Passionist priest Fr John Pearce touched many parts of the wider Marlborough community during his two and a half years as parish priest at Star of the Sea parish.

That was shown by the many different aspects of his funeral in Blenheim on May 11 — the special mats provided by the Tongan community, who had watched the Australia-Tonga rugby league test match last October at the presbytery, as well as contributions from the St Mary’s School teachers and pupils, plus the strong turnout from Blenheim’s Muslim community, recognising the role he’d played in getting Marlborough’s memorial service for the 51 Muslims slain in the massacre in Christchurch and the sprinkling of air force uniforms from Base Woodbourne, where Fr Pearce was a very proud chaplain.

About 1200 people filled Blenheim’s convention centre to farewell the much-loved priest at a funeral Mass led by Cardinal John Dew.

Fr Pearce died suddenly on May 5, of an apparent heart attack, while on a plane about to take off from Blenheim airport for Auckland. He was on his way to Rome to take part in discussions on the Passionist order’s 300th jubilee.

Fr John Pearce, CP.

Parish council chairman Greg Stretch said at the beginning of the funeral that he had told Fr Pearce on the previous Saturday night to “travel safely, enjoy Rome, and say hi to the big guy for me”.

“I meant Pope Francis, but clearly John had other ideas.”

Fr Pearce’s brother Peter said his oldest brother John was destined to be a priest.

Their mother contracted tuberculosis in 1958 and the family was split up until she recovered.

“Mum prayed a lot while she was sick; I remember there was a saying in the house that if she got over her illness, she would dedicate her first son to God. John’s future was sealed; it was a given that one day he would become a priest. He left home to join the Passionist novitiate at St Ives. I was 13, John was 16.”

Fr Pat McIndoe, assistant parish priest at Star of the Sea Parish and a friend of Fr Pearce’s since seminary days together, said this priest had been a wonderful gift to the parish and the wider Marlborough community.

“He took on the role of Jesus in our midst, that word of Scripture in our lives . . . God has good things in store for all of us, and John helped us recognise that.”

He said Fr Pearce was a proud Passionist and loved to preach the message of the Cross.

Passionist provincial Fr Tom McDonough said that Fr Pearce was in the prime of his life when he died.

“He had renewed confidence in himself, he knew he was valued by us his brothers. He was affirmed as a provincial consultor, as a member of the executive of our Asian Pacific regional governance; he was on our Congregational International Committee for our 300th jubilee, he was loving his work at Marlborough rolling out the Archdiocesan Strategic Plan, and developing strategies of his own for the future Church. Wherever he went, his gifts, abilities and competence were being affirmed.We Passionists will miss all of John’s gifts and his energy, but most of all we will miss John. He leaves an enormous hole in the province, which can’t be filled. We are richer for
having shared life with him and I guess what John would want us to do now is to share the stories, enjoy the wake,
and then to get back to work bringing the message of God’s incredible love to those who need it most.”

On May 12, Fr Pearce’s body was flown to Sydney, where he was farewelled at another former parish of his, St Brigid’s,
Marrickville. Fr McIndoe and Mr Stretch went to the May 15 funeral, representing Star of the Sea parish.