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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church, Napier. The foundation of the Catholic Mission in Napier dates as far back as the year 1859, when Father Regnier, S.M., built the first church, which is still in an excellent state of preservation, and is now used by the Marist Brothers as a school. It was in the same year, owing to the large number of Catholics amongst the soldiers, that Napier was first separated from Meanee, and Father Forest was appointed the first resident priest. Through the liberality of Mr. Thomas Fitzgerald (first Superintendent of Hawke's Bay), who gave a grant of land to the new mission, Father Forest was soon able to build a presbytery on one of the most beautiful sites in Napier, known as “Holy Mount.” Father Forest's most important work was the erection of the convent and schools for girls in the year 1863, with the introduction of the Sisters of “Our Lady of the Missions” in 1865. About the same time Father Regnier, who still had charge of the Meanee Mission, erected in the Napier Convent grounds a native school for half-caste girls and other poor children an institution which has since, under the able care of the Sisters, acquired an excellent reputation. This school is subsidised by the Government, and visited twice a year by the Government Inspector for Native Schools. There are at the school over sixty Maori and half-caste pupils, many of whom are sent from other parts of New Zealand by the Government, to take out their scholarships under the Sisters. Father Forest's next work was to erect St. Mary's Church, a handsome building of kauri timber, with fine slated roof, beautiful stained glass windows, and a handsome marble altar, at a cost of £2,300, St. Mary's is capable of seating 150 persons. The last work of Father Forest was the introduction of the Marist Brothers, the first branch in the colonies of the teaching order founded in 1837 by Father Champagnat, at St. Genis, near Lyons, France. The present Catholic population of Napier is about 1,580, and the number of children attending the convent, including boarders and Marist Brothers' school, is over 300 in all. These schools are undoubtedly among the most efficient in the colony. This progress required more school accommodation, as well as a residence for the Brothers, which cost £1,200. Father Forest, after twenty-six years' missionary labours in Napier, died in 1884, in his eightieth year. His successor, Father Grogan (now the Very Rev. Dean Grogan), shortly after his arrival in Napier, saw that St. Mary's Church was neither large nor central enough for the requirements of his numerous congregation. His first step was to purchase a site for a new edifice in the heart of the town, and the year 1894 saw his labours crowned with success in the completion of St. Patrick's Church, usually called St. Patrick's Cathedral—which is a fine building of kauri, of pure Gothic style throughout, and capable of seating about 700 people. It was built at a cost of £3,500. The beautiful stained glass windows were imported from Lyons, and the bell, which weighs half a ton, was cast by the well-known firm of Bourdon and Company, of that city. The tall elegant spire of St. Patrick's is the first object to attract the eye on approaching Napier by train.