WelCom June 2019:
‘A man of the people’
Fr John Pearce CP, much-loved parish priest of the parish of the Star of the Sea – Te Whetu O Te Moana, Marlborough, died suddenly on Sunday 5 May. Our deepest sympathy and prayers go to Fr John’s family in Australia (two brothers and a sister and their families) to the parish and to the Passionist family. May he rest in peace.
Fr John Pearce, 68, came over from Sydney to Blenheim and Marlborough in January 2017 and took up the position of parish priest of one of the largest parishes in New Zealand, the Parish of Te Whetu o te Moana – Star of the Sea. The parish had been amalgamated one year previously from the former parishes of Picton, including Havelock and the Marlborough Sounds, Blenheim, Renwick, Seddon, Ward and Kaikōura. The parish covers the total of Marlborough Province with the District of Kaikōura.
Fr John made his Passionist Profession on January 9, 1971. He was ordained on February 28, 1976. Prior to coming to New Zealand his main appointments were as parish priest at St Brigid’s Marrickville, NSW, and St Paul the Apostle, Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.
On Sunday morning, 5 May, Fr John had given a lively sermon at St Mary’s Church, Blenheim, encouraging parishioners to live their faith daily, by being in it, being present and aware. He died suddenly that afternoon as he was preparing to travel to Rome.
Close to 550, including members of Fr John’s family, attended his funeral at the Marlborough Convention Centre in Blenheim on Saturday 11 May, reflecting the great respect everyone had for him. Cardinal John Dew officiated with several priests concelebrating.
Cardinal John said, ‘our parishes are about building loving supportive communities, reaching out to one another and creating places and spaces where everyone feels accepted and welcomed, where they know they belong. At the Vigil on Friday 10 May and at the Mass on the Saturday, the constant message was one of thanks for the way John had “connected” so many people and so many diverse communities in the vast Marlborough area. It was his witness and his reaching out to others that was deeply appreciated.’
Parish assistant priest, Fr Pat McIndoe, said Fr John worked tirelessly to connect with people, to engage with them and to encourage them to use their gifts in a spirit of stewardship for the benefit of the Catholic community. ‘He reached out to many diverse people and showed them they had dignity, that they were loved by God, and they could give a valuable contribution to the mission of Christ. He had vision, a great sense of humour and loved to show hospitality to others – to welcome them as friends. He was a member of the Provincial Council of the Passionists of the Holy Spirit Province, which includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. He was a practical person, but also with a great vision in the spirit of Pope Francis to help people embrace the Mission of the Church. He will be greatly missed.’
In his eulogy, Parish Council Chair Greg Stretch spoke about what Fr John meant to parishioners.
“During his two and a half years as our parish priest, John impressed us all with his strong commitment to bringing the wider parish community together following the amalgamation of the various parishes that now make up the Star of the Sea. John travelled between Picton, Havelock, Renwick, Blenheim, Seddon, Ward and Kaikōura to ensure everyone was included on this journey. Following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake John became a frequent flyer with Sounds Air, ensuring that community continued to be supported.
John wanted to grow the church as a community. He understood our church was our people, not our places of worship. He was very passionate about our faith and getting out into the community. He also spent many hours with students at our schools throughout the parish talking and joking with them in his warm and unique way.
John was larger than life, a people person. He was interested in where people came from and where they were going. He could see skills in them and drag them into ministry and expand their horizons and in such a way that you couldn’t say no.
I recall early in our friendship Fr John saying to me ‘for Pete’s sake, just call me John’. He had no airs or graces and was most definitely a man of the people. We’ve spent many hours together since discussing not only church matters, but also sport and particularly his love of the Parramata Eels.
He had talents in many areas – music, interior design, creating events and was so eloquent. He was always smiling and enjoyed a good laugh and a good natter. John was a great story teller.
John embraced New Zealand Māoritanga and had recently started to learn Te Reo Māori. John started the inter-faith relations in Marlborough and was also heavily involved in the Blenheim Christian Ministers Association. He was a prime mover behind a vigil in Blenheim to honour the victims and families of the Christchurch mosque shootings. And recently John was made an Airforce chaplain at Base Woodbourne, earning him an Airforce ID card, of which he was very proud.
John delivered thought-provoking sermons that always resonated and made you reflect on your faith. He often used his own life stories growing up in Australia, peppered with humour and that famous smile. He was very active in his role, often travelling back to Australia for meetings and being involved in the 300 Jubilee Commission in Rome. John was also instrumental in driving the Passionist family groups within the parish.
He was well liked and will be missed. This is evidenced not only by the people here today, but also the many tributes from here and abroad to farewell a much loved and respected man.
My last words to John were ‘safe travels and have a great time in Rome and say hi to the big fella for me’. I meant the Pope but it seems John had other ideas.
John, you are in a better place now. Look down on us all with a happy heart knowing that we will continue to use our time and talents.
Rest in Peace Father John.”