by PAT VELTKAMP SMITH
INVERCARGILL — Cometh the day, cometh the man.
As parish priest of St Mary’s Basilica in Invercargill, Fr Christopher O’Neill chairs the committee set up now to mark, celebrate, 150 years of Catholicism in the far south.
So endemic feels the faith here that some people are surprised to
realise there is a date to be marked.
One hundred and fifty years? We forget how recently we marked 150 years of the south as a settled community itself.
The Catholic faith came with early setters, was bedded in by
Irish missionary priests, to flower with the coming of nuns and brothers setting up Catholic schools, which in turn spawned a veritable legion of Catholic-related clubs, groups, associations and societies — virtually one to equal every local group established.
By the turn of that century there were Catholic rugby, tennis, swimming, cricket, basketball and debating clubs, Catholic dances and debutante balls, businesses and professional practices employing
only Catholics, and others which wouldn’t touch them with a barge
pole.
But it all began with one Catholic church community in Invercargill,
a modest St Mary’s in Clyde St, today our beloved century-plus
revamped Petre-designed basilica mother church for all those parishes that have built churches and schools, presbyteries, Petre-designed convents, halls and sportsgrounds — parishes developing
their own identities within the bosom of the one that spawned them.
Of course, it is different today, but Marist rugby remains a force
to be reckoned with. Marist cricket also, while St Mary’s netball club has opened to welcoming men’s teams, playing under the St Mary’s Men banner.
We are holding up our end down here.
Two of the past three rectors of Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland
are Southlanders born and bred.
The present and former bishops of Dunedin diocese are Southland
men, Bishop Colin Campbell and Emeritus Bishop Len Boyle.
Southland women have headed Australasian congregations of
sisters in orders as diverse as the Dominicans and Blue nuns of the
Homes of Compassion. There are Southland sisters living as Carmelites. And there are Mercy Sisters.
Southland men have headed the Marist Brothers Order over many
years.
NZ Catholic’s founding editor Pat McCarthy is a Southland-born
and -trained journalist (and one time colleague of the writer). He is also, now, a papal knight.
Although none of these make any claim for our attention, we
know, remember, acknowledge, respect and value them all and
are proud of that Southland link with us.
The story of Catholicism in the south, its development, growth
and change over the past century and a half is being researched and
written by city author, St Mary’s Basilica parishioner Wendy McArthur, coincidentally secretary of the sesquicentennial committee.
Throughout the year, wonderful sacred music is being played on
the organ and presented under the baton of the basilica’s director of music, Dr Raymond White, he too returning home to the south from
overseas study and performance commitments.
In less than six months the sesquicentennial celebration will
open with a sung Mass and civic function at the basilica on the Friday night, big nosh up next night at the Ascot, province-wide Mass with probably 700 communicants the following morning.
And what a welcome there will be for those making the effort to
come home.

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