Catholic Development Fund

The mid-20th Century “baby boom” ignited an explosion in New Zealand school rolls. The number of new pupils in primary and secondary levels almost overwhelmed the education sector through the 1950s and 1960s. New schools sprang up and old schools were expanded to cope with the influx of school-aged children.

Catholic schools were not exempt. Dioceses around the country faced huge costs as their schools required extensive additions to buildings and facilities. This situation was exacerbated following the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act of 1975.  Integration required significant upgrading of school property before Catholic schools could be accepted into the State system.

It seems Christchurch Catholic Bishop Edward Joyce had spoken earlier about a solution to the schooling resourcing needs. He discussed his idea of establishing a diocesan fund to assist the catholic schools of the Christchurch Diocese. A senior priest of the diocese, Fr Colin Curnow, applauded the idea. He called it “the brainchild of Bishop Joyce”.

Bishop Joyce died before he could take action. However, his successor, Bishop Brian Ashby, grasped the idea in 1964 and refined it. He steered the idea to reality and the Christchurch Diocesan Catholic Education Fund was established in 1967.

In December 2022 the fund celebrates its 55th birthday. That marks 55 years of contributions, firstly to Catholic schools, and then to various causes within the Diocese of Christchurch. These came mostly in the form of loans and distributions.

Images from the first promotional brochure for the Christchurch Diocesan Catholic Education Fund

The fund’s name has changed twice, reflecting the purpose of the fund extending from education to encompass the wider Catholic community.  By the early 1980s as schools became integrated funding demands were easing.  Meanwhile, the needs of other diocesan organisations were rising. The name Christchurch Catholic Diocesan Development Fund, therefore, was adopted as the fund broadened its contributory scope to encompass a range of projects and causes. These include loans for schools, churches, presbyteries, and parish centres and distributions to the bishop to support social services and pastoral works.  

The ‘trading name’, Catholic Development Fund (CDF), was applied in 1997, allowing consistency with Australian funds.  The Christchurch fund has worked closely with its Melbourne counterpart and New Zealand funds, allowing for major gains in the use of shared technology and systems administration. 

The CDF’s 55th birthday may revive memories of its establishment and its activities. Only a few documents relating to the fund are held in the Christchurch Diocesan Archives. They provide figures from some years that indicate the immensity of the fund’s growth through people’s deposits and investments, and the volume of contributions it has provided.

They also show the extent of lay involvement in the governance of the CDF. Each Bishop of Christchurch since Bishop Ashby has been grateful for the trustees who, with their professional experience in banking, accounting, law, and communications, set the strategic direction of the fund whilst being guided by an investment policy based on Catholic teachings. 

Over the last 55 years, the fund has grown to hold deposits of up to $30m.  During this period, nearly all parishes and schools within the Christchurch Diocese have benefitted from CDF loans to help fund their own projects.  As concrete examples of contributions in the 1970s and 1980s: Bishopdale, as a new city parish, took a loan towards building purposes; Hawarden, as a small rural parish, took a loan to help convert its empty convent to a presbytery.  Building development works continue today with over $4m currently on loan for the building of new classrooms, in schools across the diocese, due to school roll growth. 

Statements by Diocesan Administrator Eugene Sullivan, in 1999, indicate the positive value of the fund. He saw the fund as “the financial future” of the Christchurch Diocese, and a “very good source of income for the diocese”. He quoted the bishop as saying he believed “the fund is bringing the diocese together”.  Today, the fund is equally important to Bishop Michael Gielen, who as the eleventh bishop of Christchurch sees the CDF as a “practical way of loving the Church and supporting the good works of this diocese”.

For information on the CDF and opportunities to ‘invest in good’ please visit 


Many thanks to Michael Crean and the CDF team for putting this story together for the CDOC Archives.


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