by PETER OWENS
WANAKA — On Friday August 1 the beautiful Church of the Holy Family at Wanaka was filled to overcrowding by more than 300 people for the funeral and celebration of the life of Fr Brian Fenton.
Since 1999, Fr Fenton, who died in his 86th year, had been living in vigorous retirement in Wanaka from his long career as a priest of the diocese of Dunedin. Indeed, Fr Fenton had not
long celebrated the diamond jubilee of his ordination in 1953.
Fr Fenton played a pivotal part in the administration of the parish and in its activities. The modern church is next to Holy Family School, the most recent Catholic primary school in New Zealand. From the time it moved to Aubrey Rd in Wanaka, Fr Fenton had a close relationship with the school and was loved and admired by the children.
Msgr Paul Mahoney, who has the care of the parishes of Cromwell and Wanaka, is grateful for
having had a vigorous retired priest to help him in a region that is growing faster than
anywhere else in the South Island except Christchurch.
Fr Fenton had said he came up to Wanaka “to help out” on his retirement, as he saw the
administration of and ministering to Wanaka parish was too much for a priest based in
Born in Invercargill, Fr Fenton was educated by the Marist Brothers there and by Christian Brothers at St Kevin’s College, Oamaru.
He was ordained in the Georgetown (Invercargill) church by Bishop John Kavanagh in July 1953.
Of Fr Fenton’s band from Holy Cross College in 1953, 15 young men were ordained to the priesthood.
Of the 28 young men who entered Holy Cross College with Fr Fenton, several were ex-servicemen who had served overseas in World War II.
In 1999, Fr Fenton retired from the active priesthood after serving in 10 parishes throughout Dunedin diocese.
He lived in a family semi-rural property.
There he created a much admired arboretum and a significant amount of his time was spent maintaining the four hectare property.
Well before his death, Fr Fenton established the Arorangi Arboretum Trust, under which the property will continue to be enjoyed by his family, friends, clergy and Holy Family parish.
However, Fr Fenton was not exclusively engaged in the affairs of the Catholic Church. He also chaired an organisation of quite powerful and vocal locals dedicated to preserving Pembroke Park for the people of Wanaka and New Zealand.
As the retail and commercial area of Wanaka has grown, developers have been clamouring for parts of Pembroke Park to be developed for car parking.
Fr Fenton and his supporters ensured that would not happen.
In his address at the funeral, Dunedin Catholic Bishop Colin Campbell spoke movingly on Fr Fenton’s fidelity to the ideals of the priesthood wherever he went. The bishop also recalled
his strong views on a wide variety of subjects.
Unusually, Fr Fenton’s body was buried at his property, Aorangi, and this, like other aspects of his funeral, had been arranged some years ago.
by PETER OWENS