Diocesan History

Before the “official missionaries” came, the Catholic Church existed in this diocese as a group of people united by a common bond of belief and practice, in the persons of seamen, sawyers and settlers and their Maori converts. It was at their request that Rome appointed a French priest attached to the Marist order, Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier, Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania. He arrived in New Zealand in January 1838 with two companions and landed in the Hokianga Harbour. His first Mass was celebrated at the home of Thomas and Mary Poynton at Totara Point on 13th January of that year.

He and his companions learned the Maori language and began by evangelising the Maori. Bishop Pompallier made several trips by ship back to Europe to bring out more missionaries and to raise more funds. He also made three voyages around the New Zealand coast establishing eight mission stations.

St Patrick’s Cathedral and presbytery as it was in 1907

On 20 June 1848 the Auckland diocese came into official existence with Bishop Pompallier as its Apostolic Administrator. The settlers were demanding more time and the Maori missions suffered; Pompallier himself struggled with financial affairs and resigned in 1869 after allegations of mismanagement.

An Irishman, Thomas Croke was appointed bishop in 1870 and soon had the diocese in a healthy state, assisted by a levy on the goldfield parishes of Thames & Coromandel. After four years Bishop Croke resigned, and for five years there was no bishop, the diocese being administered by Henry Fynes parish priest of Parnell, with Fr James McDonald appointed to travel the whole diocese as Maori missioner.

Bishop Steins, a Dutch Jesuit (1879-1881) was followed by Bishop Luck, a Benedictine. He was a capable administrator who began the familiar complexes of school, convent, presbytery and church in the well established city parishes and brought more religious orders out to staff the schools and hospitals.

The first diocesan synod was held in 1884, the same year as the foundation stone for the cathedral was laid. George Lenihan, who had come out with Bishop Luck, and was a popular parish priest in Ponsonby and Parnell, succeeded him and the school system continued to burgeon. Bishop Cleary, former editor of the Catholic newspaper, “Tablet”, came to the diocese next. He spoke Maori and was a powerful charismatic spokesperson on social issues during the time of the first World war. There was a Catholic “ghetto” mentality which bred suspicion among other New Zealanders, but this was broken down during the flu epidemic of 1918, when Catholic schools and hospitals became public infirmaries.

Bishop James Liston was created Co-adjutor Bishop in 1920 with a mainly rural Catholic population of 40,000. He was born in New Zealand and was chalk to Cleary’s cheese, bookish and stilted in conversation. In a famous incident after he spoke on St Patrick’s Day of the “martyrs” of the Easter rising in Ireland, Bishop Liston was brought to trial for sedition, but found not guilty.

Fundraising through fairs, raffles, dances and card evenings got the Catholic community through the depression, but served again to isolate it. Bishop Liston established associations of lay people: – Knights of the Southern Cross, Catholic University students’ Association, Holy Name League, Catholic Women’s League and a correspondence school in religion. By the end of the Second World War he was sixty-five, and his total dedication to the church was recognised. His relationship with his clergy was autocratic, but on another level he sent personal notes to countless lay people to mark special occasions in their lives.

In 1958 Reginald Delargey became Auxiliary to the seventy-seven year old Bishop Liston and proved to be an inspiring and effective leader of lay people. He attended Second Vatican Council and on his return from Rome began to put its ideas and principles such as parish and diocesan pastoral councils into practice.

Bishop Liston (who later was given the title of Archbishop) resigned in 1969 and in 1970 Bishop Delargey inherited a Catholic population of 200,000 and set up a team to work with him – the forerunner of today’s diocesan departments. His four year impact on the diocese was brief but influential, before he was transferred to Wellington as its Archbishop, later to receive the cardinal’s hat.

He was followed by Bishop John Mackey, an academic with a gift for speaking and mediating. He successfully negotiated with the government to bring about the integration of Catholic schools with the state system of education in 1975.

Within the diocese Bishop Mackey emphasised the importance of ongoing spiritual growth and formation of priests and people in whatever groups they belonged to. He liked to be known as Bishop John, and gained Bishop Edward Gaines and retiring Bishop John Rodgers (from the Pacific) as his Auxiliaries.

In 1980 the Auckland diocese, with 105 parishes was divided into two, with Bishop Gaines going to Hamilton as its first bishopo, the dividing line being a line close to the Bombay Hills, south of Auckland.

Bishop John Mackey resigned in 1982 because of ill-health and Bishop Denis Browne an Aucklander who had been appointed Bishop of Rarotonga in 1977, was recalled to take over as Bishop of Auckland. He visited every one of the sixty six parishes in the diocese in weekend meetings, mixing with the people, visiting the sick and encouraging the councils, and groups of lay people. Auckland had by then become a multi-cultural Pacific city and Bishop Denis’ Pacific experience made him aware of working towards the inclusivity of the diversity of cultures in the diocese of Auckland.

In 1989 Bishop Denis Browne held a diocesan synod, (the first to involve lay people as full members) after two years of preparation. Over the next three to four years such recommendations as commitment to a bi-cultural church and to evangelisation, youth, adult education and family were put into practice as priorities. Emphasis on social justice and small group work was also a synod feature. More and more lay people began to take leadership roles in the Auckland Diocese and its parishes.

Bishop Patrick Dunn was appointed auxiliary in 1994, and at the end of that year Bishop Denis Browne wastransferred to Hamilton as its bishop, to succeed Bishop Edward Gaines, leaving Bishop Patrick Dunn as the eleventh bishop of Auckland. He had to cope with a new wave of migrants, (mainly from Asia), an increasingly aging clergy, static Mass counts and bursting schools.

In 1998 Bishop Bob Leamy retired from the Cook Islands diocese and became Bishop Dunn’s assistant and Vicar General. Bishop Leamy retired from this role in 2013, and Monsignor Bernard Kiely was appointed Vicar General.

In 1998 Bishop Pat launched the pastoral planning process called “Shaping Our Future” where parishes and communities began to evaluate their position and look to a time when greater co-operation and collaboration of clergy and lay would be necessary. In 2003 he launched the Diocesan Pastoral Plan “That You May Have Life: Kia whai orange ai kootou.”, with an update in 2007-2009. The new diocesan pastoral plan Fit For Mission was launched at Pentecost 2014 urging people, parishes, schools and communities to look beyond themselves and reach out in witness and service.

By 2013 almost half the people in the congregations were relatively recent migrants, the first group being from the Pacific, (now into their 3rd generation) and the second group predominantly from Asia, some from South Africa. Half the priests are also from overseas. In addition more priests from religious orders and institutes are serving as parish clergy.

At the last census (2013) there were 187,959 Catholics in the diocese, although the Mass count was only 41,000. There are sixty seven parishes and fourteen ethnic communities in the diocese, forty one primary schools and sixteen secondary schools.

Shared responsibility and collaboration between clergy and laity are values which the diocese holds to. Parish Pastoral councils are mandated in the diocese to plan and work alongside parish priests, and pastoral workers or associates are employed in the larger parishes in various roles.

The Bishops’ Conference website describes the history of Catholicism in New Zealand:

Increasing numbers of settlers had begun to put pressure on mission stations resulting in New Zealand being made an independent vicariate by Rome in 1842. The rest of the area was named Central Oceania.

Father Philip Viard SM arrived in Sydney in 1845. Bishop Viard was ordained as Pompallier’s coadjutor the following year and shortly after returned to New Zealand with Pompallier.

In 1846 Pompallier left for Europe and following his report to Pope Pius IX it was decreed in 1848 that New Zealand would be divided into two dioceses – Auckland and Wellington, with Wellington comprising all areas outside of Auckland.

When Pompallier returned to New Zealand in 1850 he brought French and Irish missionaries and the first Sisters of Mercy with him to work in the Diocese of Auckland.

Read more at www.catholic.org.nz/our-story/.

Additional information can be found on www.catholic.org.nz  and hokiangapompallier.org.nz.