Renwick parishioners ‘shocked’ at closure plans

Renwick church

by CATHIE BELL 

Losing St Francis de Sales church building would cut the heart out of the local Catholic community and remove one of the few remaining historic buildings in Renwick, a meeting to oppose the potential sale of the building was told.  

The meeting of 15 people in the Renwick part of the Marlborough Te Whetu o Moana Star of the Sea parish of Marlborough was called, after Cardinal John Dew announced at the end of July that churches in Renwick and Havelock would be closed as part of plans to reorganise church buildings across the archdiocese. 

Marlborough Heritage Trust executive director Steve Austin talks to the meeting, chaired by Allan Newman, with Litty Newman taking minutes.

Renwick parishioner Allan Newman said people were “just shocked” about the proposal. 

“There’s a real groundswell out there. People don’t want this to happen, they want it to stay in Renwick. It’s historic.” 

The land was given by Dr Thomas Renwick for a Catholic church – he also donated land to other denominations for their church buildings too – and 110 years on, four of the five families that gave funds for the building were still coming to Mass there, Mr Newman said.  

He and others are now working on forming a group to raise the church’s profile, and to come up with a solution that will meet the congregation’s needs. 

“Maybe our history has been under a bushel.” 

St Francis de Sales hosts a Mass once a month. However, Mr Newman said, Renwick was a growing area, and five new Catholics had shown up to the most recent Mass. 

Parishioner Paddy Dawkins said that, without a place to come to for worship, Renwick people would lose their connection to the Church. 

“You could go into St Mary’s in Blenheim but, for young people, they’re looking for something closer to home.” 

Marlborough Heritage Trust executive director Steve Austin told the gathering that they needed to be clear on what their goal was. 

“Saving the building can include a whole range of things.” 

Mr Austin told the group that they needed to be realistic about the costs of ongoing care for buildings, and about what their needs were, including how important the church building was compared to their mission in the community. 

“To me, this church is symbolic of the church community and the love, and where people would come for support. But the environment changes. You need to be mindful about balancing these things – the past is a point of reference, not a place of residence.” 

 

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