by ROWENA OREJANA
Motorists off to the Hokianga for the summer will see the restored statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, known in the community as Our Lady of the Highway, watching over them and keeping them safe.

Fr Kerry Prendeville, SM, blesses the statue, Our Lady of the Highway, with locals in attendance.
Fr Kerry Prendeville, SM, blesses the statue, Our Lady of the Highway, with locals in attendance.

The Hokianga and Kaikohe communities raised funds with raffles and donations to get the statue sandblasted and repainted, said Fr Kerry Prendeville, SM, ministry leader of the Mid-North Pastoral Area.
Fr Prendeville said they see a lot of traffic through Opononi and Rawene, especially in summer. “Also, a lot of people come home for Christmas and stay with their families and whanau. So the road is busy. I think she’s kept on her toes to keep everyone safe,” he said. The statue, fondly called Matou Whaea, or Our Lady, came to the Hokianga in the 1990s.
Fr Prendeville said she travelled from France to several places in New Zealand before settling in the area. She had an interesting history. The image was made from melted armoury and guns from the battle of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. “The statue came from France in about the late 1890s.
It was sent to a church in Napier, which was staffed by Marist priests, and then it was sent out to the new seminary at a place called Meeanee in Hawkes Bay. That [seminary] went under floodwaters in 1910,” he related.
The seminary was moved to Greenmeadows and the statue went with them.
“There was a student in the seminary, probably around about 1920, who had a brother killed at Passchendaele in World War I. His family erected the statue on a pedestal with a plaque to remember their son,” he said.
Sadly, the plaque was lost when the statue was moved to the Hokianga. “It was supposed to be erected outside the marae in Whirinaki, which was beside the main highway, and it was specifically to protect all travellers on the road,” said Fr Prendeville.
There was an objection from a non-Catholic, which was why the statue was placed instead in Omanaia. The owners of the property were happy to have the statue on their property. “There had been quite a lot of fatalities on that road. “After the statue was erected, I was told there was only one fatality and that was by someone who was drunk and was told not to drive, but he did,” said.
Fr Prendeville. “But it has reduced the number of fatal road accidents on the Hokianga highway. “That’s how she became known as the Lady of the Highway.”

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