From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

Fr Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands, 16 December 1845

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, December 2005

APM Z 208 16 December 1845

Bay of Islands, 16 Dec[ember] 1845
To the Very Rev[erend] Father Superior General through Mary conceived without sin.
Private letter for the Very Reverend Father and two or three [other] people
Very Reverend Father
I delayed writing to you for a long time, waiting for my letters from France in order to speak to you as a result, and even to be able to satisfy you on certain matters; but, seeing no end to this long wait, I am at last taking up my pen. It is a real mystery to me that my letters, and I am speaking only of my own case, are still in Sydney nine months after the arrival of Reverend Father Dubreuil (who had told me of their arrival) although I asked immediately[1] by an express letter, that someone would kindly send them in the usual way, the postal service which admirably links Sydney and Auckland.
Bishop Pompallier, it appears, insisted on going alone to Sydney to have discussions with the Bishop of Sion.[2]
However, before everything else, let me reveal to you a little concerning my poor interior state and my personal situation; in which, I am certain, your affection which extends to the least of your children, will take a most lively interest.
When I write to you about my conscience, I usually speak as if it was always at peace, and then some time after I perceive that it was not so.
In spite of everything positive I could tell you some time after my retreat at Tauranga, I am still irregular in my meditations, having little skill and little care in preparing them, easily forgetting both the [resulting] fruit and resolutions. I asked you for a discipline: alas spiritus quidem … caro autem.[3] A piece of rope is enough for me anyway, and a few blows can certainly give some idea of the sufferings of a God and of the price of souls. I repent in my heart having written some words in the newspapers, although that seemed appropriate; I am afraid that it only seemed so. Oh! How fine and sound was the retreat, and how good it was to be involved only in matters where the good God calls in a very straightforward way. I have now been eight months in a place close to Kororareka[4] with good Brother Emery, the Brother-tailor; we are both happy there. And I think that this sojourn could have contributed to my spiritual progress, if I had been faithful. For at last I was removed from a cause for bother with small group of natives, retired from the world, affairs, news, futile things etc. In my solitude I did not think I would have to let my knowledge of English get rusty.[5] Often I had a visit from Father Baty – I did not lack temptations: I mean those arising from my wasted funds, those which are so depressing in comparison with those which are only exterior. But, finally, I have to rejoice [because] either death or the coldness of old age will soon extinguish these painful fires.
Speaking of death, Very Reverend and dear Father, I was only inches away from it on the 1st Dec[ember]. I was capsized in a light Maori canoe in which I was travelling with three other people. My companions soon swam to the shore. For my part, helped by one of the best Maoris I have known, I straddled the canoe which had become a piece of floating wood. I held on to it [p3] tightly with feet and hands. Then beaten by the winds and waves, but nonetheless calm, I awaited death or life – in manus tuas Domine.[6] I said “calm”. I was hardly so, faced with the judgment of God[7] which can [not?] prevent one from trembling on the brink of eternity[8] and on the point of falling into that bottomless abyss. A thousand times I commended myself to the powerful and immaculate Virgin. However to my shame I will admit that my companions preceded me,[9] and as a proof from experience that we should not rely on last minute efforts to save our souls, I firstly concerned myself much more with the hope I still had of saving my life. I am a poor swimmer, and then, how could I swim in a soutane and with heavy footwear, boots which I could not get rid of? At the time of danger I vowed nine Masses in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and a tenth, while thinking piously, to Father Chanel. An hour later I was on my knees on the shore, raising my eyes and hands to heaven in thanksgiving, but so cold, so overcome that I could hardly say the Our Father. I am not claiming that the good God performed a miracle in my favour; I especially who had tempted him by my imprudence or lack of forethought: anyway soon I want to tell my brother-in-law (or rather, tell him if have a chance to do so) to have a candle lit for me in front of Our Lady of Fourvière, by the hand of one of his little girls. A thanksgiving offered by an innocent child on behalf of a sinner in New Zealand will not fail to touch the Queen of Angels.
Exterior problems. Bad treatment by the natives, by those even who ought to be, and describe themselves as the most friendly to Bishop Pompallier. For example the chief Rewa. This protector [p4] one day drove me out of my home, pushing me in a most undignified way. They do not always sell us the necessaries of life, and prevent the other neighbouring natives from provisioning us. That has happened. So I do not see any proof of sincere friendship, and even less of religion on the part of our first Catholic chiefs.
But, we hear, they protected us at Kororareka. It is a protection they grant to all those who live within the limits of their domains, out of jealousy, out of spite, out of pride, against the other tribes. This is why they allied with the British government to make war on the insurgent group. You should not estimate the influence of Catholic ministers in New Zealand, nor even that of Bishop Pompallier, by the fact that the house and church at Kororareka are standing. Those of the Protestants are also standing. We were saved, but only just. Soli Deo honor et gloria.[10] I find faith is rare, extremely rare, even among those who appear to pray. Out of 300 Catholics surrounding me I see hardly six or seven people on whom one may truly rely. Young people offer little hope, the parents neglect it.[11] Experience has shown us about the New Zealanders what a glance at the beginning did not reveal. In spite of the great and noble qualities which cannot be denied this interesting people, they are proud, scornful and ungrateful to a degree Europe cannot imagine. And however, they received with eagerness the books of the Protestants which have so much captivated them in great numbers, and we groan at not having this means [of evangelisation]. In terms of printing and writing, nothing satisfactory has yet been achieved. It is now four months since Bishop Pompallier left for Sydney, and then, Very Reverend Father, you know how in spite of his courage, our Bishop is often troubled [derangé], contrary [croisé]. Good Father Comte wrote to me and was not silent on that issue. Books, he said to me, or go back to Europe. I beg you to believe that there is not an iota of discouragement in my soul. Let us use every means, let us hold on firmly, as though on a capsized canoe. There you have a war which will change the face of things.
England is going to get angry; everything she will send: soldiers, discharged convicts, emigrants, will focus light on Catholicism. I think it is important to establish religion {in margin p4} firmly among the whites. Let us take courage. Heresy has been overcome, it is tearing itself apart with its own hands. I am praying that the good God will smooth out all the difficulties which would oppose a house for our men being founded in Ireland.
Your blessing, please, Very Reverend Father
J[ean-Bap[tise] Petit-Jean
Marist priest, miss[ionary] ap[ostolic]


  1. dès le principe
  2. Bishop Epalle - translator’s note
  3. The spirit indeed… but the flesh… Matthew 26:4. More completely: The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak - translator’s note
  4. Te Rawhiti - translator’s note
  5. At Te Rawhiti he was in a totally Maori environment - translator’s note
  6. Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit – Ps 31:5 – words spoken by Christ on the cross – Luke 23:46 - translator’s note
  7. Je ne l’étois guères du côté du jugement de Dieu
  8. qui peut s’empêcher de frémie sur les gouffres de l’eteernité
  9. je fus devancé par mes compagnons – possibly, he implies, in commending themselves to divine help? - translator’s note
  10. To God alone be honour and glory.
  11. faith, he seems to mean - translator’s note