A Catholic Monthly Magazine

A Note on Fr François Delachienne

By Emeritus Professor John Dunmore

Fr Christopher Martin's article on Fr Delach in the June Marist Messenger was most interesting, as he is not well enough known in New Zealand.

I knew him when I was a young schoolboy in France, and he knew my family, often talking about his time in New Zealand, which he always remembered with fondness and sorrow. He was at the time a counsellor at St Vincent's Marist College in Senlis, which was wrecked by the Germans in 1940, forcing him to flee to his native Brittany. He returned when the college was reinstated and died there, as Fr Martin's photograph shows.

Pa Hohepa - Fr Delach

Although I did not realise it at the time, he was very proficient in Te Reo and devoted to Māori traditions. He had gone to New Zealand as a missionary to the Māori people, and refused to change his career to minister to the British immigrant population. I learnt that he used Māori in his sermons and in parts of the Mass, apart naturally from the core Latin section. Today, he would be saying Mass all in Māori. I do recall him saying that the Māori people had to speak English in most of their daily lives, and adding Latin as another language to cope with at church gatherings was a burden he did not like to impose.

The famous annual hui (meetings) he arranged were very popular, and he said that the crowds, the joyful mood and the prayers reminded him of traditional saint's days celebrated in French villages and towns.

The church and its grounds at Otaki today reflect his and Fr Melu's attempts to link Christianity with their parishioners' daily lives. In consequence, as Fr Martin points out, this caused a split with Archbishop O'Shea, who was working hard to develop the diocese in a rapidly growing and changing New Zealand, and who feared that Fr Delach was moving too close to what might become a Māori Catholic church.

All this, I understood but vaguely, but I did feel that he considered himself an outcast and always yearned to come back. Unable to do so, he still wrote little stories about the Māori, which he mostly kept to himself, but just before the start of World War II, he did publish one, but to keep his anonymity he used my mother's name, adapted into Māori: Makere Tunumoa.

The booklet was lost for many years, but we did eventually find it in the Marist Archives, although misfiled under Fr Melu. I translated it into English, and printed it as The Ascent to Heaven of Father Melu, S.M., told to her grandchildren by Makere Tunumoa. 

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