Home' Greymouth Star : September 23rd 2017 Contents Saturday Afternoon
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Being a pupil of the Marist Brothers School in
Greymouth during the 1940s and 1950s not only gave
me the education I needed for my future butalso the
opportunity to enter the life of a very religious Marist Brother,
Brother Victor, who was in those times in charge of selecting
and training the altar boys who assisted in the serving of Mass,
funerals, weddings and many other occasions that were held
in the now gone and only a distant memory for many, the old
St Patrick’s Church, in Chapel Street.
Of course, being ‘asked’ was only the first step. The next
was to have additional lessons in order to learn the Latin
language which Br Victor knew ‘off pat’, followed by weeks of
instruction on the correct movements and actions, which this
new ‘honour’ was supposed to give us.
As the Marist Brothers School reunion
approaches in December, Greymouth
Marist old boy TERRY KENNEDY, now
of Timaru, pays tribute to the late Brother
Victor, who was in charge of altar boy
training at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in
the late 1940s and 1950s.
Being Marist boys, the Latin was no great problem as the
Latin language was taught on a limited scale by the brothers
and so the basics came easily. Remember amo, amass, amat?
Victor was very strict around the correct pronunciation of each
word and woe betide any boy who was caught fooling around
and not taking things seriously. I can’t recall the number of
times I had my ears boxed and being told, “Kennedy, you’re a
While the priest or celebrant wore ‘cloth of gold’ for
vestments, we boys — although supplied with a black soutane
— had to purchase our very own white surplices and a lady
in Lord Street was where most of the new attendants visited
so as to be measured up, with your parents supplying all
the material plus a small charge for Miss Bullimore for the
making. You also had to have black polished shoes. I always
remember taking all the ‘gear’ home and dressing up with my
dear Aunty Noel, saying I looked like the Pope.
Once Victor felt you were ready you went on the altar boy
roster, which went like this.
There were no such thing as Saturday night Masses in
those times. All Masses were celebrated in the mornings
only, for example in Greymouth on a Sunday, Mass was at
7am, 8.30am and 10am. Now, the two boys who served for
7am on Sunday then had to return to serve at 6.30am Mass on
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The next two who served
at 8.30am Mass on Sunday were rostered on for Thursday,
Friday and Saturday 6.30am.Those who served at 10am had
the week off but were given first option should there be a
Requiem Mass during the week.
All of this meant time off school and that to us teenagers
was great. However, the catch was back to school as soon as
we had cleaned up and no telling lies or we could be in for a
The Catholic Church
in those years was full of
ritual, unlike the Church
of today, and every
action was symbolic in
the eyes of the beholder.
For example, the
simple glass dishes and
bowls used for Sunday
Mass by the celebrant
were all put away when
the annual visit for
each year attended
by the Bishop from
Christchurch. Out would
come long-handled tall
silver jugs and large
basins for the washing of
In fact, Monsignor
Long (RIP) would have
on his purple robes of
office befitting his role as
a ‘domestic prelate’ and
standing proud along
with the often six other priests, all belonging to St Patrick’s
Greymouth, to mark the occasion.
I was lucky during my years as an altar boy to have
several of my cousins join me on the altar duty during my
time serving in St Pat’s.
At Easter time and Christmas there was nigh on 46 altar
boys serving evening Benediction. Sadly, at that time in
history there were no altar girls. They never existed until after
Vatican II, and now in most churches in New Zealand you
will find more girls than boys. My, how times change.
Serving on the altar for funerals to me was always a sad
occasion. The family of the bereaved waited at the front
door of the church and were led in by the cross bearer,
while another altar boy carried what was called and still is
a thurible, which contains a hot piece of burning charcoal.
Opposite was a further altar boy carrying what we called a
‘boat’, a small container of incense which the celebrant would
spoon into the thurible on top of the charcoal to make smoke
(which was sweet smelling).
Finally, another altar boy carried in the procession holy
water which the celebrant would sprinkle over the top of the
casket upon its arrival at the entrance to the church.
In those years these symbols, as well as the farewell
prayers at the end of the Requiem Mass, were and still are a
very important part of the service as the Church sends the
deceased to meet his Maker.
At the conclusion, two altar boys were required to race
up the stairs to the back of the organ and while one looked
out the window so as to inform the other when the hearse
moved, the other then tolled the bell. Several hilarious stories
can be told about this, especially once when the small rope
was broken and it took two of us to endeavour to try to ring
the bell, which a few times sounded more like bells for a
Nuptial Masses were always in demand in those years
because the altar boys (two) usually received a donation from
a family member on behalf of the bride or groom. Sadly, for
those short of a bob or two most weddings had relatives who
also were altar boys so we often missed out.
While the Catholic Church has now evolved, this was not
always the case. No indeed. Often during my time serving in
‘God’s House’ we had to march on foot from Chapel Street to
the Karoro Cemetery, and yes we got wet as well.
Another time was during the 1950 centennial, when
dozens of altar boys marched from the Tainui Street bridge to
the old St Patrick’s as part of a 40 hours celebration marking
the Catholic part of the celebration.
Monsignor Long’s attendance at 6.30am Mass midweek
was memorable. At least that was the time Mass was
supposed to start but we never lit the candles in the church
until we heard his shower water hurtling down the drain
pipe across from the sacristy, which was about 6.40am. Mass
started at 6.50am.
Monsignor Long never forgot his altar boys and at
Christmas and Easter there would be chocolates — and plenty
for all of us. His farewell was one of the biggest funerals ever
seen up to that time on the Coast.
Midnight Mass was always concelebrated by Monsignor
Long and was known as a Mass of ‘thanks’ where he thanked
the choir and singers, those who kept the church clean and
tidy, ushers, collectors, the Sisters of Mercy, Marist Brothers,
on and on it went.
He never missed one person out, and that is why with all
the singing etc it never in those years finished until around
2.20am. Some of the altar boys on duty were falling asleep,
along with the congregation, however we all turned up again
the next year.
It would take me too long to mention all the boys’ names
who were serving on the altar of St Patrick’s in Greymouth
during my time, but those who read this will I am sure recall
some if not all of the boys who gave their name to ‘serve’, like
life itself. Many are no longer with us and so we should all
spare a thought for those who have ‘walked on ahead’. Victor
also taught in those years engineering and woodwork classes
up on the hill opposite St Columba Hall. He was the emblem
of what made a truly religious man into a ‘real’ Marist
Brother — and by the way, he also taught the ‘chosen ones’
(boys expected to sing and perform each year in the annual
March 17 Paddy’s Day concert held at the Regent Theatre.
We practised for weeks prior with Mary Buchanan at the
keyboard while Brother kept the ‘evil eye’ on one or two of us
often engaged in tomfoolery.
I can still see myself with Lenny Bell both dressed in
special baggy clothes for the occasion, with Victor telling us
both off just before we went on stage and informing us for
at least a hundred times that we were “cheeky individuals”,
and wait until Monday when he would have the upper hand.
Well, we ‘did our thing’ and received a standing ovation,
along with our backing choir as we sang Mush Mush. Monday
arrived and typical of Victor no mention was made of our — or
indeed any — ‘foolishness’, and thankfully the cane stayed in
Those were the days, and as a Marist student I have
never forgotten Brother Victor. He was one of the best, and
I was privileged to thank him personally when he visited
the now long-gone Marist noviciate at Claremont, near
Timaru, some years back. He never forgot any of us, and
we laughed and talked for over 30 minutes recalling what
I have now set down. A true messenger of the Lord and
a man that made a lasting impression on my life and no
doubt many others as well.
St Joseph’s Runanga altar boys, 1960. Back row
A Pope, A Kay, M Thacker, K Wright. Middle:
J Carson, M Glynn, T Smith, G Dixon, J Waterson,
T Dixon. Front: P Kennedy, T Stella.
A typical Catholic altar pre-Vatican II with the altar boys
and priest in position. The priest stood mostly with his
back to the congregation until about 1970, when the
priest began to face the people as is the case today. Non-
Catholics found it difficult to understand why the
celebrant saying the Mass for at least half of the
ceremony had his back to his people, but in fact it was
a case of the congregation and the priest all facing the
same way - towards the altar and God.
St Patrick’s Church high altar, in Chapel Street, ‘dressed’ for Sunday evening Benediction.
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