A new mission centre in Hawera features the offices of the Catholic school principal and the parish priest under the same roof, with school and parish administration areas in the one shared building.

The school and parish secretaries work “open-plan” alongside each other in the centre. The new mission centre was officially opened on May 28. South Taranaki District deputy mayor Phil Nixon was among those at the opening, which took place after the 9.30am Sunday Mass.

Kaumatua Ray Edwards encouraged the people to be unified around the success of this new venture.

Bishop Charles Drennan, Fr Craig Butler and Phil Nixon.
Bishop Charles Drennan, Fr Craig Butler and Phil Nixon.

Bishop Charles Drennan blessed the rooms of the mission centre, then there were speeches in the hall and a performance from the school kapa haka group.

Despite the bad weather, Bishop Drennan said that the blessing and opening was “a really joyous occasion with lots of positive feedback and excitement”.

He noted that the new facility has changed dramatically the foot traffic into the heart of the parish: “Young parents and children and all their energy are a part of the mission centre, which is the heart of the school and parish alongside the church.”

It is a unique venture for Palmerston North diocese. Bishop Drennan told NZ Catholic that the vision for the new centre is “to make real our hope to fully integrate the school with its parish”.

He said part of the inspiration for the centre came from visits he made to Wairoa in northern Hawke’s Bay.

“During visits to our Wairoa parish I was impressed that their parish office was located in a spare classroom, and therefore was in the heart of the school. Some might say, ‘what difference does that make?’ What struck me during my visits was that the priests knew every child by name and something about each of their families. And the children all knew their priests by name. That’s fantastic. This is my expectation for all priests and parishes in our diocese. In larger parishes and colleges this goal may never be fully realised, but we can never turn a blind eye to the scriptural image of the shepherd knowing his sheep by name.”

Bishop Drennan said St Joseph’s parish in Hawera had been facing the prospect of building two new administration areas, for the school and the parish.

“Building two new buildings seemed to me to be backward-looking, an old model of Church, and a waste of scarce financial resources. The mission centre is a realisation of how we now think of ourselves as one faith community or iwi whakapono. The days of parish/school divide are over.”

Bishop Drennan added that he used the term “mission centre” during a consultation meeting in Hawera, and “it must have taken to people’s hearts”.

“I was delighted to learn that the local Māori described the mission of the centre as the whakapono mahi, or the work of faith, the work of passing on our faith to the next generation. This encapsulates exactly why we are here. And so the mission centre is good news for Hawera and South Taranaki”.

For the school and parish staff in Hawera, the changes will take a bit of getting used to.

Parish priest Fr Craig Butler said the closer contact between the school and parish is a positive outcome, and that he is “enjoying working with the staff of the mission centre”.

Parish secretary Patrea Clement noted that although things are now quite different, the centre seems to be working well.

The school secretary, Raewyn Dombroski, has received a positive response about the new centre from parishioners and parents.