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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Pompallier, Right Rev. John Baptist Francis

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Pompallier, Right Rev. John Baptist Francis, first Roman Catholic Bishop of New Zealand. When the vicar-apostolic of Western Oceania was created by brief of Pope Gregory XVI. in 1835, search was made amongst the French clergy for a suitable head of the mission. This was found in a priest of the diocese of Lyons named Pompallier, and he was named first vicar-apostolic and Bishop in partibus. This ecclesiastic was born in France in Dec. 1802, and was intended by his friends for the army, but he wished to become a Jesuit. From this he was dissuaded by the Archbishop of Paris, but, following his religious bent, he took orders as a secular priest, and became one of the founders of the Marist Congregation, which took its rise amongst a few secular priests in the dioceses of Lyons and Bellay. Francis Pompallier became novice-master of the order, and three hundred novices passed through his hands. When, on June 30th, 1836, Pompallier was consecrated at Rome Bishop of Maronée and first Vicar-Apostolic of Western Oceania, the infant society of which he was so prominent a member came into notice at the Vatican, and he obtained a brief authorising the erection of the new society, to be called, after the Blessed Virgin, the Society of Mary, and having for its especial object the evangelisation of the islands of Western Oceania. Having recruited six priests and three lay brethren for his projected mission, the Bishop and his co-workers sailed from Havre in the Delphine on Dec. 24th, 1836, bound for Valparaiso, which they regarded as affording the best route to the islands of Oceania. They reached Valparaiso in June 1837, and were compelled to remain there two months before they found an American vessel—the Europa—going to the Sandwich Islands by way of Gambier and Tahiti. The party arrived at the latter island on Sept. 20th, 1837, and here the American consul placed at their service a schooner of sixty tons burden, called the Raiatea, in which they left Tahiti for the Sandwich Islands on Oct. 4th, 1837. After looking in at Vavau, one of the Friendly Islands, the party called in at Wallis and Fortuna islands, in each case leaving a priest and catechist behind them to evangelise the natives, who, unlike those of Vavau, had not fallen under Protestant influences. On Dec. 9th, 1837, the Bishop reached Sydney, N.S.W., where he was the guest of Archbishop Polding, who then held the Church's commission as Vicar-Apostolic of New Holland. The Raiatea once more set sail towards its now nearing destination at the end of the month, and reached Hokianga, the northernmost port on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, after a twelve days' passage; the party, now reduced to the Bishop and a priest and lay brother, disembarking on Jan. 10th, 1838, after over twelve months of inexpressibly tedious and toilsome travelling. The missionaries were welcomed by an Irishman named Poynton, and took up their abode in a wooden house, of which they turned the largest room into a chapel, and in which, on Jan. 13th, 1839, they celebrated what was probably the first mass said in New Zealand. Hokianga was then the headquarters of the Wesleyan Mission, and at first the Mangamuka natives seemed inclined to expel "the Papists" and destroy their crucifixes and images. Ultimately, however, they were brought to kindlier dispositions, more probably as the result of Bishop Pompallier's reasonings than in consequence of a manifesto issued on the missionaries' behalf by the eccentric Baron de Thierry (q.v.), who stood loyally to his fellow-countrymen. The Bishop was now much crippled for money, and was greatly relieved when supplies and three more priests arrived from France in June 1839. He now made his headquarters forty miles away at Kororarika, in the Bay of Islands, which soon became the centre of a successful mission. Captain Hobson, the first English governor of New Zealand, arrived in Jan. 1840, and was met by Bishop Pompallier, who demanded a declaration of toleration for his mission and converts. This was promised, and on Feb. 6th Captain Hobson met the principal Maori chiefs at the immortal trysting-place close to where the Waitangi river falls into the sea. At this conference Bishop Pompallier attended in full canonicals, much to the disgust of his Protestant rivals, who charged him (as did Governor Hobson) with prompting the chiefs, who demurred to signing the famous document now put before then, and known in history as the "Waitangi treaty." The Queen's sovereignty was formally proclaimed in May 1840, not greatly, as it may be imagined, to the satisfaction of Bishop Pompallier, who, however, made the best of the situation. In July 1841 he visited Auckland, and obtained grants of land from the Government for a church site and cemetery. After the destruction of Kororarika in 1845, he made Auckland, of which he was vicar-apostolic and virtually bishop, his headquarters; and it remained so to the close of his episcopate. In 1849, when on a visit to Europe, he visited Carlow in Ireland, and took out a detachment of Sisters of Mercy under Mother Cecilia Maher, afterwards well known in New Zealand. After thirty-three years of labour, during which he is said to have baptised 10,000 savages, Bishop Pompallier obtained leave to retire, and was raised by the Holy See to the dignity of Archbishop of Amasia in partibus He subsequently returned to France, where he died on Dec. 20th, 1870.