Home' Greymouth Star : January 4th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
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Ross as a toddler, and now as
an octogenarian he also intends
being buried f rom there.
“ We lived up the Totara Valley,
three miles out. We went by horse
and cart at the start, until we got
a truck. The whole family would
go, every Sunday.”
Those days, there would be 70
to 80 people at Sunday Mass. His
sister was married there, in the
church tucked under the hill and
sheltered f rom the predominant
West Coast sou-westers.
In 1911, there was a wedding
so big it made the pages of the
Grey River Argus: “One of the
most popular weddings ever
celebrated in Ross took place last
Wednesday when Miss Norah
Minehan was married to Mr
J Stuart of Greymouth ... The
church had been beautifully
decorated for the occasion, the
principal feature being a large
wedding bell composed of white
St Patrick’s Church was built
in 1866, within a year of the
founding of the Ross goldfield.
A significant proportion of West
Coast miners were Catholic Irish.
Catholic priests followed on the
heels of the miners to ser ve a
“It is unsusual, no matter where
you go you never see timber like
it,” Mr Minehan said.
“The floor is baltic wood. The
altar and surrounds were donated
by the Chapmans (there was the
Stuart and Chapman Mill, at
Ross). It’s beautiful timber.”
The history of the church is well
documented, as it is a category
two listed building with the New
Zealand Historic Places Trust.
Trust records show the
original, rectangular building
was constructed of baltic pine.
Reputedly, the timber was
imported by a merchant who
could not pay for it.
The Irish community in Ross
apparently banded together,
purchased the cargo, and built a
church from it.
In 1869, north-south transepts
were added to accommodate the
growing congregation. It has
remained virtually unchanged
for nearly 150 years, is easily the
oldest Catholic church on the
West Coast and the second oldest
sur viving in the Christchurch
Catholic diocese, after Akaroa. It
may also be the oldest remaining
building in Ross, and is arguably
the longest continually occupied
building on the Coast.
With declining numbers of
parishioners in the late 20th
century, the Ross parish —
originally from Rimu in the
north to Jackson Bay in the south
— w a s incorporated into the
Hokitika parish of St Mary’s and
lost its resident priest. The old
presbytery behind the church was
sold in 1982.
The church seats 150 people,
and has elements of the
Carpenter Gothic style.
Today, it attracts a steady stream
of tourists. The Ross Goldfields
Information Centre, just across
the road, unlocks and locks the
door every morning and night on
behalf of the church.
“ In the visitors’ book, there’s a
lot of Europeans, including Irish,
look in. It’s a very nice, peaceful
spot,” information centre officer
and next door neighbour Kath
“A lot of New Zealanders are
interested, too, as it’s the second
It takes only a little imagination,
and a little help from the archives
of the West Coast Times,
to picture St Patrick’s as the
beating heart of the Ross Irish
Christmas, 1882. The bell rings
out over the town, ringing for
Midnight Mass. Father Pertuis
leads Mass, and the choir sings
Mozart. O utside, the mines lie
idle. But there is lots of paydirt
left — that is why the miners
built a church to last.
As the decades passed, though,
Ross did begin to shrink, and so
did the congregation.
“ It was (later) a big sawmilling
town,” Mr Minehan says. “ But
the railway station went, and the
But the church remained, albeit
with a dwindling congregation.
St Patrick’s, Ross
St Patrick’s, Ross
They came f rom Ireland, pick and shovel in hand, looking for gold on the Ross goldfield. They needed a place to worship, and they built it to last. Nearly 150
years later, their chapel — St Patrick’s Catholic Church — is arguably the oldest continually occupied building on the West Coast. LAURA MILLS reports.
Faith of our Fathers:
Old West Coast churches
St Patrick’s Church, at right, at the height of the 1860s goldrush.
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