Public recognition of musicians is rare but enjoyable, said Howick parish’s long-time choirmaster Peter Gilmour upon his receiving the papal medal Benemerenti on July 23.

Mr Gilmour was presented with the medal at a Sunday Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea church.

Parish pastoral council chairperson Sandie D’Mello told the congregation that Mr Gilmour is a “legend” of the parish with his various roles.

“How you do it all, we have no idea,” she said.

Mrs D’Mello noted the part that Eileen, Peter’s wife, had played in helping to compile the papal medal nomination information on her husband.

“Peter now knows [she] is capable of keeping a secret from him,” Mrs D’Mello said, to laughter from the congregation. “Eileen thank you for your sacrifice. It is a big ask. So this award is yours as much as it is his.”

Mr Gilmour thanked his wife for her generosity in letting him spend so much time on Church music.

He added that there had been a wonderful choral tradition in the parish before his time. He paid tribute to his current choir members and to his predecessors, past organists and singers at the parish.

“Sacred music is a team game, and . . . the captain is only as good as the rest of the team.”

Mr Gilmour noted recent struggles to keep the choir numbers up, but said that four new members had joined recently.

“However, we need especially men. . . . If you know someone who can sing, dob them in [to us],” he exhorted his fellow parishioners.

Before the Mass, parish priest Fr John Fitzmaurice said that the point of being a human being is to praise God and that music is a gift from God. The award to Mr Gilmour celebrates this, the priest said.

A convert to Catholicism when he was at university, Mr Gilmour came to Howick in 1969, but moved to Wellington in 1971 before returning to Howick in 1975.

He started sharing organ playing duties in the parish and was also an assistant organist at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a time.

Then in 1978, he became Howick parish’s permanent organist and since 1994, he has been the parish’s choirmaster.

At about the same time as he became choirmaster, he joined the reestablished parish liturgy committee and has been its secretary for much of the time since.

According to his papal medal nomination information, he still co-ordinates the music groups and their rosters that allocate the different groups to play at the various Masses, as well as playing the organ at two Masses on Sundays and on occasions like weddings, funerals and feast-day Masses.

The establishment of long standing joint Ash Wednesday services with All Saints Anglican church in Howick was one of Mr Gilmour’s initiatives. He has also held secular appointments including being both Auckland president and national president of the New Zealand Organists Association.


  1. A fitting tribute, Peter, and Eileen, for a lifetime of creative and uplifting music to fill the souls of the faithful, and fellow-travellers. Richard Randerson, former university colleague at Otago