by JUDITH WILLIAMS
PUHOI — Thousands of visitors passed through Puhoi over the weekend of June 28-30, most honouring their connection to the place as the settlement celebrated 150 years since it was founded.
All the booked functions for the weekend — seniors’ lunch, old-time dinner and dance, Bohemian music and dance sessions — were filled to overflowing.
The special Saturday morning Mass commemorating the 1863 arrival of the first wave of 83 Bohemian immigrants on the feast of Sts Peter and Paul was celebrated by Auckland’s Catholic bishop, Bishop Patrick Dunn, assisted by other priests with family and pastoral connections to the Warkworth–Puhoi parish. They included retired former parish priest Fr Paddy Collins. Another retired priest with years of service to the local parish, Fr Nick Alleman, was remembered at the Sunday Mass of the following day, the 51st anniversary of his ordination.
At the same Mass the popular traditional hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, often heard in the old church of the past, was sung again, with words adapted to the circumstances and history of Puhoi’s Bohemian pioneers.
In her welcome to the bishop and guests at the Saturday Mass, Bernadette Straka told the congregation: “It has been said, could they but speak, the hills around Puhoi would tell us today of groans, despair and agony, of back-breaking physical labour, of tragedy and sadness, of tears of sorrow, of incredible endurance, near starvation, and bravery on the part of the first Bohemian settlers.
“Here we are 150 years later. Today we remember our ancestors. This Mass is a celebration of their joys and sorrows, but most importantly it is the celebration of their resolute faith and trust in Our Lord.”
The Catholic church of Sts Peter and Paul, Puhoi, received one of the most substantial makeovers of its life in time for the celebrations.
The altar’s large statues of Jesus and Mary, which had been sent off months earlier for probably the first cleaning and restoration of faded and chipped paintwork in their almost 132 years in the village church, arrived home just days before the big weekend.
Their cleanup was part of the latter stage of a huge project to restore the historic church, started more than three years ago by fundraiser Jenny Schollum, parish council chairwoman Mrs Straka and her builder husband, Simon. Costing up to $400,000 when finally completed, the work will ensure the church, so central to the lives of the Bohemian pioneers, will be good for another 100 years.