A joyful and blessed homecoming to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

The doors of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Mary His Mother were opened once again this month for all the people of the Archdiocese of Wellington and beyond to return to their place of worship.

WelCom June/July 2024

He hari, he koa i te rā tūwheratanga o te Whare Karakia Matua
Joyful celebrations mark the re-opening of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

The doors of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Mary His Mother were opened once again this month for all the people of the Archdiocese of Wellington and beyond to return to their place of worship. The Cathedral had been closed for six years for strengthening and refurbishment. Fittingly, the re-opening celebrations began on Friday 7 June, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a dawn service led by Mana Whenua and a Mass of Thanksgiving in the evening for hundreds who filled the Cathedral with happiness and joy. Celebrations continued on Saturday 9 June, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with a morning Mass, a Day of Adoration, and an ecumenical celebration of Evening Prayer. There was standing room only at the Cathedral Parish 10am Mass on Sunday 9 June as parish members and others returned ‘home’ to their church. An Evening Mass brought the joyful weekend to a close.

This special six-page feature covers some of the highlights of the Cathedral re-opening weekend as well comments from people involved with the strengthening and restoration project of the Cathedral since its closure in 2018.  Over the weekend of 7–9 June parishioners and visitors returned with reverence and joy to see for the first time, the results of the $13 million restoration and transformation of their heritage-listed Cathedral. The refurbishment includes strengthened roof and walls, removal of the pink paint from the interior ceiling and walls, the Oamaru marble returned to its original glory, the copper cladding restored, the marble altar from St Gerard’s Monastery installed, heritage elements uncovered, and new lighting installed to enhance the Cathedral’s many historic features and ambience and to augment its now lighter and more vibrant interior. The re-opening celebrations began on Friday with a dawn service led by Mana Whenua and a Mass of Thanksgiving in the evening. The celebrations and devotions continued on Saturday with a morning Mass, a Day of Adoration, and an ecumenical celebration of Evening Prayer. Cathedral parishioners flocked to worship at their 10am Sunday Mass and an Evening Mass brought the joyful and blessed weekend to a close.
Photos: David Lupton, Bernie Velasco, Annette Scullion/WelCom

Archbishop Paul Martin sm, Archbishop of Wellington

It is a joy to be able to celebrate the re-opening of the Cathedral. I attended many liturgies over the years here, never imagining that one day it would be the Cathedral of which I would be Archbishop.

Having come in halfway through the project I am conscious of the work of so many, which has made it possible. Those who worked on the fundraising have had the unenviable task of seeking financial support, and I am particularly grateful to them for this and for all those who have contributed.

My hope for our Cathedral is that it will be a place of prayer and gathering for all of us in the Archdiocese. I hope too it will be a place that draws people to learning more about their faith, providing opportunities for groups to meet, to be a place that is alive and active every day of the week.

We have the responsibility as Metropolitan Cathedral of New Zealand to speak of things of God to our parliamentary neighbours and to all our society. We do so by our actions and our words. My hope is we will do this well in our Cathedral and that many will find in it a place of solace, prayer and growth in faith.

I am looking forward to being part of this with the people of God of our Archdiocese into the years ahead.

Fr Patrick Bridgman, Administrator, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Parish | Te Ahurewa o te Ngākau Tapu

I arrived in the Cathedral Parish on 1 February 2024, taking up my appointment as the Cathedral Administrator. This title reflects that the Bishop is the Parish Priest of a Cathedral, and delegates pastoral care to the Administrator and Pastoral Team.

It has been so impressive to see the incredible work and coordination that has been involved in the Cathedral Project. With the creative work of LT McGuinness and all contractors, the fundraising by the Archdiocese and Parish, the ongoing faithfulness of parishioners, and the constantly working Jane Kelly, our project Architect and Debbie Matheson, our Lay Pastoral leader. What a team!

Personally, It will be a joy to be able to again gather with the parish and the Archdiocese in our beautiful home. Like so many, my own family also have connections here at the Basilica. My grandparents and parents were married here, and family have been baptised and buried from here. And yes, it was where my Ordination was celebrated. It is such a blessing to now be here with Archbishop Paul and Debbie in the ministry of pastoral care. 

It is our hope in the coming months parishioners from throughout the Archdiocese, parish groups, school and college groups, and others will come and take time to see and pray in the Cathedral. We have a ‘Mother church’ in the Cathedral, and it will be good to see people in the Archdiocese grow to see Sacred Heart as their home away from home!

Debbie Matheson, Lay Pastoral Leader, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Parish | Te Ahurewa o te Ngākau Tapu

Archbishop Paul said to me one day last year that when the Cathedral re-opened, ‘I would be able to go back to my normal ministry’. He was unaware at that point my first appointment as a Lay Pastoral Leader was four months before the Cathedral closed. The closure redefined and challenged my anticipation of pastoral ministry. 

However, as the Israelites did, we have returned home. Our wandering in the desert has come to an end. As the parish looks to rebuild and strengthen its relationships, with one another, displaced parishioners, and the wider Wellington community, a new journey is beginning. 

The financial challenges of raising more funds to complete the restoration are still present. We also need funds to refurbish the Hobday organ. And an ever-present financial challenge is to manage living within our means. 

Among all this I too am excited personally, as now I envision the opportunity to focus my pastoral ministry more on embracing my personal faith and ministry drivers. Those of supporting and co-leading a community, in encouraging individuals and groups to explore and share their faith, journeying together, in relationships with God and others – seeing faith alive and active in people, through worship and service, evangelisation and outreach. 

The re-opening of the Cathedral ushers in a new period in the life of the Cathedral parish, where our ‘coming home’ offers us opportunity to reconnect, revitalise, and redefine ourselves as today’s community of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and His Mother Mary.

Jane Kelly, TEAM Architects Wellington

TEAM Architects Wellington has been delighted to have been part of the Restoration of Sacred Heart Cathedral. Personally, as the Project Architect, and as a parishioner, I am thrilled that after so much hard work the Cathedral is re-opening. 

It is almost six years since we received the challenging news that seismic assessments deemed the Cathedral unsafe to occupy. This set in motion the massive task to turn what felt like a tragedy into an opportunity to future proof the Cathedral. 

The team that was brought together, both consultants and contractors, has worked hard to make the most of every opportunity. The result is what you will see before you with roof strengthening completed and restoration of the interior and exterior of the Cathedral space complete. 

We trust you will enjoy the refurbished worship space with its warmth and light and the heritage elements we uncovered along the way. The Cathedral holds the memories and history of past celebrations and we look forward to many more memories being created as the Cathedral returns to being a place of worship and celebration for the Wellington Catholic community.  

We became involved and started pricing in July 2021 and went through a few different lighting design rounds before onsite works started. Although there were challenges working around the constraints of the building structure, seeing the completed project illuminated with the heritage architecture kept gives us pride.

– Stuart Quigan, NME Group

Being on this project for the past two and a half years has greatly enhanced the guys’ skillset in stone carving/banker masonry and they are all very thankful for the opportunity. The team believe all these beautiful heritage buildings we have at our doorstep in New Zealand should also be restored.

– Nicolas Piveteau, Le Maçon, Artisan Stonemason

The Cathedral is a building of great significance to the city as well as the parish and church of Wellington. The strengthening and refurbishment have restored the building to its original glory. We have enjoyed being part of the team on this project costing the various innovative structural options proposed and congratulate the parish and archdiocese on the re-opening the Cathedral.

 – David Monastra, Monastra QS Consultants Ltd.

Brief history

1850: Thorndon Catholic parish founded and administered by Society of Mary (Marist Fathers) until 1935. 

1851: St Mary’s Cathedral, wooden, neogothic structure, blessed and opened.

1867: Cathedral building completed; cast iron statue of Blessed Virgin Mary, from France, positioned high in church tower.

1898: St Mary’s Cathedral destroyed by fire. Statue of Mary crashed to ground intact. Salvaged with minor damage and stands today in Cathedral cloister courtyard.

1899: Foundation stone laid for new church, called Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Architect Francis Petre designed new church in Palladian style in place of Gothic style of time, which he considered ‘old fashioned and expensive’.

1901: Parish church, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, opened to replace St Mary’s Cathedral.

1908: Memorial pulpit installed – still in use today.

1984: Church designated Cathedral of Wellington and of the Archbishop of Wellington, after earthquake strengthening and addition of Blessed Sacrament chapel, foyer, sacristy, courtyard, hall. Consecrated by Cardinal Tom Williams, fifth Archbishop of Wellington.

1985: Building listed as a Category 1 historic place.

1989: Two-metre-high kohatu whakairo (thinking stone carving) installed inside Cathedral entrance and a pou (carved wooden pole) in piazza, gifted as taonga from Catholic Māori of the Archdiocese.

2007: Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Mary his mother by contemporary iconographer Michael Galovic installed.

Timeline of strengthening and restoration project

2011: Parish Resource Committee identified that Cathedral exterior required significant maintenance and repair work. Heritage architects’ tenders costly. Work postponed.

2016: Repair work needed more obvious. Committee decided to proceed with work estimated at $1m. Before work began, committee wanted to check for earthquake strengthening needs. Engaged structural and design engineers for building assessment prior.

2018: Structural and design engineers reported Cathedral under 33% of NBS and assessed as earthquake risk. Cathedral immediately closed. Parish and Archdiocese of Wellington begin planning work to strengthen with some renovation of Cathedral interior. Project budget of $2.8m

Temporary strengthening work enabled newer adjacent building with foyer, chapel and Connolly Hall to be used while long-term work on Cathedral building carried out.

2020: Plan ready and work began; $2m contract signed with construction company LT McGuinness. 

During Covid-19 lockdown government’s shovel-ready project provided additional funds of $8m for project. Wellington City Council provided $120k. Seen as public endorsement of Cathedral as significant building to Wellington and New Zealand’s cultural heritage with A-listing for historic places. 

2020: August 7, Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, blesses site and project team for strengthening and refurbishment work to begin. Work on most vulnerable roofing section commenced.

2022: With additional funding available, exterior work and interior refurbishment commences involving removing heavy pink paint, installing new lighting, new grey and gold carpet, putting lighter paint on some walls and fixtures, such as original ornate tin tiles on ceilings.

2024: Strengthening and interior work completed while some exterior work and chapel still to be completed. Cathedral Parish and the Archdiocese of Wellington have raised over $4m for project, through generous donations and fundraising activities.

2024: June 7, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Cathedral reopens for worship for all in the Archdiocese of Wellington and beyond to ‘come home’ to the Mother church. 

Novena Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
we thank you for your infinite love for us.

As we re-open the Cathedral dedicated to your Sacred Heart and your Mother Mary,
we pray that our hearts will be open
to further revelation of the depths of your love.
Help us then to love one another as you love us.
May our parish community give faithful expression to you mission and vision:
“To joyfully share God’s love. To be a missionary people
united in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary”.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart may out hearts be like yours.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Amen.

Dawn blessing

Mons Gerard Burns 

With my long-time involvement with Te Ngākau Tapu (Sacred Heart) parish for Māori in Porirua we have had a link with the Cathedral helping with various aspects of Māori tikanga. This has been done through parishioners gifting their time, mana and presence via mihi, karanga, waiata, kōrero. The fact that the two buildings share a common name is a wonderful link also. We are linked through the Sacred Heart of Hēhu Karaiti.

My particular involvement in the cathedral building project has been limited but I have assisted with the dawn blessing of the site by the mana whenua of our rohe. This ceremony recognises and honours the land on which the cathedral sits, the people who were here before the cathedral was here especially those who have died. In this there is a special reference to Bishop Viard, buried under the cathedral, and to the relics of saints in the altar stones from various churches, which are in the cathedral also.

The dawn ceremony on Friday 7 June ‘clears the way’ from a Māori perspective for the official re-opening Mass in the evening. Ki te whai ao, ki te Ao marama. Tihei mauri ora!

The Mass of Thanksgiving for the Re-opening of the Cathedral

The re-opening Mass of Thanksgiving on Friday evening, 7 June, began with the Tongan community of Karori processing the Cathedra into the Cathedral, returned from St Teresa’s Pro-Cathedral, to its place in the sanctuary. This was followed by the calling of the Kaikaranga by Kataraina Millin, acknowledging the Cathedra, this sacred Church, the presence of the remains of Bishop Viard, and the relics of the saints in the Altar. 

The Cathedral bells tolled three times signalling Archbishop Paul Martin, accompanied by Mons Gerard Burns, to knock three times on the main door of the Cathedral with his Pastoral Staff. LT McGuiness’ staff members opened the doors to Archbishop Paul where Brian McGuiness handed him a Cross to venerate.

Archbishop Paul was the presiding celebrant in the presence of Emeritus Archbishop Cardinal John Dew and Bishops Stephen Lowe, Michael Dooley, Michael Gielen, John Adams, Richard Laurenson, and Mons Giosue Busti, Charge d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature.

Members of Mana Whenua, other Churches, Faith Communities, Religions, and guests with the priests and faithful of the Archdiocese of Wellington formed the congregation. 

Jane Kelly, Debbie Matheson and Deacon Matthew White were readers, John Celeste the cantor, Douglas Mews and William McElwee the music directors with combined choirs of the Catholic Parish of Otari and St Mary of the Angels. Members of the Kiribati community offered the Gifts.

During the Litany of the Saints Archbishop Paul lit tapers from the Paschal Candle for the Bishops and representatives of the Archdiocese Canonical Bodies, Religious and Catholic Schools. In silence they lit 12 Consecration Candles on the pillars of the Cathedral, which recalled when the Metropolitan Cathedral was first dedicated to God and her walls anointed with Sacred Chrism.

At the conclusion of Mass, Archbishop Paul said, ‘A cathedral is the focal centre point for the diocese, the place where all belong, where all the faithful have a right to be and to call it home. It is why we are so delighted members of our Wellington local and central government are with us today, along with our brothers and sisters from our other Christian Churches and from other faith communities. Your presence and support tonight captures what makes our community here in Aotearoa New Zealand one which can speak of what healthy community looks like of tolerance, understanding and friendship. Thank you so much for being with us.’

Ajith Nissangaratchie, Parish Pastoral Council Chair

Our Pastoral Council role has involved coordinating stakeholders, including the architects and parishioners, to ensure the project aligns with our parish community’s vision and needs. This has included ensuring the historical integrity of the Cathedral is preserved while incorporating modern elements to enhance worship experience, briefing the parishioners on the progress of the restoration work, the challenges faced and resolution options, and enhancing our AV systems to enable online streaming of Masses and ensure accessibility for all parishioners.
It has been a joy to witness the unwavering dedication and collaborative spirit of our parish community, volunteers, and the restoration team during the project, in particular our pride in the leadership and commitment of our fellow parishioner Jane Kelly as she inspired the construction team in her role as Project Architect, and the pastoral leadership of Archbishop Paul Martin, Fr Patrick Bridgman and Debbie Matheson. 

The re-opening marks a new chapter, fostering a deeper sense of belonging and connection among parishioners and reaffirming our commitment to maintaining the Cathedral as a vibrant, inclusive, and spiritually enriching environment. For the wider congregation and community, it brings new hope of a renewed place of worship, to foster our faith, community gatherings, and spiritual growth.

A tribute to pastoral leadership

Fr James Lyons

The closure of Sacred Heart Cathedral in 2018 for earthquake strengthening was not a great concern. The work would take only a couple of years at a cost of $3–4 million. The parish was sure it could raise that amount and set about to do so.

But the scene quickly changed.

The then-recently completed fundraising to strengthen St Mary of the Angels Church made a new appeal difficult. The strengthening work on Sacred Heart proved more complicated and other faults were uncovered. We hadn’t anticipated the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on life globally. Two years was never going to be enough and the cost would far exceed the original estimate.

Standing at the centre of the project was our Archbishop, Cardinal John Dew. Convinced the Cathedral was worth saving, he showed mature leadership, trusting the expertise and advice of those well acquainted with the building and accurately sensing the significance of the project for the Archdiocese.

Even when it became apparent that the re-opening would not come before Cardinal John’s retirement as Archbishop of Wellington, he continued to fully encourage the process, displaying in many ways his deep faith both in God and in the people he served.

The re-opening of Sacred Heart Cathedral is a tribute to Cardinal John’s pastoral leadership.

Cathedral Parish leadership, Archdiocesan representatives, Restoration Committee members and
LT McGuinness contractors gather with Cardinal John for the site blessing marking the beginning of the earthquake strengthening project. Photo: File

Gathered together after the Cathedral Mass of Thanksgiving for the Cathedral re-opening are some of the contractors and consultants who have worked on the restoration project over the years. Jane Kelly, parishioner and Project Architect from TEAM Architects Wellington, is at the centre of the front row, third from right, and Aaron McGuinness, Project Manager from LT McGuinness, is on the far right.
Members of the Wellington Samoan Chaplaincy gathered with Archbishop Paul Martin after the Ecumenical celebration of Evening Prayer at the Cathedral on Saturday 8 June. The Evening Prayer Service included Benediction.

Michael Humble, Co-ordinator of Cathedral Guardians

Since the closure of the cathedral, the Guardians’ principal role has been to ensure ‘business as usual’ for Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish’s weekday Masses at 12.10pm, Tuesday to Friday. We were fortunate to have two temporary chapels – the first being on the ground floor of Viard House and then we moved to Connolly Hall Chapel. 

Our Guardian duties have included: setting up the altar for the 12.10pm Mass and preparing the credence table for the priest; and welcoming parishioners and visitors as they arrive.

While the cathedral was closed, the Monday 12.10pm Mass was replaced by a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion service following the 11.30am Parish Rosary. I and a small group of parishioners were recruited but, due to illness, there are now only two of us to lead this ministry!

The Guardians look forward to returning to the Cathedral and the side chapel re-opening later this year, as it is the original venue for weekday Masses. 

Geraldine Irinco , Bake-sale innovator

Fundraising for the restoration of Sacred Heart Cathedral has taken many forms over the six years since its closure. The most enduring effort is the monthly bake-sale after Sunday Masses initiated four years ago by parishioner, Geraldine Irinco, whose tables laden with home-made delights are keenly anticipated. 

‘My role is to coordinate with my fellow parishioners, who overtime have become dear friends. They provide all sorts of help and support, contributing baked goods, helping on the day and manning the bake-sale table.

It has been great to see small acts of generosity ripple; we have so many people approaching our bake-sale table giving some cash without taking any goods; or others would come for a small pack and give five or ten times what it’s worth. It’s been lovely to see the community gather with smiles on everyone’s faces.

The Cathedral is a home to us, after almost six years of being scattered in various parishes – It is a great relief to finally be home, and with God’s Grace we’ll see our Parish community grow much bigger than before.

I believe bake-sale is here to stay, as long as the Parish Community welcomes it.  

Sunday Mass

The Cathedral Parish 10am Sunday Mass, 9 June, was over-flowing with delighted parishioners returning to their place of worship. Archbishop Paul presided with Fr Patrick Bridgman. 

Archbishop Paul said, ‘The process of looking at strengthening the building saw the parish team involved and also those from the Archdiocesan curia. Debbie Matheson, the lay pastoral leader, became the continuity and centre point for the parish as the priests who were appointed administrator changed over the years. Thank you Debbie for your oversight of pastoral care and your work on this project.’

Archbishop Paul blessed the parish pastoral team of Fr Patrick and Debbie. 

Remarking on the full Cathedral, Archbishop Paul invited everyone to return in such numbers every Sunday.

Noeline Matthews, Chairperson fundraising committee

I joined the committee in 2021 to help with the Cathedral restoration fundraising but Covid-19 meant a lot of what we had planned was cancelled that year. Since 2022 I have been chairperson working with our committee team coordinating and communicating fundraising activities and community engagement.

Some major fundraising activities have included an online art auction in 2022, a community concert with Fr Chris Skinner in 2023, and a highly successful luncheon and a gala dinner with auctions and raffles organised by Bob Houston in 2023 and 2024.

Parishioner Geraldine Irinco has regularly contributed to the popular bake sales over the years. 

Since 2021 our team has raised over $100k. 

We are excited about ‘coming home’ to the Cathedral and we look forward to welcoming everyone who wants to come and join us in celebrating our faith and the Eucharist. 

We still have a funding gap to complete the project so we will continue to fundraise and ongoing fundraising will be needed to maintain the building. 

Cathedral fundraising needs $720k

The Cathedral restoration project has cost around $13m. Around $720k still needs to be raised to complete the work including the chapel and some exterior work.

As at 31 May 2024, $280k has been donated towards this goal. 

You can donate to the Cathedral Restoration Fund by internet banking to:

Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish A/c: 02-0506-0138488-025, particulars (your surname and initials), code (your phone no), reference (Reopen). Donate online at: cathedralcampaign.org.nz/donation-form