From Marist Studies
Father Reignier to Father Colin, Bay of Islands, 12 Feb 1844
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2005
APM Z 208 12 February 1844 (Reignier)
- J M J
- Bay of Islands, 12 February 1844
- Father Superior
- Very Reverend Father, I am truly ashamed at having delayed so much in writing to you. My mission station is in the interior [and] I have easy opportunity to write to France less often than many others. I am writing to you right now not from the place where my station is, but from the Bay of Islands, where I have been called to make a retreat.
- My station is at the centre of the hump of the North Island. My little building is not yet finished; it is on the edge of a great lake called Rotorua. My mission is one of the most extensive; it comprises between sixty and eighty leagues from the station. Unfortunately I am the only missionary priest for such a huge expanse – I can neither instruct nor visit the people entrusted to me as they should be. The two biggest crosses I have in my territory are two European Protestant preachers. They are the ones who generally provide most of the obstacles to the spread of the Catholic faith in this country. There is a population of 4000 souls in my territory. I do not know very exactly yet if the number of Catholics is greater than [p2] the number of Protestants. More than a third of the total population does not offer Christian worship.
- I have with me Brother Euloge [Chabany] who is full of good will, edifying in his conduct and sound in his morals. This last factor leads me to leave him alone at the station for one, two or several weeks sometimes.
- My nearest confrère is two days’ walk away; that is 24 to 25 leagues from the station. This nearest confrère is Father Bernard who is at the station at Tauranga.
- In spite of the exhaustion and the privations arising from my long journeys I have enjoyed, thanks be to God, complete and good health. The kind providence of Jesus and Mary has saved me from all the dangers I have encountered. My mission is amongst many lakes, and they are not often crossed without danger on our big dugout trees called waka. The little vessel which took me to my first destination disappeared at sea. Those who know it describe it as a very poor [ship] and believe it is half open in the sea. If the Blessed Virgin, our kind mother, has saved a great number of her children, it is, I am certain, thanks to your fervent prayers and those of the members of her little Society.
- I am very sorry, Father Superior, not to yet have a confrère, to enjoy advantages of our Rule which asks that we always be two, and for the needs of my mission. To the south there are large numbers of people who never see a Catholic missionary. I have learnt, however, that Father Comte has been sent a hundred leagues from there to Port Nicholson.
- Very Reverend Father, two new Bishops are now in the Tropics, [and] the desires, the hearts and the purses of the priests and the faithful of Europe are turned to the Tropics. It is known that New Zealand is a British colony embraced entirely by a legion of Protestant ministers. Already in some way it is no longer considered as a new mission. I am afraid that because of all that New Zealand may be much less favoured. However, in spite of the huge development in resources of the Protestant mission, there is still good work to be done, and very much; in the space of four months, the time since I have been in my new mission, the good God has granted me the grace of conferring holy baptism on 80 people, half of whom are adult. My mission alone, I think, would hardly be exceeded by the population of the mission on the island of Wallis.
- As for dangers in New Zealand concerning women, I believe they are not negligible. In the beginning they were less so, given the natural repugnance that one experiences for the customs and turn of mind of savages. But as time goes on one becomes used to them, and if one is not careful, given human weakness, given that [weakness] especially of so many members of the fair sex, one does not cease to be in danger; the Brothers especially, not being supported, as in France, by that multiplicity of exercises of piety, good example, and not always being able to be in view of a priest or another Brother, need to be well tested in virtue. Generally the natives are so little reserved that a serious sin of this sort would soon be talked about through much of New Zealand. Such a consideration can only commit the Brothers and especially the Fathers to live in vigilance and self-mistrust. May the Blessed Virgin, our good mother, therefore listen to the prayers of her children who pray for each other, that she may keep us all chaste and pure.
- I will confess very humbly to you, Very Reverend Father, that I unfortunately neglect too much prayer [and] the spirit of prayer and recollection. In the midst of exhaustion from so many journeys my body is often worn out, my mind loses its vigour. Too often I use the multiplicity of my tasks as an excuse for shortening my prayers. As you told us, the saints never acted like this. So pray a lot for me, Very Reverend Father, so that I do not fall into mediocrity or into serious sin. Please give me your holy blessing.
- Your very respectful and submissive child
- Marist pr[iest]
- [In margin p3]
- My deep respects to the Reverend Fathers at Pilata [sic: Puylata]. My best wishes to the Brothers.
- 300 to 400 km - translator’s note
- de soixante à quatre-vingts lieues de poste
- 120 to 125 km
- de poste
- 500 km
- This was correct. He was sent in 1843 to evangelise the Maori of the southern end of the North Island – Father Jeremiah O’Reily had looked after the Europeans since his arrival in January 1843. In 1844 he made Otaki his base - translator’s note.