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22 May 1854 - Father Jean Forest to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Hutt Valley

Translated by Sr Marie Challacombe SM, August 2014.

River Hutt 22 May 1854
To Very Reverend Father
Superior General
Very Reverend Father,
I have just received a letter dated last April from Reverend F. Rocher who is in Sydney. This is what this dear confrere tells me in this letter: Very Reverend Father Superior General who wrote to me 30 December 1853 asks me to tell you from him: from the moment of the decisions of the sacred congregation 19 September 1851 addressed to Bishop Viard, you should have submitted to these decisions and consequently ceased to exercise any authority over your confreres. To do otherwise would only aggravate the unrest in the mission. Moreover, he adds that Rome is organising matters in a way that will restore peace and satisfy everybody to some extent.
I am very grateful to you, Reverend Father, for the important advice you have communicated to me but you would have helped me much more if you could have let me know about it when these decisions were taken. Often what may appear clear for you is obscure and difficult for us who are far away the source of light and often from any source of advice. Which is what has happened with regard to the above mentioned decisions. Some of us believing they were based on false information did not think they had any great authority. In fact no-one has done anything for or against. Since they were communicated to the confreres the whole mission is more upset than ever. Everybody thought they were too severe and like a kind of punishment inflicted on us.
With regard to the warning that you have given me, I think I have found the reason for it in a rather virulent letter that I wrote 30 August 1853 to Father Garin who was in Wellington and about to leave for Auckland.[1] I think this good father must have let you know about this letter and the pain it caused him, and which must have given rise to afore-mentioned recommendation. If it is as I think, in communicating my letter to you Father Garin should also have let you know about the circumstances in which it was written. He should also, this good father, have told you of another letter I wrote two days later retracting the first. Then you would have seen, Very Reverend Father, that if I let myself give in to a little momentary weakness, very soon afterwards I repented of it. And that if I showed myself to be rebellious (if one could call it that), I very soon showed myself to be completely submissive. Then he would have spared you the pain that I have caused you and the embarrassment of writing to me. As nothing happens without the permission of the master and for a good purpose, I hope, Very Reverend Father, that all will be for his greater glory.
I am going to tell you how things came to pass so that you can judge: May 19th last, I arrived in Nelson to see if the air in this place would be better for my health than in Wellington. A few days after my arrival here, Monsignor Viard wrote to Reverend Father Garin to take the first opportunity of coming to Wellington without telling him why nor for how long. The father went straight away to his Lordship, but on leaving us he promised Father Moreau and me that he would take the first opportunity to let us know the reason for his journey. Some days after his departure I had a very serious attack which quickly reduced me to a nearly hopeless state. So Father Moreau administered the last sacraments to me. At the same time the Reverend Fathers Séon and Petitjean wrote to tell us that Father Garin was being sent to Auckland and that this would be a journey of several months, that Monsignor Viard did not want me to be informed…. This news cast me down and even more so Father Moreau who feared he would soon be alone, if I were to die, across a vast stretch of sea. In this state of pain and affliction in which we found ourselves, we thought we should write a strong letter to Father Garin to try and get him back to Nelson if possible. So I dictated the letter in question to the father. I signed it, it was all I could manage in my feeble state. It was sent immediately. Two days later, feeling better and able to reflect a little on what we had done, I was very distressed. So without saying anything to Father Moreau, I forced myself to write a little letter to Father Garin to retract the former. This is how I wrote:
Nelson 2 September 1853.
Dear Father Garin, I am afraid I have caused you much pain by the former one. I beg you to forgive me and to consider it as not having arrived. It was in a moment of fever, worry and irritation that it was written. Moreover I have no power either to order you or forbid you to do anything at all. Do everything for the best. I would be very sorry to oppose the will of God in anything at all. If by any chance you have shown my letter to Bishop Viard, please make my excuses to him for the pain it would have given him. Pray for me…
Fearing that this letter would have been insufficient I wrote another little one to his Lordship, Monsignor Viard, in the same sense. These two letters arrived at their address in their own time. As the two replies, which were made to these same two letters by Monsignor and Father Garin, will show you, here they are:
Copy of the letter from Bishop Viard.
Maria sine labe originale concepta, ora pro nobis.
To Reverend Father Forest.
Wellington 19 September 1853
Our Lady of Seven Sorrows
My dear Father
I reply at once to your kind letter of 2 September. You ask for my blessing. I send it to you ex toto corde. Then you ask me to draw a veil over the past. It has all been long forgotten. It remains only for me to imitate your noble devotion for union of heart. So, my dear Father, forgive all the suffering that I have imposed on you throughout this long and cruel trial in which it is so easy to lose the way with the best of intentions. I do not regret having taken up your defence in the court of Rome and with the superior general of the Society, and of having said in positive terms that if you had left the residence of your bishop, the mission would have been exposed to the greatest dangers.
Let us put aside these little personal interests of bishop and Marists, seeing ourselves solely as ones sent by God crucified to save men. Let us love each other as brothers, always ready to obey the least wishes of the father of the family; then we will cause heresy and infidelity to tremble, because we will be the proper instruments of the great designs of God.
And you, my dear friend, have carried off the first victory which, I hope, will adorn more the crown the Blessed Virgin is preparing for you than all your successes in France, in Auckland and in the Hutt.
We will pray for you as you desire. We have begun here today, at the convent and in the providence, a novena, on the feast of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, reciting the litanies which accompany the feast. How could a mother of sorrow not listen to her afflicted children.
Your most devoted in Jesus and Mary,
Signed: Ph(ilippe) J(oseph), bishop
Letter from Reverend Father Garin. Wellington 21 September 1853
Dear Very Reverend Father,
Your letter of 2 September was a salutary balm which closed the wound made to my heart by your first letter of 30 August. We must admit that there are very great trials in life, but God who sends them to humiliate us does not hesitate at the same time to send us the strength to bear them. I readily attributed that virulent letter, as you said later, to the state you were in. I had a secret presentiment that you would do what you did not delay doing by telling me to regard it has having not arrived.
We are praying for your intentions. The Bishop had the convent and the Providence make a novena for you and in the house as well. We are reciting the litanies of Our Lady of 7 sorrows for this. Let us hope that your suffering united to that of this good mother will obtain great merit for you and that we will have the pleasure of seeing you again in better health. Signed: Antoine M. Garin
If Bishop Viard, when writing to Father Garin to go to Wellington or some time later, had told me simply and kindly: I have received letters from Rome. I need to send Father Garin to Auckland on important business … I would never have written nor said the slightest word, but knowing and seeing that his Lordship want to make a mystery of it and hide it from me only, I was indignant for some time. This has always been the reason and I could say the only reason for our upset, wanting to consider us and to treat as strangers who have nothing to do with the administration either spiritual or temporal either for the members of the Society or in his diocese.
Finally, Very Reverend Father, you tell us that Rome is setting up the organisation of things which will calm everything down. I hope this organisation will hold strong and be proportionate to our needs. I will not undertake to describe them to you here. Plenty of Fathers and Brothers have gone to France. They must have let you know about everything. I will just allow myself to tell you that: 1° in these kinds of organizing particular concern must be given to the temporal needs of the Society in New Zealand, for if these are treated as before I can see that before long the mission and all its members will be reduced to great misery. For two years already the bishop has given each of us, fathers and brothers, no more than 25 pounds sterling. The Bishop and I calculated as accurately a possible that, given the price of things in this country, 17 pounds a year is needed just for clothing…. So that leaves only 8 pounds to live on, for travelling… even to pay a domestic and feed him. One cannot even find a domestic for less than 40 pounds a year with food. For five months now I myself have had nobody and I am obliged to do my own cooking, just exactly like any poor servant of a parish priest in our own country. God be blessed, I am content. All this will, I hope, help to expiate my sins one day. But my health suffers very much and I fear that I will never get any better. However I am much better; given all the trouble I find myself in and the unhealthy climate, I am thinking of going to Sydney to Father Rocher at least for a while. Then, if things turn otherwise in the mission and if my health permits, I would still be ready to sacrifice the rest of my days to the conversion of these poor heretics who have such an attraction for me.
2° If the Society takes on the mission again, I think it would do what the Governor of New Zealand himself has told me several times, that we should have a good piece of land belonging to the Society, a good number of brothers to make good use of it, have first of all a sufficient sum of money to buy the land and to build one or two houses for the Society, so that the Society could look after itself, getting on well together, that is to say with a man at the head who is vowed to the Society, not just paying lip service like those who up to now have been at its head, but from the bottom of his heart. Then my answer would be that we could do much, but if the Society remains under the direction of Bishop Viard for its daily needs, I say it would be a bad thing, it would certainly suffer. If I had not been continually thwarted ever since I have been here by the authority of the bishops being the administrators of our need, today we could have several thousand acres of land belonging to the Society, and all without paying a cent. I have come across several good and rich Catholics who offered me land for nothing but prudence always forbade me to say or do anything, for fear of putting the bishops offside. I thank God that things look as though they will improve. I hope Rome will not mount any further opposition to the Society owning what it needs to maintain itself. Without that I believe it would be absolutely useless to try to pick up the mission again.
I wrote to you once, Very Reverend Father, to ask you to let me know if you would like me to accept the role of vicar general to Bishop Viard, because so far I have not accepted this without your consent. I beg you to let me know what I should do, accept it or reject it. As for me I am totally indifferent.
Brother Luc has left the mission and the Society since last May. He has gone to Hobart. Since April 1st I have been back in Wellington. I am staying at the Hutt, my former residence. I am with Father Séon.
Governor Grey left for England at the end of 1853.[2] When he visited Nelson I was ill. His Excellency told me he would go and see you in Lyon. This good Governor did everything he could for us. I hope God will repay him.
Would you please let Marie Trihan, my cousin, know that I am much better, and that I will write to her soon, as well as my other relatives. I recommend myself to your prayers.
I have the honour of being,
Very Reverend Father,
Your most humble and devoted servant,
J(ean) Forest
Please be so kind as to forgive the lack of clarity in this letter, but its length and my lack of strength will not allow me to write it out again.
Postscript. When I said above that I have been obliged to do my cooking for a long time, I didn’t mean to be complaining about anyone. I have and have always had more than enough for my needs, but I wanted to say that given the little money we have, and the extraordinary cost of a servant, I have tried to do my best to save the little we have, not being able to give myself entirely to the work of the holy ministry. I had more time for that. Moreover it is very hard to find servants. The price of everything has gone up by more than a half in the last two years. So that instead of paying 2 sous for a pound of bread two years ago, we now pay 8 sous – and it’s the same for everything else.
Bishop Pompallier has just written me two letters. His Lordship wants to know urgently if the Society definitely wants to accept or not the offer he made last year of his college and several stations in his diocese. He would like to know what is your reply.
I shall let his Lordship know that the Society, having to negotiate with the court of Rome about the mission in the south of New Zealand, has not yet sent anything positive about the offers he has made us, but as soon as I receive some decision from you I will let him know.
Father Comte is about to leave for France. Brother Justin also is very keen to return to the Hermitage. I think it would do this dear brother much good to return to the mother house; although he is quite well, nevertheless, like many of us, he is worn out by service and wants to have some rest, especially for his soul. If the Society were to have one or two houses in this country where one could recover easily and withdraw to when sick, I think that this brother, as well as several others, would never ask to cross the seas again, but if the Society cannot have something like this it is more than likely that the great majority of those who are here will see France again or try to see it to finish their painful career there in peace and in the Society for which they all hold much affection.
Last Tuesday Reverend Father Petit-jean has called up before the court for visiting a sick woman married to a furious protestant. The Father went into the kitchen first and asked a woman who was there if he could see the sick woman. The answer was no. The Father said that he would like the woman to know at least that he was there, to let know at least – same refusal. Finally the sister of the sick Catholic came in and the Father made the same requests. This person answered that she wouldn’t dare for fear of her brother-in-law. So the Father reproached a little but without any effect. When the husband of the sick woman came in, the Father left. He was told that the Catholic priest had been and had strongly insisted on seeing his wife. He was so outraged that he went straightaway to accuse him before the court of having disturbed the peace and entered his house without permission.
Three magistrates were present at the hearing for three hours. The Father pleaded his own cause and won it to the great dismay of a good number of Protestants who thought they had already won and would see the Father go to prison of pay a fine. I can assure you we have to be very careful when doing good. Here more than elsewhere we have to be extremely prudent…we are dealing with people who are very proud and very susceptible.
Jean Forest
When I said I was thinking of going to Sydney, I must add that I haven’t decided anything about that yet. Everything will depend on the opportunity and the state of my health, or even on some letters from you about the affairs of the mission and which will require that I am here.


  1. On the commission given to Garin by Viard, see doc. 1343, §3, n.11
  2. In fact, George Grey, governor of New Zealand from 1845 to 1853, left to become governor of Cape Colony and high commissioner of South Africa (cf. Dictionary of NZ Biography, vol. 1, p. 160-162)