On August 1840, about 57 settlers, 12 German and the rest French, disembarked from the Comte de Paris. The Catholics among them formed the founding nucleus of what would become St Patrick’s parish, Akaroa.
On arrival they were met on the beach by Frs. Jean-Baptiste Comte and Jean Pezant and Brother Florentin Françon. These three Marist missionaries had travelled from the Bay of Islands on the Aube which had anchored in the bay in front of the present day recreation ground on 16 August 1840. The first recorded Mass was celebrated on the foreshore on Sunday 23 August 1840.
Accompanied by Fr Jean-André Tripe, Bishop Pompallier arrived on the Sancta Maria, on 2 October 1840. He commissioned a small church, roughly six metres by four, built on rammed clay and dedicated to Ss Philip and James. It was completed in February 1841 for 1200 francs. Mission funds from France met the cost. The Bishop then returned to the north, leaving Fr Tripe to pastor the settlers and Fr Comte to evangelise the Maori. After his six months experience in the Hokianga, Fr Comte found comparatively few Maori around Banks Peninsula, and many of these were already Methodist. So in March 1842 he and Br Florentin went back to the North Island where there were better opportunities for a Maori Mission. Fr Tripe remained alone till November, then discouraged by the few demands made on his ministry, he returned to the Bay of Islands, leaving the infant colony without a priest. Fr Comte visited Akaroa from Otaki in 1844, 1845, 1847 and 1848.
During his two-week visit in April 1844, the Bishop commissioned a larger Church which was built by the crew of the Rhin on the hillside terrace they had cut out near the French cemetery. It was about twice the size of the first clay building but constructed more lightly of timber. Dedicated to St Mary, it blew down in 1849 and was never rebuilt.
In 1850 the Catholic Mission in New Zealand was divided in two. Bishop Philippe Viard based in Wellington, assumed responsibility for the lower half of the North Island and all the South Island. In May 1850 he sent Father Antoine Séon and Brother Euloge Charbany to Akaroa, with Father Jean-Simon Bernard following in September. The Canterbury Association agent would not recognise the title to the Catholic mission land. And he evicted the missionaries who returned to Wellington in mid 1851. After this, occasional visits by a priest from Wellington had to sustain the small settlement till the beginning of the next decade. Fr Séon had brought the original clay church back into use. It served for subsequent priest visits until St Patrick’s was opened in 1865. No trace of it remains.
A grant of land by the Provincial Government for a Catholic church in Christchurch led Bishop Viard to send two priests there in May 1860. One was the veteran Fr Séon. His companion was new to the New Zealand Mission, Fr Jean-Baptiste Chataigner. The following year Fr Séon was replaced by the younger, recently ordained Fr Claude Chervier.
These priests, all Marists, methodically visited their huge territory which initially lay between the Hurunui and Waitaki rivers and the Southern Alps, and included Akaroa. With grants from the Provincial Government, they had churches built at Christchurch (1864), Lyttelton and Akaroa (1865) and at Brackenridge near Amberley in 1866.The confiscated Catholic property had later been replaced by several piecemeal grants of land. It was on these that St Patrick’s was built.
Mr John Patrick Cullen built St Patrick’s Church under the direction of Fr J-B Chataigner – known as the Apostle of Canterbury—helped by a grant of one hundred pounds from the Provincial Canterbury Government.
Taken from the Akaroa Parish website:
The St Patrick’s Parish Akaroa includes the Little River district. The first Mass in Little River was offered by Father Tracey at Mr Keenan’s home on the coach road in the 1880’s. Mass was offered every three months by a priest from Lyttleton and the people provided $8 for the trip. In 1889, the priests came from Akaroa in the persons of Father Purton, Dean Bowers and Father Dunham. About 1900, the Lincoln priest looked after Little River from about two years until Father Kennedy took over from Akaroa in 1903 and this situation has remained until today.
In the early days Mass was celebrated in the school, later in the Maori Hall and finally in the old Library near the doctor’s home. But in the early 1900’s the people bought an old school and half and acre of land from Mr Allan at a cost of $200. They painted and improved it so that it served the purpose of a Church very well. The Church remained in use until 1925 when the new stone Church was opened. The roads were very poor in the early days and the priest would ride a horse over to Little River on Saturday night, stay the night and offer Mass the next morning. Mass was usually celebrated every second Sunday.
Father Bonetto was the last of the priests to use the horse as a means of transport over the hill. Father Seward used a motor-cycle and Father Gallagher was the first to you a car. It was an Essex and made the journey over the hill less arduous. It was a little hard on tyres however, a new set being necessary every six weeks or so. It was in Father Gallagher’s time that the Church of St John the Evangelist was built. The stone of the Church was from the Halswell quarry and a local man, Mr Renaldi, supplied from his own property the stone for the fence. Most of the furnishings were donated – the marble altar by Mr Tom Quealy, the lights by Mr Watson, the Stations of the Cross by Mr Fahey and the statues by Mr Keenan. The Church stands near the main road. Due to earthquake damage the church is now closed.
Taken from the Akaroa Parish website: