New church opened on Bethlehem shore


Surrounded by the natural beauty of Tauranga Harbour and nestled near the Hangarau Marae, a new church dedicated to St Therese was blessed and opened by Bishop Stephen Lowe on Sunday, August 28. This is the fourth chapel to be dedicated to St Therese at Bethlehem. Bishop Pompallier established the Mission Station of St Thomas Aquinas at Tauranga in 1840 and the Marist missionaries built a chapel at Bethlehem in 1847.

Marcus Dudley from Aquinas College leads Bishop Stephen Lowe to the entrance of St Therese church in Bethlehem. Marcus is bearing a cross made from salvaged wood from the previous church which was destroyed by fire.

Marcus Dudley from Aquinas College
leads Bishop Stephen Lowe to the entrance of St Therese church
in Bethlehem. Marcus is bearing a cross made from salvaged wood from the previous church which was
destroyed by fire.

It was the Marist Missionaries who gave biblical place names to the mission stations around Tauranga.

The Land Wars, and subsequent confiscation of land along with a shortage of priests saw a demise of the outlying mission stations around Tauranga until the arrival of the Mill Hill priests in 1893.

A wooden church dedicated to St Therese was opened on June 1, 1928 during the time of Fr Adrian Holierhoek, MHM. That church was used until the third church dedicated to St Therese was opened in 1972.

This was built by the builder priest Fr Dolphyn, MHM, with the help of parishioners including engineer Anselm Meehan and the late Hillary Evans.

This church served well until it was destroyed by arson two years ago. The concrete floor laid by Anselm Meehan survived the fire and was re-used in the rebuilding.

The simple lines of the new St Therese church, based on the traditional Maori whare, has a large window behind the altar giving a clear view of the harbour, the islands and hills beyond.

Bishop Lowe spoke of the rejoicing in the grace and power of God as people rejoiced at the opening of the new church.

As Pompallier brought the faith that was embraced by the Maori people it was up to people to pass it on to their mokopuna.

“We need to look to St Therese, to her simple faith, to love and to give everything,” the
bishop said.

Bishop Lowe said “this chapel is a place for coming to Jesus. It is stunningly perfect, showing the beauty of creation”.

Fr Mark Field, parish priest of the Tauranga Moana parish of St Thomas Aquinas, paid tribute to the many people who assisted in the rebuilding and opening of the new church, including Mark Nicholas who prepared the liturgy of blessing, and coordinated the efforts of the
local people, and Carlo Smith who has worked tirelessly towards the chapel’s rebuilding.

The rimu pews were gifted from the Piopio parish, and the Stations of the Cross came from the Reporoa church. Both of these country churches, which are now closed, were remembered with gratitude.

A large oil painting of Mary and Jesus by the late Bonnie Casey replaced the Maori Madonna lost in the fire. The latter was also painted by Bonnie Casey.

After the opening, Bishop Lowe, clergy and congregation were welcomed onto Hangarau Marae for a meal and celebrations.

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NZ Catholic Staff

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