Activities in the Pacific
Two Irishmen, Peter Dillon at Paris and Thomas Poynton at Hokianga, share the honour for drawing the attention of the missionary authorities in Rome to the needs of Roman Catholics in New Zealand and the Pacific islands. Dillon, an East Indiaman captain, began trading in the Pacific in 1809 and came to know it thoroughly. He was acquainted with the activities of Protestant missionaries and fully aware of the disabilities being suffered by Catholics, especially in Australia. (The Catholic Emancipation Act was not passed in Britain till 1829.) On visiting Paris, to claim the reward for discovering the fate of the La Pérouse expedition, Dillon met a Monseigneur de Solages who was interested in the reports of navigators in the Pacific and keen to find an opportunity to visit it. Dillon, now a Chevalier of France and a man of influence, put forward a plan to the French authorities whereby missionaries would be carried on trading and naval ships to various territories in South America, and to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. At the same time Dillon presented his plan to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome through Cardinal de Croy, President of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in France. The Roman authorities approved of the plan on 22 December 1829 and authorised de Solages to begin the work with headquarters at Réunion.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the world, Thomas Poynton left Sydney in 1828 for Hokianga to begin trading in timber. Hearing in 1835 of the arrival of Bishop Polding in Sydney, Poynton went to see if the services of a priest could be obtained for the Catholics, about 20 in number, in the Hokianga district. The bishop sent Poynton's request to Rome, not knowing at the time that Rome had already decided in 1833 to set up in the Pacific the Vicariate of Western Oceania, which would include all islands south of the Equator lying between the meridians of the Cook Islands and the east coast of Australia.
The Vicar Apostolic was John Baptist Pompallier, who on 30 June 1836 had been consecrated titular Bishop of Maronea. With four priests of the Society of Mary and three brothers as companions, he sailed from Le Havre on 24 December 1836. Father Bret died in mid-Atlantic; Father Bataillon and Brother Luzy were left at Wallis Island to begin missionary work. Father Chanel (martyred on 28 April 1841 and canonised in 1954) and Brother Delorme were similarly left at Futuna. Bishop Pompallier with Father Servant, S.M., and Brother Colomban Michael arrived at Hokianga on 10 January 1838, to be welcomed by Poynton and his family.