Although one of New Zealand’s early missionary priests, Fr Antoine Marie Garin, SM, died in 1889, he still has passionate devotees.
This was shown by the turnout at a Mass at St Michael’s Church in Remuera on April 14, where memory of Fr Garin was centre stage.
People came from as far afield as Dargaville, Whangarei and Whakatane to attend.
In what is a lay-led initiative, supporters hope that one day the universal Church will declare Fr Garin to be a saint.
Spokeswoman Mary Pepping of Pakuranga said, “This is an initiative of prayer”.
Fr Garin was a French Marist who came to New Zealand in 1841. His work included, among various assignments, mission to Maori north of Auckland and being the first priest to be placed in charge of the fencible settlements in Howick, Panmure and Otahuhu.
After a major falling out between the Marists who started the New Zealand mission and Bishop Pompallier, Fr Garin and his colleagues went south to Wellington diocese in 1850.
Fr Garin was to be the first parish priest of Nelson, where he would spend 39 years.
About 18 months after his death and burial, his remains were exhumed and his body was found to be incorrupt.
At the St Michael’s Mass, homilist Fr Meryn Duffy, SM, said Fr Garin was a successful missionary to Maori and a successful parish priest.
“Was he a saint?” Fr Duffy asked. “Many of his contemporaries thought so. Archbishop Redwood, a student of his, who conducted his funeral declared, ‘He was indeed a saint, and attracted universal respect and, in many, sincere veneration’.”
Fr Duffy, who was officially representing the Society of Mary at the Remuera Mass, added: “Given his [Fr Garin’s] life and deeds, I think I can safely say that if he did not get into heaven, then most of the rest of us do not stand much chance.”
Fr Duffy listed some of the many requirements that would be needed for the universal Church to acknowledge Fr Garin being in heaven — these include devotion and miracles that come after prayers seeking Fr Garin’s intercession.
Fr Duffy concluded by encouraging the congregation to,“among other things, pray for a diocese or congregation to take up this cause and support it”.
NZ Catholic asked Auckland diocese about the official status of this movement to support Fr Garin.
“The initiative to pray that the cause for Fr Antoine Marie Garin, SM, may be advanced at some time in the future is proposed by a group
of lay people who greatly admire his life and work, not by the Auckland diocese,” spokeswoman Dame Lyndsay Freer said.
“The Society of Mary is now working to support the cause of their founder, Fr Jean-Claude Colin, and also that of Suzanne Aubert.
They hope that, in time, the cause of Fr Garin may be investigated.”
At the Remuera celebration, Catholic schools from Howick and Otahuhu, as well as students from Sacred Heart College, contributed to the liturgy.
A message of support was received from Garin College in Nelson.
A hymn titled Antoine Garin, composed by Fr Chris Skinner, SM, was sung at Communion.