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Fr JFR Pestre to Fr C Cognet, Meanee, 6 April 1896

Translated by Brian Quin, February 2002


Meanee 6 April 1896
Reverend and very dear Father
I carefully read your letter of March 30th. In my last letter I told you that it wasn’t very clear to me how, in conscience, you could receive two allocations of funds from the Propag.[1] when, really, only one of you will be involved with the Maoris, while the other one will be taken up with the whites. The reasons you give me do not seem to me, to the contrary, very convincing. But to be on the safe side, I will take advice from higher authority.
Let’s look at the main matter, the building of your presbytery. You express your surprise because I had told you that, after having given a generous subscription, you ought to build it at the expense of the parish, because at the moment it will be as much use to the parish as to the Maoris; and, sooner or later, it will end up being entirely given over to the use of the whites, when the Maoris are merged into Okato, as they are generally doing elsewhere. So why wouldn’t the whites work towards contributing at least half the cost? This reasoning seems obvious to me. And, besides, I can tell you that I have consulted men remarkable for their wisdom and experience, members of the Provincial Council; they entirely approve of my decision, and bind me to stick to it in spite of everything you say to the contrary. However, because I want to show myself to be as conciliatory as possible, I allow you to use the Maori funds which you have for half the construction costs, with the other half being paid by the parish. If it cannot meet this expense right now, there is no hurry, your committee can borrow as is done elsewhere: later on you can wipe off this debt by bazaars or similar means. That is what is done elsewhere. The population [in the district] of Fr Leprêtre, at Wairoa, is neither more numerous nor richer than yours, nevertheless his bazaar has just raised £178 net. Several times as well, Fr Melu has paid his debts in similar ways. Built in this way, at the expense in part of the Maori mission, and in part of the white population, the presbytery will belong to the diocese. You say that if it was wholly paid for by the Society[2] or by the money given by the Propag., the Society would have to recognise it as its property and claim compensation for it if we were evicted from it, or it could be your personal property. As for paying for it with Society money, never! Already enough stupid things like this have been done in the colony: it is time to become wise. If it is paid for with the money from the Propag., by what right would it become the property of the Society, or yours in the name of the Society? In saying that, you are going against the most positive decrees of the Roman Congregations. The Propag. doesn’t give this money to be turned to the benefit of the Society.
A word or two about the property. You think that the best thing [to do] would be to have the act of transfer[3] in the name of three trustees: the Archbishop, the parish priest and the president of the committee. You give me permission to disapprove of this plan. This transfer must be done in the name of the Archbishop alone: because in the case of the deaths of the parish priest and the president, there would be rights of succession to be paid for, whereas the death of the Archbishop does not entail any. In the sight of this country’s law, he is recognised, because of his office, as a moral person[4] who never dies. This is how [the transfer] should be done: To the Most Reverend Dr Redwood, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington and to his lawful successors in office, to be held in trust by them for the sole use and benefit of the Catholics residing in the district of Okato. Besides, you know that according to the laws of the country any building put up on another’s property belongs ipso facto to the latter, unless he has given legal permission to build on his land. So your plan could involve some difficulties.
As for the presbytery, what is your design? Is it the one you have showed me, or have you changed it? If you are using another, could you please show it to me before doing anything; in the same way, if you are putting it out to tender, please let me know the terms before making a final acceptance. Certainly this presbytery must be fit to accommodate suitably the two missionaries, as well as one or two visitors. But it shouldn’t exceed these proportions. If, later on, your plan to make it a home for several missionaries is realised, there will still be time to build for them. Certainly that will not come about for a very long time. That being the case, why build, in preparation for that, a huge mansion which would be useless for several years and would demand considerable spending on insurance, taxes and maintenance? For the rest, to be frank with you, I don’t think this project will ever be undertaken. If ever anyone sets up residences for missionaries, they won’t go and stick them in holes[5] like Okato. They will choose the main centres, as our superiors have often reminded me, and as good sense itself demands. So that is why my duty, as provision [is] to be opposed absolutely to buildings of excessive size as mentioned above, and including[6] the carrying out of the aforesaid project. Excuse me for speaking to you like this, but here we are speaking of business, and I must protect the interests of the province. To get me to change this decision, I would need written approval[7] from the major superiors. But in the situation indicated, in the matter of the dimensions of the presbytery and the spending needed for its building, I can only encourage you and wish you the greatest success.
Sincerely, Reverend and very dear Father
Your entirely devoted servant in JMJ
J F R Pestre
My regards to Fr Lacroix


  1. Society for the Propagation of the Faith - translator’s note
  2. of Mary - translator’s note
  3. passer = registers?
  4. sole corporation
  5. trous
  6. visant à – including?
  7. preuves