History of the Catholic Community in Beach Haven
Maria Assumpta parish, Beach Haven, has been a parish in its own right since 1972. But its colourful history goes back many years before that.
A parish characterised by a strong community spirit and now a multicultural diversity, it is used to having to take care of itself much more than most other parishes.
This potted history is drawn from much more extensive notes compiled by parishioner Pat Lythe.
Until 1919 Beach Haven was part of the widely spread parish of Devonport, at first served by priests from St Patrick’s Cathedral, then later by its own priest. After Northcote parish was established in 1930, priests from there served Beach Haven. Masses were first held in a fruit shed near the corner of Lancaster and Beach Haven Roads, then in the back of Dean’s store at Beach Haven Point.
In 1957 a property of three and a half acres (nearly 1.5 hectares) was bought for £300 pounds. An old cottage on the property was converted to become the church and meeting place.
Despite not having their own parish, the Catholics of the area had a strong community spirit. At a 46-strong meeting in 1966, the parish priest of Northcote, Fr Purcell, called the occasion “historical” as Northcote parish was to be divided into four areas: Northcote, Beach Haven, Glenfield and Albany.
At a subsequent meeting a committee was formed of John Ryan (chair), Cyril Jarden (vice chair), Tom Cotter (secretary) and 14 others (including Sean Barrett, Barry Smith, John and Marie Dijkman, Ian Sharkey, Sylvia Prangley and Margaret Jarden). Their work was to include organising planned giving, laying paths around the church (still the old house) and running morning teas. Items discussed at later meetings were letting the section for horse grazing, selling the trees on the property for cash, and bees in the old building.
Plans for a Mass centre which could also be used as a parish hall – a radical idea for those times – were considered but had to be dropped for financial reasons.The new church was opened on May 7, 1967, by Archbishop Liston. The “steering committee” disbanded but in August parishioners resolved to elect a permanent committee to assist the parish priest and serve parishioners, especially in the following:
- organising readers, ushers and collectors for Masses (also a choir if necessary);
- cleaning and maintaining the church and grounds;
- visiting new arrivals;
- assisting with pledge follow-up if required;
- organising social functions (picnics, barbecues, morning teas, etc.)
By 1968 the number of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine students at classes in St Mary’s School, Northcote (more than 111 children from northwest of Verrans Corner), was overtaxing facilities.
A separate CCD was begun using classrooms at Beach Haven School. It began with a full executive committee, 37 drivers and 10 teachers. Children were picked up from their homes and delivered to the 6.30pm classes and taken home again after classes at 7.30pm.
CCD, later called ECL (Education For Christian Living) was for 22 years the main educational endeavour of the parish and the one involving most people. Through it, more than 1000 children received a grounding in their faith. One of the biggest advantages was the formation in faith it gave the 150-plus adults who were involved in teaching classes. At one stage there were 225 children from 108 families being taught in 13 classes each week.
Among the head teachers were Joan Douglas, Anne Shaw, Jan Ryan, Yvonne Goddard, Pat Lythe, Joan Watt, Suzie Boggs, Margaret Martin and John Rooney.
ECL was succeeded by a Bible Club, incorporating fun, games, music and Bible stories, on Thursday afternoons after school. Though planned to provide faith education for children not at Catholic schools, it proved popular with Catholic school pupils too.
On November 8, 1970, the first AGM of a parish council (as distinct from a committee) was held. Members were Ian Sharkey (chair), Barry Smith (vice chair), Pat Lythe (secretary/treasurer), Laurie Bates, Matt Reidy, Noeline Cotton, Cliff Money, John Ryan, Mr O’Connell, Mr Whitta and Jenny Tanner.
In 1971 the council grappled with such weighty problems as ”the New Mass” and what form the “kiss of peace” should take. Tongs were to be provided “for hygiene reasons to transfer hosts from basket to ciborium”. Since women readers were now approved, this would be publicised. A petition was presented by Lisa Leydon and 49 others to keep guitar music at one of the Masses. This came about after a time of tension between organists and those who wanted guitars.
The function of a parish council was put in a nutshell by Fr Purcell who said it was to care for PEOPLE. The old house (now the parish hall) was being used for baling paper, which ladies of the parish did faithfully every week as parishioners brought their papers down to Mass on Sundays.
In 1972 it was announced that Maria Assumpta was to be a parish in its own right. Fr Harry Jillings would be the first parish priest, but would live at Northcote. Mass times were to be 7am and 9am in summer, 8am and 10am in winter.
In March, new directives about parish councils came from the diocese. Fr Jillings considered the council was already in accord with the guidelines. All that remained was to set up the standing committees.
These were established: Religious Education; Youth; Liturgy; Mission and Overseas Aid; Finance, Works and Maintenance; and Social Service and Welfare. A total of 31 people were involved in these committees
Later in the year Margaret Lavey got a youth club off the ground on a Friday night, with games. It had to close its membership later in the year with a roll of 90.
Red and Joan Cory leased the parish land behind the old house and grew flowers for the market, also supplying the parish. By 1973 Fr Jillings had decided the parish was a bit too young and energetic for him, so a new parish priest, Fr Frank McHale, an Irishman, was appointed.
He started off living at Northcote, but wanted to be “on-site” so started to bach in the sacristy, stowing a stretcher in the confessional and installing a phone and electric cooker. However after taking in his brother’s teenage children (and their dog) for a while, the space became a little cramped and the urgent need for a presbytery became obvious.
A loan was obtained from the diocese and a prefabricated house was purchased for $11,500 and moved in October (it was first put on the wrong site and had to be shifted).
But Fr McHale was transferred to the cathedral for health reasons (he was diabetic) and in the meantime Beach Haven was served by Northcote’s parish priest, Fr Lyons, and curates (Frs Kevin Fitzgerald, Denzil Meuli and John McAlpine). The new presbytery was rented out.
It was 1975 before the new parish priest arrived. He was Fr Bill Jordan, well-known as a Second World War guerrilla leader who had fought behind enemy lines in Greece and Turkey for four years.Fr (Major) Jordan drills the congregation in the right way to receive Communion in the hand (parishioners still follow his procedure for going up to Communion).He also suggested changing the parish name to Our Lady of the Assumption and erecting an altar to Our Lady (discussion raged over its placement).
In 1976 Fr Nick Alleman succeeded Fr Jordan as parish priest (and the parish name reverted to Maria Assumpta).
During his two-year term, Fr Alleman visited almost every home in the parish. An annual picnic and open-air Mass were held at Tui Park. Saturday evening Masses were begun on a trial basis. In 1977 the parish St Vincent de Paul group was formed.
In 1977, following a successful pledge campaign, building plans were considered. (New hall? Move existing church, convert it into a hall and build a new church? Raise existing church and build a hall underneath?) The second option was favored and in 1979 the new parish centre was opened, costing $56,000 plus $11,000 for the parking area.
Pine trees were planted to raise money for a new organ (most were cut in 1980, raising $2895) and the first Samoan Mass was held.
Fr Ivan Lunjevich became parish priest in 1978 and the Daughters of Charity moved into Glenfield, with Sr Gabrielle Whiteley, DC, working two days a week in Beach Haven up till 1982.Sr Gabrielle was followed by several other pastoral workers, the next four also Daughters of Charity.Their names are: Sr Olive (1982), Sr Val and Sr Margaret (1983), Sr Celine Quadros (1983-87), Sr Helena Hotchin, RSM (1989-90), Sr Celine Sinclair, SM (1990-96), and Joan Wells (parish co-ordinator, 2003-07).
In 1978 Fr Eugene O’Sullivan visited to train readers and talk about liturgy. From this year, Prayers of the Faithful were prepared by the liturgy committee or readers.The 1980 Mass count was 380 over three Masses, considered very low for a city parish.
Fr Lunjevich fell ill and Fr Shanahan relieved for three months. Miraculously, Fr Lunjevich was well enough to celebrate his silver jubilee in July 1981.
That year the parish was devastated to hear that Sr Gabrielle was returning to Australia. The “walking nun” had won hearts and minds of young and old, and she received a huge farewell.
Fr Lunjevich’s illness returned and Fr John van Tilborg became parish priest in 1982. This Dutch Mill Hill priest, just retired from working on the Maori Mission, gave the parish its first long period of stability (ten and a half years). He entrusted lots of the running of the parish to the laity, who by then were well used to it after successive clergy changes.
Children’s liturgy for pre-schoolers began in 1982, and the following year saw the start of a consistent RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) programme. Confirmation programmes run by parishioners also began at this time, attended by large groups of teenagers with camps at Loreto Hall, and Carey Park leading into a consistent youth group programme run by Bill and Jenny Verryt.
A parish profile prepared in 1983 for a visit by Bishop Denis Browne reported a parish roll of 380 families; three Sunday Masses averaging 385-400; weekday Masses averaged 25; and 38 Confirmations, five funerals and six marriages in the year.
In 1984 a Scout den was built on the property.In 1985 a survey of parish ministries showed more than 140 people taking part in some ministry.
Two busloads of parishioners travelled to the Domain for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1986. That year parish fundraising helped send foundation parishioner Barry Smith to Sydney for a heart transplant.The 1986-87 Renew programme was a big event in the parish, with 12 small groups involved for the whole five sessions.
The arrival of Fr Chris Brady as parish priest in 1993 coincided with an increase in new migrants. People from lands like Iraq and the Philippines began a new growth in multicultural diversity – reflected in more than a score of national flags on the 25th jubilee altar cloth.
At the same time a group of parishioners did a Maori theology course with Pa Henare Tate and invited him to help them practise the Maori Miha (Mass). Since May 1994 this has been held whenever there is a fifth Sunday in the month.
Fr Michael Gormly served the parish for the latter half of 1995.
His successor was Fr John Dunn. A lecturer in systematic theology at the Catholic Institute of Theology and at the national seminary, he came on the understanding that he would be a part-time pastor. During his visits to Mosgiel the parish coped just as it always had.
When Fr Dunn left in 2004, the parish was again without a resident parish priest. Joan Wells was appointed parish pastoral co-ordinator.For the period 2004-06, Maria Assumpta was served from Northcote parish, with Fr David Tonks and then Fr Craig Dunford acting as administrators.
It was with great joy that the parish learnt its new parish priest would be Bishop Gerry Loft, SM, retired Bishop of Auki in the Solomon Islands. Bishop Loft received an exultant parish welcome on February 4, 2007, but sadly died later that same day. In April that year Fr Dharshana Jayamanne, from Sri Lanka, arrived, once more giving Maria Assumpta a resident priest.
Maria Assumpta parish has always had parishioners who have been involved in church organisations and activities beyond parish boundaries. When the North Shore Regional Pastoral Council began in 1974, Beach Haven began a record of continual representation on it. Unusually for a small parish, Maria Assumpta has also had five representatives on the Diocesan Pastoral Council – Pat Lythe, Anne Shaw, Joan Wells, Ralph Moore and Anita Knape. In 1975 Pat Lythe was appointed North Shore regional representative on the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the first of several parishioners in this role. She went on to become the first woman chair of the council in 1979-80, remained on it as a member of the newly formed National Laity Commission and was chosen to represent New Zealand at the lay consultation in Rome prior to the Bishops’ Synod on the Laity in 1987.
In 1992 she took up the role of diocesan Co-ordinator of Evangelisation and executive secretary of the DPC. In 2008 she was made a papal dame in the Order of St Gregory the Great. At her investiture she was recognised for her contributions to lay empowerment, evangelisation, pastoral planning, ecumenism and diocesan projects, and for her vision and faith.
Other areas in which parishioners have been involved include:
- Beginning Experience: Many parishioners have taken part in this ministry for those grieving a broken marriage or bereavement. Joan Wells chaired the Auckland board and reprsented New Zealand on the Asia-Pacific board. Jill and Paul Davenport both served on the Auckland executive, Paul as president, and Jill chaired the Asia-Pacific board.
- Youth ministry: Bernette Peters served on the Marist Retreat Team; Val Phillips in diocesan youth ministry; Peter Carswell as diocesan youth co-ordinator; and Bill and Jenny Verryt on the diocesan youth advisory group.
- Overseas service: David Sharkey did three terms with Catholic Overseas Volunteer Service – two in Papua New Guinea and one in Samoa. Tony and Maria Cameron also served with COVS, Tony becoming its director after being diocesan justice and peace officer.
- Media: Michael Fitzsimons edited Zealandia and New Zealandia magazine. Gary Merrylees was production manager of Zealandia. Pat McCarthy was editor of NZ Catholic.
- Go Now!: Suzie Boggs (now McCarthy) and Pat Lythe were members of the working party which developed, wrote and presented this small-group programme.
- Faith and Light: Kath Sharkey co-ordinated the Auckland Faith and Light community.