by PETER OWENS

The merger of the four parishes in Invercargill will take place about the first Sunday in Advent this year, according to St Mary’s parish priest Fr Chris O’Neill. In preparation for this, the number of Masses in the city will be reduced in mid-June.

The most significant effect will be that at several of the four parishes affected, the number of Sunday Masses will be reduced from two to one. This will mean that the number of Masses celebrated in Invercargill will reduce from 12 to 9 on Sundays.

Two rural churches at Rimu and Rakahouka will no longer have weekly Sunday Masses, but will have Masses on a fortnightly basis.

According to Fr O’Neill, the priests currently serving in Invercargill will not celebrate Mass exclusively in the parishes to which they have been attached, but will celebrate Mass in rotation at the four parish churches and two Mass centres.

At present there are four parishes in Invercargill, Sacred Heart, Waikiwi (1916); St Teresa’s, North Invercargill (1947); St Patrick’s, Georgetown, (1949) and the first established parish, St Mary’s, which was constituted in 1863.

However time moves on and a shortage of priests to serve the Dunedin diocese has led to the reduction in parishes in the city.

Fr O’Neill pointed out that although there was a chronic shortage of priests in the diocese, the Catholic Church in New Zealand has always relied on overseas priests ministering to the faithful.

From the beginnings of the Church in this country many Irish priests served in various areas.

After World War II, a significant number of priests from the Netherlands worked among the faithful in New Zealand.

Dunedin diocese has a strong policy of directing its assets in a manner suitable for the times and Bishop Colin Campbell and his advisers are aware that the Church in 2017 is much different form the Church in the 19th and 20th centuries. When the Invercargill parishes were established, most Catholics in the city did not have access to motor transport and as public transport was infrequent on weekends, most of the faithful either walked to Mass or rode their bicycles.

Having a church reasonably close to where the people lived was very important in those days.

Now improved access to motor transport and good roading has meant a significant change in the lifestyle of New Zealanders.

According to Fr O’Neill, while plans have been put in place for a merger of the Invercargill parishes, the changing Mass times would be the most visible public change. “The merger will be more of an administrative change; its effects will be invisible to most people.” He said the amalgamation of the parishes was following a broader trend within the Catholic Church in New Zealand.

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