Bishop Pompallier returned to France in 1868 after thirty years of missionary work in New Zealand. He died in 1871 and was buried at Puteaux near Paris. Almost unknown in France, or rather forgotten, because of his long absence from his homeland, his grave was nevertheless visited by travellers from New Zealand. His successor as Bishop of Auckland, James Michael Liston, visited in 1935 and finding the grave neglected arranged to have repairs carried out. He visited again in 1954 and often reminded Aucklanders of their first bishop.
Bishop Pompallier was particularly revered by the Māori people of Hokianga and elsewhere. He had brought Catholicism to them, was sympathetic to their concerns and had an enlightened attitude towards Māori culture. Children were given the name Pomapāria, and his first mission field Hokianga became known as Te Kōhanga o te Hāhi Katorika ki Aotearoa, the Cradle of the Faith in Aotearoa. The following dialogue with a kaumatua (elder) illustrates the bishop’s attitude:“If you have love (aroha) for us you will send us a priest”……Kaumatua
“I don’t know about your love(aroha) for me, but I know about my love for you, because I left my country, my land and my family for you”
During the 1990s many voices began to call for the return of the founding Bishop. The Taitokerau Regional Pastoral Council led the way, and in 2001 the New Zealand Catholic Bishops announced that the dream would be fulfilled, thanks to the consent and cooperation of the Pompallier family and the Bishops of France. A delegation of 37 pilgrims left New Zealand in December 2001 to accompany the remains back to this country. The first stop was Rome, for an audience with Pope John Paul II and a visit to the Church of the Immaculate Conception where Pompallier had been consecrated as bishop. En route to Paris the pilgrims visited Lyon, the source of many of the first missionaries to New Zealand and Oceania, including the Bishop, Suzanne Aubert, St Peter Chanel, and others. At Puteaux cemetery in Paris the coffin was uplifted in a dawn ceremony and taken to Notre Dame Cathedral for a farewell Mass with leading French Bishops.
The Hikoi around New Zealand
The hīkoi group of pilgrims arrived back in New Zealand on 13 January 2002 and the coffin was first taken to Whaiora Marae in Otara.
The six dioceses of the two main islands of New Zealand were then visited over three months and the reception was always very moving and very spiritual. On April 20, 2002 a large gathering of bishops, clergy, religious and laity saw the reinterment of the Bishop’s coffin beneath the altar in St Mary’s Church, Motuti. Among those present were bishops from New Zealand, France and the Pacific Islands, the great-grand-niece of the Bishop, the Māori Queen Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu, the French Ambassador to NZ and representatives from many sectors of church and society.