One story told after the funeral of Msgr Ray Green was an illustration of both the man and of his many years of pastoral ministry.
A long time parishioner of St Mark’s parish in Pakuranga, where Msgr Green had been the foundation parish priest in the 1970s, told NZ Catholic of one difficult Christmas in that decade.
It was the first Christmas in which she was a solo mother, raising several children, she said. Then-Father Green showed up at her house with several containers of festive food. He told her she had won the parish
“But I never bought a ticket,” she told NZ Catholic.
As Bishop Patrick Dunn said in the homily at a requiem Mass at St Mark’s on July 19, “he had a lovely heart, a great heart, a kind heart and a heart for God and a heart for the Gospel”.
That wasn’t to say that he wasn’t “sometimes being a bit
grumpy or crabby, losing his cool occasionally”, the bishop noted.
But he would want to extend his apologies for those times, Bishop Dunn said.
Msgr Green died on July 15 at St Joseph’s Home in Ponsonby, just a week away from the 63rd anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He was 92 years old.
Bishop Dunn spoke of Msgr Green’s early family life in Auckland, the loss of his mother when he was 12, his being a foundation pupil at St Peter’s College and of his following his father as a plumber.
Ordained in 1956, then-Fr Green’s first appointment was as a curate in Epsom.
Bishop Dunn said that Bishop Liston told him “Ray, you are older than the others (newly ordained priests) and the parish priest is a very good and holy man. I
think you’ll cope”.
“Which was a coded way of saying the parish priest could be a bit difficult. I think he had a happy time there,” Bishop Dunn said.
Other appointments were at Whakatane, Tuakau (where Fr Green was chaplain to the Marist Brothers’ juniorate), Ponsonby (where he taught at St Paul’s College), Thames and Panmure.
In 1971, Bishop Reginald Delargey asked Fr Green to found the parish in Pakuranga.
Bishop Dunn said that Msgr Green would later tell him that the years he spent in Pakuranga (1971-1983) were the happiest of his life.
“He said, fancy that, here I was in a parish — no buildings, but living stones, you know, the faithful people of God. At the age of 44, this was a great challenge and he was thrilled at the opportunity,” the bishop said.
A new church was built, followed a few years later by a new school.
“When he left the parish in 1983, it was debt-free. It was a remarkable achievement. But he spoke constantly about how wonderful the people were at St Mark’s,” Bishop Dunn said. Their faith inspired him, the bishop
“There’s a saying that a priest leaves his heart in his first parish and his books in his second. I don’t know what he did with his books, but he left his heart here
at St Mark’s.”
Fr Green moved to Owairaka and in that parish of Christ the King there would later be the challenge of building another new church and new school, because of the new motorway for the Waterview Connection tunnel.
Altogether, he was parish priest at Owairaka for 26 years. A vigil Mass was celebrated there on July 18. Bishop Dunn said Msgr Green would tell him how wonderful the parish at Owairaka was too.
“He was into buildings, physical buildings, but mostly he was into building up God’s holy people. That was where his heart lay,” Bishop Dunn said.
He was “a great pastor, a great preacher really — short and sweet was the way he used to talk”.
He was made an Honorary Prelate of His Holiness in 2007, with the title “Monsignor”.
At the Pakuranga Mass, Bishop Dunn thanked all those who had cared for Msgr Green in his retirement and in his final months.