Parish History

By: St Thomas More Parish  05-Apr-2012
Keywords: Catholic Church

Once upon a time, the centre of the North Shore was empty space, fields and streams. Then came the Harbour Bridge … and Glenfield followed. First home buyers flooded into the area, but the Catholics among them were considered to be part of the Northcote Parish. In 1971 a property on the corner of Wairau and Glenfield roads was purchased. It already had an old house and swimming pool on site.

In 1972 Fr Purcell from Northcote undertook a survey of the Glenfield area and as a result a parish was born. It was named St Thomas More. The first mass was celebrated in the Glenfield Primary School Hall and the parish was served by Fr Purcell as well as visiting priests.

The community spirit developed early, with many tasks, such as the putting out of seats for mass each weekend, being done by willing hands.

Two years later, in 1974, the first Parish Priest was appointed - Fr Jude McCarthy. As the area continued to grow, so too did the Catholic population and before long the primary school hall was too small and a shift was made to the intermediate school hall down the road. A further two parcels of land adjacent to the church property were purchased, giving us sufficient space for a church in the future. As well, the Catholic Church owned a property in High Road, also with the long term view of possible church sites.

In 1977 Fr Bruce Boland became our parish priest. A tall man, the table serving as an altar went up on four tins. With him came Michael, his loveable black dog and constant companion. By this time mass was also being said at Albany Coronation Hall, Paremoremo Community Hall and Greenhithe Anglican Church on a roster basis.

A Parish committee had become established, as had many groups, including works, finance and liturgy committees, as well as visitors, youth, mothers and pre-school groups. The Catholic Women’s League was also active. The Presbytery, which had a chapel established in the basement, doubled up as a meeting room. The swimming pool became a magnet for the youth.

By now, the pastoral work of the parish had become overwhelming so in February 1978 we were joined by two Australian nuns from the Daughters of Charity, Sisters Margaret and Barbara, and later Sister Gabriel. A new building called St Vincent de Paul House was built on the section adjoining the original house (where the top car park is now) to accommodate them.

As well as establishing a Family Living programme they developed a Catholic Caring Community which was highly successful for many years. This group was active in helping to overcome the isolation facing many new families. They did this in part by personally delivering the parish magazine, More News.

On the social scene, not only were the youth meeting regularly with their Beach Haven counterparts and enjoying the swimming pool, they were fostering many friendships which were to result in early parish marriages! The annual parish picnic at Wenderholm - always a popular event - no doubt helped.

By 1980 the population of Glenfield had grown from 2000 (in 1970) to 30,000. The Catholic community was established at around 3,500 … out of which 370 attended Sunday mass at the school hall and a further 300 went to Takapuna or Northcote churches.

We also had our own first Parish mission that year, led by the Vincentian Fathers from Australia.

January 1981 saw the appointment of a new parish priest, Fr Neville Browne. A man of short stature and even shorter sermons, the altar came down off its tins and plans took place for the church to go up.

We knew he meant business when he first moved into the Presbytery. Having got a quote for papering and painting the house, he rejected it, wallpapered the house the first week and painted it the second. He filled in the swimming pool - maintenance was too high. He contacted each person on the works and finance committee. The word went out - we’re getting a church.

The parish committee became a fully fledged pastoral council, with all the statutory committees established or honed, including establishing the St Vincent de Paul Society. In the meantime, Sr Barbara returned to Australia and Sr Jocelyn arrived.

Planning for the new church got underway the same year. The feature of the church was to be a glass dome effect over the sanctuary, allowing natural light into the church, and also placing a very clear emphasis on the altar. This was eventually replaced in the plans by the window now in the back wall. The estimated cost - $320,000. The final contract price - $460,000. The High Road property was sold to help finance it.

Prominent among fund raising efforts was the reinstated parish fair. Always popular, it acted as a social meet, garage sale and talent quest … and it raised a lot of money!

In April 1982 the groundwork started for the church and the community rejoiced. We saw a day looming when Mass and celebrations would be held in a fitting place, dedicated to God, which would hopefully bring a church together.

On the 14th of July that year, the building permit was granted and building began. By the end of that year we could see the building taking shape. Fund raising stepped up and Fr Browne worked unceasingly. All the pews were donated from an old Catholic church in Matamata, with working bees every weekend held to remake and varnish them.

Finally on March 27, 1983, the first Mass was celebrated in the new building. The official Mass of Dedication was held on Sunday May 1. The principal celebrant was Auckland’s bishop, Bishop Rogers, with three other bishops participating including Fr Browne’s brother Bishop Denis Browne.

The parish church had a uniting influence, and the Sunday mass count increased rapidly including many Catholics from other parishes. The 5.30pm mass on Saturday evenings proved particularly popular for many, especially if there was an overnight test match on!

By 1988 the Diocese of Auckland was facing an acute shortage of priests and parishes were asked to consolidate their masses. In October of that year the 8am community lost their mass. The makeup of the community was changing too, with an influx of Catholics from Iraq, the Philippines, India, China and Korea.

Fr Browne remained our Parish Priest until 1989 when his “little brother” as he referred to Bishop Denis - now Bishop of Auckland - sent him to Meadowbank. In 1989 Fr Philip Sullivan took over and quickly cemented his popularity with some of us by reinstating the 8am mass!

In August 1990 Fr Philip saw the Passionist Family Group movement established in Glenfield. Taking over the role of the now defunct Caring Community, it successfully integrated families of all nationalities into its activities and still flourishes today.

Because of all the activities within the parish, a parish centre had become a pressing need. Once again a major project got underway. The subdivision in front of the church, once earmarked for a primary school, was sold to get the church debt-free. This is now St Thomas More Lane. The car park was finally sealed and extended and earthworks began. The remarkable feature of the building of the hall was that from the designer and engineer to the chippies it was all managed by parishioners. Finished in July 1993 at a cost of $200,000, it has since seen the celebration of occasions from Christenings to funeral wakes, wedding receptions to silver anniversaries, “international” dinners to the parish’s 25th Jubilee dinner.

In 1994 Sr Mary Gaines began work as a pastoral care giver in Glenfield, commuting from her residence in Avondale every day later moved into a house in Glenfield. In January the next year Sr Denise arrived to be a community worker in the parish. Two years after that Sr Mary left because of ill health. In August 2002 Sr Patricia Thompson joined Sr. Denise in the community .

In 1998 Fr Philip moved on and it became apparent the parish was now so large that more than one priest was needed. Takapuna-based Rosminian Fr John Bland became the parish priest, and he had the assistance of his community. A new building was put in place on land next to the original presbytery as their home, leaving the old house to became offices for the priests and parish secretary.

The Rosminian fathers had a major challenge. Although they had a variety of experiences within the church, most recently teaching at Rosmini College, Takapuna, they had never been parish priests before.

Buildings additions continued, with a garage built for the St Vincent de Paul society, the basement of the original house being revamped as the 'Sun and Moon' centre for the youth, and more recently a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in the grounds behind the church. Inside the church a beautiful icon of the Holy Family reminds us of the importance of the family.

In April 2009, Fr Benedict Francis became the Parish Priest.

In May 2010, the tabernacle was moved into the sanctuary. The Shrine of Our Lady was built with provision for lighting candles and was  well received by the parishioners.

The diversity of the religious traditions within the parish is apparent by the celebration of the Chaldean Mass each week, and a Syro-Malabar Mass every month. The Alpha movement has also become a significant outreach of the parish.

Presently the mass count exceeds 1300, plus those who attend the Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Masses (approximately 100). We are a diverse parish in age and nationalities, but are united each week as we celebrate being part of the Parish of St Thomas More.

C Russell

Updated August 2010

The information in this article was current at 27 Mar 2012

Keywords: Catholic Church

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Adhering to the beliefs and spirit of St. Thomas More, our parish community aims at bringing about Christ experience to all those who participate in the celebrations as ‘People of God’. It is a warm, welcoming and generous community which consists of various nationalities, young and not so young, from all over the world. It gathers around the table of community, bread of life, love and friendship and a common humanity seven days a week.


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