by Peter Owens
The Catholic people of Eastern Southland were among the first settlers in the region. This is exemplified in the number of Catholic churches built in this southern rural area over a number of years. Indeed every settlement of any size in Eastern Southland has a Catholic Church and often a resident priest.However times have changed and an improvement in transport, a drop in population and a reduction in the number of available clergy has meant that along with other areas in the Dunedin Diocese, the church has had to keep up with the times. In the 1980s the old Gore Church of the Blessed Sacrament was demolished and a new church erected.
This has proved to be a wise move, with the Catholic churches at Mataura and Riversdale being closed and sold and the centralisation of other churches in the region on the Gore church. These other churches at Tapanui, Waikaka and Balfour are now serviced by Fr Damian Wynn-Williams , parish priest of Gore and Fr Vincent Smith, who has retired but still works vigorously in the Gore parish.
The Gore parishioners were not the only locals surprised at the design and construction of the new Blessed Sacrament church when it opened in the 1980s but there has been universal acclaim for a recently installed stained glass surround in the church; a tabernacle which is situated between the main church and the adjoining chapel. There is access to the tabernacle from both sides.
This feature was instigated by Fr Wynn-Williams and the parish council instructed a highly-acclaimed craftsman, Peter McKenzie, of Hoi Ho Studio, Dunedin, to design and create the stained glass tabernacle surround. Fr Wynn-Williams had urged the designer to reflect the natural beauty of the region. In accordance with this, the glass depicts the local environment including the Hokonui Hills, which overlook Gore and local flora and fauna, including kowhai, native flax, toitoi, and Manuka and cabbage trees. It also includes representations of tui and pukeko — which roam freely throughout Eastern Southland.
The surround is not totally pictorial but also includes the inscription “Surely the Lord is in this place”, across the top of the stained glass and around the tabernacle door are the words “He Tapu, He Tapu, He Tapu, (Holy, Holy,Holy).”
The surround is also backlit and this was undertaken by local man and parishioner Geoffrey Wallis whose great, great grandparents were among the early parishioners of the Gore parish which was established in 1882. The joinery in which the new surround has been installed was undertaken and completed by another parishioner, Ian Withers, who is a prominent member of the Gore Woodworking Club.