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.

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.


  1. I am very sad to read of the death of Father Brian Fenton. We talked a lot about him only yesterday as a group of us reminisced about parish life in Corsham. Some number of years ago Father Brian supplied for our Parish Priest at St. Patrick’s Church, Corsham, Wiltshire . We loved him and kept in contact for a long time but for the past three years or so we hadn’t heard from him – now I know why! May he rest in peace
    What a lovely tribute to Father Brian in the NZCatholic website

  2. Dear Reader,
    By coincidence I found the article on Brian Fentons death. I was so glad know about his death and especially to hear his dreams came to be true.
    For years my husband and I, living in The Netherlands, Utrecht, wondered what had happened to our friend.
    I got to know Brian in the late 70th and stayed in Wanaka for a week as I was in Newzealand on holiday with a friend who knew Brian well. I had great conversations with him as, being an artist I found him to be very interested in art, cathedrals and beauty in general. We had a great time. I got married and Brian stayed in the 80 th twice at our home during his European travels. We visited arboreta and musea in Holland together and we showed him around. We loved him. His sense of humor andthe depth of his engagement.
    For years we exchanged Christmascards. We got every time an invitation to be his guests. This was impossible during my husband working life. So we never had the chance to visit his arboretum but did plan to do so and had hoped to visit Brian in 2014. However as there was no more Chrstmascard that year and no way to contact him we feared for the worst. We were very sad about not knowing what had happened and are glad to have found the article in the Wanaka newspaper..
    We remember Brian as a loving, gentle, caring and remarkable person. We are greatful to have known him.
    Frits van Nierop and Thea Grootenboer

    Utrecht, the Netherlands