Ashburton 1st Church


Church Name: Holy Name

(photo courtesy of Marist Archives, Wellington)

The name of this church is likely to have been Holy Name, as all later churches in the parish were known, but there is one reference to it having been called St Augustine’s

The first church of what was to become the Ashburton Parish was designed by Benjamin Mountfort at the time when the area was still part of the New Headford Mission under the care of Fr Jean Claude Chervier SM. It was opened on July 16, 1876 by Fr Claffey and Fr Chervier. The small wooden building was designed to seat about 200 and served a Catholic population of 900 widely scattered throughout the rural areas of the Ashburton County. When Bishop Redwood visited in 1879 canvas was used to extend the church so the crowd could be accommodated

When Fr Chervier opened a school in Ashburton in October 1880 the church also became the classroom.

Fr Edmund Patrick Coffey became Ashburton’s first parish priest on March 9, 1881. At his first meeting with parishioners he told them they would have to build a new church. His thoughts were reinforced when Bishop Redwood asked him if he still had a tent for a church in Ashburton.

By May the decision to build a new church had been made. Fr Coffey announced “I will have the foundation stone of a new church laid before the year is out and two thirds of the cost must be in the bank before the stone is laid”. He immediately collected £590 from his congregation.

The need to build a presbytery first slowed progress slightly and it was Easter Monday 1882 before the men of the parish cleared the way for the new building by moving the little wooden church to a new site in Havelock Street where it became the parish school.

It continued in that role until 1951 when it was moved sideways to allow a new school to be built. It then became the parish hall, and at times overflow classrooms, continuing in that role until 1974.


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Ashburton 1st Church