by ROWENA OREJANA
Catholic Parish of Christchurch South parish priest Fr Peter Head, SM, has announced the closure of Our Lady of the Assumption church in Hoon Hay, following a notice from the Christchurch City Council that the building is earthquake-prone.
Fr Head said that his immediate concern is the safety of the parishioners, as well as that of the staff and students of Our Lady of the Assumption School, who use the church for their weekly school Masses.
The letter from the council stated that the church had been assessed at less than 34 per cent of the new building standard, and would be at risk during a moderate earthquake. It added that “if the building or a section of it collapses, it will likely result in injury or death to persons in or near the building”.
Fr Head met with affected parishioners on June 21 and again, held two meetings with interested parishioners on June 29, where he laid out the reasons for the church’s closure, and shared the options that were open to them.
“I think it’s fair to say that it was quite a shock to the parishioners because there was no indication of something like this happening,” Fr Head said. “At present, the priority [is] the parishioners and their Sunday Mass.”
In his message to the Hoon Hay parishioners, he said that they will “trial” the five weekends of July, where the parishioners of Hoon Hay attend one of the Masses in the other churches in the parish.
“We’ve got three other churches plus the Carmelite monastery. So, they have options of two vigils on a Saturday night, and they have options of four Masses on a Sunday morning in (Sacred Heart) Addington, (Sts Peter and Paul) Halswell, Carmelite monastery and (St Peter’s) Beckenham.”
“On Wednesday, August 2, there will be a meeting of the Hoon Hay parishioners to discuss/evaluate how this ‘trial’ has gone, and if required, look at other options. The meetings will be held in the Sacred Heart church at either 1.30pm or 7.30pm,” he said.
Fr Head said that, as soon as he received the letter from the council, he notified Bishop Michael Gielen and the diocese of what had happened. He also notified the parish staff, leadership team and management, as well as the principal of Our Lady of the Assumption school, Janet Cummings.
In a school newsletter dated June 22, Ms Cummings said that the news was “very sad for the parish and school community”, but “safety of all concerned comes first”. She said that Friday school Masses will instead be held in the parish hall on the school grounds.
Fr Head stated that the church will have to be deconsecrated and officially closed at some point in the future, but that is not something that will be discussed at this stage.
The Hoon Hay church was supposed to be torn down to make way for a new church that will serve the whole Christchurch South parish. This was part of the diocesan plan drawn up under the guidance of former Christchurch bishop and now Wellington Archbishop Paul Martin, SM.
However, this plan, which included the building of a new cathedral in the central city, was put on hold after a group of parishioners challenged the plan before the Vatican’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
“I will work through with the parishioners [on] some way in which we bring closure to that church. The more immediate [concern] for me is that the community is able to attend Mass on a Sunday at one of our other churches. That’s the top priority,” Fr Head said.
He said that he wants the Hoon Hay parishioners to know that they are being listened to.
“Everyone is feeling for the Hoon Hay parishioners because it happened so suddenly. They are a very active group of parishioners who attend there. Some from many generations, probably, since the church was opened way back in 1956,” he said.