by JEFF DILLON

If ever there was a pastor who knew the smells of the sheep in his various flocks, just as Pope Francis desires, Dunedin diocese’s Fr Merv McGettigan would be one such man.
Fr McGettigan, who recently celebrated the 60th jubilee of his priesthood, can count among the places where he has served many country districts and small towns in the south — including Omakau, Ranfurly, Tuatapere, Nightcaps and Cromwell.

He has been retired for 12 years, and now he can look back with quiet satisfaction on the service he has provided.

Fr McGettigan was born in Oamaru in 1934 during the Depression years. The family moved several times in the 1930’s. However by about 1944 the family had moved to Alexandra in Central Otago and he attended St Gerard’s primary school for his standard 5 and 6 schooling.

At the age of 13 in early 1948 he went to Holy Name seminary in Christchurch in the second intake at that newly established institution. He spent five years there for his secondary education before starting at Holy Cross College in Mosgiel in about 1952 for his training for the priesthood.

After this, he had to spend some weeks in the middle of winter at Chatto Creek, renowned for having the coldest New Zealand temperatures, waiting for the new church at Alexandra to be completed. The Church of St John the Baptist was officially opened on July 27, 1958.
Two days later Merv McGettigan was ordained a priest of the Dunedin diocese, the first to be ordained in that church.

He had a number of positions as curate before he was appointed parish priest at Omakau in about 1970.  Then, after an 11 month position there, he became
parish priest at Ranfurly for four years.

Other placements followed with Tuatapere (5 years), Queenstown (4 years), and Nightcaps for about 6 years. Then he came to Waverley in Dunedin but was also part
time spiritual director at Holy Cross College for 5 years.

When Holy Cross was moved to Auckland, Fr McGettigan remained in the south and became parish priest in Cromwell. He retired from that position 12 years ago. Soon after that he moved into one of the purpose-built priests’ retirement residences at Holy Cross in Mosgiel.

Reminiscing and turning the pages of a photo album packed with black and white photos of his ordination day, Fr McGettigan noted features such as the altar rails
and the altar against the back wall and other items which have been removed or moved elsewhere over the years since. The only thing that hasn’t moved in the sanctuary area, he observed, is the pulpit which probably being concrete was too heavy to shift.

Looking at photos of the meal afterwards he noted the generosity of the parishioners at the time. They turned on quite a banquet for his ordination breakfast complete with a three-tier cake.

He knew many people in Alexandra and spent holidays there. He said that the Alexandra parish had been very good to him. He observed that support of parishioners was very important for a priest.

He has been involved with the Alexandra parish with school jubilees and had been asked back in 2008 to attend the 50th jubilee of the church and again recently
for the 60th.

When asked if he would attend the 70th, Fr McGettigan, 84, replied, “We’ll see.”

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