The little Catholic Church at Waimea West Nelson is celebrating its 150th jubilee next month, making it one of the oldest churches in New Zealand.
In June 1852, Fr Antoine Garin of Nelson applied to the government for land to build a church at Waimea West and two acres were granted. Subsequently Waimea West Catholics received 79 pounds as their share of trust funds for religious purposes.
Three hundred pounds was also raised from the community and the church was completed at the end of 1855.
In 1896, the original building of white pine (kahikitea) had deteriorated and was pulled down (and used as a stable at the church) and the present day church was erected.
The year before the church opened, young Francis Redwood whose family lived in the area, left at the age of 15 to study in France with the Marist Order. He returned 20 years later as bishop of Wellington and subsequently became the archbishop. He is remembered by a plaque at the entrance gates of the church.
In 1935, Waimea West became part of the Motueka parish until 1959 when it joined the Richmond parish which included Stoke, Wakefield and Tapawera.
Fr Bradford, who had been appointed to Motueka in 1950 was made parish priest.
Energetic and practical from a farming background, Fr Bradford was adept at putting his shoulder to the wheel and press-ganging parishioners to do the same.
He had a facility with animals that were frequently grazed in the immediate church vicinity and to find the sacristy full of sheep fleeces was not unusual.
Fr Bradford holds a special place in the memory of Waimea West parishioners and at the celebrations in December, a special plaque will be unveiled.
The pleasant well maintained aspect of the church and cemetery is mainly due to the largesse of Emma Ann O’Connor who left the proceeds of her estate to be spent on this church.