Church Name: Probably not named. Later became St Leo’s Academy

(photo courtesy of Marist Archives, Wellington)

This church was probably not named.

On Rosary Sunday, October 18, 1860, the first Catholic church in Christchurch was opened. Its construction came after a meeting following a Mass celebrated at the Royal Hotel in Oxford Terrace on September 3, 1860. At that meeting Catholics were told they ran the risk of losing land granted to them in Barbadoes Street by the Canterbury Provincial Council if it was not occupied within days.

In an attempt to meet the provincial council’s deadline the two priests resident in Christchurch, Fr Antoine Seon SM and Fr Jean-Baptiste Chataigner SM, had made a start on erecting a house for themselves three months earlier, intending also to celebrate Mass there for the town’s small number of Catholics, but there is no evidence it was completed.

The arrival of a large number of Catholics on the William Miles in August 1860 made a larger building possible, in fact necessary. Following the meeting a builder, Mr Coxhead, was employed and a foundation stone was laid on September 7 with five people present, including the builder and two of his men.

The church, measuring 24 feet by 18 feet, was built in Mr Coxhead’s yard and carted to the site. It was completed in three weeks, by September 28, at a cost of £75.

A wing was added later in 1860 and another in 1861 to create a living area for the priests and a small sanctuary was added by Mr Isaac Sheath in thanksgiving for his family’s safe arrival in New Zealand. This gave it the form shown in this illustration. After the new Church of the Blessed Sacrament was opened in 1864 the original building was absorbed into the presbytery, a purpose it filled until 1879, when the whole building was converted into a school, St Leo’s Academy.

The school closed in 1885 after which the building had a variety of other uses, including becoming a parish library and a residence for the Marist brothers.   When it was destroyed by fire in 1903 it was being used as the Catholic clubrooms.


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