Home' Greymouth Star : April 19th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
6 - Saturday, April 19, 2014 Faith of our Fathers:
Old West Coast churches
St Paul's, Kokatahi
Kokatahi was rst
surveyed in the early
1870s and, although
112 people were living
in the area at the 1878
census, the village did
not develop cohesively
until the early 20th century. e advent of
viable dairying, timber and agricultural lime
industries, road and bridge improvements,
with the advent of a dairy factory, helped
Kokatahi take o from about 1900.
Go inside St Paul's Church today and
evidence of the early settlers permeates
the simple wooden match lining of the
building. It is a symbol of their aspirations
Many Catholics did the hard yards on
the gold elds before the boom tapered
and farming really took o in Westland.
e church is a witness to the steadfast
determination of those early families to
e prominence of statues of the Virgin
Mary and the Sacred Heart, the icon of
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the
Stations of the Cross, in St Paul's Church
re ect the devotional spirituality of
these pioneers. eir religious sensibility,
informed by a revival of Irish Catholic
identity was in uenced by mid-19th
century devotional practices transported
throughout the world by the many French
trained priests back then.
Devotion is naturally re ected in the
church building and many Irish names
associated with the settlement of Kokatahi-
ese can be seen in the small brass
plaques below the Stations of the Cross
with names like O'Neill, O'Reilly,
McCormack and Crough.
Lifetime Kokatahi resident Bill O'Reilly,
the third of ve generations of the same
family in the valley, says that Mass was
celebrated locally for a long time before
a church was erected. In those times the
nearest Catholic church was at Kaniere.
A practice existed --- probably from
the 19th century --- of Hokitika priests
ministering to the spiritual needs and
o ering Sunday Mass for Kokatahi
parishioners, at least every other week.
" ey used to come out with a horse
and trap on a Saturday afternoon and stay
overnight, and either have Mass at a house
or at the hall if it was available," Bill said.
Bill O'Reilly's grandfather took up land at
the head of the Kokatahi valley as early as
1874 and Mass was o ered at their home
fairly regularly early on.
Mass would be about 10am to give
busy farming people "time to turn up,"
particularly as most would have been up
early milking cows by hand.
Bill's father and namesake, Bill O'Reilly,
put up the £300 bond so the church could
nally be built, by Paynter and Hamilton of
Aubrey Cropp's book Kokatahi and
Kowhitirangi on the West Coast dates St
Paul's to 1928, but a March 1925 Hokitika
Guardian article says the blessing of "the
new" Catholic church had just taken place.
e St Mary's choir was present as parish
priest Rev Dr Kennedy blessed the new
building, which the Guardian reported as
Plans for the new church had been in
train for some time, with pioneer settler
omas Crough donating the land in
September 1916. e Guardian details
how Fr Clancy "motored" from Hokitika to
Kokatahi to be met by Mr Crough to select
e 1930s and 1940s were really St Paul's
heyday, with many larger families operating
small dairy farms.
From the late 1930s St Paul's was
regularly used by Sisters of Mercy from
Hokitika to teach local Catholic children
their catechism. is became possible
when the family of Sr Aloysia Williams, of
the Fox Glacier Williams family, donated
a Ford V8 to the Sisters of Mercy at
Hokitika in about 1938, Bill says.
Sister Aloysia was the only sister who
drove and Bill can recall how as a lad he
would hitch a lift home from Hokitika with
the intrepid sister at the wheel.
At a pinch, St Paul's could hold up to
90 people. e church sits rmly in the
landscape and has witnessed the changing
face of farming and population in the
Kokatahi-Kowhitirangi valley since the
" ere was quite a big Catholic
However, St Paul's Church has remained
much the same since it opened. "It's never
been changed," Bill says.
e sanctuary has been altered to some
extent to re ect the liturgical shift of the
Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. is
saw the xed high altar in St Paul's replaced
with a portable altar table to facilitate the
'new' dialogue Mass. e altar rails were
also removed, the tabernacle was shifted to
the side, and a lectern added.
e varnished wood church interior was
painted for the rst time about 20 years
ago, and a parishioner, Mary Graham,
Current Hokitika parish priest, Fr Francis
Jollie, says Mass is still celebrated at St
Paul's the rst and third Sunday of the
month, alternating with St Patrick's in
With change and Catholics not
necessarily ful lling their Sunday Mass
obligation any longer, he would not be
drawn on the future of the church.
A "maximum" of 12 and as few as
four people now attend Sunday Mass
at Kokatahi, although numbers swell
extraordinarily at Easter and Christmas.
Always part of St Mary's Parish Hokitika,
little o cial record exists of Kokatahi as
a Mass centre, apart from
o cial sacramental and funeral
registers, and local Catholics
have always maintained the
building from their own
A simple wooden church at Kokatahi is testament to pioneering families, especially of Irish Catholic stock, who took up land in
the district from the 1870s. While the little church, dedicated to St Paul, arrived more than 50 years after settlement, it has held a
special place in the hearts and rituals of generations of local Catholics, as BRENDON McMAHON reports.
Stations of the cross.
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