St Thomas More Catholic church in Glenfield, Auckland is probably home to the most diverse parish in the country, with some 50 flags displayed on its grounds representing the countries of origin of its parishioners. It is also a church in which both Roman and Eastern Mass rites are celebrated.
The parish’s life is so dynamic that parish priest Fr Alfredo Garcia felt the need to record its story in a book that will be launched on its 35th anniversary next year.
“When I’ve learned we really didn’t have a concrete source of history of the church, I decided we might as well start now to collect bits and pieces of history as a way of initially preserving the history of the parish,” he said.
Clare Russell, Helen Ellis and Elizabeth Auger are members of a committee gathering information on the parish’s history. They are also long-time members of the parish.
Mrs Russell, the first chair of the parish council, recalled the community started off as an off-shoot of St Mary’s, Northcote parish and had initially celebrated Masses in a hall on Glenfield Rd.
“It was a very special feeling those early days. The men went up on a Saturday afternoon and put the pews out and then everybody stayed behind on Sunday to put them all back again,” she said.
“[The hall] was used always for parties on Saturday nights and it stank of beer. There were beer bottles and cans everywhere. The men had this massive clean-up job to do before we could have Mass on Sunday and it just became impossible. That’s when we shifted to a school,” she added.
Mrs Auger noted Glenfield was a parish even before parishioners had a building.
“It was a long time going to Mass in halls but you felt you were part of Glenfield parish,” she said.
Mrs Ellis said there were a lot of English immigrants who came to Glenfield to live in the late 70’s to the 80’s when the parish was being set up.
“We haven’t seen it anywhere officially but we kind of thought because there was a big English population here that the parish was named after the English saint,” she said.
Mrs Russell commented as a matter of interest that Filipino immigrants now make up the largest ethnicity in Glenfield.
In the early 2000’s, Chaldean parish priest Fr Fawzi Hanna worked to establish their community on the North Shore and St Thomas More church was shared with their Roman Catholic brethren.
Fr Garcia and the committee members are encouraging past and present parishioners to contribute whatever snippets of information they can provide.
“The history of the church had been documented in a briefer form. I wrote it several years ago but of course, it’s not up to date and it was the basics,” said Mrs Russell.
“What we would like to do is pad that out and bring it up to date, incorporate photos and put it out in a booklet or book form.”
Mrs Ellis said the committee will accept any information people might want to provide.
“We welcome titbit stories, photos, old newsletters, bulletins kept in some box somewhere. We’d welcome people to come to the [35th anniversary] event,” she said.
Mrs Ellis said people could go on their website: www.stm2018.net to contribute stories or pictures.
Fr Garcia said the book will acknowledge the contributions of the different priests as well as the parishioners who served in the parish. They want to pay special tribute to those who passed away like Fr Neville Browne, first parish priest.
“Hopefully, while the community is changing, in terms of people coming here from different cultures, they will also learn to appreciate how this parish started and respect its context and history,” Fr Garcia said.