Page 1: Biography
Garin, Antoine Marie
Priest, missionary, educationalist
This biography, written by John V. Broadbent, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Antoine Marie Garin was born on 23 July 1810 at St Rambert-en-Bugey, in the department of Ain, France. He was the son of Joseph Marie Garin, a notary public, and his wife, Françoise Margueritte Augerd. He was ordained a priest for his local diocese, Belley, on 19 October 1834. For three years he worked in the parish of Chalamont, but feeling the call to overseas missionary work joined the Society of Mary (Marists) in Lyons in 1837. After making his profession in 1840 he was assigned to New Zealand, where he arrived with 10 other members of the society on the Mary Grey at the Bay of Islands on 14 June 1841. These missionaries joined Bishop J. B. F. Pompallier at Kororareka (Russell).
That Garin's abilities were early recognised was shown by his appointment as provincial of the Marists in New Zealand from 1841 to 1843 and, despite Pompallier's growing antagonism to the society, his nomination several times to Rome as a possible bishop. In late 1843 Garin was sent to the Kaipara mission station at Mangakahia, near Tangiteroria, and then in 1847 to the pensioner soldier settlements at Howick, Panmure and Otahuhu, where over half the families were Irish Catholics.
In 1850, after the quarrels between Pompallier and the Marists, Garin accompanied Bishop Philippe Viard to Wellington. He was assigned to Nelson as parish priest in charge of 200–300 Catholics scattered over the huge area of Nelson, Buller, Marlborough and the northern part of the region that became Westland. He journeyed constantly to visit his people, on both foot and horseback, often inflicting great privations on his not over robust constitution. In 1853, suffering from exposure in Marlborough, he caught a severe chill which left him prone to rheumatism, sciatica and similar ailments. He was thought to be so near to death in 1862 that a Nelson paper actually published his obituary.
By the early 1860s Marlborough and northern Westland had been removed from Garin's jurisdiction and by the late sixties Buller also. It still left him with the northern half of Nelson province, often assisted by only one other priest, and Brother Claude-Marie Bertrand, a lay brother. Besides having built a suitable parish church in Nelson, St Mary's (1857), to replace a smaller, earlier one, he had built churches in Waimea (1853), Takaka (1867) and Wakefield (1869), the last two with generous donations from the gold-diggers.
If Garin's contribution had been only pastoral he would probably never have merited the national prestige he attained. It was as an educationalist in the Nelson district that he showed quite exceptional skills. From very meagre resources he added a separate boys' school to the existing school attended by girls and boys. With the arrival of his assistant priest, Father Delphine Moreau, in 1851, he began a boarding high school for boys which offered French, Latin and algebra to its pupils, over half of whom were not Catholics. The high school started with 25 boarders at £24 a year each. The Nelson Examiner expressed surprise in 1852 that the 'poor and unendowed Church of Rome, weak in numbers' should be able to maintain a high school of such repute when there was nothing comparable in the area.
In 1856 the Nelson provincial government consulted Garin regarding the education system being formulated, but he could not accept the regulations in the Education Act 1856 which stipulated that religious education was to be free from all controversy and taught only at times when parents who objected could remove their children from the schools. Garin believed religious instruction to be an integral part of Catholic education, and as a result his schools received no aid from the Nelson Education Board. They continued to flourish, however; the primary schools were of such a standard that they attracted many who were not Catholics. Had the well-endowed Nelson College not been founded in 1856, Garin's high school would also have gone from strength to strength.
Garin campaigned vigorously for equality, and in 1867 he won the support of Oswald Curtis, the Nelson provincial superintendent; the Education Act was amended to make it lawful for the Bible to be read in class 'as the last part of the ordinary school course of instruction', and for schoolrooms to be used for religious instruction outside school hours. Garin accepted these conditions and provincial government aid was provided for his schools. In 1871 the girls' school was handed over to the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions from France. Garin founded orphanages in 1872, mainly for Catholic orphans, running them successfully from charity and a government grant of 1s. a day for each orphan. He also showed a great faith in adult education by founding a library; the list of 500 volumes is still extant in meticulous handwriting. With the Education Act 1877 Garin once more had to remove his schools from the secular state system and render them self-supporting.
Perhaps Garin's success in one of the least Catholic areas in New Zealand was due to his character. Augustin Sauzeau, a Marist contemporary, wrote that Garin was 'highly adapted for success in an English mission, being tall, reserved, quiet in his manner, a little cold and austere on first acquaintance'. While there was complete commitment to his own church, there seemed in him an urbanity and tolerance untypical of many of his contemporaries. Nicholas Binsfield, a priest who worked with Garin for a time, wrote in 1872: 'I found an amiable, broadminded and considerate Father.' Garin wrote copiously, with an unerring eye for detail which, combined with his non-British background, make his letters and diaries fascinating reading.
Gottfried Lindauer's portrait of Garin in the Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, painted in 1875, shows an honest, weather-beaten face with a high, intellectual brow, sharp nose, determined chin, and eyes that reflect a serenity and wisdom tempered with a certain shrewdness.
Even though the last years of his life were accompanied by chronic bronchitis and by the burning down of his church in Nelson in 1881, Garin still continued his work. He refused a visit to France because he felt younger missionaries should see a veteran dying on the battlefield without a visit home. On 19 October 1884 he celebrated his golden jubilee of priesthood and the three Catholic bishops of New Zealand were in attendance, led by Bishop Francis Redwood of Wellington, a former pupil of his Nelson boarding school. Redwood named him 'venerable arch priest of Nelson' and remarked that there was not a remote corner of the colony in which there were not pupils of Father Garin's school. The tributes paid to him then and at his death on 14 April 1889 came from all sections of the community. He is buried in the Catholic chapel at the Wakapuaka cemetery, Nelson, where many devout Catholics still believe his body remains, incorrupt.