Take a look sometime at the commemorative stone at the back of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. You have a choice of Latin or English.
It reads: In memory of Bishop Philippe Viard, SM, consecrated Bishop of Orthosia and Coadjutor to the Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania (Bishop Pompallier) 7 February 1845; appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wellington 20 June 1848.
Our diocese will therefore celebrate 160 years on 20 June 2008.
Even before the diocese was established, there were the beginnings of the Catholic community in Wellington bringing together Catholic immigrant families. Bishop Pompallier celebrated the first Mass in Wellington on Christmas Day, 1840. Other priests visited regularly to provide for the pastoral needs of the small community, until the appointment of Father Jeremiah O’Reily in 1843.
Among those who greeted Bishop Viard when he arrived in Wellington on 1 May 1850 was Doctor John Patrick Fitzgerald, a prominent lay leader of the Catholic community, who had arrived in New Zealand in January 1840. He was a doctor and surgeon, and was also appointed coroner, health officer and hospital superintentent in Wellington. He had a particular concern for prisoners and the poor who could not afford medical attention, spoke Māori and is described as a “friend of the Māori people”. Married in 1842, he also knew personal tragedy with the death of his wife 10 years later following the birth of their fifth child. In 1856, Dr Fitzgerald left Wellington for South Africa, and later returned to Britain, where he died in 1897.
Dr Fitzgerald would certainly get a surprise if he returned to Wellington today: the waterfront unrecognisable; Lambton quay flanked by up-market shops; St Mary of the Angels now on the site where the first small Church of the Nativity once stood.
He might, however, be pleased to see lay pastoral leaders, like himself, taking on new responsibilities in a collaborative ministry with priests.
Perhaps, as a way of celebrating our 160 years as a diocese, we can look to him as a model for lay pastoral leadership in the archdiocese.