WelCom’s Hīkoi of Faith series visits the Catholic parishes of the Rangitikei District, which include Marton, Bulls, Hunterville, Taiuru Marae and Whangaehu. The geographic boundaries are the Rangitikei River to the north, the Whangeihu River east to the Tasman Sea, and Bulls to the south. The parish churches are in the small townships that serve this mainly farming, engineering and light-industry region – St Francis Xavier, Marton; St Mary’s, Bulls; St Andrew’s, Whangaehu; and St Joseph’s, Taiuru Marae. St Matthew’s Catholic Primary School is in Marton. Parish Priest, Fr Peter Brockhill, describes life in the parish and Principal Tom Sheehan introduces St Matthew’s School.
Our parish life
Ours is a relatively small parish with just over 100 parishioners in Marton, around 25 in Bulls, several families at Whangaehu and Katorika Māori at local marae.Every third Sunday Fr Dominic Heslin, a retired priest from Bulls, celebrates Mass at St Joseph’s Church at Taiuru Marae.
In former days a lot of the parishioners were farming families mainly in Hunterville and Whangaehu areas. Today our families include traditional Kiwis, young Samoan families who have arrived over the last 11 years, as well as families from the Philippines here to work mainly in the dairy sector and bee-keeping.
A good proportion of the parish are 20-30-year olds, largely due to our Samoan community, which is hugely encouraging. The Samoan families in Marton contribute greatly especially with lots of little children who give life to the parish. To have the youngsters around is a joy. Evangelisation in Samoa is very strong through faith and daily rosary involving the whole family. The community’s specific ministry is singing, which they lead once a month and pull out all stops wearing traditional white Sunday best. The families now have teenagers going to Lifeteen and other youth events and are very supportive in their faith. Samoan life in the parish gives me a lot of encouragement.
Marton is very strong in terms of Church denominations, which are a viable congregation, including Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics. All contribute to the Marton Christian Welfare op shop and many parishioners are involved in its large outreach distributing food and clothes.
We also have a charitable works account in the parish that allows us to help people in need of costs such as rental accommodation and visa costs for immigration processes between New Zealand and Samoa.
Prayer groups meet here every now and then and we have good volunteer responses as needed.
During the 1970s and 1980s the parish priest created a young wives’ group which gelled everyone together each week. That formed a strong nucleus in the parish which remains for the people who have lived here. Parents still form the nucleus of the parish.
St Matthew’s School, Marton
St Matthew’s School in Marton was founded by Fr Matthew Dolaghtty and the Sisters of Mercy in 1915. The school was named after Fr Matthew. Since it began the school has continued on the same site with several additional buildings and re-developments. The present building was constructed in the 1980s incorporating the old church sacristry and the administration area was renovated in 2007.
Jesus is at the forefront of everything at St Matthew’s. Gospel values are embedded into daily life and call everyone at the school to be people of compassion and excellence. One of our Mercy charisms is being hospitable and we embrace that.
In Marton there are a number of schools that families have to choose from as this has always been an area strong in education.
St Matthew’s is a small school and we have a large percentage of Samoan children. Our first Samoan family arrived here about 11 years ago. Families have come for work from Samoa, Palmerston North and other areas. The majority have one or two parents working at the local freezing works or other industries.
The Samoan presence contributes very strongly and has forged a wonderful relationship with parish and school. The students are very capable in writing and reading prayers of the family, altar servers and singing. As a school we go to Mass across the road to St Francis Xavier Church every Friday for seniors and the juniors go two or three times a year. Fr Peter Brockhill comes to visit the senior students and staff once a week. As a Catholic principal I can see the benefit of worshipping together – it’s part of the DNA of our school.
We are producing competent, confident, all-round graduates. Students practice and play a lot of sports and exceed in tournaments will other schools in the district. We have a core of very talented sporting children and this success provides tools for achievement in other areas throughout the day including maths, writing, religious education.
We are part of the South Rangitike Ka Hui Ako community of learning. The benefit to us as a small school is that we are able to tap into some of their opportunities. Late last year, Rongohia te hau, led by Waikato University group Poutama Pounamu, highlighted the success on how we are teaching our Māori and Pasifika students through creating a programme that supports our student needs and learning style.
Being a decile 2 school, our Board of Trustees and other groups such as Marton Christian Welfare are very supportive to students and families, helping in areas such as stationery, computer technology, health, fruit, milk, groceries, uniforms, footwear, school camp (every two years), swimming, and sports fees.
We’re really proud of the learning culture that exists in this school. The joy of teaching at a Catholic school and our approach to teaching the whole child involves the spiritual aspects that give each child an identity to know who they are and where they belong. Our staff here are extremely dedicated and hardworking. I just love being here and love coming everyday. It’s just a joy.’
New life for historic churches
Whangaehu church moved to higher ground
Just before Christmas last year, St Andrew’s Catholic Church at Whangaehu (some 15kms south of Whanganui and 20kms west of Marton), was loaded onto a Britton’s House Movers truck and transported about 500 metres along the SH3, to a site next to the Whangaehu Community Hall.
The little church has been a big part of the Whangaehu village community and was moved to higher ground to avoid future flood damage. The church and Whangaehu village have been flooded by the Whangaehu River several times in recent years and especially during the devastating 2004 flood.
The move was sponsored by Whangaehu locals along with St Francis Xavier Catholic Parish in Marton who wanted to ensure the safety and continuity of the church.
The Whangaehu Community Hall committee’s Erin Cvitanovich worked with Rangitikei Catholic parish representative Mike O’Regan over the last two or three years to complete the considerable amount of paperwork and consents required to gain approval to move the church. There was extensive consultation with iwi, community and district council representatives to complete the move. Initially the Rangitikei Catholic parish got an engineer’s report to consider lifting the church up so they could keep it on its present site, but they found they were only allowed to raise it a metre – which is not high enough.
Patricia O’Leary from the Whangaehu Catholic community, said St Andrew’s was built in 1925 and opened in 1926. It was built after Edward Green donated the end of his property to build a church. It opened on December 19, 1926 and Archbishop O’Shea of Wellington, consecrated the church. It cost 707 pounds and 10 shillings.
The original fundraising was mainly dancing in the Whangaehu Hall at weekends. They were very popular, with a Martin and Vernon bus from Whanganui regularly filled with revellers. Locals contributed to the supper. St Andrew’s has been a key part of the community ever since. The church had its 50-year anniversary with its first Holy Communion Mass for locals, Maureen Crowley, Karen Anderson, Suzette Wood and Erin Cvitanovich. Mrs Simpson, who lived in Turakina, rode over on her horse to the 1926 opening of the church and was also there 50 years later for the Holy Communion Mass.
St Andrew’s has held baptisms, weddings and religious instruction. There is still carpentry and decorating work to be done but when the church is fully up and running it is likely to hold a Mass once a month.
St Andrew’s was the second Catholic church built in Whangaehu.
In about 1904 Hoani Taiaroa built the entire Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beach Rd, with his wife hand-making all the floor mats. Sadly, it caught fire about 1913. Hoani was buried at the site the same year.
Half way down Whangaehu Beach is a concrete block crypt. It was built by Anderson Memorials and Stone Co Ltd, Aramoho Whanganui, at the site of the first Catholic church at Whangaehu called The Church of the Immaculate Conception. It was used by all his family and locals. The church was consecrated by Archbishop Redwood, 28 April 1904. The archbishop took an illuminate address made by William Shaper and with a locally carved frame to Rome when he visited Pope Pius X.
Hoani composed the address but the Taiaroa family lost the records in the church fire. Hoani died 25 November 1913 and is interred in front of the church – he could not have his funeral Mass in the church because of the fire. The church was still standing in the 1920s and Arthur Keane of Whanganui was the last person baptised in that church.
Turakina country church to College chapel
Catholic parishioners from Turakina and Whangaehu travelled to Masterton last September to celebrate 150 years of worship in the St Matthew’s Collegiate School chapel. The chapel building was formerly St Joseph’s Catholic Church once located in Turakina.
St Joseph’s Church was originally situated on SH3, at 61 Main Rd, Turakina, a settlement southeast of Whanganui. It was built of heart totara in the simple form of a Gothic style country church and could seat about 130 people. In 1947, a severe gale carried the building five metres from its original site. As a result, the building was given new foundations where it came to rest.Buttresses were put on the sides to hold it firm.
The travellers to Masterton, were greeted at the school by students and the principal Mrs Kiri Gill, the Ven May Croft, Rev Lesley Mouat and Tim Clarke. The chapel evoked many memories for the group. They admired the pews, little silver plaques with the names of those who donated them along with the donated prayer kneelers and stained-glass windows.
At Cleghorn Hall, an impressive and spiritual ceremony followed, which included singing in Latin and a speech by Tim Clarke, who traversed the history of the church. Tim was the instigator and had worked on a banner honouring the occasion, embroidered with an image of the chapel and the words written by Rev Fr Pezant at the first blessing and consecration of the chapel on Sunday 20, 1868. The banner was blessed and led the procession from the hall to the chapel.
Fr Jean Ettienne Pezant was a French Marist priest who sailed to New Zealand with Bishop Pompallier. He arrived in Akaroa in 1840 and was appointed as the first parish priest of Wanganui in 1851, which they called Petre. His parish stretched from New Plymouth to Bulls. He was competent Māori scholar and he walked everywhere. It took him about seven to eight days to walk to New Plymouth. It was under his jurisdiction that St Joseph’s in Turakina was built – the third church built in the area.
In 1903, Turakina came under the Marton Parish jurisdiction. Masses were said at the Turakina weekly. With the decline in priest numbers, in the time of Fr Joe Dermody, Masses were alternatively said one week at Whangaehu, the next at Turakina. When the Turakina church was sold, Masses were then at Whangaehu. About 1979, the church was deconsecrated and used for storage until it was sold to St Matthew’s Collegiate School. In 1985 the wooden structure was lifted from its foundation, the roof was cut off to enable it to go under the power lines, a side was cut for it to be transported on the road and across the bridge and it was re-settled in its current surroundings in Masterton. It was dedicated at Masterton in 1986 and continues to be an ark of worship and prayer for another generation. All that remains on the site at 61 SH3 are six headstones, and some unmarked graves. Some graves were re-located to a site on the Turakina-Bonny Glen Rd, just out of the Turakina township; the reason being, the ground was too wet as it was a swamp. Subsequent burials are now in the Catholic Cemetery at 1328 Wanganui Rd, Turakina.
Patricia O’Leary is a former parishioner at the St Joseph’s Church, Turakina.