He Hīkoi Whakapono: A Journey of Faith

WelCom’s Journey of Faith continues this month to Lower Hutt’s Catholic Parish of Te Awakairangi – a diverse community in ethnicity, age, spirituality and interests. Formed in 2015, the parish is composed of the churches of St Michael’s, Taita, St Bernadette’s, Naenae, St Martin de Porres, Avalon and Ss Peter & Paul, Lower Hutt.

WelCom November 2023

WelCom’s Journey of Faith continues this month to Lower Hutt’s Catholic Parish of Te Awakairangi – a diverse community in ethnicity, age, spirituality and interests. Formed in 2015, the parish is composed of the churches of St Michael’s, Taita, St Bernadette’s, Naenae, St Martin de Porres, Avalon and Ss Peter & Paul, Lower Hutt. There are two Catholic colleges – Sacred Heart and St Bernard’s; and three primary schools – St Michael’s, St Bernadette’s and Ss Peter & Paul. There are four religious communities. The parish covers the residential areas of Central Hutt, Avalon, Naenae, Taita, Fairfield, Alicetown, Maungaraki, Normandale, Harbour View and Belmont. Te Awakairangi is the largest of the parishes in the Wellington Archdiocese with approximately 3000 parishioners.            

Photos: Supplied

Te Awakairangi Parish

The parish was given the name Te Awakairangi after Te Reo name for the Hutt River. Over time the name grew to be used as the name for the Hutt Valley. ‘Te Awa’ means the river, and ‘kairangi’ describes it as a precious river of divine nourishment. Our parish is intimately connected to our geographical area. Water is precious and holy. It symbolises grace, cleansing and life. As Catholics we are connected by the waters of our baptism. 

Just on 100 priests have served the parish since it was founded in 1850. It is a busy parish with four services from Saturday evening to Sunday evening as well as weekday services. The parish choir usually sings at one of the Sunday services. Many parishioners are involved in special groupings and organisations carrying out a wide variety of spiritual and other ministries in the parish community. 

We celebrate our feast day on Good Shepherd Sunday.


Ours is a community of communities. In our diversity we find unity and strength as members of the Body of Christ. We belong, grow and connect – working together for the good of the whole body.

Our leadership is collaborative and transparent, encouraging active dialogue and applying the principle of subsidiarity – things that can be decided at the lowest possible level are decided at that level.

The identity of Eucharistic communities within the parish is respected and all voices are valued and listened to.

We have a preferential option for the poor, creating conditions for marginalised voices to be heard, to defend the defenceless, and to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. This calls us to strengthen the whole community to assist those who are most vulnerable.


The shepherd’s staff in the centre of our parish logo is a symbol of ‘the Good Shepherd’. Jesus said ‘I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep’ [Jn10:11], and “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ [Jn10.27]. Jesus is our good shepherd, and he is the centre of our community. We are under his guidance and protection. We listen to his voice and follow Him.

The four shades of blue flowing water represent the Hutt River, communication, peace and our communities within the parish flowing in the same direction led by the Good Shepherd.

Today there are four churches within our parish, which represent part of the long and rich tapestry of the parish history. (See Brief History panel below.)

Te Awakairangi parish is blessed with many groups and individuals who generously share their talents and missionary outreach across the community, offering fellowship, support to people in need and living the Gospel. Among them are groups for bereavement and visiting the sick, four religious communities, Catholic Women’s League, adult faith formation, Alpha, SVdP and Vinnies, Youth, Literary committees, Passionist Family; Rosary; Samoan Aulotu, Syro Malabar Mission, Filipino Chaplaincy, Soup & Toast, Shona McFarlane Catholic Communion and Liturgy; annual Christmas concerts; and many more. The following highlight just a few of these many groups and activities across this vibrant, diverse and active parish.

St Vincent de Paul Naenae – has grown significantly over recent years in numbers and initiatives. There are about 32 members, associates and volunteers. Initiatives include twice-weekly bread drop offs to families, grocery vouchers to those in need, sponsoring children at college, help with school uniforms and books, referrals to budgeting services, food parcels at Christmas and operating a weekly food-distribution centre at the church hall. Our latest initiative is to provide monthly cooking lessons during the food distribution to encourage and teach people how to cook nourishing meals at a low cost, perhaps using food received at the centre. Many who help are people who originally came to receive food for their families but now turn up faithfully every week to give their time and to help others. The following reflection was written by one such person.

‘Today’s cooking lesson was again fabulous – rich nourishing soup as well as accompaniments of garlic buttered bread and iced-chocolate cookies. I love all the recipes we have been given, but the best thing about Cooking Day is the wonderful smiley atmosphere from participants – hands on, equally chopping, stirring, blending, slicing, tasting and doing whatever needs to be done, with everyone happy to participate or simply to watch and chat. It’s a real ingredient money can’t buy. It can’t be manufactured, it happens naturally from peoples’ hearts responding to an opportunity to learn, to help, create and be together. For me this is what is meant by communion – work of human hands. For me it’s the Vinnies prayer in action: “using skills to find ways through problems, grace to act compassionately, gaining joy from our tasks”.’

St Martin’s Ladies – was formed in July 2020 after the CWL Avalon Branch closed, to keep camaraderie going for the Catholic ladies of Avalon. Better than anticipated because of its relaxed format, at 10am on the first Thursday of each month several ladies converge on Boulcott Farm Café for coffee and fellowship. All new ladies who attend St Martin de Porres Church are welcome. Now in its fourth year, St Martin’s Ladies continues to flourish. Please contact Mary Heffernan at mary.heffernan@xtra.co.nz if you would like to come along.

Catholic Women’s League – is a national organisation of Catholic women who contribute to the social, intellectual and spiritual life of the Church in New Zealand. Te Awakairangi Lower Hutt Branch, established 72 years ago, is very active and supports charitable works in New Zealand and the South Pacific. We are a welcoming group and meet on the fourth Tuesday every month. If you would like to join us, please contact Christina on 02102501649 or Lynette on 0272022929.

Soup and Toast – is an annual initiative during the winter months is the luncheon of free soup and toast for the community every Wednesday. Each week we serve upwards of 40 people a choice of three soups made by parishioners. Students from Sacred Heart College help with serving. This year bread has been donated by a local baker along with pizzas, chocolates and other treats from parishioners. Notices advertising this popular outreach are distributed throughout the Lower Hutt community to organisations such as Foodbank, Greenstone Doors and Kainga Ora.

Aulotu – Samoan communities in Te Awakairangi Parish are the Ss Peter & Paul, St Michael’s and St Bernadette’s Aulotu. The three Aulotu are part of the archdiocesan Samoan Chaplaincy and are fully active members of our parish. The parish is enriched through their services, as Aulotu and as parishioners, contributing through such ministries as choir, liturgy, church committee, parish council, Sunday school, School Board of Trustees, monthly Samoan Mass and many other celebrations.

Ss Peter & Paul Aulotu 10th anniversary celebrations, 2021.

The Filipino Chaplaincy – of the Wellington Archdiocese holds a Mass for the Filipino community every first Sunday of the month at Ss Peter and Paul Church. The Mass, normally presided by a Filipino priest, provides an opportunity to sing Filipino hymns and listen to Tagalog readings. It is a place where new Filipino arrivals, visitors and longstanding residents gather and worship in a Filipino religious and cultural context.

Members of Ss Peter & Paul Bereavement Support Group.

Ss Peter & Paul Bereavement Support Group – has for the last 19 years, kept in touch with families who have farewelled loved ones from Ss Peter and Paul Church. The group will post a card, followed with a visit a few months later with an opportunity of outreach to let the family know they have not been forgotten in their grief. Each year we invite families to a Memorial Mass in November to reflect and come together for Mass and a cup of tea/coffee. It is beneficial to realise others are also coping with the loss of loved ones.

Ss Peter & Paul Communion to the Sick and Housebound Group – has 14 parish members who volunteer to visit local people in the three rest homes associated with Ss Peter and Paul or in their own homes. People are grateful for the weekly opportunity of Holy Communion for continued spiritual strength and contact with the parish community. Priests also visit the rest homes regularly to say Mass and anoint or bless residents.

Fr Alfred gave a blessing to young people and their families before Te Awakairangi Youth headed off in their vans to go to Cambridge LifeTeen Summer camp January 2023.

Adult faith formation series – every Catholic has questions about their faith that they’ve never managed to get adequately answered. Recently, a series of evening forums were held in the parish to do exactly that. Covering topics from clericalism to sacraments, Jesus Christ to science and religion, parishioners young and old explored any aspect of these issues they wished. Many were relieved to address things they’d always wondered about and are wanting more evenings. With a chance to clarify things as they arose, issues were explored that can’t easily be covered in a short homily to an entire church assembly. Everyone left the series pondering the richness of our Catholic Christian tradition and how there is always more to discover! The Pope’s new document, Laudate Deum, will be explored next. 

Catholic Communion is held every Monday morning at Shona McFarlane Retirement Village in Avalon when 20 plus residents gather for a Liturgy of the Word and Communion. The community minister to each other with kindness and a warm welcome to newcomers. Along with prayers for the sick and those who have died, is a special prayer for vocations. Morning tea follows with friendly conversation. Several times a year an anointing Mass is held. ‘For me it is a grace-filled experience to lead this liturgy each week on behalf of the parish,’ says Mary Heffernan, St Martin de Porres parishioner.


At Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt we have two main Catholic groups – Special Character Council and Mission Council, which focus on building and celebrating the Catholic character of our kura.

Our Special Character Council meets once a fortnight to help organise events such as Masses, Liturgies, and Holy Week to promote the Catholic character around our school. Alongside this, the Mission Council promotes service in our community. 

Some of the activities we have done this year include hosting the annual Vinnies Mass, running numerous fundraisers going towards schools affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, contributing to the Lower Hutt Foodbank, Caritas Challenge, and hosting the annual St Bernard’s College and Sacred Heart College Quiz Night. 

We also work alongside the Ss Peter and Paul Parish for Sunday Mass and their Soup and Toast winter initiative. 

Both Councils are led by our DRS, Paula Davies, our 2023 Head of Special Character, Gabrielle Cabauatan, and our 2023 Tuakana, Sofia Mendoza.

This year three of our students were baptised and five confirmed in a Mass led by Fr Patrick Bridgman. We aim to bring the promises of Jesus to life in our kura. 

St Bernard’s College is an integrated Catholic Year 7 to 13 school for boys. It serves the Catholic community across the Hutt Valley and Wainuiomata area. With a maximum roll of 660 the college provides a full range of subjects and activities, while being small enough to ensure a caring, safe and personalised environment.

Our Vision is ‘to be an inspiring Catholic Learning Community which nurtures the growth of our sons’.

Our Goal is ‘to empower our learners to achieve their full potential in the Way of the Gospel’ and to grow a strong learning culture that inspires success in all of our students in partnership with whānau and community.

We strive to provide a modern teaching and learning environment that enhances innovation and quality. Learning pathways and opportunities enable our students to fulfil their potential and become caring, informed and successful citizens.

St Bernadette’s School – was opened by the Mercy Sisters in an army hut in 1948 for around 60 five- to eight-year-olds. The hut was a school from Monday to Friday and packed down to become a church for the weekend. The current school buildings opened in 1952. 

The Mercy Sisters remained at the school for 21 years. In 1970, the Presentation Sisters carried on from where the Mercys left off. They led and staffed the school for the next 25 years. St Roisin O’Donnelly planted the big chestnut tree as she left in 1995.

Our Mission Statement of ‘Loving our Learning, Living our Faith, Knowing our God’ respectfully takes us forward as part of the whakapapa of those who have gone before. We are proud of our school, our history, how we are now as a learning community, and as we move into the future. 

Every day we endeavour to live our ART values – Aroha, Respect and Truth. We know we are each a work of ART created in God’s image. Through this knowledge we always strive to live our values. This year we celebrated our 75th Jubilee. 

– Jo Buckley, Principal

Ss Peter & Paul School, Lower Hutt – was opened by Archbishop Redwood in 1929, on its current site, with the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions teaching a roll of 170 children. Considered at the time an imposing, modern two-storied brick building, it served the families of the parish well until earthquake risk closed its doors in 1975. A new look school, with its large open-plan buildings opened in 1976. Several changes have occurred to the buildings and grounds over the following years, designed to provide a great learning environment for students and staff.  

Ss Peter & Paul of today is a vibrant, multi-cultural Catholic primary school, mindful of its rich history and the dedicated efforts of all those connected to the school over many years. Set in the centre of Lower Hutt with easy access to a range of local amenities, the school aims to provide a rich and engaging education that encourages all students to flourish. 

Our vision is to nurture independent and collaborative learners who are creative, critical, and caring in their thinking, strengthened by their Catholic identity. The values of aroha, stewardship, faith, and hope are well-embraced and shine through the interactions that occur day to day in the busy, engaging life of the school. 

– Kay Tester, Principal

St Michael’s School – is in the heart of Taita and caters for students Years 1 to 8. Founded by the Presentation Sisters 70 years ago, our school is proud of its rich history and constantly seeks to further enhance its Catholic character.

We have a strong set of values at the heart of our Catholic faith that guide us throughout the school. 

We provide the best possible educational experiences for our students. Our caring, enthusiastic and dedicated teaching team, with professional support staff, are committed to making sure every child’s needs are met.

In addition to the core curriculum, we provide opportunities for students to succeed through programmes in faith, leadership, kapa-haka/pasifika groups, choir, dance, arts, music, sport and student-directed learning.

Opportunities abound for students through programmes in faith, leadership, kapa-haka/pasifika groups, choir, dance, arts, music, sport, and student-directed learning.

Religious communities

Several religious communities have lived and served in Lower Hutt over many years. Four communities reside in Lower Hutt today and are part of the parish.

At home in Lower Hutt are Columbans (l-r) Frs Larry Barnett, Michael Gormly, Don Hornsey, Pat O’Shea, Tom Rouse and Peter O’Neill (regional director, Oceania).

Columban Mission – is a residential area and an office within the Columban Region of Oceania, which includes Fiji and Australia. Our office is 18 St Columbans Grove and we have five houses in Francis Douglas Way. 

The five priests include Fr Tom Rouse, regional councillor for the region of Oceania, and Frs Michael Gormly, Don Hornsey, Pat O’Shea and Larry Barnett. Two other Columbans resident in Aotearoa-New Zealand are Fr Sean O’Connor, retired in Auckland, and Fr Paul Finlayson who is parish priest of Hastings.

We are a charitable trust and our principal work is fundraising for the Columban missionaries’ work throughout the world. We do so through the distribution of our mission magazine The Far East, the sale of our Columban Art Calendar and our annual mid-year and Christmas appeals. We also maintain a website and a Facebook page.

Each weekday we celebrate Mass at our chapel with a number of people attending. Fr Don Hornsey also celebrates a weekly Sunday Mass for the Spanish-speaking community. We support the work of the parish of Te Awakairangi by saying Mass and being available to respond to hospital calls when requested.

The Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions’ (rndm) long association with education in Lower Hutt began in 1909, staffing Ss Peter and Paul School followed by the opening of Sacred Heart College and Primary School, and a School of Music.

Srs Valerie Lawson was awarded QSO and Pauline Leonard CNZM for services in education. The rndms’ formal involvement in education ended with Srs Valerie Lawson at Sacred Heart College, retiring in 2000, Merle Hiscock resigning from Ss Peter and Paul School in 1988 to serve in Mindanao, Philippines, and Jo Kane resigning as DRS from Sacred Heart College for Leadership in our ANZ&S Province. More recently our emphasis has focused on Earth Care and ecospirituality.

Today we have six Sisters living in Te Awakairangi Parish, where we continue our Mission.

Sr Mary Paul resides in Aroha Care Centre for the Elderly and visits with co-residents as a caring and listening presence.

Sr Margaret Monaghan joined the parish community in 2021 as full-time RNDM Province Leader.

Sr Valerie Lawson and Sr Pauline Leonard enjoy mentoring and supporting roles with SHC and visiting in the parish.

Sr Trish Boyd has recently returned from mission work overseas after 24 years in Senegaland 16 years in France.

Sr Merle Hiscock continues with a ministry in Spiritual Direction and Supervision and serves on RNDM Province Leadership Team.

Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (smsm) – the Spirit of Mission blows through the Lower Hutt parish. From faith-filled families such as the Walshes, McAloons, Stewarts, Lees, Knox and Greshams, young women entered the smsm religious community.

Sr Rose

Rose Philippine McAloon (pictured) answered this call. After making her profession at the training centre in Heretaunga she taught for more than 35 years in Samoa, then at Corpus Christi Teachers’ College in Fiji. She returned often. Her last years were spent at Shona McFarlane Village and in the Burnside St community. Sr Rose died this year, aged 89. 

For four decades Lower Hutt parishioners supported women at the smsm training centre and they continued when sisters were sent as missionaries in the Pacific and beyond. Parish groups such as the Catholic Womens’ League, the Mission group and Garden

Party benefactors all contributed generously.

Sr M Dominica Knox was the first smsm to live in the parish. A qualified mental-health worker, she provided a safe temporary shelter at the Anawim Centre in Pt Howard. She later moved this ministry to Trafalgar St, Waterloo. In 1995 Heretaunga was sold and a community of smsm moved to Avalon, where they were active in the parish as pastoral visitors, Eucharistic ministers, and volunteers at Te Omanga Hospice. Our most recent move was in 2018 to Waterloo.

Marist Brothers – the first Brothers arrived in Lower Hutt in 1946, opening a primary school, which grew to a secondary school in 1952, called St Bernard’s College. It was staffed initially by Marist Brothers then lay teachers. In 2000 the Brothers established a young adult community until 2013, called ‘The Grove’. There are now three Brothers living in Lower Hutt, with a fourth in residential care in Taita. While ‘officially retired’ the Brothers activities include helping at the Petone SVdP shop, transporting food for the Food Bank, delivering bread around the Naenae parish, working with the parish SVdP Conference, and relief teaching at the English Teaching College. Br Doug Dawick says, ‘while our ministry abilities have reduced, our witness value is still an integral aspect of our presence.’

Brief history

1838: Marist brothers and priests arrived in New Zealand with Bishop Pompallier.

1843: Lower Hutt within spheres of Wellington station.

1844: Lower Hutt part of Ōtaki Mission.

1850: Parish founded as Hutt River Mission, part of new Diocese of Wellington. Sited on over two acres in High St, bordered by Hutt River, Andrews Ave. Headed by French missionary Fr Jean Forest sm, Mission territory extended beyond Hutt Valley to Wairarapa, up to Paekakariki and beyond. Parts of original Mission became separate parishes over years, including Masterton-Wairarapa, Kaikōura, Petone, Johnsonville-Western Districts, Naenae, Taita, Avalon, Stokes Valley, Lower Hutt.

1850: Fr Forest built first church of Ss Peter & Paul, and adjoining house. 

1851: Bishop Viard consecrated Ss Peter and Paul Church.

1853: Fr Forest built first Catholic school in Hutt, continues today as Ss Peter & Paul School.

1883: French priests administered Hutt Mission until 1883, succeeded by Irish, English and New Zealand-born priests.

1909: Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions began, staffed Ss Peter & Paul School, later opened Sacred Heart Primary School, College, School of Music.

1912: Hutt Valley, Upper Hutt, Trentham, became separate parish.

1927: Ss Peter & Paul Knights Rd property, then farmland, purchased.

1929: Ss Peter & Paul School relocated to new two-storey building. 

1938/39: Lower Hutt presbytery built. 

!940: Original Hutt Mission church demolished. Most of High St land sold.

1943–1945: Rapid expansion of post-war housing in Hutt Valley, Fr Leo Daly, Lower Hutt parish priest 1924–49, foresaw need for new churches and parishes. Bought land in Naenae for church, school, presbytery and hall; 4.5 acres of land in Taita, which church, school and presbytery still stand on today; Park Avenue property in Avalon for later St Martin de Porres Church.

1945: New gothic-style Ss Peter & Paul Church built. Opened, blessed by Archbishop O’Shea.

1946: First Marist Brothers arrived in Lower Hutt, opened primary school; expanded to St Bernard’s College secondary school in 1952.

1947: Fr Joe Leahy appointed first priest for St Michael’s Taita. Catholic Men’s Hut moved from Trentham Military Camp for church and school building.

1948: St Bernadette’s Naenae became parish. Fr Vincent Callaghan parish priest.

1951: St Michael’s buildings modified to also serve as school, staffed by first Order of Presentation Sisters in New Zealand. 

1952: Taita became parish under Fr Joe Leahy.

1953: St Michael’s School built.

1960: Avalon became parish, Fr Pettit, parish priest. St Martin de Porres Church completed, blessed and opened. Included faithful Polish community. 

1961: St Michael’s Church expanded, school, convent finished, presbytery completed.

1963: St Michael’s church burned to ground, Mass celebrated in community hall, new church opened 1966.

2006: Mrs Barbara Rowley appointed Lay Pastoral Leader for St Bernadette’s parish community. 

2015: Lower Hutt rejoined with Avalon, Naenae and Taita to form parish of Te Awakairangi, inheriting multicultural diversity and gifts all parishes brought.