Bay of Islands’ parish of “living stones” – has got a new home.
By Wiga Autet, Northland RE Coordinator
More than 400 people – the living stones of the local Church – gathered in Moerewa, Bay of Islands, on a windy Saturday afternoon, 21st January to rejoice at the consecration and opening of their new church dedicated to St Thérèse of Lisieux.
With a customary Powhiri the parishioners and kaumātua welcomed Bp Patrick Dunn of Auckland, the Marist priests: Fr Kerry Prendeville SM, Fr Barry Malone SM, and Fr Trevor Tindall SM, from the Okaihau Marists Community (who minister to the Mid-North Pastoral Area, including the Bay of Islands parish of Moerewa-Paihia-Russell), the two priests who served as BOI parish priests in the past: Fr Brian Prendeville SM (Otara), and Fr Chris Martin SM (Whangarei) and all manuhiri. The karanga was sung and the whaikōrero and waiata exchanged before Bishop Pat was handed the keys to the new church and opened its doors. The congregation followed in the footsteps of the clergy and the elders, and entered the church.
The simplicity of the exterior matched the gracefulness of the adornment of the interior. The connection with the past has been preserved by retaining a few of the taonga from the old church, like the baptismal font and the tabernacle. But there were many new taonga which were created or donated especially for the new church.
The Studio of John the Baptist in Takapuna, Auckland, under the guidance of Michael Pervan, and thanks to the generosity of priests from Auckland Diocese – designed and produced the stained glass window of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus (installed above the portico to the main entrance to the church) and the frosted glass triptych (above the altar) with motifs which bring together Te Māori and Christian spirituality. These windows are intended to be a tribute to the priests and religious who have served the communities of Moerewa and the Bay of Islands.
Offered by Fr Kerry Prendeville SM were the old kauri planks used for the cross under the icon of Christ, which came from Bp Pompallier first mission house in Purākau, Hokianga, and were cut with the tidal race mill saw.
The patāka – Māori food storage whare- came from the SMSM’s Novitiate. It was carved by Pā Jim Gresham SM, when he was stationed in Wairoa. It will be used to house the Holy Oils on the side of the sanctuary.
The conch shell used for the Tabernacle votive lamp came from a reef near Tangarare, Guadalcanal Island, Solomon Islands. Fr Kerry picked it up when diving on an outer reef after a cyclone had passed through in about 1972.
A magnificent slab of solid kauri, once a family’s dining table, had been donated to the Moerewa church. It had been carved by Bernard Makoare (Dargaville) and has become the new altar.
The Stations of the Cross were carved by a Fijian man named Iliesa Suka who was a leprosy patient at St Elizabeth’s Rehabilitation Home in Fiji. It was offered to Moerewa by Sr Pat SMSM. These stations used to be in the SMSM Novitiate Chapel in Manurewa.
The photo of St Thérèse of Lisieux, received from the Discalced Carmelites Monastery in Krakow, Poland, was blessed by Pope Francis after the final mass of the World Youth Day in Poland in July 2016, and has been gifted to the Moerewa community by the Autet family.
Using holy water, Bishop Dunn blessed the inside and outside walls of the building, the congregation, and all the taonga before initiating the first Mass inside the new church.
There were many “firsts” during the celebration: the first Baptism (of a few months’ old baby), the first Confirmations and First Eucharist (for six young parishioners), the first “Last Supper” celebrated on the new altar – once it had been blessed with the holy water and anointed with the sacred oils.
Referencing the words of St Paul to the Corinthians, Bishop Dunn said in his homily: “The Church of God is made of us. We are its ‘living stones’. . . . [E]very family needs a ‘home’, and thus buildings are important and so, we do ask for God’s blessing for this new whare karakia, we also pray that this holy building will be a true home for the family of this parish made of the parishioners – its living stones”.
Bishop Dunn had also recalled the very old roots in the history of the church in New Zealand kept by this parish, which go back to the times of Ngāpuhi chief Rewa from the nearby Kawakawa, and his daughter – Peata, who had become the very first Maori sister, and was a friend of Bishop Pompallier.
Fr Kerry Prendeville, who had for many years worked alongside the local community on this project, recalled the history of the first church – a little church building transported from Great Barrier Island over to Moerewa (or as it was known then “Tuna Town”), in the 1920’s thanks to the first general manager of AFFCO, an Irishman, George Laeity, so that Catholic workers from Hokianga and nearby had a place to pray. The church was sited at the southern end of the town until 1967 when it was shifted up to its current location on Snowden Avenue.
The parish of St Thérèse of Lisieux was established in 1960 and its first parish priest who lived in Moerewa was Fr Gerard Mertens of Mill Hill Fathers.
After 96 years, the “old” church was decommissioned in June, 2016. This building has been now sold and will be moved to Motukiore near Horeke, in the upper reaches of the Hokianga.
The day after the old church was shifted to a paddock behind the site, work on the new sanctuary started. Instead of knocking the old presbytery down, it was renovated to serve as a temporary worship place while the construction of the new church was underway. It has now become a multi-purpose parish centre with a kitchen and meeting space. The landscaping and planting of shrubbery and flowers was largely the work and inspiration of Joan Fenton; her work has really brought out the simplicity of design and beauty of the new church.
An amazing commitment from the community, the fundraising that started in 1950s, donations and bequests, the support from whanau and groups around Moerewa and from afar, and the involvement of local contractors helped to keep the costs down so that the new church was built in less than six months, and is debt-free.
The Moerewa Committee is very grateful to both Bishop Dunn and the previous Auckland diocese general manager, Kerry Coleman, for their initial and ongoing support and encouragement of the project and for their affirmation and belief in the future of the larger community of Moerewa.
(Thanks to Fr Kerry Prendeville, SM, for supplying valuable information for this article)