Origins of the Morrinsville Parish

The Church in the Waikato - Early Missionaries  from the 1840s

It was on the feast of St Thomas Aquinas 11 March 1840, that Bishop Pompallier arrived at Otumoetai, a settlement on the shore of the Tauranga harbour. He was warmly welcomed by the Catholics already there and was able to spend some days visiting and instructing them. On Sunday, 14 March, he celebrated a Solemn Mass at an altar built by Father Viard and Brother Michael. Some four hundred people were present.

Bishop Pompallier also visited Matakana, Motuhoa and Maungatapu before setting out on a journey that brought him into the Waikato. In his own words, "As to myself, I left for the interior, a two days journey. We crossed the Bay of Tauranga,through bush with rivers and swamps; we slept one night in the bush. The next day we arrived at Matamata (Okauia)

The Settlers had already been advised of my visit and eagerly awaited me... They accorded me a most solemn reception. I remained a week among them. Every day , morning and evening, we had instruction, then prayer which I taught them for the first time... They would not rest satisfied unless I gave them at least a hope of seeing me again, and obtaining a priest to dwell among them."

"This happy day dawned in June 1841 when five priests and two lay catechists arrived at the Bay of Islands. We sailed down the East Coast and anchored in the Auckland Harbour... We remained there six days and then set sail again to Coromandel and Tauranga."

"Before quitting Tauranga this time I deputed Fathers Seon and Baty to Matamata to teach these good people who had been expecting a priest for over a year... Father Seon remained in charge of this station until the advent of the wars which disrupted this whole settlement. .... There was little that Father Seon could do in this rather isolated district and I require his service most urgently elsewhere."

From 1846 to the close of the war in 1863 the Catholic Mission Station at Matamata was practically non-existent. Bishop Pompallier had recalled Father Seon in 1844 and had sent him to the Bay of Islands. Before this, however, Father Seon had made several missionary journeys deep into the Waikato and had recognised the potential of Rangiaowhia, (about 4 miles south of Te Awamutu) as a promising station. The people there were well-disposed.

In February 1844 Bishop Pompallier arrived at Tauranga by sea. He left Father Bernard in charge of Tauranga and named Father Pezant for the Matamata mission. Father Pezant drew the Bishop's attention to Father Seon's reports of the difficulties at Matamata and to his strong preference for Rangiaowhia. Bishop Pompallier agreed to the change of location. he visited the station from Matamata.

For two decades, under Father Pezant until 1850, and Father Garavel to 1863, this mission prospered. Hundreds were baptised and confirmed, a large church was built, and a successful school established. Orchards and market gardens were planted and mills were constructed

In February 1844 Bishop Pompallier arrived at Tauranga by sea. He left Father Bernard in charge of Tauranga and named Father Pezant for the Matamata mission. Father Pezant drew the Bishop's attention to Father Seon's reports of the difficulties at Matamata and to his strong preference for Rangiaowhia. Bishop Pompallier agreed to the change of location. he visited the station from Matamata.

For two decades, under Father Pezant until 1850, and Father Garavel to 1863, this mission  prospered. Hundreds were baptised and confirmed, a large church was built, and a successful  school established. Orchards and market gardens were planted and mills were constructed. 

The following interesting extract is from a book, "Some Old Waikato Days" written by Rev. Father John Golden, who was ordained in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Auckland on February 26th 1871, and was an active priest for more than 50 years.

“At Waitoa, towards Te Aroha, I found some Hamilton young men who rode home occasionally, especially at Easter and Christmas. And at Morrinsville I baptised a child for a Catholic family, the only members of my flock whom I could discover there. The Monsins owned the estate at the time and there was a hotel and store, where now stands the rising and flourishing town of Morrinsville.

A visitor to the Golden Jubilee of St. Joseph's Parish in 1980 was a former local resident, Father Jack Rivett, who at present resides in Sydney. From a letter he wrote in 1999, Father Rivett recalls —

Although I can remember some things since I was two, I can't remember which year it was, perhaps 1927. We as children must have been told to keep well away when the Church was being moved; I can remember the electric wires across the road, in the way of the transport of the church. I think horses were used to haul it. - My grandmother Elizabeth Rivett was buried in the wooden church. The church arrived at the new big block and that is where we went to church.

There was no catholic school as yet, nor a presbytery. The priest used to come from Te Aroha I think. - Then we were to have our first Parish Priest, Father Shore. Well we had to have a home for him and so the first presbytery. Being young I couldn't understand all the people who used to come at times to play cards in my parents’ restaurant, every now and again the who used to come at times to play cards in my parents’ restaurant, every now and again the people used to leave their place at the table, and shift to another table and so it went on. Later on I was to find out it was a way to make money for the brand new priest’s house. All the good people’s efforts paid for all the furniture in the presbytery

We were good friends to Father Shore, he often used to come at nights and warm himself before the large kitchen stove. When I come to think of it, it must have been lonely for Father Shore in the beginning. As for the township, we only had a thousand people in it at that time .I had the blessing of making my first confession and communion in the wooden church.

I remember going round, down the road would be more correct, to see how the working bee was going as Father arranged to have the tall grass around the church cut by hand. I can still see the lone worker toiling away, `twas the P.P. with a small boy looking on.

A year after the earthquakes in Morrinsville my parents sold out. While the quakes were on at their worst, our father took the five children and our Mum for two nights to sleep in the car; the two story brick building had a high water tank right over the living quarters. Myself in one quake at the primary school was sitting in a front desk when she rocked. I was out like a shot, the others just as quick, but we couldn't get the door open. With a crush of pupils I was caught up on one of the hat hooks so wasn't the first out after all.

I was able to get over for the Parish Golden Jubilee.


"Our family moved to Morrinsville mid 1921 from Taihape. Shortly before moving to Morrinsville I had started school with the Sisters of St. Joseph's in Taihape. At the time of our arrival there was a lot of speculation about a new convent school for Morrinsville, so sine I was only five years old, my parents decided that I could wait for the new school to erialise rather than enrol at the state school. However, my seventh birthday arrived, an kiere was still no convent school, so of to the state school I went.

There was a very good Catholic teacher at the school, a Miss Eileen Cussens who had undertaken to provide religious instruction for the Catholic children. We all trooped down to the church after school on a Tuesday, and in the course of time many were prepared for First Communion, Holy Eucharist, and if I remember rightly, for Confirmation also."


"When my family came to Morrinsville I had not started school, so I have no dates to go by.....The church was opposite the sale yards, and there was much activity raising funds to shift the church to its present site. It makes one think how hard our parents worked in days when money was hard to come by. My parents used to enjoy the dance and card evenings and raffles were very popular. They must have thought ahead when the site was bought for the church, to the days when they could have a presbytery school and the house on the hill for a convent. We have much to thank them for. The shifting of the church went ahead with only one hitch on the way when

acquired in Thames Street near the centre of the town. The removal operation occupied two days, as much difficulty was experienced with telegraph lines. After a complete renovation the church will be re-opened within the next month."

Extracts from "MORRINSVILLE AND DISTRICT NEWS -- VIEW'  NOVEMBER 14th 1965.  Special Supplement

"In 1924 the church was moved to the property on the north-west corner of Victoria Avenue and Thames Street East, where it served the Catholic people of Morrinsville town and district until it was demolished to make way for the present church.

Until the old church was ready for use on its new site Mass was celebrated in the Strand Theatre. The building was moved by the late Mr. W.J. Eynon, who owned a property south of Morrinsville on the Kereone Road. Mr. Eynon had a traction engine which towed implements and that he used in his work as an agricultural contractor, and he used to drive his engine and implements around street corners as truly as if they had been on railway lines. When the old church was being moved along Thames Street it became tangled with some overhead wires, and was left in the street overnight.

The Catholic property was part of an area, of 40 acres owned by the mother of Mr. N.D. Clifford (now living in Studholme Street). The present convent in Victoria Avenue was the Clifford homestead and was about twice its present size. [Note the last statement refers to the old wooden building which has been replaced by a large brick house.]

Extract from 'THE MONTH' 15TH OCTOBER 1924 Page 23

The Catholic Church is keeping fully abreast of the remarkable development which is yearly giving to Morrinsville a bigger place upon the map of the Auckland Province. The old church, and church site of 1911 having become too small for local requirements, a fine property of six acres was purchased in the principal street in October 1923: the church was removed there and considerably enlarged and renovated, the total cost of the purchase and the improvements amounting to 2,250.00 pounds, of this amount 1665 pounds has been provided, leaving a debt of 885 pounds which, it is anticipated, will soon be paid off in fall.

"The ceremony of blessing and opening the finely appointed new church was performed on Sunday 21st September, by Rt. Rev. Dr. Cleary, assisted by the Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Forde, who was celebrant of the sung Mass. The whole congregation which was a 'record' one walked in procession around the church during the ceremony of blessing. The occasional sermon was preached by the Bishop. The local

choir was strengthened by members of the Te Aroha choir, under the conductorship of Mr. Young. At the close of the ceremonies Fr. Forde made a financial statement, and read a most kindly and much appreciated letter of felicitation and good wishes from the local Anglican Vicar, the Rev. J.A. Kempthorne."


Nearly 250 persons attended the highly successful Catholic social held in the Empire Hall, Morrinsville, on 15th September 1924. Mr. Grant was hall manauer. The

blessing and opening the fine brick presbytery which the zealous people have built for their pastor at a cost of over a thousand pounds.

The ceremony took place in the afternoon before a gathering representative of the whole district. Assisting at the function were the Reverend Fathers Shore, O'Connor, Leen and O'Flynn.

His Lordship, Dr. Liston, in addressing the gathering, congratulated lated Fr. Shore upon the work he had already done, and said that as the presbytery showed the esteem in which he was held everybody' could feel happy as regards 4Le future progress of the parish. Already much had been done, continued the speaker, and he was very pleased indeed to see with them Sisters, representatives of the Order of the Missions -who, in the near future, would undertake the care of the children of the parish.

That the people were imbued with the right spirit of faith vvas ciuite evident, for not only had they provided a roof for their priest, but without thought of the sacrifice entailed, acquired tlu-ee acres and a house adjacent to the church, which were to 'oe the foundation of Catholic Education in that rapidly growing town.

A beginning so auspicious, concluded the Bishop, would not fail to have God's blessing; and his hope and prayer that day was that ever should all be blessed with God's choicest graces.

Other speakers included the Mayor [Mr. McPherson] and Mr. Glynn, both of whom paid graceful tribute to Fr. Shore and hoped that now the people had given him a home amongst them, long may he be in their midst, not only as a spiritual guide, but also as a real father whose judgement and counsel would ever mean further advancement for themselves and their district.

In a financial statement read by Fr. Shore, the parish finances were seen to be in good state despite a debt to be faced of some 1500 pounds.

1928 was a significant year to the Catholics of Morrinsville. It heralds the end of what could be called 'development' into the formal establishment of Morrinsville as a parish and the naming of the first Parish Priest.

Mrs. Frances Askew and Mrs Wynne Newport — daughters of Henry Angus and Anne Frances [nee Kiely] Munro, provide information on the Kereone district at this time. After World War 1 blocks of land on Kereone Rd, later known as a 'soldiers' settlement, were put up for sale to the returned soldiers who had served at Gallipoli. Mr. And Mrs Munro bought one of those blocks and moved to Kereone in 1917. However, they did not remain long on the farm as they moved into Morrinsville in July 1919 where Henry Munro bought a truck and began a carrying business. This family contributed much to the life of the growing Catholic community. Their daughters, Frances and Wynne were first day pupils at the school, and were also very active among the group of young Catholic people that organized social and sporting activities as well as working bees during the 1940's.

It was Mr. Munro whose truck took the Catholic school children on their first picnics, and again, it was he who contributed much to the establishment of the Waiti Road Church.

And in the neighbouring Kiwitahi district Mrs. Josie Fletcher [nee Orr] of Cambridge writes John Thomas On and Mary Barden were married when John was on final leave in 1916: that was when John decided to become a Catholic.

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