Bishop Pompallier was born in Lyons, France, in 1802 and ordained a priest in 1829. In 1836 he was consecrated a bishop in Rome and appointed Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania - a vast expanse of the Pacific ocean, amounting to about one-sixth of the globe.
On January 10, 1838, the bishop and two assistants, a Marist priest and a Marist brother, sailed up the Hokianga harbour on New Zealand's west coast. They were welcomed by an Irish-born (but French-educated) timber merchant, Thomas Poynton, and his Australian-born wife.
In the Poynton's home at Totara Point the bishop celebrated the first Catholic Mass in New Zealand on January 13, 1838.
Bishop Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier ministered to indigenous Maori and European settlers from 1838 until 1868. He then returned in ill health to his native France where he died in 1871.
In 2001, at the request of Maori Catholics, the bishop's remains were exhumed from his grave at Puteaux, on the outskirts of Paris, and, following a requiem Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, returned to New Zealand.
During a 16-week sacred journey throughout New Zealand in 2002, crowds gathered to pay their respects to the bishop in each of the six Catholic dioceses. Then, before a large gathering - including Catholic bishops from New Zealand, France and the Pacific Islands, and the French ambassador to New Zealand - the remains were reinterred beneath the altar of St Mary's Church.