One hundred and seventy seven years ago on March 7, on the then feast of St Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Pompallier, Fr Philippe Viard, SM, Br Michel Columban, SM, and a Maori catechist Romano arrived at Tauranga Moana to set up the Mission of St Thomas Aquinas.

On the Sunday nearest that anniversary this year, the parishioners of St Mary Immaculate Tauranga and St Joseph’s Te Puna gathered at Aquinas College at Pyes Pa for Mass to commemorate the historic occasion and receive from Bishop Stephen Lowe the promulgation declaring that the two former parishes were now one under the patronage of St Thomas Aquinas.

The large congregation, gathered in the college gymnasium, was welcomed by Aquinas College principal Ray Scott and kaumatua Kihi Ngatai, who is a descendant of those who first welcomed Bishop Pompallier back in 1840.

Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Lowe, Fr Mark Field and Fr Santey Kizhakeenedeth, SDB. Bishop Lowe said, “It is this day, 177 years ago, that marks the beginning of the weaving the tukutuku panel that is the history of the Catholic community here in Tauranga Moana, for our lives as Christians is a process of being weaved ever closer to God and to each other as the one people of God.

“Two months later, in May 1840, Fr Viard and Romano the catechist returned to establish the Catholic mission here. For you of Tauranga Moana, Fr Viard and Romano are your tupuna and models in  the building of the Catholic faith community — priest and people working together.”

Following Mass, the senior leaders of the college were presented with their badges and were blessed, as were the staff and board members of the college.

Tauranga Moana parish priest Fr Field said, “As Bishop Steve acknowledged, the  coming together of our two parishes has been an ongoing project for two years now. Our Mass together was a fitting celebration of all that has been achieved in that time, and the faith and confidence of the People of God in Tauranga  Moana.”

The parish celebration concluded with a picnic in the college grounds.