1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - [Front Matter]

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  1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - [Front Matter]
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Rt. Rev. Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier




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Auckland, N.Z.:

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The aim of the Translator has been, not to give a polished and elegant version of the "Diary," but to adhere as closely, as the difference in the idiom of the two languages would permit, to the homely and familiar style of the Right Reverend Author. How far he has been successful in his attempt must be left to the judgment of those who have had the opportunity of reading the "Diary" in the original.



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THE early history of peoples and of places has a special interest of its own. Oftentimes, however, owing to the scanty, or, it may be, the unreliable records that are to hand, the historian is not in possession of many of those facts and circumstances which, if of no great intrinsic importance, are nevertheless the key to many a result and feature, self-evident, indeed, in their present and actual existence, but veiled in uncertainty as to their source and origin.

The same remark is applicable to the early history of the Church, whether we speak of the Church as a whole, or whether we restrict our investigations to the origin, rise, and growth of the Church in any particular portion of the globe. It would be instructive and interesting to show how--if we wish to get behind the Christian era--sacred history has such a decided superiority over profane history that, with the exception of the comparatively short period of the historical times of Athens and Rome, the early history of the peoples of the earth is lost in fable and oblivion. It is only in the inspired books of the Old Testament that we find any authentic and reliable records of the infancy of the human race through the early history of that chosen people of God--the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--that people who, under the providence of God, was singled out to be the favoured recipients of His favours, of His mercy, of His predilection,--and why?--because this was the people who were in the fulness of time to realise the promise of the future Redeemer made to our first parents themselves; because the synagogue was the type and figure of the Church; because, as St. Paul intimates, every ceremony, every sacrifice, every prominent personage under the dispensation of "the law," received its meaning, its significance, its importance, from the future Messias whom they foreshadowed, to whom they referred, round whom they were grouped as the centre of "grace." To follow up this vein of thought would, however, take me too far away from my immediate purpose. I am not now engaged in writing an introduction to the history of the Jewish people; neither am I concerned with the ecclesiastical history of any people or country that can trace its origin to apostolic times or can claim any time-honoured and illustrious career in the

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general history of the Catholic Church: my enterprise is much more modest and less difficult.

We are celebrating in the present year (1888), in New Zealand, an anniversary which completes the first jubilee or quinquagenarian period of the youthful existence of the Catholic Church in this young colony of the British Empire. Here all is new--all fresh and modern--so far as the history of this development of the enduring life of the Mother Church is concerned--though, of course, I allude not to the mission, to the teaching, to the methods of the Church; these are old, because unchangeable.

The publication, therefore, of this "Early History of the Catholic Church in New Zealand," is exceedingly appropriate, and will form an acceptable souvenir of the jubilee we are joyfully celebrating of the first planting of the Faith in this colony. The appropriateness, and, I will add, the interest of this publication, is all the more apparent when we advert to the circumstances of the authorship. The narrative is written, or rather compiled, from the pages of a diary, written at snatches and intervals, under a curious variety of time, place, and circumstance, by the Apostolic Bishop himself, to whom the work of planting the mustard seed of the Faith in these lands was entrusted by the Vicar of Christ, it is the Right Reverend John Baptist Francis Pompallier, and of which he is both the author and the hero. It was never his idea, much less his intention, that the sketch he penned should be presented to the public in its present form. It is true that he himself published a small history of his missionary labours in New Zealand in 1848, which contains not only the substance of this his earlier production, but also some interesting details and documents relative to the first outbreak of hostilities between the Maoris and the colonists. But what his first production lacks in point of matter is made up for in its details, and in what I may term its raison d'etre, inasmuch as it was penned by the zealous pioneer of the Faith on the occasion of his presenting to the Holy See the report which it is usual for every bishop to make of the actual state of their dioceses when making their visit ad limina. In Bishop Pompallier's case, this first pastoral visit to Rome, the centre of Catholic unity, took place just ten years after his nomination to the Apostolic Vicariate of Western Oceania, namely, in 1846. The publication now placed before the public is only a portion of Bishop Pompallier's report--which in its original form comprises three distinct parts. The first of these is the history here reproduced; the second is a financial statement in connection with the whole of the vast Vicariate he administered; whilst the third part takes the form of an exhaustive essay on the Divine right of bishops to govern the flock that has been committed to their care, and to receive the obedience of the clergy, both secular and regular, who are engaged in the care of souls in his diocese. This last part had special reference to a controversy that had been carried on between himself and M. Favre, the Superior-General of the Marist Fathers at Lyons, and which terminated in his severing his connection with the Society of Mary. It does not devolve upon me to criticise or pass judgment on the action

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of the zealous prelate in this matter; suffice it to say that, as of old in the case of Abraham and Lot, so also in his case a separation was effected between himself and the Marist Missionaries, the latter retiring under Bishop Viard to the newly-formed Diocese of Wellington, Bishop Pompallier himself remaining in the principal scene of his former labours, in the Province of Auckland. This was doubtless the natural selection that Bishop Pompallier would make, because from the first day he set foot in New Zealand up to the date of the dismemberment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Western Oceania, and the contemporaneous erection of the two residential Episcopal Sees of Auckland and Wellington, Auckland had been the headquarters and the centre of all his labours as Vicar Apostolic. Certain, however, it is that the exodus of the Marist Fathers from the Diocese of Auckland was an important factor in the decline of the prosperity of the Church amongst the native population. I say that it was an important factor; but it was not the only factor in the blighting and withering phase that afterwards destroyed so much that was promising amongst the Catholic Maoris of New Zealand. The disquiet, the dispersion, the breaking up of native and European settlements, consequent upon the declaration and continuation of hostilities between the two races--these were also the but too fatal causes that wrought such havoc in the Maori missions of the Diocese of Auckland. May it please Almighty God in His mercy, even at this eleventh hour, to renew the "right spirit," to re-enkindle the affections, to restore the ardour that once signalised the faithful Maoris in the early days of the Church in New Zealand under the fostering and devoted care of the Marist Missionaries, now that again the same arduous task--but more difficult of attainment now than then--has been taken up with promising earnestness and zeal by the Fathers of St. Joseph's Missionary Society. May the blessing of Providence attend the labours and self-sacrifice of all the Maori missionaries on this the opening of the second half of the first century of the Church in New Zealand, so that when fifty years hence the centennial celebrations will be joyfully held, not the least of the glories and achievements of the Church then to be commemorated may be the conversion to the unity of the Faith of a race whose intelligence and devotedness make it worthy of a nobler destiny than that of extinction, and deserving of more promising results than have hitherto been attained from its contact with Protestant civilisation. The Maori people, under the guidance of the Catholic Church, would have made--and, please God, will still make--a glorious conquest to the cause of civilisation and religion. Enough, however, on this absorbing theme.

I would wish to leave on record a detail that is not mentioned in Bishop Pompallier's history. He narrates that on the second day after his arrival on the shores of New Zealand, at Hokianga, he offered up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the house of a "Catholic Irishman." The staunch son of St. Patrick here alluded to, but whose name is left unrecorded, was Mr. Thomas Poynton, and who at the time of my penning this introduction is still living, at a very advanced age, at Takapuna, near Auckland. His retentive memory would still furnish many interesting incidents of the early history of the Church in New

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Zealand, and his testimony would not only corroborate, but supply fresh proof also, of what the author narrates relative to the bigotry and persecuting spirit that was manifested by some of the Protestant ministers against the Catholic Bishop and his companions.

Bishop Pompallier states that he was the first priest of the true God that ever offered up the Holy Sacrifice in the forest-clad regions of New Zealand. Doubts have been expressed whether possibly the missionary pioneers of Australia in the persons of its first venerated Prelate the Most Rev. Dr. Polding, O.S.B., or his indefatigable Vicar-General, the now retired veteran Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Rev. W. B. Ullathorne, O.S.B., may have sanctified our soil by the unheeded and unknown celebration of the sacred mysteries. So far as careful investigation has served to throw light on this point this conjecture took its rise from the simple fact that the vessel conveying these apostolic men to or from Australia touched on these shores, but the celebration of mass seems to be simply a surmise, an anticipation of a possible event which is neither probable in itself nor based as a matter of fact, on any sufficient authority.

I will draw these introductory remarks to a close by subjoining a tabular comparison between the actual state of the Catholic Church in New Zealand in the present year 1888 with its first beginnings in 1833. 1 The comparison will prove both interesting and instructive. The figures relative to the general population and the number of Catholics and of Maoris are taken from the Government census returns of 1886.

In conclusion, I would remark that if the literary merit of the translation of Bishop Pompallier's records should be deemed by some to be defective it must be borne in mind that it has been undertaken by a foreigner, and therefore all due allowance will be made by the leader for any idiomatic peculiarities that may be detected.

Bishop of Auckland.

March 17th, 1888.

1   For Table referred to--See Appendix.

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