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Br Élie-Régis (Étienne Marin) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Otaki, 11 January 1852

APM Z 208

Clisby Letter 96. Girard doc. 1113

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


In New Zealand, Elie-Regis was at Whakatane (rf L 65) until 1848 when he was called to Auckland to help with the building of the Maori College on the North Shore. The accident he describes [2] must have happened that year, since the following February he was back in Whakatane. Apart from the building, he and Florentin seemed to have been overseers of the Maori workers on the site. It is surprising to find Forest so insensitive to the brother’s plight [3] as he himself had reportedly suffered permanent back injury while helping with the building of St Patrick’s cathedral, completed the year before (Goulter 112). The building, of solid scoria, was two storeys high, 72 feet long and 25 broad (Simmons 102). Called St Mary’s, the college opened in October 1849. After the Marists left, Pompallier turned it into a seminary.

Viard and his party arrived in Port Nicholson (Wellington) on 1 May 1850. One of the bishop’s first tasks was to build a convent and school for the four young European women referred to as his ‘Marist Sisters’ (Simmons 126). This is the ‘school mistresses’ house’ Elie helped build. In June he was sent to Otaki, the first Marist assigned to help Comte since he had set up this station in 1844. Based at Pukekaraka, Comte had been looking after the Catholic Maori in an area covering Wanganui in the north to Akaroa in the south. When Viard visited in August 1850, he found 200 converts at Otaki, a school of 36 pupils, an almost completed flour mill, and productive fields and orchards (rf The Society of Mary in New Zealand 1838, 1889-1989, p 12). Elie was joined by Euloge in September 1851 and not long after this letter was written, both brothers were transferred to help found a new station at Wanganui. Elie had earlier expressed a wish to retire to the Hermitage [5] (rf L 65). He may well have considered it granted eighteen years later when he was assigned to Roland’s monastery project at Koru in Taranaki.

This letter was written to take advantage of Petit’s return to France on 6 April 1852. The translation was made from the original in the APM. There is no copy in the AFM.

Text of the Letter

Reverend Father
I beg your pardon sincerely for having been so long without writing to you. But be assured that it wasn’t from indifference but rather lack of opportunity. That is why I’m taking advantage today of Fr Petit’s return to send you my respects and offer proof of the submission I feel and which, please God, I hope to feel always.
However, I am going to tell you, among other things, of something that happened to me in Auckland when we were building the college of stone. There I was travelling on the big boat or little ship in the bay. As it was still a way out and only its bowsprit was facing shorewards, I was standing with one foot on the bowsprit and the other on the rope alongside it. Then the rope started unwinding, I lost my footing and fell down on the rope which scraped me badly on the front of the leg. Whether it was because it was the one I had hurt before at Wangaroa (as a result of a pig’s bite) [1] or because I forced it, it became so swollen and inflamed that for about three weeks I could scarcely stand.
With all that, I still had to work with the stone or at the carpentry. I was as well told that the beams for the first floor had to be put in place. Since the wood was still green and thick and hence very heavy, I told Fr Forest who had given me the instruction, that I couldn’t do it. He repeated they had to be laid. I told him again that my leg was giving me a lot of trouble, and he told me I was imagining things. Eventually I did lay them (with the help of some Maori) but with great pain. He was also always sending me to the most difficult tasks such as loading the cart. I asked him to give me an easier job where I wouldn’t have to lift loads because, as was the fact, I told him I had a growth or hernia coming on in the pit of my stomach. It was only just beginning then. He took no notice, nor did he change my occupation or give me anything to prevent the unwelcome consequences. That happened only a long time afterwards in Port Nicholson when we were building the school mistresses’ house. I couldn’t work any more, so I spoke to His Lordship, Monsignor Viard. He asked me why I hadn’t spoken earlier. I told him I had spoken about it before but no one had taken any notice. Immediately he procured a truss for me and I have used it ever since. I am still doing just about everything as usual except I can’t carry weights.
You will probably ask me what conclusions I have drawn from all this. I will say that I don’t believe anyone at the Hermitage was ever forced to work when he was sick or infirm, or refused remedies or relief. Otherwise it would have been slavery rather than religious life. I can assure you that if I had heard of such things there, I don’t know where I would be now.
I am happy enough in Otaki where I am now. The priests here are Fathers Compte, Pesant (sic) and Bernard. There is one thing I would prefer, and that is that people wouldn’t keep shifting me from place to place. I have planted vines three or four times now already and I have never had opportunity to enjoy them. That is why in my old age I would like a place of retirement like the Hermitage or another like it in this country, if that was possible.
Don’t forget, please, my reverend Father, in your efficacious prayers, the poorest, most miserable of your children.
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Br Elie Regis.


  1. For this accident rf L 65 [3].

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