WelCom February 2023
Br Kevin Dobbyn fms
Members of Te Āhi Kā o Mātaruranga – a young Catholic adult community from Palmerston North – went on a hīkoi to the Far North late last year to trace the origins of faith mission in this country, through the work of early Marists.
Throughout our journey we were warmly hosted by Marist brothers. In Northland, our guide Br Bryan Stanaway’s 20 years in the Hokianga gave him connections and knowledge to expertly lead us through our discovery.
Our group comprised Hamuera, an early childhood teacher at Mana Tamariki (full immersion school); Isaac Harris a religious education, history and social studies teacher; Tausilia, chaplain to St Peter’s College and youth officer for Palmerston North and Whanganui; Sio a theology graduate, and teacher training at Massey; and Arama, DRS at St Pius X, Glen Innes.
Arriving in Auckland we were warmly welcomed and hosted overnight by Br Denis Turner and the brothers at the Marcellin College community. The next morning we stopped in Whangarei at a street named after one of the first Marist Brothers to New Zealand, Michel Colombon.
After lunch, at the new Hundertwasser library and gallery, we travelled on to Kaikohe to be greeted by our generous host and guide, Br Samisoni.
Br Bryan took us out to Totara Point, where Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier and his party of Marist missionaries celebrated the first Catholic Mass on Aotearoa soil. Fr Bryan’s storytelling brought alive this place’s significance.
Bishop Pompallier was particularly revered by the Māori people of Hokianga and elsewhere. He had brought Catholicism to them, was sympathetic to their concerns and had an enlightened attitude towards Māori culture. Bishop Pompallier returned to France in 1868 after 36 years of missionary work in New Zealand. He died in 1871 and was buried at Puteaux near Paris.
From Totora Point we journeyed around the beautiful Hokianga Harbour to Motuti where Bishop Pompallier’s remains were reinterred in 2002, to lie beneath the altar of St Mary’s Church. Br Bryan was part of the story to bring Bishop Pompallier’s remains back to our shores from Paris.
The search for the key to raise the reliquary [relics’ container] took us Panguru. We were awe of Bryan’s connection with his former students who gave a hearty welcome.
Back at Kaikohe we attended Mass at St Anthony’s parish church, to which Marist Sisters, Marists of Champagnat – both Brothers and Lay – make a significant contribution.
Our third day, spent at Waitangi Treaty Grounds and museum, uncovered for us a fuller history of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Across the water at Kororāreka (Russell) Tracy, our guide at Pompallier Mission House, explained how hard the early French Marist brothers had worked and, sadly, were assigned and treated so differently within the ‘clerical hierarchy’ from what their founder Fr Marcellin Champagnat had envisaged for them. Champagnat set up his first community of brothers at L’Hermitage near Lyon in France to develop a mission of spirituality and educating young people. Living there here in the 1830s, the brothers had experienced far more congenial relationships.
Our visit to Russell also took us to the national shrine of St Peter Chanel as well as the hill of the flagstaff Hone Heke had cut down. We learnt he was a different man to the ‘terrorist’ history portrayed him as in the 1950s and 1960s.
Isaac Harris reflected, ‘As a teacher and lifelong student of history and religious studies, I had heard the stories about these significant places in the history of Aotearoa, and especially of the Church. To visit them, helped bring them alive and put those stories into context. It was an awesome trip, thanks to the special places we got to visit and the knowledge shared.’
Br Kevin Dobby is coordinator, Te Ahi Kaa of Matauuranga Young Adult Community, Amesbury St, Palmerston North.