WelCom February 2021
Fr Bill Warwick
On the morning of Monday 7 December 2020, the wrecking and demolition of the old presbytery at St Mary’s, 195 Collingwood St, Nelson, got underway. Over the previous month, the house had been stripped of the windows and all the floor boards, and the removal of asbestos was the first stage.
The children at nearby St Joseph’s School were ‘star struck’ watching the dozer come in and munch the building away from inside the new classroom block.
Built in 1882, this 138-year-old building was the cornerstone of hospitality and residence to countless priests, brothers and visitors over its many years. There was always a full-time housekeeper whose accommodation included a self-contained flat.
The Society of Mary had responsibility for St Mary’s Parish for many years. Their withdrawal from the parish in the early 1970s returned responsibility of the parish to the archdiocese and Monsignor John Broadbent was its first diocesan parish priest. Min Fellows came from Takaka to live in the presbytery as housekeeper and remained there until her retirement. Part timers included characters such as Monica, Stella Barbir, Yudit Tolnay and Maryanne Cairns – to name but a few.
The house was always buzzing not only with the resident priests, but also the many visitors who passed through Nelson. Overseas priests travelling around the country as well as those based in New Zealand would call in for a night or two and experience the hospitality and warmth of the presbytery team.
The house itself comprised six bedrooms upstairs, one bathroom and shower and toilet, a large lounge area downstairs, which had been added on to over the years, as well as the dining room that had also seen an extension. The kitchen always enjoyed afternoon sun and during the day, with meals cooking, amazing aromas wafted through the house.
Pets didn’t exist there until I arrived in February 1986 with Harvey, my green budgie. I still recall arriving on a hot day at 195 Collingwood St, with all my worldly possessions and the bird strapped in with his seatbelt around the cage. Min was busy cleaning the stairwell, Peter O’Connell was running in between funerals and weddings and Tom O’Brien was due home from Ireland that very day.
I was greeted by Min and after introducing myself I said, ‘Min I’ve got a bird with me’. I qualified it by saying, ‘It’s feathered – my budgie Harvey’, to which Min looked stunned and replied, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t know what Fr O’Brien will think of a pet in the house’. I simply said, ‘Where shall I put him?’, to which she replied, ‘Well for now in the dining room’. That was the start of a three-year friendship in which Min teased and came to love Harvey. Tom eased his way into letting Harvey out for a fly in the lounge and nestling on his shoulder, as he offered the bird a few sips of his G&T.
Regular maintenance on the house outside was kept up but as the years passed by it became a greater task.
Eventually the old presbytery was replaced with a new house built directly across from St Mary’s Church at 11 Manuka St. Frs Raymomd Soriano and Lou Leuthard resided there along with Frs Michael O’Dea and Tony Kearns.
The old presbytery was rented for a number of years. Despite this, the maintenance became much greater and the building had deteriorated to a great extent. Government changes and insulation regulations meant we were unable to meet the requirements or have the financial resources to keep the presbytery habitable. Weighing up all the options the decision was made in 2020 to let the building go and have it demolished. Parishioners were informed in July last year and a day was arranged for them to walk through the old presbytery, share stories and memories and say their goodbyes.
We will be forever grateful to Fr Garin and all who followed him in providing a welcoming and hospitable place to call home at 195 Collingwood St.
Fr Bill Warwick was parish priest and resident at St Mary’s Nelson until his recent appointment to Holy Trinity Parish in Wellington.