Upstairs/Downstairs Part 1

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.

When Bishop Pompallier decided to move the centre of his missionary vicariate from Hokianga to the Bay of Islands, he intended to found an establishment which would serve as the religious, administrative, and supply centre for an area embracing most of the central and western South Pacific. When in 1843 this vast territory had been reduced by Rome to the confines of New Zealand, the station at Kororareka continued to serve these functions, for the bishop, the Marists, and the various people connected with the Catholic mission. For the Marist priests and brothers it was also the residence of a religious community, and the closest institution to a monastery in New Zealand in the first part of the nineteenth century.

For the smooth and efficient functioning of this establishment, commonly referred to as the procure, a great deal depended on the work of the brothers of the community. This paper looks at these men and the part they played in the life of the mission at the Bay. More particularly, it focuses on one of them, Emery Roudet, who was stationed here from 1841 to 1848, that is, from its real beginnings as a procure to its end as such, with the transfer of the centre of the diocese to Auckland.

Pierre Roudet was born on 28 January 1819 at Bevenais, a village to the northwest of Grenoble, in the department of Isere. Both parents died while he was quite young, but they left him well-provided for. After his primary schooling he was apprenticed to a tailor. At the age of 20, inspired by reports coming back from the recently founded Catholic missions of the South Pacific, Pierre decided that he had a vocation as a catechist in the missions. He was not looking towards priesthood.

So in June 1839 he applied for admission to the religious congregation of the Little Brothers of Mary which had already provided men for the first two missionary groups which the Society of Mary had sent out to Oceania. He was familiar with the brothers from their school in nearby La Cote-St-Andre.

The Little Brothers of Mary, also known as the Brothers of Mary, and more simply as the Marist Brothers, was one of a number of congregations of teaching brothers (ie men in religious vows but not ordained) founded in France in the wake of the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars to help repair the shattered primary school system and reclaim the rural areas of the country for the Church.


  Pompallier House at Russell, Bay of Islands 

Pen and wash sketch by John Pearse of
‘Roman Catholic priests in the Colony’.
(Sketch: Alexander Turnbull Library

Its founder, Marcellin Champagnat, born in 1789 in the hill country of the Loire, had had personal experience of the effects of this breakdown and was determined to do something about it. As a founding member of the Society of Mary in 1816, he had insisted that the Society include teaching brothers as well as the priests, coadjutor brothers, sisters, and lay associates originally envisaged. In January 1817, a few months after ordination and appointment to his first parish, which was not very far from his birthplace, he brought two young men together to form his first community and found his congregation. By the time of his death in June 1840, he had 280 brothers, of whom 180 were providing religious instruction and primary education for some 7000 boys in 48 schools in rural areas and the poorer parts of towns(i)

Pierre Roudet was enrolled as a postulant at Our Lady of the Hermitage, the congregation’s mother house and central novitiate, in June 1839 and accepted as a novice, with the religious name of Emery, two months later. He spent 18 months at the Hermitage altogether being formed as a religious and a catechist. Manual work was also part of the novitiate routine, and he would have spent some time helping the brother tailor as well as some of the other brothers who provided for the material upkeep of the house. The Hermitage was run very much along traditional monastic lines, and the formation system well adapted by this time to fulfil Champagnat’s aim of producing men who could take on any work or office in the Society(ii). The strong community spirit engendered was also to leave its mark on the missionary brothers. Their letters show clearly that for them the Hermitage remained the model community.

When Emery made his first vows on 10 October 1840, he was already designated to form part of the fifth Marist missionary group leaving for Oceania at the end of the year. This was the largest group the superior general, Jean-Claude Colin, was to send out, and included six of Champagnat’s brothers, half of them certainly chosen for their trade backgrounds. Pompallier had decided on the Bay of Islands as the centre of his vicariate and the site of his procure, the administrative and supply centre for the mission. For this purpose he required tradesmen to supply the needs of the missionaries, and as they were also members of a religious congregation vowed to poverty and obedience, he saw them providing an economic and malleable supply of labour.

As he was always inclined to put the needs of the mission before the requirements of religious life both for priests and brothers, the bishop’s relationship with his personnel was a problematic one. He had already lost one of the brothers. Michel Colombon, who had accompanied him in founding the New Zealand mission, left Kororareka in July 1840, frustrated at finding his role on the mission reduced to being a servant for Pompallier and the priests. (iii)


A sketch by Richard Ashworth 1844, showing a Marist Priest wearing his black soutane and broad-rimmed hat speaking to a group of Maori.
(sketch: Alexander Turnbull Libra

The title page of ‘Ako Marama’, the first book our Brothers produced on the Gaveaux press at Kororareka (Russell).
(Original: Bishop’s House, Auckland)

For the brothers the religious aspect of their lives was very important, perhaps more so than for the priests, some of whom anyway saw themselves first as priests and missionaries and only secondarily as religious. One of the brothers in this group, Pierre-Marie Perenon, the oldest of them at 35, a former seminarian and director of schools, describing their voyage out, puts some emphasis on their daily religious routine: Although we are with Protestants, we are much freer to do our religious exercises than if we were among Frenchmen. To be in the fresh air, we go on deck for our morning and evening prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, examen of conscience, our study and our classes as freely as if we were at the Mother House.(iv) The classes mentioned included catechetics for the brothers and theological studies for the seminarians, and one of the passengers provided them with lessons in English.

This monastic rhythm continued once the Marists reached their destination in June 1841. It was certainly modified during the first months when the emphasis was on setting up temporary accommodation and then building the storehouse-printery at Kororareka while the priests, at least, had to learn Maori and prepare themselves for life in the stations. But up to 1845 there was always a large community in residence and a clearly defined routine was much easier to follow than in the smaller stations. The rule followed was obviously that in use in the houses of the Society of Mary rather than those of the Marist brothers, but the elements were largely the same.(v)

The community rose at daybreak and the first hour or so of the day was given to prayer, morning prayer in common, followed by silent meditation ( half an hour for the brothers), and Mass. The brothers did various chores around the house until breakfast. After breakfast they spent the morning at their various trades or tasks if they were not engaged in a communal work such as building or gardening. The community came together again about midday for the individual examination of conscience and the meal. Afterwards there was a short visit to the chapel for prayer, followed by recreation. This was not of long duration and the brothers were soon back to work. After the evening meal there was another brief period of recreation and time for spiritual reading or study, usually in common. The day ended with community recitation of evening prayers followed by the ‘grand silence’, no conversation being allowed until the next morning. The brothers had other prayers to say and exercises to do during the day and if these could not be fitted in earlier, they were expected to make use of any free time they had to perform them.

When there were no visitors, meals were usually eaten in silence while one of the community read from a spiritual book. The fare was simple and monotonous – potatoes, corn, salad vegetables, soup, sometimes fish or pork. The cook had to provide the ingredients for the meal as well as cook so his task was a time-consuming one, especially given the large number of the community. It was not a popular task with the brothers. The produce of their own gardens was often supplemented by contributions from Whangaroa where Elie-Regis Marin in his three years there, much of the time by himself, had a considerable area of the mission under cultivation. In 1842 the vines he had planted there were already beginning to bear grapes. The wine, he declared, would be cote rotie because of the position and the quality of the soil .(vi) Elie had to move on before he had a chance to taste any of his produce, but his vines were soon providing the procure with wine for both altar and table. It may well have been the first syrah wine produced in New Zealand.

While Pompallier was in residence, anyway, the brothers ate at a separate table. The bishop did not want visitors to confuse them with the priests, and that is why he had also made them lay aside the religious habit which they had worn in France for secular clothes(vii). He was also afraid that their comparative lack of education would reflect poorly on the image of the Catholic Church he was trying to project for the predominantly Protestant European population. While the priests generally had no objection about the rule on clothing, some were not so happy about the brothers eating apart, which did not accord with the rule. It was another minor cause of friction between Pompallier and the Society.

(At left) Part of a sketch by Edward Ashworth showing the south end of Kororareka in 1844, with the printery
and storehouse rising behind the other buildings of the Catholic Mission compound.
(Sketch: Alexander Turnbull Library)

On Sundays and special feastdays, some more free time was allowed, the community might be given permission to converse during the meal, and something special provided for the main meal. Sunday was often the day for letter writing and private reading or study. Before Pompallier’s edict, this was also the day when the brothers might wear their religious habit or soutane. And they were able to recite in common the whole of the office of the Virgin Mary at the appropriate times, which during the week they could say as a rule only individually and in part.

The extent of the Vicariate of Western Oceania, the mission field which Pompallier administered from Kororareka

Part of the Printing Press used by the Brothers
at Kororareka (Russell)

(i)For Marcellin Champagnat and his Marist brothers, the main source is Vie de Joseph-Benoit-Marcellin Champagnat (1856), by Br Jean-Baptiste Furet. The English edition of this work published for the bicentenary of his birth is the one used here under the abbreviation Life. Others are: Br Stephen Farrell FMS, Achievement from the Depths, 1984, Andre Lanfrey, Marcellin Champagnat et les Freres Maristes, 1999. For the context of his work in the religion, Education, and society of nineteenth century France, Sarah A. Curtis, Educating the Faithful, 2000.

(ii)Life, p 422.

(iii)Edward Clisby FMS, Marist Brothers and Maori 1838-1988, 2001, p 27.

(iv)LO 22 p 49.

(v)The treatment of the programme followed by the community at the procure is largely taken from John Hosie’s description of the one followed at the procure in Sydney in Challenge. The Marists in Colonial Australia, 1987, pages 80-81.

(vi)LO 25, p 59.

(vii)RF Clisby, p 27.