By TONY FORTUNE
It was a while in the planning, and Sunday, August 20 was the day that the two Catholic parishes in the Buller district reformed into the one combined parish, renamed “The Buller- Inangahua Catholic Parish”.
On that weekend, Wellington Archbishop Paul Martin, SM, was in Westport to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation on a group of pupils of St Canice’s School. At the end of the ceremony, two members of the former parish councils of St Canice’s in Westport and Sacred Heart Parish in Reefton were on hand to receive the decree from the archbishop stating that the two parishes will merge to become the “Catholic Parish of Buller and Inangahua”. It was also decreed that the Churches of St Canice (Westport), Sacred Heart (Reefton), Holy Family (Karamea), St Peter Chanel (Murchison) and St Patrick (Ikamatua) will retain their individual names. A new finance committee is to be formed from representatives from the two districts.
The Westport Parish of St Canice was established in 1867. The first churches were built to serve the Catholic congregations in Charleston, Brighton, and Addison’s Flat. The first church to be built in Westport was built near the beach in 1868. The old St Canice Church was built in 1887, and was later demolished to make way for the more modern structure in 1976.
The Reefton Parish of the Sacred Heart was established in 1874. The first chapel was built on Walsh Street in 1872, which soon became too small to accommodate the fast developing, mostly Irish Catholic community, so a larger church was built on the corner of Church Street and Walsh Street in 1877, and was opened in 1878. It is still there in 2023.
Up until the early 1970s, the two parishes had an ample supply of resident priests ministering to their parishes, as well as a convent in the main towns of Westport and Reefton, which were served by the Sisters of Mercy. However, as the years passed by, vocations to the priesthood and religious life began to dwindle, which left only one priest in both towns. As well as this, several parishes throughout the Wellington archdiocese were amalgamating to form somewhat larger parishes and it was on the cards that Reefton and Westport would follow suit. The last remaining priest in Reefton left at the beginning of 2022 and was unable to be replaced. At present the parish priest of the new parish of “Buller and Inangahua” Father Dave Gruschow has a large area to see to the needs of his flock, and has to adjust the times of Saturday/Sunday Masses throughout the district for more realistic coverage.
The final words from the parish priest are “Goodwill, understanding and the knowledge that we are together called to build up God’s kingdom in the Buller and Inangahua districts will help immensely in our great understanding of our faith”.