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Our Lady of
life up the
road at Rangiriri as a school,
says Wainihinihi old-timer Pat
Fitzgerald. As the population
shifted, the schoolhouse was
moved to Waihinihini. By 1952,
it was back at Turiwhate after the
Kumara Catholic parish bought
it from the Education Board and
work began on converting it into a
house of God.
"When they rebuilt it, they
extended it lengthways and
sideways. In those days you didn't
have building permits," Pat says.
Its location today, tucked away
out of sight, is a little unusual. But
until 1965, it was on the main
road to Otira, and traces of the old
highway are still visible by the old
green phonebox on the roadside of
State highway 73.
Father Joe Leonard, who stayed
in Kumara, led the construction
charge in the early 1950s with Bob
Shearer and Bill Hutchison.
"He begged, borrowed and stole,"
Pat laughs. If people could not
supply materials, they would at
least make him an onion sandwich.
He was the last priest to say
Mass at Turiwhate, and the first
--- sneaking in before the bishop's
official visit in 1953.
Pat, who was an altar boy at
the goldmining ghost town of
Goldsborough in his youth,
believes the glass windows for
Turiwhate came from the old
church there, though the frames
were made by Fr Leonard.
e altar rails came from the
St Columbkille's Convent Chapel,
in Hokitika. A small steeple was
added, and Stations of the Cross
(also made by Father Leonard)
mounted on the walls.
When all was done, they sent the
priest home to Ireland to see his
mother, but on his return he was
redirected to the Lincoln parish,
e Pugh Family Trust owns the
land the church sits on, but former
Kumara parish secretary Maureen
Pugh says she thinks the building
probably still belongs to the parish.
"It was really well patronised
by 20 or so people. It was also a
gathering point twice a month.
Everyone would come there for
the church ser vice, then there was
a gathering of the families, quite
often for a cup of tea," Maureen
e after-Mass gatherings could
last two, or even three, happy
But times were a-changing.
Farms amalgamated, the
population declined and in 1997,
Our Lady of the Way Church
"When it closed there were more
families going to Turiwhate than
St Patrick's in Kumara," Pat says.
After the church had been
deconsecrated there was a mini
baby boom in the district, and it
was reopened as a playcentre. e
locals again did it up, but it did not
last. Today, children's drawings still
hang from the walls, and toys sit
abandoned on the floor.
Maureen's husband, John Pugh,
has done running repairs after
storms. But the trees around it
have become so large, it does not
get enough sun.
" e trees dwarf the church --- it
needs money spent on it."
Parish council minutes show
that on March 10, 1997, after the
decision was made to close the
doors, Turiwhate parrishioners
wrote to Bishop John Cuneen
in Christchurch: " e church
is a very important part of our
community and our heritage. We
were deeply saddened when Fr
Denis Nolan changed his mind
about coming to say Masses here
and told us that the church would
be closing. It was not a decision
that was supported by us --- Our
deep and historical ties with that
building make it impossible for
us to contemplate it being sold
and removed as some insignificant
asset. It is the centre of our
community and we can foresee
it being used in the future for
celebrations such as home Masses
and retreats as well as other
And so Mass stopped, but the
Faith of our Fathers:
Old West Coast churches
Hidden from sight at Turiwhate lies a little church, now
abandoned, that many today do not even know exists,
Our Lady of the Way Catholic Church. LAURA MILLS
looks into the colourful history of one of the smallest
churches on the West Coast.
e Rangiriri School before it was moved down the road to Turiwhate to
become the local Catholic church.
PICTURE: Courtesy Pugh Family
A Pugh family baptism at Our Lady of the Way Church, Turiwhate.
Today, no longer a church or a preschool.
PICTURE: Dwayne Detlaff
Our Lady of the
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