).2 and Dn. 2.20.)
  17. At the time of Bernard’s writing, Father Denis Maîtrepierre was a provincial in Lyons; Father Claude Girard was a missionary living in Lyons (Girard, 2008, vol. 2, p. 652, n. 7); and Father Claude-Joseph Favier was the novice master at the novitiate for Marist priests in La Favorite, near Lyons (Girard, 2008, vol. 1, p. 65, n. 5)