WelCom March 2023
When I began at St Mary of the Angels in 1999 as Director of Music, I had the idea we could bring together Māori waiata and chanted karakia, with gregorian chant – two powerful streams of spiritual music. I asked the choir members if they knew anywhere in Wellington where there was a congregation celebrating Mass in Māori, and was told about the parish of Te Ngākau Tapu.
I contacted then visited Fr Colin Durning, the parish priest, to discuss whether this was going to be practical. He liked the idea, and in the course of our conversation he quoted some James K Baxter writings. I retorted I had known Jim quite well, from my days in the ’60s when I was a postie while I studied for my degree. I hadn’t clicked that Pā Colin was indeed Colin Durning to whom the Jerusalem sonnets were dedicated. Thus began a friendship that continued up to his passing last year.
I visited the congregation, and they were very prepared to entertain the idea, because of the affection and respect which they held Pā Colin. So from time to time, in company with other members of the choir, we would visit them for their Rosaries, which were at that time held on Tuesday nights, often in someone’s home.
One of those members was the enthomusicolgist and long-standing friend of mine, Allan Thomas. As we considered how to put this idea into practice, he pointed out we couldn’t bring them all the way into St Mary of the Angels, just for a few moments within a Mass. So why didn’t we make it a big occasion, like a special combined Mass on Waitangi Day?
This was such a good idea, well received by the Te Ngākau Tapu congregation, and subsequently by the pastoral team at St Mary of the Angels. The result was the first Mass on Waitangi Day in 2003 for the combined congregations, since when it has become an annual event, often, as this year, celebrated by Cardinal John Dew.
We thus celebrate our diversity as Catholics, but in a way which is unique to Aotearoa New Zealand. Since my retirement from St Mary of the Angels I have been a parishioner of Te Ngākau Tapu, where the congregation have made me very welcome, and my te reo slowly develops.
Sadly, over the 20 years, many of that original congregation have passed on, as have both Pā Colin and Allan Thomas. But the tradition continues, and I trust the partnership we have forged will continue to develop as a powerful shared spiritual expression.
Members of the choir at the 2023 Waitangi Day Mass at St Mary of the Angels Church. Photo: Supplied