by JEFF DILLON
Tuesday, November 26, 2019, dawned quietly. The day marked the 150th birthday of the Diocese of Dunedin. All through the cathedral, no creature was stirring, not even a mouse. There was no ringing of St Joseph’s Cathedral bell as might happen, for example, when the first albatross of the new breeding season returns to the Dunedin area.
There was no special celebratory Mass, as all the diocesan priests were away on retreat for the whole week.
Back in 1840, Bishop Pompallier celebrated the first Mass down at Otakou on the Otago Peninsula near Tairoa Head. It is reputed to have been the first Christian ceremony to take place in what was to become the Otago region.
By March, 1848, the first European settlers from Scotland and England began arriving to establish the beginnings of Dunedin as a settlement. The discovery of gold in Central Otago in 1861 transformed the nature of the settlement as people flooded in to join the gold rush. A number of those came from Ireland.
On November 26, 1869, a decree set up the Dunedin diocese and Irish-born Patrick Moran was appointed as bishop. In 1876, the Christian Brothers order established their first school in Dunedin. By 1877, the F. W. Petre-designed and mainly concrete Dominican Priory had been built to house the Dominican sisters and provide classrooms for girls.
Other religious orders were to be invited in the years that followed. Then, by 1886, the F. W. Petre-designed St Joseph’s Cathedral had opened beside the Dominican Priory.
Although never completed in the full form that Petre envisaged, it is still an impressive building.
These two buildings at the centre of the then-young diocese represented a statement about the strength and determination of the Catholic people of the time to support and establish a solid base for the flourishing of the faith in the Otago and Southland region. Churches and schools were built throughout the parishes of Otago and Southland, with the financial and faith-filled support of parishioners.
This year, on the 150th anniversary, most Catholic schools in the diocese planted a tree to mark the occasion.
Bishop Michael Dooley had also encouraged parishes to mark the event at some stage in the week by choosing a project, (e.g. planting a tree, reaching out to a housebound neighbour, cleaning up a local beach/ stream, cooking for someone in need).
That was followed with the preparation and printing of a prayer card distributed to all parishioners at Masses on the weekend following the key date. The prayer card begins with the following :
“E te Atua , we thank you for those who have gone before us on the faith journey; For all they contributed to build community for their time and ours; For the legacy of faith in our hearts, communities and homes.”
Bishop Dooley has also invited all parishes to support the theme of a social justice outreach. The idea is for parishioners to provide financial donations to offer support to needy people through Diocesan Catholic Social Services. A special collection at the end of Masses on December 7-8 would provide funds, which could be earmarked for funding parenting, counselling or social worker support.