Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin SM has blessed and officially opened three buildings in Timaru, including the newly earthquake-strengthened Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the parish centre and the Roncalli Sport Complex, on November 8. These projects had a total cost of over $6 million.
Bishop Martin told NZ Catholic he is delighted that the basilica has been strengthened and now open again for worship. The basilica had been closed since January.
“It is a statement of the faith of the current community (Holy Family parish) and their commitment to this place which has meant so much to the Catholic community in Timaru and continues to be a visible witness to Christ and his Church in the city. I look forward to many more generations of Catholic people in Timaru making this beautiful place of God their home,” he said.
Holy Family parish priest Fr Christopher Friel said the parishioners had been waiting patiently for almost two years to get back to their basilica. In addition to earthquake strengthening, the basilica was also fitted with a new heating system as well as a new sound system.
“People were very lost without it. The parishioners who usually attend the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, they were waiting with abated breath to get back into their basilica. We’ve been using the Church of St Thomas further away over these last two years, but Sacred Heart Basilica parishioners have always been wanting to get back in,” Fr Friel said.
Bishop Martin concelebrated Mass with Frs Friel, Brian Fennessy and Do Nguyen. Fr Fennessy was the former parish priest while Fr Nguyen is the assistant parish priest.
At the Mass, Bishop Martin confirmed 31 children and young adults. He also bestowed papal awards on Jim Anderson, Bernard Feely, Val Ponsonby and Teresa Scott.
“It was a beautiful Mass. There would have been 560 people there. The rain stopped, thankfully. We had a very wet night the night before,” Fr Friel said.
This was auspicious, said Fr Friel, as they had to move outside for the blessing of the new parish centre and the sports complex behind it.
“The bishop was busy blessing and anointing and during a lot of good work for the parish on Sunday,” he said.
Fr Friel also celebrated his first Mass at the basilica that afternoon. He was appointed parish priest in February this year.
“[The basilica] was part of my faith journey as well,” said Fr Friel. He was ordained there and went to Roncalli College, which was formerly St Patrick’s High School.
Because the basilica is such a significant building in Timaru, even non-Catholics were waiting for it to open.
“Even the Timaru people who aren’t Catholic, for the last number of months, have been asking parishioners when will the church be open? Because, though not Catholics, it is part of their space. And they come in to admire it and bring their friends as well,” he said.
“It’s just great to be back in our own building.”