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Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood

The Roman Catholics

The Roman Catholics.

Long before the Canterbury settlement was formed, before the pilgrims had landed, and while yet even Akaroa was in its infancy, priests of the Roman Catholic Church traversed the country, visiting the whaling settlers, and, amid a life of much toil and hardship, pursuing their missionary work almost without reward, except such as they received in the shape of the friendship and kind offices of those to whom they ministered. In those very early days Otago and Canterbury, including then Westland, were one district, and those who can remember the difficulties of travelling then can fully appreciate the toil which the fulfilment of a priest's duty involved.

Twenty years ago, or rather more, Canterbury was formed into one district, under the charge of two priests, the Revs Father Seon and Chataignier, and the work involved in visiting their people from the Hurunui to the Waitaki, taking in Akaroa and the Peninsula, must have been arduous. In 1861 the Rev Father Chervier replaced Father Chataignier as head of the mission. At that time it consisted, in Christchurch, of about twenty souls, the only church being a small shell of a building, till recently used as the St. Leo Schoolroom. It was a mere shell, the middle room being used as a church or chapel on Sundays. The congregation being small the income was also very small, and yet by dint of great economy, and of assistance in the shape of labour, it was gradually finished, and afterwards a room was added, built at the expense of Mr Sheath, as a thank-offering for his and his family's safe arrival in New Zealand.

After a time, the congregation increasing, the accommodation was found too small, and it was decided to build a church. Designs were prepared by Mr Mountfort, and the contract was placed in the hands of Mr. Dithier. The contributions to the church were subsidised by the Provincial Government, which, page 50at that time, gave pound for pound to all denominations on funds raised for church building. The church was called "The Church of the Blessed Sacrament," and was opened on the 22nd of May, 1864.

About this time steps were taken to build a church in Lyttelton, the Provincial Government giving pound for pound as before. It was opened on the 29th of June, 1865, and a little afterwards churches at Brackenbridge, near Amberley, and at Akaroa were also opened.

The following churches have also been opened—Leeston, in December, 1869; Rangiora, in July, 1870; Shand's Track (now changed into a school), in June, 1871; Loburn, in May, 1875; Ashburton (now a school), in July, 1876; Southbridge, in September, 1878; Oxford, in 1879; Shand's Track, new church, in September, 1880; Darfield Church, in October, 1880; and Kaiapoi, in 1882.

In 1877, the Rev Father Ginaty took charge of the Christchurch mission. Since then the church has been enlarged, giving an increased accommodation of 500 sittings, costing £1800. A school-church at Papanui has been established at a cost of £600. A school-church at Halswell was opened in 1880, which cost over £300, and the same year £500 was spent on the boys' parish school in Christchurch. In the same year was also built the Presbytery, which, with furnishing, cost £2000, and the Convent grounds were fenced at a cost of £300.

From time to time the district—originally one for all Canterbury—has been divided and sub-divided as congregations increased. Twenty years have indeed wrought a change. No church in the province then, now how many! Then two priests, now thirteen; then no schools, now many, largely attended; then no convents, now a few.

In Christchurch between 700 and 800 boys attend at the parish school. This number is exclusive of the children of the Select school, and the High School for both boys and girls, the latter under the Sisters and the former (the boys) carried on in the old Presbytery, known as the St. Leo's High School.