One of New Zealand’s oldest Catholic parishes long ago ran out of land for the burial of lay parishioners. But several current and former parishioners are proposing a memorial wall to ensure parishioners are not forgotten.

Panmure parish came into being in 1848, after Governor George Grey arranged with the British Government to set up defences for Auckland. The town was to be defended across part of the isthmus by British army pensioners, called fencibles, based at Panmure, Howick, Otahuhu and Onehunga. Many of those new settlers were Irish and Catholic.

Governor Grey allocated each fencible family some land, and the Catholic and Anglican Churches about two hectares each for religious and educational activities.

In 1848, Fr Antoine Garin — whose cause has now begun — was sent to minister to the Panmure fencibles. He established a small chapel before leaving in 1850.

This means parishioners have been buried at St Patrick’s parish cemetery for close to 170 years. In addition, the cemetery has for years been the main burial place for diocesan clergy.

Kathy Haughey in St Patrick’s Church cemetery at Panmure.
Kathy Haughey in St Patrick’s Church cemetery at Panmure.

Former parishioner Diane Kiernan told NZ Catholic that, as a pupil at St Patrick’s School, she remembers forming up in honour guards for the interment of priests.

Now Mrs Kiernan and parishioner Kathy Haughey are proposing that a memorial wall be built, so those who would otherwise be entitled to be buried there can at least be remembered by way of a wall plaque.

In background information, they state: “For decades, parishioners have been unable to bury their dead [at St Patrick’s] unless families owned one of the original plots or, as in earlier days, if there was available space outside the area for clergy and religious.

“As time passes, and more funerals are held at St Patrick’s for past very longstanding parishioners, it is often commented on that the deceased are taken elsewhere for burial or cremation and there is no visible sign they were ever a part of the parish.”

In 2011, Mrs Kiernan wrote to the Bishop of Auckland, Bishop Patrick Dunn, seeking his support for the proposal. He replied sympathetically, but said they would have to proceed by approaching
their parish priest.

NZ Catholic phoned the parish, but learned that parish priest Fr Michael Endemann was away until late in April.

Mrs Kiernan has indicated that the cost of a memorial wall should not be significant, as the purchase of plaques should recover the outlay in a reasonably short time.

She stated that it is intended to establish the level of support for the project. If enough support is forthcoming, a formal proposal will be submitted to St Patrick’s parish priest and to the parish pastoral  council.

Questions such as the site within the cemetery, wall design and the cost of plaques will be decided and advised when support is assessed.

NZ Catholic would like to hear from other parishes that have a problem of full cemeteries, and any solutions they might have come up with.

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