A Catholic Totara of many years has fallen in the Far North.

3-young-pa-tate-webPa Henare Tate, the first Māori to be ordained as a diocesan priest, died in Rawene Hospital on April 1 after a battle with cancer. He was aged 79 and was in the 55th year of his priesthood.

His passing was the lead item on Māori Television’s Te Kaea news bulletin on April 2. It was reported that marae in the Hokianga through to Pangaru were preparing to host a huge influx of mourners from throughout Aotearoa going to the tangi at Tamatea Marae, Motuti, ahead of the funeral on April 5.

On April 2, Bishop Patrick Dunn wrote on facebook that Pa Tate had served in many capacities in Auckland diocese, especially in parishes and the communities of the Far North, “which were very dear to his heart”.

Bishop Dunn noted Pa Tate’s “deep regard for Bishop Pompallier”, adding that the priest “was aware that his forebears had never forgotton the affection that had been established between them and that great missionary bishop”.

Pa Tate “became pivotal in the plan to return the remains of Bishop Pompallier from the cemetery in Paris, where he lay unknown and forgotten, to Aotearoa where he was still remembered with such affection and esteem”.

“Largely due to his efforts, our first bishop was laid to rest in 2002 in the beautiful St Mary’s church at Motuti,” Bishop Dunn said.

Bishop Dunn also noted Pa Tate’s key contribution in the development of what he called “Māori Theology”.

Pa Tate received a PhD in 2010 from the Melbourne College of Divinity after submitting a thesis titled “Towards some foundations of a systematic Māori theology”. Material Pa Tate used for his doctoral thesis was incorporated into his book He Puna iti i te Ao Marama (A Little Spring in the World of Light), launched in 2012.

Bishop Dunn described Pa Tate’s work in this field as “seminal”.

Following St John Paul II’s 1986 remarks to Māori at the Auckland Domain that “it is as Māori that Christ calls you to follow him”, Pa Tate “began to research deeply the connections between what is taught in the Gospels and the values that are treasured within his own Māori culture”, Bishop Dunn said.

“For many years he lectured in this area for the Catholic Institute of Theology (1989-2007),” the bishop added.

Bishop Dunn also recalled Pa Tate’s key role in “the translation of our present liturgical texts into Māori”.

“Scholars could provide an exact or literal translation, but Pa would often come up with some other word or phrase that had a deeper and more beautiful richness for Māori speakers.”

Bishop Dunn continued: “He was a brilliant orator, always interesting and always laced with humour. There was a deeply spiritual side to his character, and this was always to the fore. His energy was endless and there was always some new project that he was undertaking.”

“We will miss his creativity and the knowledge,insights and commitment with which his whole priestly ministry was imbued.”

Māori reaction

The Māori Catholic community is “shocked and saddened” by the loss of a taonga in Pa Henare Tate.

Prominent Catholic couple Robert and Gemma Newson said Pa Tate touched so many people’s lives.

“I want to first mihi to Pa [Tate] for all the work he has done,” said Mr Newson.

“He is like a big tree falling in a forest of Tane. He is a big tree in the Catholic Church and in the Māori Catholic Church. First Māori diocesan priest, the second from Hato Petera College. And a very, very loved person. We feel sad, but we celebrate his life.”

Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Pa Petera Tipene described Pa Tate as “a taonga that we lost. He was a huge treasure”.

The Newsons fondly remembered Pa Tate as the priest who married them 45 years ago and stayed to mentor and support them through their lives.

Their memories of Pa Tate included going on a hikoi to France twice to bring the remains of Bishop Pompallier to New Zealand.

“He was our priest,” Mr Newson said simply.

Mrs Newson said Pa Tate made such a huge impact on the spirituality of Māori.

“I think that’s the legacy he left us. And it’s up to us, those he taught and mentored, to make sure this knowledge is passed around. He left a legacy on Māori spirituality,” she said.

Mr Newson said, apart from writing the book, Māori Spirituality, Pa Henare also wrote Christ the Māori, a play which was put on around the country for ten years.

“Pa [Henare] wrote that and wrote the songs for it which we still sing today,” said Mr Newson.

Pa Tipene, who is related to Pa Tate, said Pa Tate was a mentor when he [Pa Tipene] was still in the seminary.

“I remember he came down to visit and I wasn’t in a good space. I wanted to leave and go home. And he said to me, ‘Oh, look. Go home. And after two weeks, you will be hoha [which means annoyed with the family]. Just ride out the hard times. Stick with it’,” Pa Tipene recalled. “That advice had always been with me really.”

Pa Tate knew everybody, Pa Tipene said.

“He can tell just by looking at you, particularly if you’re Māori, who you were. He’ll read your whakapapa, your genealogy. He’s very good at whakapapa and even your traits. He’ll say, ah, you got that from so and so,” Pa Tipene added.

Pa Tate will also be remembered for his wonderful sense of humour and being a great singer.

Pa Tate was an assistant priest at Balmoral, Te Unga Waka Maori Mission, and Gisborne, and was parish priest at Pangaru and Te Unga Waka Māori Mission.

He served on the College of Consultors for Auckland diocese from 1996 to 2008, the Council of Priests and episcopal vicar (2002-2006) and was vicar for Maori from 1997 to 2007 before retiring to Kohukohu in 2008.

A grand-nephew of Dame Whina Cooper, Pa Tate attended Hato Petera College and studied for the priesthood at Holy Name Seminary and Holy Cross College. He was ordained as a priest in 1962.