Home' Greymouth Star : November 21st 2015 Contents Saturday Afternoon
Saturday, November 21, 2015 “ 7
6 “ Saturday, November 21, 2015
rom the late 19th century
the Catholic ‘plant ’ in
many New Zealand towns
was tangible by an enclave
of school buildings and
associated religious houses
dotted around a church, and
Greymouth was no exception.
The school and church were a powerful
symbol of the aspirations of Catholics,
reflecting their spiritual and educational
ambition for a better life in a new land on
their own terms, particularly driven by the
enshrinement of free State education in law
in 1877, leaving Catholics to fund their own
As a result, the Greymouth Catholics built
big and by the early 20th century parish
institutions dominated the town. The tower
capping off the 1888 St Patrick’s Church
in Chapel Street, the 1914 presbytery,
the Mercy Convent, the Marist Brothers
Monastery and a plethora of school
buildings, meant the Greymouth skyline
was a sceptre of Catholicism.
The physical evidence of those St Patrick’s
Parish institutions now mostly gone have
certainly ebbed, while the bigger story of
its people awaits a comprehensive telling as
social religious history.
What is clear is that St Patrick’s had
international beginnings, despite history
typifying the Catholic roots of the West
Coast as being distinctively Irish.
The founders of St Patrick’s were certainly
Irish, but French and Italian, too, as well as
British, Australian and North American.
The parish was a cultural melting pot, driven
by the lure of gold.
Catholic spirituality bound it all together,
more or less.
Records show the first Mass was offered
in Greymouth during 1865 by Fr J M
Tressalet, a French Marist. The early priests
were predominantly French, which reflected
the missionary roots of the Catholic Church
in New Zealand from the 1830s. French
clergy serving a predominantly, but not
exclusively, Irish flock was typical in the
Fr Emmanuel Royer, a French priest of the
Wellington diocese of which Greymouth
was then part, took up the founding baton
for the parish.
The French connection continued with the
arrival of Marist priest Fr Hallum in 1867,
and the beginning of a continuous Marist
Fathers presence in the parish over the next
Fr Royer was succeeded by Fr Nicholas
Binsfield in 1870 and he in turn was
succeeded by Fr Colomb, who drowned at
Nelson Creek. And so a procession of clergy
and parishioners goes through the next 145
Monsignor Gerry O’Connor “ a
Greymouth institution himself, with a
connection to St Patrick’s spanning more
than 60 years “ points out that many of the
Catholic miners were of Italian heritage,
something which has lived on in some
names connected with St Patrick’s.
The first parish priest Fr Driscoll, an
Irishman, was appointed during 1865 but
he never arrived, having gone down with the
City of Dunedin ship when it sank on its
way to the West Coast.
The first St Patrick’s Church in Arney
Street “ close to the site of the old Gilmer
Hotel (latterly Neptunes Backpackers) “ was
blessed and opened on December 10, 1865,
although its lifespan is somewhat murky.
This is borne out in conflicting records
which show that Bishop Viard was present
in Greymouth on June 17, 1866 to bless and
open the “new ” church.
A picture of the St Patrick’s of 1865 shows
a markedly different building from the one
pictured during a funeral in the 1870s, in
Mons O’Connor says this suggests the
first church was superseded within months
of being built, due to fire or flood.
With its proximity to the wharf the latter
is a more likely.
“All I know is it was subject to flooding,”
By 1888, the beginnings of the distinctive
complex of Catholic buildings, including
the third St Patrick’s Church, were well
under way and these came to stand as a
faithful testament to the work of the parish
pioneers for over 100 years.
Patrick O’Farrell, a history professor,
related his Greymouth Catholic upbringing
in an 1973 article in the New Zealand
Tablet, including the all encompassing role
of Catholic life in the town.
Prof O’Farrell related the wrench felt
when the French connection with the parish
was severed after the first 55 years: “My
Father told my mother ... that some in the
congregation at Mass wept when the Marist
Fathers made their farewell in Greymouth “
he nearly wept himself.”
In 1973, O’Farrell was grappling with
the question: ‘Catholicism on the West
Coast: just how Irish is it?’ He referred to
his Greymouth upbringing in the 1920s
and 1930s, and the experience of his Irish
He recalled the significant effort for St
Patrick’s Day with a street procession,
sports, and a concert, “in which some “ by
no means all “ of the items were Irish”.
“This was a Catholic celebration,
encouraged by nuns, brothers and the
priests, rather than an Irish one.”
Prof O’Farrell concluded that many of
Irish extraction, including Greymouth
Catholics, were fairly detached from their
cultural roots, with their religious identity at
“It was in the internal content of their
religion that Irish influences lingered
strongest,” although explaining that in detail
was difficult, Prof O’Farrell said.
“Perhaps an outsider might have noted
things distinctively Irish, but apart from
religion, I am conscious of very few ...”
The departure of the Marists in the early
1920s was the beginning of the long 40”year
reign of Irishman Monsignor James Long
as parish priest. He was a man both loved
Mons O’Connor, a newly ordained priest
in Greymouth in the early 1950s, recalls
Mons Long as “very compassionate,” a
priest who had greatly assisted the town
through difficult times, particularly in the
wake of the Murchison earthquake in 1929.
“He was very well read. He had an impish
sense of humour,” Mons O’Connor said
while recalling that Mons Long was usually
“He sort of got on well with a whole lot of
people. Just for example, they used to do a
broadcast of devotions from the church once
“He would hang around afterwards and
give the technicians a Scotch (with a heavy
“He would never let them go without
County Limerick”born, Mons Long was
at the helm during the 1940s and 1950s
when the parish was at its zenith. Families
were big. The fortunes of Greymouth were
at a peak. The Church permeated every
aspect of life, with confraternities such as
the Hibernians and the Marist sports clubs
gluing people all together.
The Holy Name Society, the Sacred
Heart Sodality, and the Children of Mary
catered for the social religious aspirations
of men, women, and children alike. Later,
the Catholic Youth Movement and the
Christian Family Movement and the advent
of the Catholic Women’s League helped
solidify Catholic identity in the town.
To be Catholic was to belong to a cohesive
force, and large numbers attended not only
Mass but regular public devotions such as
benediction, and weekly confessions.
Mons O’Connor said his impression of
Greymouth Catholics back then was that
of “strong devotion” to Mary the Mother of
God and a “sort of loyalty to the Church”.
Asked to recall what characterised
Catholic practice 50 or 60 years ago, he said
St Patrick’s was a vital and an active place
where people naturally practised what they
“I would say numbers were a big thing.
The Masses were generally crowded.
“All the way through there has been, I
think, a tradition of people doing things in
the parish. They felt as if they owned the
parish, and always there were responses to
working bees and that sort of thing.”
There were sometimes between four and
six priests living in Greymouth in the
mid”1950s. They were kept busy travelling
to outlying churches at Cobden, Paroa,
Poerua, Te Kinga, Barrytown, Kokiri, and at
times Otira, serving the needs of the people.
At the time there were separate boys’ and
girls’ schools in Greymouth, mirrored at
a secondary level, with outlying primary
schools at Cobden and Runanga “
all fully staffed by the Sisters
of Mercy and the Marist
By the early 1960s the winds
of change began sweeping
through the Church. The death of
Mons Long in 1962 was the end of a
40”year era, and the beginning of a new
way of doing things within the Catholic
The Second Vatican Council the following
year had, within a decade, helped transform
external forms of religious practice and
In the early 1960s a bishop had little
power to influence the assets of a parish, and
parish priests like Mons Long were able to
operate virtually independently for life.
“I know when Mons Long died, Bishop
Joyce came over and wanted to see all
the books and papers,” Mons O’Connor
recalled. “We could ‘find’ some of them.
Possibly, if we looked hard, we might have
found some more of them.”
What Mons Long did leave was a legacy
which lives on in the new St Patrick’s
He left behind a substantial account to
build a marble pulpit, which his successor
ordered after it escaped the bishop’s eyes.
It now lives on in the marble
altars which were
of the 1960s, and transferred to the fourth
St Patrick’s Church, opened in High Street
It was 150 years ago, on December 10, 1865, that, a group of Catholic pioneers gathered in a
small wooden chapel near the wharf for the first Mass in the infant town of Greymouth. It was
a seminal moment for what would become a powerful force in the town: St Patrick’s Parish. This
weekend St Patrick’s marks its sesquicentenary, a time to reflect on the firm foundations of the
pioneers, who by faith and perseverance brought an abiding Catholic presence which has become
as much ‘Greymouth’ as anything about the town in the past 150 years. Reporter BRENDON
McMAHON opens the parish archives.
150 years of St Patrick’s Parish
The Convent of Mercy, now the site of Tai Poutini Polytechnic.
Greymouth Catholics at Mass in the Chapel Street church, in the late 1970s.
A gathering of clergy and Marist Brothers in Greymouth in the 1950s. Mons Gerry O’Connor is third from right, back row.
A gathering of parishioners outside St Patrick’s Church in the 1970s, at the
time the remodelled sanctuary was blessed in line with the liturgical changes
following Vatican II. The tower from the 1888 church was removed following
the 1968 earthquake, and seismic concerns was one of the reasons the build-
ing was eventually replaced in the 1990s.
St Patrick’s Parish parishioners with Bishop Dennis Hanrahan, a son of Greymouth, on the steps of the old St Patrick’s Church on Chapel Street, about 1986.
, Kokiri, and at
ds of the people.
arate boys’ and
il the following
of a parish, and
g were able to
tly for life.
to see all
me of them.
we might have
e was a legacy
l account to
build a marble pulpit, which his suuccessor
ordered after it escaped the bishopp’s eyes.
It now lives on in the marble
altars which were
of the 1960s, and transferred to thhe fourth
St Patrick’s Church, opened in Hiigh Street
y, now the site of Tai Poutini Polytechnic.
A 1964 graphic depicting the St Patrick’s Parish enclave.
Links Archive November 20th 2015 November 23rd 2015 Navigation Previous Page Next Page