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Fr Petit-Jean to Mr Auguste Paillasson, his brother-in-law, NZ, 15 August 1850

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, February 2006

APM Z 208 15 August 1850

Extract from a letter from Reverend Father Petitjean [sic], missionary apostolic of the Society of Mary, to Mr Paillasson, his brother-in-law.[1]

New Zealand, 15 August 1850
Dear brother
After the division of New Zealand into two vicariates apostolic, Bishop Viard, leaving the northern part to Bishop Pompallier, went to Wellington, the main town in his new jurisdiction, situation on Cook Strait. To follow him we had to say goodbye to the faithful whom we had cared for up till then; but their hearts displayed to us a filial generosity which made this separation more gentle, and gave us a taste of part of the hundredfold promised those who have given up everything.[2]
On entering Cook Strait, we felt we were entering the region of storms. But, more fortunate than many other vessels which, from time to time, are wrecked in this formidable passage, ours dropped anchor on the 1st of May in the harbour we were looking for.
Today, four months after our arrival, we are already greeting more than a hope for our holy religion. First of all, on the arrival of a Bishop, the European Catholics were given a lift in spirits. Those in Wellington, hardly two hundred in number, have collected through their offerings and even those of the brethren who have gone astray[3] nearly 15000 fr[4] for building a second church, which was needed for the population scattered over the vast site of the growing town. Providence has taken care to send here in advance several families from Ireland and England distinguished as much for their faith as by the nobility of their rank: they are gaining public favour for Catholicism. What distinguishes our brethren, both English and Irish, is their generosity towards any religious establishment; the spirit of devotion and charity among them was perfected during the centuries of persecution, during which they not only paid for [p2] the needs of the Church which had been stripped of all resources, but also the taxes levied on it by the rapacity of a hostile government.
Helped with these donations, our sacred buildings are being erected at a speed which amazes everyone. On the 1st of September, four religious women will take possession of a convent and will open their school. Many other works are going ahead in various districts. At the river Hutt [sic], a few leagues[5] from Wellington, a missionary is laying the foundations of a church and a school. The same efforts and no doubt the same success are occurring at Nelson and Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. I must not forget a hamlet of two hundred New Zealanders, which will have the appearance of a Christian village; it has its chapel, its priest, its school; one of our priests has trained these Indians[6] in ploughing, a considerable area of flat land has been begun,[7] and a mill already awaits the future harvest. How delightful it is to bring a bit of prosperity to these islanders! Other sub-tribes, a few leagues from the town, have embraced our holy faith. Each day, factors of family relationships and interest bring new converts here from the North, and make of them as many apostles among their fellow countrymen.[8]
It is true that Protestantism has preceded us, and has bestrewn our way with prejudice and calumny; but it has not made sincere converts, and although we arrived at the third hour, we are beginning to challenge its empire over souls. Apart from that, the ministers of error have worked more at making their fortunes than at accomplishing their mission. Recently, to the great scandal of Christian organisations, the association of Anglican missionaries[9] has expelled from its bosom one of its apostles, stubbornly attached to vast amounts of land, and who was not able to satisfy his cupidity with 2,500 acres.[10] In this way the Church receives from its enemies the homage of a contrast more eloquent than all the speeches…
[End of extract]


  1. Extract written by someone other than Father Petit-Jean - translator’s note
  2. cf Matt 19:29
  3. celles de leurs frères errants – non-Catholics - translator’s note
  4. roughly £600
  5. in fact about 20km
  6. Indiens
  7. to be cultivated - translator’s note
  8. The hamlet he describes can only be Otaki, where Father J B Comte SM had based his Maori mission – the only Catholic mission station before 1850 in the vicinity of Cook Strait – since 1844 - translator’s note
  9. Church Missionary Society - translator’s note
  10. about 1,000 hectares