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St Mary’s Cathedral, Wellington, destroyed by fire in 1898

The Archdiocesan Archives contain the historical records of the archbishops and their successive administrations, as well as general historical information pertaining to Catholicism in the Archdiocese.

As it is a private archive, access to original records is at the discretion of the Archbishop. Note that most parish records remain with the parishes themselves. For baptism, marriage or burial records, please refer to the parish where they were carried out.

Please send research enquiries to the archivist, Peter Holm, at:  04 496 1740

History of the Archdiocese

Bishop Philippe Viard

In June 1848, Pope Pius IX decreed that New Zealand should be divided into two dioceses, Auckland, consisting of the Auckland province and Wellington, consisting of the rest of New Zealand. Bishop Philip Viard was appointed as Wellington’s first bishop and arrived on the barque “Clara” on 1 May 1850. With him was a band of five Marist priests, 10 lay brothers, two male teachers, three Māori and four young women eager to join a religious order and to teach. Thus the Diocese of Wellington came into existence.

But before this, the Catholic faith had been sustained through the efforts of Dr John Fitzgerald who arrived in Wellington on 31 January 1840. He led the Sunday prayers and organised Christian Doctrine classes. He was followed by the first resident priest, the Capuchin, Fr Jeremiah O’Reily in January 1843. On 6 August of that year the first small Catholic chapel was built and dedicated to St Mary. Although Bishop Pompallier referred to it as the Chapel of the Nativity, it continued locally as St Mary’s until the cathedral took over that title. Meanwhile the Auckland-based French Marists travelled extensively throughout the country and Fr J.B.Comte SM established a permanent mission at Otaki in 1844. On 6 December 1847 the first Catholic school in Wellington opened at St Mary’s chapel.

On his arrival, Viard bought land in Thorndon on which a bishop’s residence and St Mary’s Convent were built and the cathedral foundation stone was laid. With the arrival of three new Marist priests in 1859, Viard was able to send pastors to New Plymouth, Christchurch, and later to Dunedin.

Following the discovery of gold in the late 1850s and 1860s, expansion of the church was rapid on the West Coast, and in Dunedin which became a separate diocese in 1869. The Irish priests followed the thousands of Irish miners and their families to the diggings and the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions also arrived to establish convents and schools in Napier, Christchurch and Nelson.

Bishop Viard died on 2 June 1872 and was succeeded by Rev Francis Redwood SM who was to remain bishop for 61 years. The diocese was raised to an archdiocese on 10 May 1887 and Christchurch became a separate diocese. Rev Thomas O’Shea SM became his coadjutor bishop in 1913 and remained so for 22 years.

With Redwood’s death in 1935, O’Shea took full control of the archdiocese for the next 12 years until failing faculties forced his replacement.

Rev Peter McKeefry was appointed archbishop in 1947 and succeeded O’Shea in 1954. During his 28 years, the Catholic population more than doubled from approximately 75,000 to over 150,000 and this resulted in 39 new parishes being established. To help meet the needs, numerous religious congregations were sought.

Cardinal McKeefry died in 1973 just as the challenges of the Second Vatican Council were beginning to be felt. Archbishop Reginald Delargey began the implementation process but died within five years. He was succeeded by Archbishop Thomas Williams, raised to a cardinal in 1983. He retired in March 2005, and Archbishop John Dew succeeded him as Archbishop of Wellington on 21 March 2005. Archbishop Dew was appointed to the College of Cardinals on 14 February 2015.

On 1 January 2021 Bishop Paul Martin SM of Christchurch was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington and succeeded Cardinal John Dew as Archbishop of Wellington on 5 May 2023.

The Archdiocese has held Archdiocesan Synods at intervals of approximately ten years. The latest synod took place on the weekend of 15-17 September 2017, with the previous synod having taken place in June 2006.

The Archbishop of Wellington is responsible for the pastoral care of the 78,198 (2013 census) Catholics living in the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese comprises 22 parishes spanning the central New Zealand area from a line between Levin and Masterton in the north to the southern boundary from Kaikoura to Westport.