Piera McArthur has taken the life of Bishop Pompallier and transformed it into a vibrant anthology. She writes;
Through the mists of the past looms a haunting image. It is that of Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier, first Catholic Bishop of Western Oceania.
He is tall, handsome, sophisticated, splendid in his purple robes, a gloriously coloured figure against the dark green of the bush and a splendid product of post Napoleonic France. Well educated and suave, he comes from Lyons, where his family is involved in the silk trade. It is 1838 and Felton Mathew, New Zealand’s first Surveyor General writes to his wife, ‘today we had a visit from the French Bishop. He is a fine, handsome, intelligent man, perfectly the gentleman in manner and a striking contrast to our own missionaries who to their disgrace, be it said, have endeavoured to turn the natives against him … I intend to call upon him’.
The young Pompallier comes to these shores afire with 19th Century evangelizing zeal, and the paintings in this show, as well as the book we are launching, are about painterly situations in the Bishop’s life. His story is immensely varied. He knows joy and despair, success and failure, he encounters bitter hostility, knows loneliness, grandeur, poverty and is by some even considered to be an agent of France!
He endures great hardship and witnesses many astonishing and horrifying events in the course of his unending endeavours to show his flock the path to a ‘Heavenly Kingdom’, His tale is one of utter commitment and optimistic perseverance. He thought he was a failure, but he left many who loved him and made an indelible impression on early New Zealand.
Dear Bishop, I have loved our collaboration – Piera McArthur