by Jeff Dillon

In what appeared to be a clash of emotions, the formal closing of St Bernadette’s church in Forbury, Dunedin took place on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent.

A message projected onto the screen at the front of the church before the decommissioning Mass started at 9.30 am declared “With thanks for all the blessings of this parish” and that sentiment was mirrored by a large banner hanging at the back of the sanctuary which stated “Jesus our hope for the future”.

The entrance hymn of “Come as you are” was certainly appropriate for the occasion as some 250 parishioners and ex-parishioners and ex-pupils of St Bernadette’s School made up the congregation to farewell a dear friend.

Before the formal beginning of the Mass, Pat Robertson took the opportunity to comment briefly about the sadness of the occasion, but noted that there were many treasured memories and these would be shared at morning tea after the Mass.

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Colin Campbell of Dunedin with the assistance of Fr Gerard Aynsley (parish priest), Fr Sani Lam and Fr Merv McGettigan. During his homily, Bishop Campbell paid tribute to those who developed the parish in the past. Initially the area had been served by the building of St Patrick’s Basilica in 1894. In a twist of fate, with the closure of St Bernadette’s church, the parish has come under the wing of St Patrick’s again.

(The former parishes of St Bernadette’s, Forbury, St Alphonsus, Waverley, St Brigid’s, Tainui, and St Patrick’s South Dunedin have been worshipping together as Mercy Parish in the newly refurbished and modified St Patrick’s Basilica since Easter this year.)

By 1919, Sunday Mass was being held in the Oddfellows Hall along at Forbury Corner although that did require a crew of volunteers to clean up the hall from the previous night’s activities before Mass could start.

Certainly the Catholics in the area were a faith-filled people as they undertook fundraising ventures with the aim of building a church despite difficult times after World War I and the Depression. In February, 1934, Fr Cornelius Collins was appointed parish priest for the new church of St Bernadette’s in Forbury Rd.

Bishop Campbell noted that a large photo of Fr Collins had been placed at the front of the sanctuary and had been brought up in the entrance procession by one of his nieces, Kay Price. Also in attendance were two other nieces, Maree Robson and Margaret Finlin.

At the end of Mass, Bishop Campbell formally proceeded to the decommissioning prayer to mark the end of some 82 years of religious observances in the church.

The congregation then assembled up in the school buildings to share morning tea and many memories of their times in the parish.

Dunedin diocese reportedly intends to demolish the church and the adjacent C J Collins Centre in Forbury Rd within the next few months, to make way for a new apartment building.

An area will be created within the school for class and community liturgies and Masses.

According to the Dunedin diocese publication The Tablet, as well as being surplus to requirements, St Bernadette’s would also require significant financial investment if it was to be used for other purposes. Presently, it is only slightly over the required earthquake standard. The floor is also full of borer and there now seems to be more patches where holes have appeared than original floor.