Upstairs/Downstairs Part 2

The Marist Brothers in the Life of the French Catholic Mission

This paper was delivered by Brother Bryan Stanaway on behalf of its author, Brother Edward Clisby, to the Symposium organised by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust on “The French Place in the Bay of Islands” held in Russell in January 2004.

The punctilious observance of the rule, or regularity, was considered essential for the smooth running of the house and the success of the missionaries’ various ministries. The chief function of the local superior and the provincial superior was to see that the rule was kept. In a report to Colin in May 1842 Antoine Garin, provincial from June 1841 to September 1843, comments: Our brothers have been laden down with work from the beginning. The land had to be cultivated or else we would have died of hunger, and soil never worked before requires a long preparation at the cost of incredible labour and difficulty. Now the work is not so heavy and less urgent. The brothers have more time to carry out their exercises of piety (i). The following March Jean Forest, Visitor of the Marist Missions since April 1842, and Garin’s successor as provincial, has this to say of the brothers at the Bay: In general, they have a good spirit and are faithful to their religious exercises. (ii) He had just finished giving the missionaries a retreat which all agreed had been beneficial. As if in confirmation, Pierre-Marie, writing to Colin in November 1843, declares: We are the spoiled children of Providence. Our procure is a foreshadow of paradise, since from our arrival we have fitted together like the fingers of a hand. We grow in good understanding like the blessed (iii). His statement probably tells us more about himself than about the actual state of affairs, since there had been tensions between the architect Perret and the brothers working on the building, and there was also the tension between Pompallier and some of the priests.

But there is no doubt that the spirit at the procure was generally much better than it might be in the stations. Claude-Marie Bertrand spent only a couple of short spells at Kororareka but his experience there reflects that of Pierre-Marie. Describing the various brothers and their work at the procure, he comments: All do their work with admirable regularity. What contributes most to this good order is the timetable they keep to faithfully. At fixed times the bell calls you to prayer, the refectory, etc. and everyone responds instantly. That is what most pleases me, I assure you. Finally, the brotherly union which exists among us all, the love we have for one another! All that certainly makes for a paradise on earth (iv) . According to his letters, regularity and brotherly union were not very much in evidence at Hokianga where the brother spent much of his time.

The rule required the brothers to write to the superior general, Colin, or to their own superior, Francois Rivat, styled director general, every six months or so.


Ink and watercolour portraits by Father Leopold Verguet of Maori men, based on sketches he made when visiting the Kororeka mission station in 1847.

The letters were basically of two types, one the more conventional exchange, the other, the ‘letter of rule’ properly speaking, a more intimate confessional account of conscience, an account of the state of my soul, as Claude-Marie puts it in one of his letters. While the first type of letter could be, and was, shared with others, as the edited versions of many appear in the Annales de la Propagation de la foi and the Society’s own Annales des Missions d’Oceanie, the second was intended only for the eyes of the superior. In it the writer revealed how he was keeping the rule, how he was keeping his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, his problems in those areas, his relations with his confreres, his local superior, the Maori of the mission, and so on. Accustomed to daily examination of conscience, regular sacramental confession, and the weekly chapter of faults, a community exercise in which each individual had to make public confession of some fault or omission in the keeping of the rule, the brothers did not find this difficult to do.

Emery, for example, writing such a letter to Colin at the beginning of 1843, begins with the words: The desire I have for my sanctification leads me to write this letter to let you know…the dispositions of my soul, so that you can send me the advice and counsel which I need so badly for my progress in virtue, and then proceeds to confess how painful he finds some of the physical work, how impatient and bad-tempered he becomes, how frustrated he is when he finds himself unable to communicate with visiting Maori, how he is lacking in obedience, given to temptations against chastity, desirous of having some good clothes so as to impress the Europeans, and prone to lack of attention and fervour in prayer(v). They could also complain about perceived injustices by the local superiors or omissions or infringements in the keeping of the rule. The brothers at the procure had little to complain about in this regard, but their confreres in the stations were sometimes not so fortunate. Claude-Marie wrote a number of letters to both Colin and Francois describing the difficulties he was labouring under at Hokianga with the irascible Maxime Petit (vi). Such letters offer an unexpected insight into the interior lives of the men of the mission and serve to underline their humanity.

In the letter mentioned above, Emery accuses himself: I would especially like to have some good clothing so I can impress the Europeans. Being deprived of the right to wear their religious costume, the brothers had to suffer the misunderstandings of others about their exact status in the mission. The English settlers and visitors, anyway, even the Catholics among them, had little idea of what a brother was. The Brothers here, complains Claude-Marie, are regarded by the whites and by the natives as servants of the Fathers. Here is some proof. One day an Englishman asked one of ours at the Bay of Islands what the word ‘frere’ meant. He replied that it meant servants (vii). Not that many of the priests believed this, but a few certainly treated their brothers as such. From Claude-Marie again writing to Colin: To tell you plainly, my good Father, and in a few words, we are here in New Zealand as servants, and treated even worse than those in France… The natives who witness such scenes only too often have a low opinion of us and give us the names – slave, cook, person of no standing (viii). Claude-Marie was a bookish and not very practical man and must have exasperated Petit at Hokianga as much as the priest exasperated him.

Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier: a portrait painted in Paris in 1848. (This painting hangs in Bishop’s House, Auckland

Watercolour by C. Pharazyn, 1843, of Kororareka from the north, with the buildings of the Catholic Mission compound towards the far end of the beach. [Painting: National Museum]

He was confined to manual labour and work about the house and so local Maori may not have gained a good opinion of him. But his experience with Jean Lampila at the short-lived Te Rangi station the same year was quite different. The brothers at the procure do not appear to have been much troubled on this score, probably because they possessed skills of value in Maori eyes or were seen as more closely associated with the bishop. If not accorded the distinction of ariki like the priests, they were still recognized as tangata tapu.

Emery was stationed at Kororareka from his arrival in June 1841 to the beginning of 1848. During most of that period, the other brothers of the community were Pierre-Marie, Basile Monchalin, and Luc Mace, the latter not a Little Brother of Mary, however, but one professed in the Society of Mary (ix). Others were assigned to the Bay for shorter periods at various times. The only one of the tradesman brothers not to spend much time there was Euloge Chabany. Trained as a smith he had little opportunity to practise his trade in the early months and, unlike some of the others, was not very adaptable. At the end of 1841 Garin complains: As for Brother Euloge, he is only good at his forge. Take him away from that and he knows how to do nothing. It so happens we haven’t been able to provide him with such work (x). Euloge was probably as relieved as the others when he was transferred to Tauranga the following March.

He was much more appreciated in the stations he worked in than he had been at the procure. He was later to meet his end at the hands of a Hauhau warrior at Moutoa, on the Whanganui River, in May 1864.

Until forced to return to France for health reasons early in 1846 – Pierre-Marie suffered badly from rheumatism – he was regulator of the timetable at the procure and sacristan, having care of everything connected with the chapel and cult. He acted as Pompallier’s valet and attendant while he was in residence, and was for much of 1842 schoolmaster for some English children of the town, using the little chapel as a classroom. Pierre-Marie differed from the others in that Colin had asked him before leaving France to take up studies for the priesthood. He had been a seminarian before becoming a brother, and the superior general may have been hoping in this way to meet Pompallier’s insistent demands for more priests. However, it was as a brother that he returned to the Hermitage and continued his teaching career in France. While he occasionally accompanied the bishop on pastoral visits around the Bay, his studies and his health kept him pretty much confined to the procure where his contacts with Maori seem to have been limited to the Sunday and festal services and to providing medical services when required.

Basile had been a shoemaker before he joined the brothers and owed his appointment to the missions to this fact. While he plied his trade at the procure, his main task there was the cooking and supervision of food supplies, in which capacity he also acted as baker and butcher. He had two Maori assistants whom Garin considered gave him bad example: He has picked up some habits that cause him sometimes to be taken for a Maori, for he has two Maoris under his direction and he speaks and shouts just like them (xi).

He also had occasion to act as doctor, providing simple remedies for Maori coming to the procure. Basile accompanied the priests on visitations and obviously enjoyed going into the villages, as he describes in a letter to Francois in November 1843. The same letter (xii)contains an account of a trip he made to Whangaroa with Jean-Baptiste Petitjean in October 1842 taking a heifer, three sheep, a lamb, and badly-needed supplies to the station there. Petitjean had recently returned from a fundraising voyage to Sydney and had brought leather for making and mending shoes. But the Marists were frequently short of funds and even when they were able to buy leather Basile would have to wait for it to arrive from Sydney. As a consequence, the missionaries’shoes and boots, like their clothes, were often in a deplorable condition. Justin Perret, in a note from Maketu at the end of 1841 asking for some urgently needed items of clothing, complains: The shoes Fr Garin exchanged with me are as decayed as baskets. One trip was sufficient to do that. If you do not send me others, I will perhaps be forced to stay at home. I can’t wear Fr Borjon’s shoes, they are far too big for me. But God’s will be done (xiii). The situation must have improved after the tanner, James Callaghan, became associated with the mission in 1843. His tannery in a lean-to behind the printery produced and worked leather as well as curing hides. Basile is unlikely to have worked at tanning, a dirty, smelly trade hardly compatible with the work of a cook, but he could have helped in the currying, the working of the tanned hides into leather. With the worked leather he would also have been able to provide the printers with material for binding and covering the books.

Luc was a member of the sixth group of Marists which left France for the missions in November 1841. He worked at the procure as carpenter and joiner and spent spells away from the Bay assisting the priests build houses at their stations, as at Tauranga in 1844 and Hokianga in 1846. Much of his time was also spent helping Jean Yvert in the printery. In a letter to Colin in November 1843 he writes: I rarely go out as His Lordship has judged it convenient that I stay here with him to work at the printing press with M. Yvert and dear Br Emery. So in changing countries I have also changed occupations. Still from time to time I work at joinery and carpentry, as work is not lacking for Brothers at the mother house. We need double the number of workers, at least eight or nine, without counting a number of natives or Mahoris.

Preparing consignments for the stations, carpentry, joinery, gardening, sewing, bootmaking, frequent trips that require three or four men, the printing and binding of five thousand or more volumes that we have been doing for a little over a year – all these things make work difficult for so few people (xiv). Like the others, Luc had originally come to the mission as a catechist. After the Marists moved south in 1850, he felt that the work he was doing no longer qualified as missionary work and so he obtained dispensation from his vows and left the Society.

i To Colin, 7 May 1842, Annales des Missions, T1 (Hors de series). P 116.

ii LO 35, p 92.

iii LO 41, p 107.

iv LO 50, p 132.

v Letter of 3 February 1843 (copy in the Archives des Freres Maristes, Rome). This is one of the letters of rule that has not been included in the LO series.

vi Rf, eg. LO 31, pp 73-6.

vii Ibid. p 76.

viii Letter to Colin, 2 January 1843, (AFM).

ix Rf Clisby, pp 5-6.

x To Colin, letter of Nov-Dec. 1841

xi To Colin in a postscript to a letter he wrote for Br Colomb , 8 September 1842 (AFM).

xii LO 40, pp 104-106.

xiiiNote to Epalle, late 1841 (AFM)

xiv LO 37, p 97.