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mid-Jan 1842 Father Antoine Séon to Father Jean-Baptiste Épalle, Matamata

APM 1488.21204 OOC 418.22 Letters received from New Zealand by Fr. Epalle, 1842

Translated by ChatGPT, 2023, reviewed by Elizabeth Charlton, August 2023.

Biography and letters of Antoine Séon

Undated, but internal evidence suggests mid-January 1842

My Reverend Father,

It has been four and a half months since Providence placed me in Matamata and entrusted me with a vast expanse of land to clear. I cannot tell you if any good has been done; I scattered books in all directions, and if God has blessed them, they will have served to enlighten some people. I was about to set out on a tour to the tribes when I wrote to you; I am going to start another one now. The first one lasted forty days; this one will be shorter because I will only visit one side of my station. I will return to Matamata to see how everything is going there, and then I will leave for Rangitoto, Oine-kura, Paripari, Makau.
I spent three months in Matamata to build a house of prayer and learn the language. The house is complete. It is 30 feet long and fourteen feet wide. The chapel is only 16 feet, the rest is for me and my companion. The windows, nicely parallel, are arched. The partition has a recess two feet three inches deep and eight inches wide to place the altar, which fits very well. Our people are happy with their house of prayer, and when I have enough money or tobacco to have benches installed, it will be perfect. However, we are far from the [Protestant] missionaries; they are a quarter of an hour away from us in Tapiri, a village almost like Matamata, with a temple 80 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 30 feet high. This house is beautifully done; I think they will employ carpenters to adorn it with some woodwork. We will try to make up for its smallness by keeping ours clean. Moreover, it is sufficient for the natives who come there for prayer. Father Baty usually had 40 to 60 people. This number has greatly decreased since my return. My language, the time spent working the land since I arrived here, and the providential choice have left me with few souls to nourish with the bread of divine parable. Perhaps the good Lord will bring back happier days; He will awaken hearts, inspire some interest in indifferent hearts, and we will see the flock increase and the joy of the shepherd fill his soul. Multiplicanti gentium, magnificanti beatitione.
During my circuit, I had the happiness of baptizing two children, one of whom died the following night and the other three days later. Providence brought them to me without me searching for them. They prayed for their fellow countrymen. Two months later, the chief of this village (Teraho near Rarowera) sent me a notebook to write down Catholic prayers. I returned it to him full. I baptized two other children in Matamata. One, very sick, was deprived of this grace due to delays on the part of the Father, who was very sorry about it. During my circuit, he had lost an 8-year-old son who was baptized by an Irish Catholic who unfortunately left Matamata for Tauranga, where he resides.
To continue increasing and supporting the little good we can do, I need:
1. Of course, a good understanding of the language. I am still far from that. During my time at my station, I spent 40 days on the move, a month copying the Bishop's catechism, making books for the Natives, and a lot of time running in the nearby forests where all our people stay to work. I am going to set out again. May the good Lord enlighten me. Please pray for me.
2. We need books. We are overwhelmed here and elsewhere by the requests of our people who bring us the good books and the little books of the [Protestant] missionaries. We tell them to wait, but it must come at some point. They ask us for books about Panga, controversies against the [Protestant] missionaries (selected requests, short, clear, and detailed responses). Other truths are also wonderfully taught through this means.
3. Despite my efforts to avoid expenses, I will be forced to spend again. I will go as slowly as possible.
4. I have a little catechism class where sometimes I have ten to fifteen children attending; this is all our hope. Similar gatherings exist in almost all the places I have visited. I would like some small objects to attract them. I have a few medals, some crosses that I make sure are deserved, but I'm running out of them. I have a few images, but I cannot give them out yet; they are not educated enough.
5. A native who came to ask me for a prayer book was not satisfied with the one I wrote for him; he took my breviary. It was thick, which is what he was looking for. Unfortunately, I only realized it afterward.
6. Finally, Pierre wishes to take a wife. The wedding garments are ready, and a good piece of land is offered to him. He asks to send someone to replace him. If he leaves, I will no longer have any tools as those belonging to him have been used up to this point. He reluctantly does the cooking (this is the work of a lay helper). I have a small rotary saw that Father Viard gave me, but it can't be used to cut large pieces. That's all, my Reverend Father. No shovels, nothing at all.
7. I thank you, Reverend Father, for the items you have sent me; they were much needed. I still don't have an altar cross except for my pectoral cross. No candlesticks. I would like some ribbons to make bookmarks for my two missals, a clean image of the Blessed Virgin for my chapel, a meter or another measuring tool that closes, a slightly sturdy knife. In short, whatever you please.
Finally, my Reverend Father, I conclude by presenting my humblest respects to the dear colleagues who are with you. I hope that you will give us news of them in your next letter. If the life of the Blessed Mother Alacoque, which Mr. Perret has brought, is available, I will read it with great pleasure and will return it carefully. Pray for the conversion of the infidels and heretics, the latter are quite obstinate.
Farewell, my Reverend Father.
Your very humble servant and colleague,
A Seon

Settle with Mr. Thomas Brinde. Merchant in Matamata, now near Tauranga.
£. s. d.
October 18 A cotton shirt 4
24 A small axe 5
November 2 Thirty pounds of tobacco at 2 shillings 6 pence per pound 3 15
18 One pig, 100 pounds at 3 pence per pound 1 5
19 2 dozen pipes at 1 shilling 2
20 A cotton shirt 4
December 3 14 pounds of lamp grease at 6 pence per pound – I gave some oil to Father Pesant 7
A dozen pipes at 1 shilling 1
9 15 pounds of tobacco at 2 shillings 6 pence per pound 1 17 6
For Pierre on various occasions
10 pounds of tobacco 1 5
A small account book 1
A pair of hinges 1
A powder flask 7
27 Sugar, 10 pounds at 8 pence 6 8
Small lock, hinges for a travel case 3 6
6 yards of calico for windows, etc. at 15 pence per yard 7 6
An axe (which was stolen) 7
Two piles for planks for the chapel 10
11 7 2
27 10 pounds of tobacco at 2 shillings and 6 pence per pound 1 5
12 9 2
Expenses for the Chapel
£. s. d.
For planks, two shovels 10
For planks, a covering, double the size of the mission's 0
Wood, workers, 84 figs [of tobacco?] X
Cocoa, 28 f 0 X
For the roof, 160 F
Total 272 f = 18 pounds at 2 shillings and 6 pence 2 5
I promised the two workers who alone worked on the wood and sold it, two blankets, I think 15 or 16 shillings each. 1 12
(I've just seen that the blankets cost more than I thought).
Pierre’s Accounts
£. s. d.
September 14 He received from Father Viard, 2 pounds of tobacco.
November 8 From me, 2 pounds of tobacco at 2 shillings and 6 pence per pound. 5
A powder flask. 7
A small account book. 1
A pair of hinges for a case. 1
December Ten pounds of tobacco at 2 shillings and 6 pence per pound. 1 6
A dozen pipes at 1 shilling. 1
January Two bars of soap at 2 shillings and 6 pence. 5
My Reverend Father,
I have been told that you found in my last letter some words whose meaning you couldn't understand. Unfortunately, the note mentioning them is lost. I can't recall anything about what my letter contained. However, I don't believe there was anything essential. I will only allow myself to tell you, in confidence, that I don't consider Father Colin to be well-informed enough about the affairs of the mission. The Sovereign Pontiff entrusted this mission to the Society of Mary, and it's Father Colin who is tasked with receiving, asking for, or borrowing money for the mission, yet no one
If you have moulds to print in large type sheets for the children's class, I will receive them and use them with pleasure.
keeps him informed of what is happening! How can it be that he, who provides the subjects, his own spiritual children, he who provides—or at least receives and requests—money for the mission, is forced to act blindly? In matters of such great importance, in matters that compromise him, that compromise the Society. I believe there is a very strict duty to write to him about everything, and who else is to do it? If not you, who knows everything. The Reverend Father Superior asks for it, demands it. The Bishop cannot find fault with it. If he were in France, in the Reverend Father's place, I believe he would do just the same. You have no better means of raising funds than by providing details... that's what Father [Colin] likes. I hope Mr. Perret doesn't get bored in Kororareka, keep him engaged, make him laugh. Farewell, my Reverend Father. Please pray a little for us missionaries.
I will write to the Provincial Father later.
Your devoted colleague,
JA Seon