Pope St John Paul II relic in Motueka

Research into the origins of the altar at St Peter Chanel Church in Motueka has uncovered the following story. By Triona Doocey

The altar at St Peter Chanel Church in Motueka. Photo: Supplied

WelCom October 2022

Triona Doocey

Research into the origins of the altar at St Peter Chanel Church in Motueka has uncovered the following story.

In November 1986 Pope John Paul II visited Aotearoa New Zealand, the first reigning Pontiff to do so. As part of his itinerary, the Pope flew to Christchurch where, at Lancaster Park at 10.45am on 23 November 1986, he celebrated the Eucharist. 

For this Mass, it was necessary to construct an altar of a comfortable height for the Pope and to a length that accommodated those concelebrating the Mass. 

Extant archives from the Papal Tour indicate Brian Phillips was responsible for the construction of the Mass platform at Lancaster Park. which presumably included the construction of the altar. It is difficult to establish the cost of the altar itself because all the costings refer to the platform or stage.

Meanwhile in Motueka, work was underway to build a new, larger church for the St Peter Chanel Parish. As the building was nearing completion in 1988, a new altar was required, suitable for the large sanctuary. Fr Jim Davis, the then parish priest, and the driving force behind the build, recalled the altar used by the Pontiff two years earlier. Fr Jim contacted the administrator of the Cathedral in Christchurch, the late Fr Miles O’Malley, to find out what had happened to the altar following the 1986 visit of Pope John Paul II. Jim was told the altar was no longer used and was in storage. Fr Miles agreed to Jim Davis’ request to purchase it. The price of $200 was agreed to and paid. 

The altar was duly set up in the now completed church. Attached to the underside of the altar was a relic of St Peter Chanel, donated to the parish by Mrs Ina Stephens. On 30 October 1988, the new St Peter Chanel Church was consecrated by his eminence Cardinal Thomas Williams DD. 

To complete the history of the altar, and relic from Pope St John Paul II, we invite any readers who may have relevant information to get in touch. Can anyone add to the story and confirm who made the altar, what wood was used in the construction, and what was the cost of the altar? Please email the Diocesan Archivist in the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch (archives@cdoc.nz) who will forward all information to the Parish of St Peter Chanel.