St Joseph’s Parish, Papanui

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The Catholic presence in Papanui took shape in the 1870’s where it was initially part of the Diocese of Wellington under Bishop Redwood.

A building has been standing on the site since 1877. The original wooden school/chapel, measuring 39 feet x 19 feet was built in 1878. By the 1880s the original mission station in Barbadoes Street had outposts at Papanui, Addington, and Halswell.

The Education Act 1877 which introduced free, secular and compulsory primary education lead to separate education by Catholic teachers as this was considered vital to protect the faith of Catholic youth. Papanui was to be looked after by the Sisters of Mercy and Addington by the Mission Sisters.

The original wooden Church

In 1888, Father Le Menant Des Chesnais included in his report on the newly created Diocese of Christchurch that Mass attendance at Papanui was 125. The church was first listed on the 1892 parish returns.

Then, with the founding of St Mary’s Parish 1 April 1889, Papanui became part of the Christchurch North Parish. Father Theophile Le Menant des Chesnais, offered the first public Mass in the new parish on Friday 5th April 1889.

This is how things remained until Bishop Brodie, who had succeeded Bishop Grimes in 1915, managed by judicious use of Canon Law, to carve off St Joseph’s Papanui from the Marists in 1924. At the same time he also reduced St Mary’s with the formation of the Riccarton and New Brighton Parishes. While there are records of early ‘tensions’ between the Marists and the Diocesans, the Parish of St Joseph’s has enjoyed good relations with the Marist Fathers at St Bede’s College over the years.

Brick Church built in 1921

The foundation stone of the new brick church on Main North Road was laid by Bishop Brodie in 1921 so it was well ready for the formation of the new Parish under Parish Priest James Hanrahan in 1924. Over the years, a new northern wing was added and the altar transferred to the southern wall, (1956) and in 1961 the church was extended to the west and an organ loft and new sacristy built.

The original St Joseph’s Parish boundaries were marked by roads such as Marshland, Innes, Heaton, Burnside (now Memorial Ave), Russley and North to the Waimakariri.

Growth throughout Christchurch city and suburbs and an abundance of priests resulted in the creation of new parishes throughout the city. All or parts of the following parishes were originally part of Papanui:

  • Bryndwr, St Matthew’s (established in 1950)
  • Mairehau, Fatima and St Albans, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (established in 1952)
  • Burnside, Christ the King (established in 1958)
  • Bishopdale, St Gregory’s (established in 1966, merged with St Joseph’s in 2006 see below)

Parish Priests of St Joseph’s Papanui:

Mgr James Hanrahan                     Parish Priest 1924 – 1939

Fr J Mannix S.M.                              Acting P.P. 1939

Fr Patrick Timoney                         Parish Priest 1940 – 1963

Dr G. Harrison                                  1949 Admin (6 months) – Fr Timoney on sabbatical

Fr Anton O’Reilly                             Acting P.P. 1963 – 1964

Fr Gerard Kane                                Parish Priest 1964 – 1974

Fr Frank Kelly                                   1971 Admin (6 months) – Fr Kane on sabbatical

Fr Gerard Creagh                             Co Pastor 1974 – 1985

Fr T. Richard Hunter                       Co Pastor 1974 – 1985

Fr John Noonan                              Parish Priest 1985 – 1999

Fr John Fitzmaurice*                       Parish Priest 2000 – 2006

*(Fr John Fitzmaurice Parish Priest St Gregory’s from 1997. St Joseph’s and St Gregory’s combined 2006)

Fr Simon Eccleton                           Parish Priest 2006 – 2010

Fr John Adams                                 Parish Priest 2011 – 2018

Fr Benito Velasco                            Parish Priest 2019 – current

St Gregory’s Parish  

Formed from St Joseph’s Parish 1966, Re-united 2006

In the early 1960’s Bishop Ashby saw a need to develop a new parish in the North West area of Christchurch (Wairakei-Bishopdale), where there was a lot of new subdivision. On 26 January 1966, Father John Curnow was appointed the first Parish Priest of the new Wairakei area. Boundaries drawn up encroached on the already well established Papanui, Bryndwr and Burnside parishes. Initial co-operation from families now zoned in the new parish was very hesitant.

St Gregory’s original parishioners 1966-1991

On Ascension Thursday, 19 May 1966, at 26 Richards Avenue, Henry Connor hosted and chaired the first parish meeting. Father John outlined his hopes and aims for the new parish and received full support from those present. Five days later parishioners and well-wishers gathered at the Presbytery at 3 Arlington Street to celebrate the first Mass of a new parish.

On 17 July 1966, at 9am, 300 parishioners gathered together at the Papanui Working Men’s Club to celebrate the first public Mass in the new Parish. By September the demand was there for an earlier Mass at 7.30am. There were those who suggested that a strong sense of community was fostered as they relaxed in the warmth and comfort of familiar surroundings. The Masses were celebrated in the largest room at this complex – the main Public Bar! The first Parish General meeting was held at the Working Men’s Club on 28 August 1966, with an attendance of over 150.

The Provincial of the Sisters of St Joseph conferred with Bishop Ashby and Father John Curnow, and they agreed to send two Sisters to work in this newly formed parish. Sisters Josephine Oates, and Lucille McKay commenced work in January 1967. They resided at their Convent in Shirley and travelled in their Ford Anglia each day. An average of fifteen homes a day were visited in the first two months.

St Gregory’s

At 2.30pm on Sunday 18 June 1967, Bishop Brian Ashby officially blessed and declared open St Gregory the Great Parish Church Hall. It had cost $44,000 furnishings totalling $10,000. A Government grant of $2,600 was given to meet costs on the agreement that the building was to be used for community use as well as a centre for Mass. There were four Masses each Sunday.

In 1968, 419 pupils were being taught C.C.D; 322 of these were being instructed in homes. In 1969 there were 500 pupils from primers to High School level. A need for a C.C.D. Hall was urgent. On 24 September 1969, after the 10am Mass Bishop Ashby blessed and opened the new C.C.D. Hall. This hall was multi-functional too. When C.C.D. classes weren’t being taken it was used by St Johns Anglican Church, the Samoan Seventh Day Adventists, Girl Guides, and a Creche as well  as being available for private functions.

In 1987, the back wall of the Sanctuary was moved forward. This allowing for the creation of a sizeable area behind it to be converted into a Chapel and a Reconciliation room. By the mid 80’s the two homes the Parish owned needed major repairs so some subdivision took place which resulted in a lovely new home available to the Sisters.

The greatest event in the history of St Gregory’s was the visit of Mother Teresa, in February 1973. All other events pale into insignificance besides this. The parishioners were invited to be host to a living Saint. Her message of love and simplicity reminds us, that we too have our Calcutta. We in our Society must respond to the needs of our neighbours. After Mother Teresa had spoken to a maximum crowd she had lunch at the Sisters’ house.

St Gregory’s Parish formally merged with St Joseph’s Parish in 2006.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to David Green for providing a summarized parish history


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St Joseph’s Parish, Papanui