by JIM COSTELLO
About 150 years ago, a priest on his way to a posting in Greymouth died when the City of Dunedin sank in Cook Strait.
Fr Michael Driscoll would have been the first parish priest of St Patrick’s, Greymouth. At the 150th anniversary celebrations (sesquicentennial) of the parish from November 20 to 22, guests heard that the parish lost three priests in its first 10 years.
Fr Colomb drowned while crossing a flooded waterway and Fr Belliard died of pneumonia, most likely the result of travelling in cold, wet weather.
In 1865, Greymouth parish became the first Catholic parish on the West Coast, followed a few weeks later by Hokitika.
The first St Patrick’s Church, in Arney St, was opened on December 10, 1865. It was soon destroyed by fire and replaced by another church, opened on June 17, 1866.
Fr J. M. Tressalet, SM, celebrated the first Mass in Greymouth. The parish school opened in 1866.
The early priests were mainly French, serving a strongly Irish flock. St Patrick’s first priest to serve there was Fr Emmanuel Royer. He was followed by Fr Hallum, SM, in 1867. He was succeeded by Fr Nicholas Binsfield in 1870, and Fr Binsfield was succeeded by Fr Colomb. The Marist presence continued until about 1921. The sesquicentennial celebrations began on Friday afternoon —
in heavy rain — with a school Mass in the St John Paul High School gymnasium (formerly St Columba Hall). Those attending included students and staff of St Patrick’s Primary School, years 9 and 10 students and staff from St John Paul II High School, priests, nuns and brothers who either originated from the parish or who had taught or worked in its schools. Mass celebrant was parish priest Fr Peter Costello, with concelebrants Msgr Gerry O’Connor, Fr Michael Mahoney, SM, and Fr Dennis Nolan. In his homily, Fr Costello reminded the children that they are the future of the Church and he wished them well for the bicentenary in 2065. On Saturday, many visitors took time to visit old friends and haunts around the district as well as looking around the schools and St Patrick’s Church. Following the Vigil Mass the congregation gathered outside the church for the unveiling and blessing of a plaque to mark 150 years of a Catholic presence in Greymouth. Once Fr Costello had blessed the plaque, people adjourned to the Union Hotel for the sesquicentennial banquet. MC Frank O’Donnell entertained guests with his repartee and introduced Fr John Adams, who was standing in for Bishop Barry Jones, as well as Fr Costello, and the artists who entertained guests with music — Angus Wallace, Clara and Hazel Whitcombe and Brian and Sonia Blackman. At Mass on Sunday Fr Adams presided, assisted by eight priests.
Between them they represented Bishop Jones, the parish, priests who had come from the parish or the West Coast, the Marist Fathers of the Society of Mary — who ran the parish for most of its first 50 years —Wellington archdiocese, which also administered the area in the early days and, finally, the Murray St Gang. Representing young people and also assisting at Mass was Deacon Tranh Tran, who was to be ordained to the priesthood on December 4. In his homily, Fr Adams reminded the congregation of the qualities that make up West Coasters and what a great heritage there is to back them up and to emulate. Before Mass ended a tribute was made to all the priests of the parish over 150 years, the teachers in the schools and especially the nuns and brothers who had worked in the schools and community and continue to do so, and then finally to those from the district who had left to pursue a vocation as a priest, nun or brother and to serve Our Lord elsewhere. Following Mass the congregation gathered in the church grounds around the newly erected Grotto of Our Lady for its official blessing by senior pastor and assistant priest, Msgr Gerry O’Connor. All then adjourned to the Marist Rugby League clubrooms for the cutting of the cake and morning tea. The special jubilee cake was cut by the eldest parishioner, Kath Curtis, after an address by Mayor Tony Kokshoorn.