by JOHN FONG

The instruction from Bishop Denis Browne (when he was Bishop of Hamilton) was clear: Restore St Mary’s Chapel. This involved earthquake-strengthening, upgrading building services, re-wiring and undertaking architectural upgrades, heritage conservation and internal repairs and maintenance.

And so the St Mary’s Convent Chapel Charitable Trust was set up to raise the necessary funds and to oversee the work. The trust commissioned a conservation plan which was to definitively describe the existing historic fabric of the building, evaluate the heritage value of the fabric, and include a statement of heritage significance for aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, cultural, and historical factors, including comments on the importance of the site to Tangata Whenua.

The site on which the chapel sits in Hamilton East had been purchased by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in March, 1884 — and the chapel was subsequently built in 1926.

The St Mary’s statue was restored by Michael Pervan of the Studio of John the Baptist and is installed high up on the external south-end gable wall above the stained-glass picture of Mary and Child.

In 2003, the sisters moved out of Euphrasie House into new housing units and from that time boarders from Sacred Heart Girls’ College occupied the venue until 2011 when the building was deemed unsafe as an earthquake risk.

The site was then sold to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hamilton in 2012. Euphrasie House was demolished before restoration of the chapel could begin.

With work now mostly completed, a liturgical blessing of the chapel (now called St Mary’s Chapel) was held on September 15. It was a joyful occasion with Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe leading. In attendance were the Auckland and Waikato sisters of the congregation, trustees and other interested parties among the 110 persons present.

At the blessing, Bishop Lowe spoke of a river that starts small but grows and soon becomes impossible to cross. It’s an image of God giving us life, flowing as a river of the water of life, he said, adding that this chapel will make our lives richer as the grace of God flows within us.

The bishop observed that in the silence, we connect with God and when we have troubles, we go to the silence of our God.

In this place, we stop and reflect in silence, he continued. And we go out into the world renewed and refreshed. We give thanks for this place — a blessing, said Bishop Lowe.

Sr Carmel Cole, province leader of the New Zealand and Samoa Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, gave a brief historical account of the Mission Sisters’ work and presence in Hamilton. Sr Euphrasie Barbier herself had come in 1884.

Sr Carmel said: “So we now have this chapel as a reminder of all the history that has gone before. It was a place of worship.” Sr Carmel herself had spent three years at the convent there.

She gave thanks for all that had been done and the dedication the trustees have shown in bringing the building to what it is today.

Sr Carmel presented to Bishop Lowe a chasuble (made by Sr Philippa Reed) to mark the special occasion. The sisters then sang their hymn, Gloria Patri, which brought back for them many fond memories of the chapel.

The chair of the trust, Tony Egan, summarised the events leading to the formation of the trust, the costs involved, and concluded, “Whether you want to be married, sent to God or have a Baptism, this place is now open for business”.

The cost to complete all works is $1.04 million and $960,000 has been raised so far. Another $80,000 is required to complete the external aspects of the project.

The trust welcomes anyone interested in contributing toward this project.

Payments may be made to the Chapel Account: with BNZ, Victoria Street, Hamilton. Details are:

St. Mary’s Convent Chapel Charitable Trust.

Bank Account No: 020316 – 0498335 – 00

(Please include postal address for delivery of tax receipts)

For further information, please contact Julie South, Trustee

St. Mary’s Convent Chapel Charitable Trust

Email: julie.south@xtra.co.nz Phone: (07) 854 7179 Mobile: 027 282 4155

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