Archives and History


Archdiocesan Archives conserves church documents in an accessible manner and provides an information service on matters relating to the church.

Archival material is currently unavailable due to the re-housing of the archives. If the matter is urgent please contact the Property Team on

History of the Archdiocese

In June 1848, Pope Pius IX decreed that New Zealand should be divided into two dioceses, Auckland, consisting of the Auckland province and Wellington, consisting of the rest of New Zealand. Bishop Philip Viard was appointed as Wellington’s first bishop and arrived on the barque “Clara” on 1 May 1850. With him was a band of five Marist priests, 10 lay brothers, two male teachers, three Māori and four young women eager to join a religious order and to teach. Thus the Diocese of Wellington came into existence.

But before this, the Catholic faith had been sustained through the efforts of Dr John Fitzgerald who arrived in Wellington on 31 January 1840. He led the Sunday prayers and organised Christian Doctrine classes. He was followed by the first resident priest, the Capuchin, Fr Jeremiah O’Reily in January 1843, and within a year the first, small Catholic church was built and dedicated to the Nativity. Meanwhile the Auckland-based French Marists travelled extensively throughout the country and Fr J.B.Comte SM established a permanent mission at Otaki in 1844.

On his arrival, Viard bought land in Thorndon on which a bishop’s residence and St Mary’s Convent were built and the cathedral foundation stone was laid. With the arrival of three new Marist priests in 1859, Viard was able to send pastors to New Plymouth, Christchurch, and later to Dunedin. Following the discovery of gold in the late 1850s and 1860s, expansion of the church was rapid on the West Coast, and in Dunedin which became a separate diocese in 1869. The Irish priests followed the thousands of Irish miners and their families to the diggings and the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions also arrived to establish convents and schools in Napier, Christchurch and Nelson.

Bishop Viard died on 2 June 1872 and was succeeded by Rev Francis Redwood SM who was to remain bishop for 61 years. The diocese was raised to an archdiocese on 10 May 1887 and Christchurch became a separate diocese. Rev Thomas O’Shea SM became his coadjutor bishop in 1913 and remained so for 22 years. With Redwood’s death in 1935, O’Shea took full control of the archdiocese for the next 12 years until failing faculties forced his replacement. Rev Peter McKeefry was appointed archbishop in 1947 and succeeded O’Shea in 1954. During his 28 years, the Catholic population more than doubled from approximately 75,000 to over 150,000 and this resulted in 39 new parishes being established . To help meet the needs, numerous religious congregations were sought.

McKeefry died in 1973 as the challenges of the Second Vatican Council were beginning to be felt. Archbishop Reginald Delargey began the implementation process but died within five years, to be succeeded by Archbishop Thomas Williams, raised to a cardinal in 1983. He retired in March 2005, and Archbishop John Dew was installed on 7 April 2005.

The latest synod took place on the weekend of Pentecost, 2-4 June 2006. Synod 06 followed two previous synods in 1988 and 1998. Drawing on the theme of ‘salt and light’ (Mt 5), the synod called together some 350 representatives of all parishes and archdiocesan agencies to a series of workshops focusing on six themes chosen after 18 months of discussion and one-on-one interviews with parishioners. They are: liturgy, prayer and spirituality; education and life-long growth in faith; a welcoming community; the young church; ministry and local leadership and social justice – our responsibility. Following the synod, parishes have been encouraged to build on the themes and adopt them as their own by working through the synod booklet in discussion workshops.

In January 2014 the people of the archdiocese heard that their Archbishop, John Dew, was to be made a Cardinal by Pope Francis.

The Archbishop of Wellington is responsible for the pastoral care of the 83,214 (2006 census) Catholics living in the Archdiocese.

The Archdiocese comprises 22 parishes spanning the central New Zealand area from a line between Levin and Masterton in the north to the southern boundary from Kaikoura to Westport.