AUCKLAND — Four hundred and eighty kilometres is a long way to travel for a working bee, but some parishioners from St Mary’s, Northcote, did it twice in February.
St Mary’s parish priest Fr Craig Dunford told NZ Catholic that at the diocesan gathering of priests last year, Fr Kerry Prendeville, SM, from the Mid-North Pastoral Area, spoke of difficulties they were having with catechesis training.
After the priests returned to their parishes, the St Mary’s finance council decided to give the mid-north enough money to fund that year’s catechectical programme.
“But I gave it more thought,” Fr Dunford said, “and thought it’s too easy to write a cheque, but thought it would be good for us as a parish to get hands dirty.”
Fr Prendeville had also spoken of difficulties arising from remoteness, distance, and lack of population, so St Mary’s decided to help. So Fr Dunford asked Fr Kerry what other help he would like.
“And he came back and said the church [St Patrick’s, Okaihau] was in desperate need of TLC.”
So on the weekend of February 8 to 10, a group of eight men from St Mary’s Parish went north and prepared the church for painting — and even did a bit of painting.
“Two weekends later . . . 15 of us went up,” said Fr Dunford, “and we completed the job of painting all the outside of the church.

St Mary's, Northcote, volunteers with the freshly painted church at Okaihau.

“We cleaned from top to bottom inside the church, and also [tidied up] the cemetery and the grounds.”
The volunteers were aged from 11 to 56. It was a wonderful experience for the St Mary’s young people, Fr Dunford said, as was working with young people from Moerewa and with some of the mid-north kuia.
It was also an excellent way for St Mary’s new assistant priest, Fr Elric Jorquia, to see rural New Zealand and get to know more of the St Mary’s parishioners. Fr Jorquia had arrived in New Zealand from the Philippines only six weeks earlier, and been in the parish only three weeks.
The St Mary’s and mid-North communities had a barbecue on the Saturday night, and the next day the St Mary’s contingent went to Mass at Kaikohe with the locals, “who were incredibly grateful and showed great hospitality for us”.
Fr Dunford said his hope is that other parishes of a similar size and similar financial situation might consider the option of doing something similar.
“I want to challenge other parish communities to look at maybe the north, or surrounding communities that they live in, and ask themselve how can we contribute and make a difference,” he said.
The people who went north were not the only ones involved, Fr Dunford said. A lot of people helped by baking and doing other background tasks.