by MICHAEL OTTO
ROTORUA — Plans have been made for the superior of the traditionalist Society of St Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, to come to New Zealand in October this year, when supporters hope he will bless a former Catholic church building that is to be moved from Rotorua to Auckland.
Bishop Fellay, whose excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, sparked controversy late last year after calling Jews “enemies of the Church” in a speech in Canada on December 28 (see sidebar).
According to an SSPX New Zealand newsletter, Bishop Fellay will also administer the sacrament of Confirmation in the SSPX’s parish in Wanganui during his visit.
Fr Robert MacPherson, SSPX, told NZ Catholic it is hoped that the former Church of the Immaculate Conception in Ngongotaha, near Rotorua, would be able to be moved to an SSPX property in Avondale in Auckland in time for Bishop Fellay to bless the building.
The church, which was built in 1915, was put up for tender last year, and NZ Catholic understands the owner, who bought it in April, later on-sold the building to the society.
After the SSPX chapel in Avondale burned down on New Year’s Day, Latin Masses in the Tridentine rite have been celebrated for the Auckland congregation of about 100 people in a cinema complex, a hockey pavilion, an RSA, a marquee and at a cricket club. More recently, Masses have been held in a hall at Avondale College.
One Sunday Mass is celebrated by the SSPX in Auckland every week, with Masses on alternate Sundays in Whangarei and Hamilton. Fr MacPherson travels from Wanganui each week for those Masses. Other Sunday Masses are celebrated in Wellington each week and in Napier, usually twice a month.
The Auckland chapel that burned down was not insured, but the contents were. Nonetheless, the parish has saved $164,000 for the first phase of relocating the Ngongotaha building to Auckland. A further $86,000 is needed to expand the building.
Longstanding Ngongotaha parishioner Eddie Dibley is pleased the old building is to be used as a church.
“I think if it is going to be used for something like that, it is very good,” Mr Dibley said. One bidder for the building wanted to use it as a barn. Another wanted to use it as a funeral home, he said.
His grandfather helped build the church, and his parents were married in it. Mr Dibley and his 10 siblings were all baptised in the church.
In later years, when there was no priest available, Mr Dibley and a handful of locals used to have a monthly para-liturgy in the building. But since the early 2000s, it had not been used by Catholic parishioners. A local Maori church used the building for a few years, but that came to an end.
Mr Dibley said that despite not being used, there were still costs associated with the building and, if it was not used, it would inevitably be vandalised. So a decision was made to sell.
The land on which the Church stands was gifted to the Catholic Church by Taui Takeri in 1938, and that land will return to local iwi.