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Catholic Church in New Zealand

  (Redirected from Roman Catholicism in New Zealand)

The Catholic Church in New Zealand is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, which, inspired by the life, death and teachings of Jesus Christ, and under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and Roman curia in Vatican City (within Rome) is the largest Christian church in the world.

Catholic settlers first arrived in the 1820s, with British settlement of New Zealand. Catholicism is the largest New Zealand Christian denomination having, according to the 2013 census, 492,384 members or around 11.07 percent of the total population.[1] In New Zealand there is one Archdiocese (Wellington) and five suffragan dioceses (Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton and Palmerston North). There are 530 priests and 1200 men and women religious.[citation needed]



In the 2013 Census, 47.9 percent of the population identified themselves as Christians, while another 38.55 percent indicated that they had no religion and around 7 percent affiliated with other religions.[2] The main Christian denominations are: Catholics (11.07 percent); Anglicans (10.33 percent), Presbyterians (7.44 percent) and "other Christians" (14.63 percent).[2] The 2013 census has shown an actual decline in Catholic adherents with a fall of some 16,000 members. However, the 2013 census also showed that the decline in the membership of the mainline non-Catholic denominations was greater and that the Catholic Church had become the largest New Zealand Christian denomination, passing the Anglican Church for first time in history.[1] The percentage of Catholics in the 1901 Census was 14 percent, though at that time the church was only the third largest denomination.[3]

Regionally, the West Coast and Taranaki have the largest proportion of Catholics: 16.8 percent and 15.5 percent respectively at the 2013 census. Meanwhile, Tasman and Gisborne have the lowest proportion of Catholics at 7.4 percent and 8.2 percent respectively.[4]

Approximately 25% of New Zealand Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass compared to 60% in the late 1960s.[5] In recent times numbers of priests, nuns and brothers have declined, and the involvement of laypeople has increased. Catholic organisations in New Zealand remain heavily involved in community activities including education; health services; chaplaincy to prisons, rest homes, and hospitals; social justice and human rights advocacy.[6][7] Catholic charities active in New Zealand include the St Vincent de Paul Society,[8] and Caritas Internationalis.[9] Recent political engagement by New Zealand Bishops have included statements issued in relation to: indigenous rights and Treaty of Waitangi issues; the rights of refugees and migrants; and promoting restorative Justice over retributive justice in New Zealand.[6]

The Catholic Church in New Zealand had priests imprisoned for child sexual abuse. There were "at least three priests" convicted and several were criticised for allowing abuse to continue. The abuse was on a much lower scale than in Australia and other countries because the Catholic church had "a less prominent role in education and social welfare". In 2000 the church acknowledged and apologised for the abuse of children by clergy, putting in place protocols and setting up a national office to handle abuse complaints.[10][11]


The first Catholic School in New Zealand was opened in 1840, the year the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, at Kororareka and was called St Peter's School.[12] Initially Catholic missionaries, led by Bishop Pompallier, focused on schools for Māori. It was therefore Catholic laymen who in 1841 established a school for the sons of settlers. This school was Auckland's first school of any sort.[13][14][15] In 1877, the new central government passed a secular Education Act and the Church decided to establish its own network of schools. The system expanded rapidly. However, by the early 1970s, the Catholic system was on the brink of financial collapse trying to keep up with the post-WWII baby boom, suburban expansion, extension of compulsory education from six to nine years, and smaller class sizes. In 1975, the Third Labour Government passed the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act, which allowed the financially strapped Catholic school system to integrate into the State system. This means the school could receive government funding and keep its Catholic character in exchange for having the obligations of a state-run school, such as teaching the state curriculum. The land and buildings continue to be owned by the local bishop or a religious order and are not government-funded; instead parents pay "attendance dues" for their upkeep. Between 1979 and 1984, all but one Catholic school integrated into the state system.[16]

In June 2013, there were 190 Catholic primary schools in New Zealand and 50 secondary schools.[17] Around 86,000 students were enrolled in 2015, or just under 10 percent of all students in the New Zealand school system.[18][19] About 78% of New Zealand Catholic children attend Catholic schools.[19] Academically, the schools do very well. Between 1994 and 2010, the rolls in Catholic schools increased by almost 22 percent.[20] The New Zealand Catholic Education Office (NZCEO) assists in the running of Catholic schools in New Zealand.

Dioceses, Bishops and ReligiousEdit



Jean Baptiste Pompallier, first bishop of Oceania, residing in New Zealand, depicted on a glass-in-lead window in Tonga.

The first Christian service conducted in New Zealand waters may have occurred if Father Paul-Antoine Léonard de Villefeix, the Dominican chaplain of the French navigator, Jean-François-Marie de Surville celebrated Mass in Doubtless Bay, near Whatuwhiwhi, on Christmas Day, 1769.[21][22] Nearly 70 years later, in January 1838, another Frenchman, Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier (1807–1871) arrived in New Zealand as the Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania. He made New Zealand the centre of his activities, which covered a vast area in the Pacific. He celebrated his first Mass in New Zealand at Totara Point, Hokianga, at the home of an Irish family, Thomas and Mary Poynton and their children, on 13 January 1838. Pompallier was accompanied by members of the Society of Mary (Marists), and more soon arrived. The mission headquarters were established in Kororareka (later called Russell) where the Marists constructed a building (now called Pompallier) in pisé and set up a printing press. As well as stationing missionaries in the north, Pompallier began work in the Bay of Plenty, and in the Waikato amongst Māori, and in Auckland and Wellington areas amongst European settlers.[23] In 1840, New Zealand became a British colony with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The number of Catholic colonists comprised fewer than 500, from a total population of around 5000.

The Catholic Church established New Zealand as a separate vicariate in 1842.[24]

The mission splitsEdit

As a result of disagreement between Pompallier and Jean-Claude Colin, Superior of the Marists in France, Rome agreed to divide New Zealand into two ecclesiastical administrations from 1850. Pompallier became Bishop of Auckland and the Marist Bishop Philippe Viard (1809–1872) took charge of Wellington, which included the southern half of the North Island and the whole of the South Island. This decision meant that much of the Māori mission in the North (where most Māori lived) was abandoned as all the Marists working in what became the Auckland diocese, including those who spoke Māori, moved to Wellington. However, Pompallier who was in Europe in 1850, returned to New Zealand with more priests, the first Sisters of Mercy and ten seminarians, whose training was quickly completed. All but one of them were ordained within five weeks and their training was the origin of St Mary's Seminary founded in that year.[25]

Increasingly the Catholic Church was preoccupied with meeting the needs of the settler community. Many of the Catholic settlers were from Ireland, with some from England and Scotland. In the 19th century some were from English recusant gentry families, including Sir Charles Clifford, 1st Baronet (first Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives), Frederick Weld (sixth Prime Minister of New Zealand) and their cousin William Vavasour.

The Wellington diocese was divided into three dioceses, with Dunedin (1869) and later Christchurch (1887) being established in the South Island[26] In 1887, New Zealand became a separate ecclesiastical province, the hierarchy was established, with Wellington becoming the archiepiscopal see and in 1900 Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, a national seminary for the training of priests, was opened. In 1906, when New Zealand was created a Dominion, there were 126,995 Catholics out of a total European settler population of 888,578.[24]


Following 1850, the Māori mission continued in the Auckland diocese in an attenuated form and could not be revived until after the New Zealand land wars of the 1860s. The survival of the Maori church during the remaining decades of the 19th century was in large part due to Maori catechists, many of them trained at Pompallier's St Mary's Seminary.[27] James McDonald was the only missionary to the Māori in the late 1870s. In 1880, Archbishop Steins, the Bishop of Auckland, gave McDonald charge of the Māori mission.[28] In 1886, Bishop Luck obtained Mill Hill Fathers for the mission. In spite of inadequate resources, the priests were very active. Some, like Father Carl Kreijmborg were "builder-priests", themselves erecting churches. They also started credit unions, piggeries, dairy farms, and co-operative stores. Many of the priests were German or Dutch and they made lifelong commitments to their Māori communities. Some became more proficient in Te reo Māori than in English. In the Wellington diocese the Marists continues their work, to a limited extent, amongst Māori, notably at Otāki. Mother Aubert (see below) contributed significantly in Hawke's Bay and later in Jerusalem. Catholic Secondary schools for Māori were established: St Joseph's Māori Girls' College, Napier (1867) by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions; Hato Petera College, Northcote (1928) by the Mill Hill Fathers (later staffed by the Marist Brothers who had arrived in New Zealand in 1876); and, in 1948, Hato Paora College was opened by the Marist Fathers.[29] The first Māori priest, Father Wiremu Te Awhitu was ordained in 1944 and the first Māori bishop, Bishop Max Mariu was ordained in 1988.

Religious ordersEdit

Many religious orders came to New Zealand. The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Auckland in 1850 and were the first order of religious sisters to come to New Zealand and began work in health care and education.[30] The Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions arrived in Napier in 1867. When Patrick Moran arrived as the first Catholic Bishop of Dunedin in February 1871, he was accompanied by ten Dominican nuns from the Sion Hill Convent, Dublin, and they proceeded to establishing their schools within days of unpacking.[31] In 1876, the same bishop obtained the services of the Christian Brothers who opened their Dunedin school in that year. In 1880, the Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth came from Bathurst to Whanganui where they opened 7 schools between 1880 and 1900.[32] The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart arrived in New Zealand in 1883 and established their first community at Temuka, South Canterbury.[33] During the next twenty years Mary MacKillop (St Mary of the Cross), the founder of that congregation, visited New Zealand four times to support her sisters.[34] Suzanne Aubert, who had come to New Zealand in 1860 at the invitation of Bishop Pompallier, and had worked in Auckland and Hawkes Bay, established her order the Sisters of Compassion - the first Catholic order founded in New Zealand for women - in Jerusalem in 1892.[35] In 1997 the New Zealand Bishops’ Conference agreed to support the "Introduction of the Cause of Suzanne Aubert", to begin the process of consideration for her canonisation as a saint by the Church.[36] In the twentieth century many other orders became established in New Zealand including the Carmelite nuns in Christchurch and Auckland and the Cistercians in Hawkes Bay.


The iconic Futuna Chapel, Wellington, was built in the 1960s and marked a deviation from traditional church architecture.

The prominence of churches in New Zealand’s cities, towns and countryside attests to the historical importance of Catholicism in New Zealand. St Patrick's Cathedral is the Cathedral of the Catholic Bishop of Auckland. It is on the original site granted by the Crown to Jean Baptiste Pompallier, the first Bishop, in 1841. It was renovated and re-opened in September 2007.[37] St. Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin was constructed between 1878 and 1886. Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Wellington and was opened in 1901 (in place of the destroyed St Mary's Cathedral), although it was not until 1984 that it became officially, the Cathedral.[38] The highly esteemed Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch was opened in 1905. The latter three buildings were designed by the prominent New Zealand Catholic architect, Francis Petre. In 1947 another seminary, Holy Name Seminary, was opened in Christchurch. The Cathedral of the Hamilton Diocese is the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary (built in 1975, rededicated in 1980 and renovated in 2008) and the Cathedral of the Palmerston North Catholic Diocese is the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (built in 1925, renovated and rededicated in 1980).

Church todayEdit

Changing social attitudes in the 1950s and 60s and the sweeping changes ushered in by the Second Vatican Council affected the Catholic Church in New Zealand - including in areas of liturgy and ecclesiastical architecture. The iconic Futuna Chapel was built as a Wellington retreat center for the Marist order in 1961. The design by Maori architect John Scott, fused Modernist and indigenous design principles and marked a deviation from traditional church architecture.[39]

On 6 March 1980, the Auckland Diocese and the Wellington Archdiocese were split to create the dioceses of Hamilton and Palmerston North respectively. There have been four New Zealand Cardinals, of which all four held the position, successivley, of Archbishop of Wellington and Metropolitan of New Zealand: Peter McKeefry, Reginald Delargey, Thomas Stafford Williams and current Archbishop John Atcherley Dew.

Pope John Paul II meets Governor-General and former Anglican Archbishop of New Zealand Sir Paul Reeves in Wellington, November 1986

Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to visit New Zealand in 1986. He was given a State welcome and presided at services attended by thousands.[40] He called for respect between cultures in New Zealand:

The Māori people have maintained their identity in this land. The peoples coming from Europe and more recently from Asia have not come to a desert. They have come to a land already marked by a rich and ancient heritage, and they are called to respect and foster that heritage as a unique and essential element of the identity of this country.[41]

In 2001, the Pope transmitted an apology for injustices done to the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific, and asked for forgiveness where members of the church had been or still were party to such wrongs. The apostolic exhortation also condemned incidents of sexual abuse by clergy in Oceania.[42][43]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b 2013 Census totals by topic, Statistics New Zealand:: Tatauranga Aotearoa (24 March 2014)
  2. ^ a b Table 28, 2013 Census Data – QuickStats About Culture and Identity – Tables.
  3. ^ "Census snapshot: cultural diversity". Statistics New Zealand. 6 March 2001. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  4. ^ "2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity – data tables". Statistics New Zealand. 15 April 2014. Archived from the original on 24 May 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  5. ^ Karl du Fresne, "Holy Smoke" New Zealand Listener, 6 April 2013 p. 18.
  6. ^ a b "Catholic Church in NZ: Living Justly". New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  7. ^ "Sisters Of St Joseph - The Journey". Sisters of St Joseph Whanganui. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Welcome to the New Zealand Society of St Vincent De Paul Website". Society of St Vincent de Paul New Zealand. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  9. ^ "Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand". Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  10. ^ Ben Heather, "Reports draw more church abuse complaints", The Dominion Post, 29 June 2013, p. A10.
  11. ^ "Catholic Church in NZ: Confronting Abuse". New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  12. ^ Dinah Holman, Newmarket Lost and Found, 2nd edition, The Bush Press of New Zealand, Auckland, 2010, p. 247.
  13. ^ A. G Butchers, Young New Zealand, Coulls Somerville Wilkie Ltd, Dunedin, 1929, pp. 124 - 126.
  14. ^ "Auckland's First Catholic School - And its Latest", Zealandia, Thursday, 26 January 1939, p. 5
  15. ^ E.R. Simmons, In Cruce Salus, A History of the Diocese of Auckland 1848–1980, Catholic Publication Centre, Auckland 1982, pp. 53 and 54.
  16. ^ NZCEO; Rory Sweetman, 'A Fair and Just Solution': A history of the integration of private schools in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 2002, pp. 71-114.
  17. ^ "Number of schools by School Type & Affiliation - 1 July 2013". Ministry of Education. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  18. ^ "Head of Catholic Education to step down". Voxy. 29 January 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  19. ^ a b Orejana, Rowena (25 January 2015). "NZ Catholic". "Brother Lynch knighted for educational work". Auckland. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  20. ^ "Catholic Schools - Today". New Zealand Catholic Education Office. 19 May 2010. Archived from the original on 26 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  21. ^ So far, no record has been found to confirm that he did celebrate Mass on that day. 'Samuel Marsden's first service', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-May-2014. There is a record that he anointed (that is-gave the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick) to several French sailors suffering from scurvy and its effects. King, Michael (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand (ReadHowYouWant ed.). Accessible Publishing System PTY, Ltd (published 2011). pp. 120–121. ISBN 9781459623750. Retrieved 2014-06-27. After his chaplain, a Dominican Catholic named Paul-Antoine Léonard de Villefeix, had conducted the first Christian service in New Zealand waters on Christmas Day 1769, de Surville left the country [...].
  22. ^ Dunmore, John (2012-10-30). "Surville, Jean François Marie de". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2014-06-27. It is likely that the ship's chaplain, Father Paul-Antoine Léonard de Villefeix, celebrated Mass on Christmas Day, making this the first Christian service to be held in New Zealand.
  23. ^ Allan Davidson, Christianity in Aotearoa: A History of Church and Society in New Zeéaland, Third edition, Education for Ministry, Wellington, 2004, p. 16.
  24. ^ a b "Catholic Encyclopedia: New Zealand". Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  25. ^ Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost: A History Of Catholics In New Zealand, Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997, p. 73.
  26. ^ Davidson, p. 17.
  27. ^ Good Shepherd College website, Our History (retrieved 6 December 2011)
  28. ^ Simmons, E. R. "McDonald, James 1824 - 1890, McDonald, Walter 1830 - 1899". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  29. ^ Davidson, pp 134-135.
  30. ^ "Sisters of Mercy New Zealand". Sisters of Mercy New Zealand. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  31. ^ Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost: A History Of Catholics In New Zealand, Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997, p. 95.
  32. ^ Diane Strevens, In Step with Time: A History of the Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth, Wanganui, New Zealand, David Ling, Auckland, 2001, pp. 40 and 44.
  33. ^ Diane Strevens, MacKillop Women: The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart Aotearoa New Zealand 1883–2006, David Ling, Auckland, 2008, p. 8.
  34. ^ Diane Strevens, MacKillop Women, p. 67
  35. ^ Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost, p. 107.
  36. ^ "Sisters of Compassion". Sisters of Compassion. Archived from the original on 8 February 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  37. ^ "St. Patrick's Catholic Cathedral Auckland". St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral Auckland. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  38. ^ Dan Kelly, On Golder's Hill: A History of Thorndon Parish, Sacred Heart Parish, Wellington, 2001, p. III.
  39. ^ "Futuna Chapel". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  40. ^ "John Paul II - a memorial". New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  41. ^ "Treaty of Waitangi". Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  42. ^ "Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania". Vatican Official Web Site. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  43. ^ "Pope sends first e-mail apology". BBC News. 23 November 2001. Retrieved 25 May 2010.


  • Allan Davidson, Christianity in Aotearoa: A History of Church and Society in New Zealand, Third edition, Education for Ministry, Wellington, 2004.
  • Dan Kelly, On Golder's Hill: A History of Thorndon Parish, Sacred Heart Parish, Wellington, 2001.
  • Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost: A History Of Catholics In New Zealand, Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997.
  • Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, Penguin, Auckland, 2003.
  • E.R. Simmons, A Brief History of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, Catholic Publication Centre, Auckland, 1978.
  • Diane Strevens, In Step with Time: A History of the Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth, Wanganui, New Zealand, David Ling, Auckland, 2001.
  • Diane Strevens, MacKillop Women: The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart Aotearoa New Zealand 1883–2006, David Ling, Auckland, 2008.
  • Rory Sweetman, A Fair and Just Solution: A history of the integration of private schools in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 2002.
  • Samuel Marsden's first service, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, updated 8-May-2014

External linksEdit