Some 175 years ago, Fr Antoine Marie Garin, SM, built a school house in Howick, Auckland, which doubled as a chapel for Mass on Sundays.
The anniversary of that beginning of Our Lady Star of the Sea parish and school was celebrated this year, over several days leading up to the Solemnity of the Assumption on August 15.
At the jubilee Mass celebrated on August 13, Auckland Bishop Stephen Lowe spoke about the people who had arrived in the district by sea, starting with Tainui some 800 years ago.
In the 19th century, the Fencible soldiers arrived on the Minerva.
“With these people, Maori and Pakeha, came the search for God,” Bishop Lowe said in his homily.
In a foreword to the souvenir booklet for the jubilee, the bishop remarked that the current parish church, which overlooks the Hauraki Gulf, faces the storms of nature, and at the same time faces openly to Picton Street and the Howick community, to the people and all the “storms of life”.
In his homily, Bishop Lowe described the parish as being like a waka or boat, just as the Church itself is sometimes referred to as the Barque of Peter.
In the Gospel reading, Peter walked on the water, but only while he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus.
Bishop Lowe invited the congregation to “think of the storms that have impacted on this parish and this community over the last 175 years”.
“There was the arrival of Pakeha and land being taken from Maori. Then there was the First World War. Think of the Great Depression. Think of the Second World War. In the 50s and 60s, in a time of prosperity, and in a world that more and more starts to lose its way, and has become in lots of ways angry and divided today, the gap between rich and poor being ever wider.
“But it is not just those storms. There are the storms that people have experienced in suffering, people dying from cancer or various other diseases, marriage breakups, have been part of this parish.
“Star of the Sea Orphanage reminds us of families that are struggling,” Bishop Lowe added. “Families that have lost parents. Sadly, we need to acknowledge that there was abuse there.
“Victims of these sort of things are still happening today. [There are] relationship breakups. Young people discerning their orientation and who they are before their God. All sorts of storms go on in our lives.
“And yet there is this call to step into the presence of God, step into your parish church.”
In the anniversary souvenir booklet, parish priest Fr John Fitzmaurice wrote: “When I open the church early every morning, I firstly light a candle in front of Mother Mary, and commit to her all of you and your needs throughout this day. I am always moved at the end of the day, as darkness falls, when I come to close the church, and I see the many candles of prayer that have been lit in the chapel throughout the day; each candle holds its own story – of joy, of sorrow, of struggle, of need, of thanksgiving, of hopeful prayer. Our parish church is truly an oasis of peace and prayer for everyone.”
In his homily, Bishop Lowe acknowledged the priests who had served the parish over the years, the religious who had worked there (such as the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions and the Sisters of Mercy), the teachers, the mums and dads, “the people of faith who have built this parish”.
“Because this waka requires all of us to be involved,” Bishop Lowe said.
“In all its activities, the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers,” the bishop added later. “We need to go out and invite others into our waka.”
Bishop Lowe finished his homily by noting the pattern of building a school and then a church, as had happened in Howick, also took place some 156 years later in nearby Flat Bush, and was also happening in Drury in South Auckland, with St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College due to open next year.
“We are going to use it as a Mass centre,” Bishop Lowe said of the new college. “The model that we are doing in Auckland today, started here in Howick 175 years ago.”
“The storms haven’t changed. The challenges have remained. They are always going to be there. So is the Lord.”
Speaking after Communion, Fr Fitzmaurice paid tribute to all who had built up the parish since 1848.
“We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith,” he said.
The anniversary celebrations included a family event at Star of the Sea School, a memorial requiem Mass, a parish luncheon, the jubilee Mass, a picnic, a school open day, and the entire school attending Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption.
Fr Fitzmaurice said that there were a great many people to thank. He especially praised parish organist Laurie Kubiak who composed a special anniversary song, which was sung at the jubilee Mass. It was a setting of Psalm 122 – “I heard them say, let us go into God’s house”.