The Parish of Patea and Waverley serves the Catholic communities of these two South Taranaki rural towns and their surrounding farming areas. To the North are Mt Taranaki, Mt Ruapehu and Tongariro and to the South is the rocky coastline and long, black sandy beaches of the Tasman Sea. Patea, the third-largest town in South Taranaki, and Waverley South Taranaki’s southern-most town, have strong Māori communities. Patea is 61 kilometres north-west of Whanganui on State Highway 3. Waverley is 44 km northwest of Whanganui and 17 km east of Patea. State Highway 3 and the Marton-New Plymouth Line railway run through both towns. Waverley and Patea featured in the land wars of the 1860s.
1852: Fr Jean Pezant sm, French Marist missionary, first parish priest in Whanganui, oversight of Taranaki area, missionary work among coastal tribes between Patea and Rangitikei Rivers, usually on foot, until 1868.
1865: Fr Jean Rolland sm, French Marist, appointed to New Plymouth, attended Catholics between New Plymouth and Patea. Also Military Chaplain for Taranaki troops.
1870: First Catholic Church built. Fr Rolland and Felix McGuire, local councillor and MP for Egmont arranged purchase of section and building.
1870: Fr Petrius from Whanganui, held services in Catholic Chapel, Patea.
1875: Patea attached to Parish of Hawera.
1880: Fr Michael Grogan appointed priest to Hawera and built new St Patrick’s Church for $900 and Presbytery at Patea for $250.
1881: Bishop Redwood opened new St Patrick’s Church.
1885: Patea established as separate parish area, administered from Hawera.
1886: First St Francis Church Waverley built, enlarged 1889.
1891: Patea formed into a Catholic parish under charge of Fr Thomas McKenna – first permanent priest in Patea.
1891: Fr McKenna performed first Baptism in Patea – Mabel Mahoney and Daniel McLaughln who later became a priest.
1892: First Catholic marriage in Patea, Eugene O’Sullivan and Ellen McNamara.
1893: First Catholic marriage in Waverley, Alfred Cunningham and Matilda Dewey.
1894: First parish picnic and continued annually for several years.
1904: Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth established in Patea. Parish priest, Fr William McGrath, responsible for building St Joseph’s School and Convent. Sisters began teaching with a roll of 72 children.
1910: St Michael’s School opened in Waverley. First teachers, Sr Angela and Sr Joseph, lived at Patea Convent and travelled by train to Waverley every day.
1911: Waverley Convent blessed and opened by Archbishop Redwood. Srs Anglea, Ignatius, Ceccila, and Sebastian took up residence.
1920: Church presbytery built in Patea.
1923–1928: Cardinal Delargey, although not born in the area, attended St Joseph’s School.
1934: Hibernian Society formed, grew from Sick and Funeral Benefit and Social Society, to Life and Fire Insurance and very successful Credit Union and Permanent Building Society. Arranged much of parish’s social activities. Annual parish picnics held, as were Christmas parties for children, and later social dances for teenagers.
1955: Waverley becomes parish, previously part of Patea Parish. New presbytery built. Fr John McGrath first parish priest.
1958: Present St Patrick’s Church, Patea, dedicated and opened by Archbishop McKeefry. Opened debt free largely due to fund-raising efforts among parishioners by longstanding resident priest, Fr John Ronan, 1936–1971. Original wooden church demolished due to structural damage when being moved.
1965: Parishioner Shaun Hurley ordained to priesthood.
1968: Catholic Women’s League, Waverley Branch established.
1970: Convent built in Patea, opened by Bishop Sneddon. Later used as presbytery.
1970: New church built at Waverley, St Francis de Sales.
1972: Catholic Women’s League Patea, inaugural meeting. Mission work in New Zealand and overseas supported. Disbanded 1979.
1974: Sisters moved out of Waverley Convent to live in Patea Convent.
1979: St Michael’s School roll continued to decline and school closed.
1982: Closures of Patea Freezing Works and Waipipi Iron Sands (1987) impacted local employment opportunities and caused drop in population and parishioner numbers.
1982: Waverley Parish combined again with Patea.
1986: Many parishioners travelled to Wellington to greet Pope Jean Paul.
St Patrick and St Francis de Sales Catholic Parish of Patea and Waverley
The records show there were visiting priests from Whanganui into South Taranaki as early as 1852. Now 160 plus years later we are again receiving our priestly ministry from Whanganui.
Patea and Waverley are two small rural towns south of Hawera and north of Whanganui. Our people have always looked after each other and are very community minded. We have a mass count of about 40 and most parishioners take their turn doing some form of ministry in the parish. We have more than 50 people on our ministry roster.
We have not had a resident priest since 2013 when Fr Bill Casey retired to New Plymouth and now have cover from the Whanganui Parish, with Mass either in Waverley and Patea each Sunday and on a Wednesday morning Mass.
[Fr Bill passed away at St John’s Hill Rest Home in Whanganui, on 6 June 2019.]
We have seven catechists who prepare families and students for Baptisms, Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation and Marriage Preparation. We have a Liturgy Group who keep our Masses and services vibrant and a welcoming community. Our music group and parishioner Michael Back, our organist, have music for us every Sunday and for special celebrations. Michael, whose grandparents arrived in Whenuakura, Patea, in 1911, also keeps us all informed with the Catholic Enquiry Centre news.
We are blessed to have St Joseph’s Catholic School in Patea. Principal Angela Muncaster and her team have a lovely Christian community and their teaching strongly supports the children and their families. A Catholic school, St Michael’s in Waverley, opened with 56 students in 1910 and was closed in 1978. St Michael’s is now the Te Wairoa iti Marae.
Catholic Education is very important to our families and we have more than 15 students attending Catholic secondary schools in New Plymouth at a great cost to the families. For the last few years we have had two or three youth attend the Life Teen Youth Camps in January, and they have enjoyed the fellowship with other young Catholics.
Being a farming community, we have parishioners from the Philippines and South America from time to time. We have some long-standing families in both parishes. Ursula Cunningham, who is on our Finance and Parish Council, is the granddaughter of Alfred and Matilda Cunningham who were the first couple married in the original Waverley Church in 1893. In Patea we have Robert Bourke on the Parish Finance Committee. His great grandfather, Patrick Alexander Bourke, has a leadlight window dedicated to his memory, in St Patrick’s Church. The Bourke family first arrived in Patea in 1873. These are just two of the many early families who still have descendants worshiping in our churches.
Marie Dwyer of Patea is on the Parish Council and Finance Committee.
A blessed parish
We are a truly blessed parish as there have been several sizable bequests left to the Patea and Waverley churches. Michael Keating of Kohi died in 1905 and left to the Waverley church his estate, which was a Crown-Lease farm. It was sold in 1981 for $270,000 and it is invested with the Palmerston North CDF. A sum of $500,000 was lent to the Whanganui Parish when they remodelled their Church and over $300,000 has been used by the parish and the dioceses over the years.
Daniel and Elizabeth Dwyer and their family arrived in Patea in 1875 and their son John Dwyer who died in 1938 left an Education Board lease farm and a herd of cows to the Patea Parish for Catholic Education. The Church purchased the farm and it is now managed by Keiran Dwyer and David Werder on behalf of the Bishop of Palmerston North. They employ a 50/50 sharemilker. Over $2.3m has been given in grants for Catholic Education in the Diocese. In the past it was managed by Jerry Hurley from Opaku, Frank Parsons, Dick Dwyer, Dan Dwyer and Eric Werder.
The O’Reilly Brothers left their farm at Whenuakura to the Waverley and Patea Parish. Frank died in 1974. The land was sold and the money invested in the CDF Palmerston North.
St Joseph’s School, Patea
St Joseph’s School Patea, first opened in 1904 with the Josephite Sisters.
The Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth were always a very important part of the parish life in Patea and Waverley. As well as being in charge of St Joseph’s School and able to teach the Catholic faith, there were many parts of parish life they were involved in. Visiting the elderly and hospital patients was always part of their work. Due to the shortage of Sisters by the late 1970s they had to leave Patea in 1982 and Waverley in 1979.
Today, the integrated decile 2 school for boys and girls from New Entrants to Year 6, with an approved maximum roll of 60, is led by Principal and DRS Angela Muncaster and a dedicated team of staff. The school has a close, positive relationship with the local parish community of St Patrick’s and St Francis de Sales.
St Joseph’s has a high percentage of Māori students from a very strong Māori community. The school fosters the importance of Māori culture and language in a safe and happy environment. Everyone is welcome and family involvement is strongly encouraged: whānaungatanga – bringing families together.
There are plenty of opportunities for the community, parents and extended whānau to participate, celebrate and promote learning at the school including Kapahaka performances in the community, regular meetings with local iwi, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngā Rauru, visits to local marae, school trips away, and curriculum areas including reading, writing, maths, digital technology as well as Religious Education.
The Josephite Charsim continues to link teaching and learning to gospel values, and the Catholic Special Character dimensions are: Te Whakaatu Karaitiana – Christian Witness; Te Tutkai ki a Te Kairaiti – Encounter with Christ; and Te Whakatupu ma te Matauranga – Growth in Knowledge.
Te Wairua o te atua, me motu katoa o Aotearoa e hipokiki tona wairua marie.
May the Holy Spirit of God who is present in this land, and in the people of Aotearoa – New Zealand, surround us all in love and peace.
Rest in rightful peace Fr Bill
Fr William (Bill) Patrick Casey died peacefully at St John’s Hill Rest Home in Whanganui on 6 June 2019, just a few days after he celebrated his 50 years a priest. May he rest in peace. Fr Bill spent many years in Patea and is well remembered there.
Fr Bill served as a priest initially in the Archdiocese of Wellington and then in the Diocese of Palmerston North. Sixty friends had gathered in the Chapel of the rest home on June 1 to celebrate Fr Bill’s 50 years of ordination. Though frail, Fr Bill was in excellent spirits.
Fr Bill was from Ballyoporeen County Cork, Ireland. He grew up on a dairy farm and had a brother and four sisters. His sister Teresa became a Presentation Sister and worked in the Taranaki region until retiring back to Ireland.
After his education the young Bill went home to the farm to work until his father suggested he consider becoming a priest. He was in the last of a large group of Irish priests to come to New Zealand.
When he arrived in New Zealand, Fr Bill was appointed to Heretaunga near Wellington, then Hawera, Hastings West, St Anthony’s in Whanganui (later renamed Holy Family with the new church), Patea-Waverley, Pungarehu-Okato, Opunaki for 17 years, Ohakune, New Plymouth then retirement in Whanganui.
Fr Bill had a natural fondness for the land and he enjoyed the rural parishes where he related well to farming families. ‘He loved animals and always had a good vegetable and rose garden. Three crops of potatoes yearly!’ said John Reynolds a parishioner and friend from St Patrick’s in Patea.
‘During his time in Taihape he made the headlines in the local newspaper for growing roses on the council berm. He is fondly remembered as having a soft heart. If he heard of a parishioner struggling, he would visit immediately. ‘He had a quiet spirit of faithfulness and was a companion for the underdog,’ John Reynolds said.
At a Vigil on Monday 10 June at Holy Family, Whanganui, Bishop Peter Cullinane said. ‘Everyone held a deep appreciative love, admiration and respect for Fr Bill. He was a humble unassuming priest who had an ability to relate and be at home with people reflecting the qualities of being the good shepherd.’
Fr Tom Lawn from New Plymouth led the Requiem Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Opunake the next day.
Prayers are extended to Fr Bill’s family and friends and to all those to whom he ministered so well during his 50 years of priestly service.
Early missionary priests
Excerpt from information and research gathered by Jacq Dwyer, President of the Patea Historical Society, 2019.
In the early 1850s, before the township of Patea began, a French Catholic priest walked into the area and met with Māori who lived there.
Fr Jean Étienne Pezant arrived in Akoroa from France in 1840. When the Marists moved to the Diocese of Wellington in 1850, Fr Pezant moved with them. In February 1852 he became the first parish priest in Whanganui, with oversight of the Taranaki area, and continued to do missionary work among the coastal tribes between the Patea and Rangitikei rivers, usually on foot. He was a fluent speaker of te reo, but the Pai Marire movement and land wars ended his mission work. He moved to the South Island in 1868.
From the 1850s until the early 1880s a band of French priests covered vast areas of remote country, working with Māori and the few Pakeha settlers there at that time. These priests would have performed baptisms, marriages and funerals.
Fr Maurice Tressalet, another French priest spent time in Patea. On his arrival in New Zealand he spoke only French, but soon became fluent in the Māori language. A story in the Wairapapa Daily Times tells of a memoire of a pioneering woman who met Fr Tressalet, when he stopped at her home in Turakina on his way north. She tried to tell him he could stay the night, but he couldn’t understand a word of English, and kept bowing and walking towards the door. It wasn’t until her husband came home and had the idea to ask the priest in te reo to stay the night. ‘The latter was overjoyed when he found there was a language they both understood, and in it they conversed during a long evening’.
In 1865, French-born Fr Louis Rolland took charge of the parish from White Cliffs to Kai Iwi. He was a military chaplain with the 18th Royal Irish Regiment as well as parish priest and ministered at the military encampment at Patea. He rode a chestnut coloured horse, which he later sold to William Sergeant, a Grenadier of the 65th Regiment, and it was from then on known as ‘the Priest’
Fr Rolland was described as a plucky, unpretentious ‘man of the cloth’. He was not only a parish priest, but also an active Military during the Taranaki wars of the 1860s. He had great admiration for the troops and was with them wherever there was likelihood of fighting. He knew no fear. More than once his hat was riddled with bullets, but he would continue his ministrations with the same determination. His contemporaries often tried to get that old bullet riddled hat, contending the Church of Taranaki had a right to it. ‘I am no saint’ the priest would reply ‘and I intend to leave no relics behind me’.
These pioneering priests had an amazing aptitude for survival and fortitude.
The first Catholic Church in Patea was built in about 1870 due to the efforts of Fr Rolland and Catholic businessman Mr Felix McGuire, (who was elected Mayor of Hawera in 1881 and spent 11 years in Parliament as MP for Egmont.) Fr Rolland left Patea in 1875 and ended his days as parish priest at Reefton. When he died at the age of 68 in 1903 he was given a full military funeral.
The Marist Māori missioners were busy working among Māori and saying Masses in the churches throughout the areas they worked in for many years. In later years Fr Wall was very well known, and was followed by Frs J Durning, P Brennan, P Cleary, D Whiting, P Conagham, Fr Prendeville and many others.