Fr Jean-Baptiste Comte to Fr Jean Forest, Wellington, 22 June 1845
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2005
APM Z 208 22 June 1845
Wellington, this 22 June 1845
To Reverend Father Forest
Very Reverend Father
I have just received your letter dated 2nd June, informing me about a box for which you have paid the carriage. At various times I have received your other letters which you told me about. Thank you very much for all the good advice and news that you have given me. I regret very much all the sad scenes which have occurred and are still occurring in the North. Here there is no trouble from the natives: they have not made and are not making any warlike acts. They seem very much at peace. However they are attentive to the developments which are disturbing the north, and if the natives of that district were to be victorious, that would change the attitude of the local people for the worse. We have a good militia, well organised, well drilled, and which will carry out its duty perfectly, in the case of an insurrection by the natives. But I hope in God that our peace will not be disturbed. However, if matters in the north are not pursued with vigour and drag on in time, we can fear a general war of natives against natives, and natives against the whites. God will keep New Zealand from such a great misfortune. Truly, I would have very much liked to have seen you at Tauranga, and I would really like to be able to spend some days with you, to renew my spirit, a little.
I have not yet made my retreat, and it is impossible for me to make it as long as we are housed in the way we are. Our new house is already well advanced – it will be habitable towards the end of August. Only then will I be able to make my retreat. All the Fathers gathered at Tauranga remarkably edified me, as much by their spirit of union as by their virtues. For some days I breathed an atmosphere there which did me good. What a good selection of priests our good Superior sent to New Zealand! What a resource [parti] the Bishop could have made of them, if he knew how to do it.
[p2] I see that our Society will take a big role in the foreign missions. The Sydney newspapers have already announced that the Bishop of Sion was being sent to New Guinea. I am filled with joy over the Procure house which is going to be set up in Sydney. As you have told me to, I will write to Father Dubreuille [sic – Debreul].
Father Chouvet is going to leave for France; Father Tripe has already gone. Believe me, Father, the cause which has influenced and determined these gentlemen is the Bishop’s way of doing things and his knowledge. The Bishop is easy to get to know, but once he is known, his zeal and his great virtues not being in question [ses grandes vertus restant toujours], a very poor opinion of him remains, concerning other aspects. This factor influences everyone, and I strongly believe that in the end the last will follow the first. There you have the great scourge of the mission. Probe it, heal it. Principiis obsta, sero medicina paratur. It was expected that the Bishop would learn from experience, but tact is not learned, it is gift of nature; and take note that there are, so to speak, two sorts of tact: one, general and speculative, is not relevant [here], the other, practical in details, is relevant. The Bishop has the former but not the latter, which is everything, which accomplishes everything.
A little issue between the Bishop and Father O’Reily has just arisen,  whom you are perhaps acquainted with. Father O’Reily is not an ordinary man, neither in talent nor in experience. He is exquisitely sensitive and extremely prudent. He made up a little work, or, rather, a collection of various prayers. At the end he put in the Douay catechism, approved by so many Bishops. He spoke about his work to the Bishop when he came to Wellington. The Bishop engaged him to come and get it printed on the press. The work was printed here, and Father O’Reily sent a copy of it to the Bishop, who told him that he did not want this work to be distributed, and if he had already distributed copies, to get them back. Father O’Reily, who had only made a compilation of Catholic authors, felt a bit surprised. I f you were to ask me for an effective remedy to overcome the paralysis of the mission, I would suggest my ideas to you, which very often are the most extravagant in the world, but, as well, God has always done me the kindness of never using them [? – de ne jamais y tenir].
I am sending you a little report, the responsibility for which I entirely hand over to you. [p3] Do whatever you like with it. Personally, I would never write such things to Europe, if I didn’t have someone here I could trust, to share them with.
I would like to consider a question which, I think, is of general interest. Here it is: How should missionaries arriving in a pagan country go about achieving a great and lasting good? I think, Father, that if you gave the Fathers a lot of practical questions about the pagans and the foreign missions, for quiet discussion, you would render a great service to the mother house. From this discussion would come, later on, important advice for the new missions and the missionaries about to leave. All the priests who are here are now more or less experienced. That [discussion] would not harm their ministry; it needs only some reflection, and reflection must follow everywhere. That would not harm piety. The mind is naturally active, it has to act constantly. It is better to prescribe a diet for it rather than let it choose its own, because then it often dreams about things which are more harmful to it that useful. It then concentrates on anything [je ne sais quoi] in the heart that bothers, tires, or bores it. As all that [sort of thing] comes from the mission, all that will only disappear from it through questions concerning the mission that will be discussed, and then will be like chimneys letting outside smoke or bad impressions. The Father through that [process?] would realise that they were not seen to be, as it were, strangers to the mission, that they would be, as it were, consulted, that something was expected of them, that they were thought to be capable of something. You know that we are filled with pride, and that we will not be completely freed from it until we are no longer in this world. You will see, Father, that if I am mistaken, my intention is right and for the general good.
The waters at Rotorua did me a lot of good. If you have a chance of writing to the Fathers at the stations could you, please, offer them my respects. I am tremendously grateful for the good receptions they gave me. In the long letter I wrote to you a long time ago for Father Superior General, there is a physical description of the Maoris which is not quite what it should be. I see that sometimes the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith get things printed which are quite false.
I am putting Father Petit-Jean’s letter in yours, as he told me. I am also writing to the Bishop by the same mail. You must be aware of the way he can keep his letters [il peut tenir ses lettres].
- I have the honour to be, with deepest respect, your most humble and obedient servant,
- Epalle - translator’s note
- of his character, presumably - translator’s note
- Ovid, Remedia amoris, line 91 - Principiis obsta, sero medicina paratur (Resist the first elements; it's too late when you resort to medicine)
- Father Jeremiah O’Reily OFM Cap arrived in Wellington in early 1843. He had been linked to the Petre family in England, and came out at the request of the New Zealand Company, and effectively became Wellington’s first parish priest - translator’s note
- action? - translator’s note