Puhoi prepares for 150th anniversary

A historic photo of the Puhoi Catholic church (courtesey Auckland Diocese Archives)

by NZ CATHOLIC staff

PUHOI, Auckland — Invitations are on the way to a special group of priests as celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Bohemian community of Puhoi, north of Auckland, gain momentum.

As well as Auckland’s Bishop Pat Dunn, the list will include those surviving priests who have given service to the parish over the past half century. Among them will be Fr John Allardyce, SM, a Russek and Meaney family descendant. Ordained on July 4, 1964, he is the only priest the once strongly Catholic community has produced.

By contrast, around 20 descendants have become nuns, mainly of the Mercy and Sisters of St Joseph of the Most Sacred Heart congregations. The latter staffed the Puhoi Convent School from 1923 until 1964, when it closed for lack of Catholic pupils.

For the priests, the highlight of the sesquicentennial celebration weekend, June 28-30, 2013, will be the Saturday June 29 Mass at 9am in the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. For former parish priest Fr Nicholas Alleman, however, Sunday’s Mass the following day is likely to have even more meaning, as it falls on the 51st anniversary of his ordination in Holland.

The June 29 Mass commemorates the day in 1863 when the first wave of 83 pioneers from Bohemia, formerly a kingdom in the Austrian Empire, today a region of the Czech Republic, landed on the river bank near the present Puhoi Hall, said sesquicentennial committee publicist Judith Williams.

A historic photo of the Puhoi Catholic church (courtesey Auckland Diocese Archives)

The pioneers were ferried up the Puhoi River by Maori living at the river’s mouth in the present Wenderholm Regional Park.

Mass and a Rosary procession to the Puhoi cemetery, as well as a pioneer landing reenactment, were some of the highlights of the June 1963 centennial celebrations.

Two of the personalities who featured in the centennial celebrations have died. Born in 1895, Fr Frank Skinner, BEM, was priest when the parish still had its centre in the village of Puhoi. Fr Theodore van Lieshout, the curate, worked with local resident Kathleen Straka to prepare the family trees of many of the original founding families — work that has informed much of today’s genealogical research.

Photographs of the 1963 landing reenactment show Fr Theo’s little motorboat, the Sts Peter and Paul, approaching a river bank crowded with onlookers.

The 2013 reenactment has already been held, on Saturday, February 23, along with the official opening of two new wharves.

Fr Matt Brady, in 1974 the first parish priest of the newly combined Puhoi-Hibiscus Coast parish, died in 2012 but, the present priest of the now Warkworth-Puhoi Parish, Fr Arobati Rikare, may be at the celebrations, with his own Kiribati people.

Fr Arobati is the parish’s first non-European priest and also the chaplain for the wider region’s Kiribati Catholic community.

For a brief few months a new, young ordinand, now Msgr, David Tonks, worked in the parish and became loved for his youth and enthusiasm.

Over the past half century Puhoi has been served by men from a variety of religious congregations, the most recent being Columban Father Sean O’Connor-Vickers, while there are strong links with the Franciscans, priests and religious brothers,
who have a holiday home at Te Muri beach.

Information about the sesquicentennial weekend of June 28-30, as well as the six months’ run-up programme with its calendar of functions and activities, can be found on the website: www.puhoi150years.org.nz The site contains registration instructions and details of memorabilia sales are soon to come.

Meanwhile “pieces of Puhoi” — crosses, crucifixes and other devotional items crafted from timber from the recently renovated church — are on sale through the parish website: www.holyname.org.nz

As well as public events, a number of Bohemian-descended families have been running private reunions. They include the mid-February gathering of the descendants of Charles and Theresia Straka and the March Auckland reunion of John and Elizabeth Schollum’s descendants.

John and Elizabeth, born Hartzeren, married in Hamburg in 1863 on their way to New Zealand from Bohemia, while Charles and Theresia were the grandparents of families still living close to Puhoi.

The Puhoi Sisters were always very grateful to Charles Straka for the help he gave them, including with motor car transport, in their impoverished earler years in the settlement.

The July 29 sesquicentennial Mass will honour the Christian faith that brought the settlement through times of economic difficulty, and also the men who served as its priests.

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