The Hawkes Bay Herald-Tribune, Saturday, January 18, 1997
End of an era for Marist priesthood
By Terry Tacon
Staff reporter, Hastings
The departure next week of Marist priests from the parish of Sacred Heart will complete an almost total transformation of the centrepiece of Catholicism in Hastings.
Priests from the Society of Mary have served Hastings for 115 years and have built an impressive record of religious ministry and parish administration during that time.
However, the Sacred Heart parish has undergone tremendous change in the past 30 years. including:
– The closure of Tenison [Tennyson] College, a girls’ secondary school, in 1979;
– The shifting of St Joseph’s Convent Primary School to the Tenison site;
– The demolition of the Premiere Hall, Eastboume St;
– The removal of the former convent where nuns of the Order of St Joseph of Nazareth lived;
– The replacement of the presbytery and parish ofﬁce with a smaller building, built on the site of the old convent;
– The loss to ﬁre of the parish‘s two wooden church [churches] – one built in 1881 and subsequently converted into school classrooms and the splendid Gothic-style spired church which had replaced it in l895;
– The replacement of the church destroyed in 1992 by a striking building designed by prominent Hawke‘s Bay architect Paris Magdalinos.
Few can deny the contribution made by the Marists to Sacred Heart.
The history of the ﬁrst 100 years of the parish was well documented in a history prepared for Sacred Heart’s centenary in l982, providing an insight into the contribution made by Marist religious to Hastings in general and Catholics in particular.
Hastings’s ﬁrst parish priest in 1882 was Father Euloge Reignier, a Frenchman who was described by historians as “The Apostle of Hawke’s Bay” for the mission work he carried out in the region, particularly among Maori tribes.
He was replaced in 1886 by Father P.J. Smyth, an Irishman who was responsible for building the church which served the parish for nearly 100 years, the convent for the Sisters of St Joseph and the parish hall.
In Father Scully’s parish history, Father Smyth is credited as having a great ability as a fund-raiser, his inﬂuence extending beyond his own congregation.
“He had a very friendly association with the non-Catholics of Hastings, who were generous in subscribing to his many ventures and in helping pay off the debt of 3300 pounds for the cost of the new Sacred Heart Church.”
Another Irish priest, Dublin-born Father Augustine Keogh, succeeded Father Smyth as parish priest in 1909 and served six years.
He had a reputation as a forceful and eloquent preacher and became greatly admired by people throughout Hastings. When he died in retirement in a Hastings nursing home, shops the length of Heretaunga St closed while his 800-metre-long funeral procession passed by.
Father Hugh O’Donnell was the ﬁrst New Zealand-born priest to run the Hastings parish, having received his religious training in Hawke’s Bay at the Mount St Mary’s Seminary.
Father O’Donnell was appointed by Father Smyth, who had become the Society of Mary’s provincial administrator in Hawke’s Bay, and it was deemed a mark of respect for Father O’Donnell’s talents that Father Smyth entrusted his beloved parish to him.
Father George Mahony, who had been a curate to both Fathers Keogh and O’Donnell, took over from Father O’Donnell in 1918 and was so popular in the town during his five years as parish priest he was approached to stand for the mayoralty. He declined.
Two terms served
Father Mahony was replaced by Father Alex McDonald who achieved the distinction of being the only priest to serve two terms as parish priest of Sacred Heart – from 1924 to 1928 and later from 1936 to 1941.
Father McDonald had been a chaplain during the First World War and proved a popular parish priest. He was instrumental, during his second spell in Hastings, in getting St John’s College started.
Father J. Fraher was appointed parish priest in 1929 but stayed only a year, and in 1930 the parish’s administration passed to Father Bernard Gondringer, who died in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake while conducting a retreat for seminarians.
Father Gondringer’s place was taken by Father Joseph Stewart, a priest who became greatly loved by parishioners for the assistance he gave to those affected by the earthquake and the Depression.
Father Stewart returned to Hastings in 1954 as a curate and remained until his retirement in 1969, becoming a familiar ﬁgure round Hastings as he took a daily walk along Heretaunga St in his trademark white dustcoat.
Father John Seymour came to the parish after Father McDonald’s second term and was involved in many developments, including helping establish St Joseph’s High School (later renamed Tenison [Tennyson] College) and being a driving force behind fund-raising for the Convent Baths.
Another Hastings parish priest in the 1940s was Father Dan Milligan, whose efforts included buying the Jervois St site on which St John‘s College was relocated in 1956. The school was originally sited in Frederick St.
Father Leo Spring was appointed parish priest in 1948. He was well known to many in Hastings for his work as chaplain in the Middle East and Italy during the Second World War.
He was an extremely popular parish priest and his achievements included buying the land for the Holy Family Home in Wolseley St.
Father John Hendren look over from Father Spring and was involved in a number of developments during his ﬁve years in Hastings, including the purchase of land in Gordon Rd for Hastings West Parish, the building of a church hall at Whakatu, the construction of Our Lady of Lourdes Church at Havelock North, and the opening of St Mary’s School in Frederick St.
Father Humphrey Geaney, who followed Father Hendren in 1961, oversaw the development of Hastings West Parish and the building of the church of St Peter Chanel.
His successor as parish priest, Father Pat Heagney (1967-73) had previously been a curate in Hastings for four years so he knew Hastings well.
He involved himself in the life of the community as well as the church and was a prominent member of the Hastings Lions Club.
Father Heagney‘s replacement was Father Paul Shanahan. a priest remembered for the tremendous amount of energy he put into his work and the enthusiasm he was able to produce in others
Father John O’Rourke was the parish priest from 1979 to 1981, coming to Hastings after 20 years as a missionary in Tonga. Napier-born Father O’Rourke has been working as an assistant to current parish priest Father Paul Duncan in recent times and will take over a Christchurch parish when he leaves Hastings.
Father Geoff Officer had the distinction of being parish priest in Hastings when Sacred Heart celebrated its centennial in 1982. A feature of the celebrations was a centennial dinner and thanksgiving mass both at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds.
Following Father Ofﬁcer as parish priest was Father Phil Cody, during whose time the new presbytery was built and the St Joseph’s Convent School centenary celebrated.
Father Duncan replaced Father Cody and has seen during his six-year term the loss of the much-admired church built in 1895 and its replacement with a striking new building.
Next week Father Kevin Neal, a Diocesan priest from Palmerston North, will become Sacred Heart’s first non-Marist parish priest. His assistant will be Father Tom Sherry from Napier.
Photo captions –
The old Sacred Heart Church, which was opened in 1895.
The new Sacred Heart Church, which was opened in March last year.
The old Sacred Heart Church burnt down in 1992.