IMG_5934St Patrick’s Church, Akaroa

The Church was built in 1864-65 and has been in regular use since then.

The Mission Rector at that time was Fr Jean-Baptiste Chataigner, the assistant Fr Claude Chervier. Both priests belonged to the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers) and were based in Christchurch.

The builder was Irish-born John Patrick Cullen from Lancashire who had settled in Akaroa in 1859 with his bride of five months. The architects were Bury and Mountfort of Christchurch.

stpatricks_mediumSt Patrick’s Church has a No 1 classification from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.


On August 1940, about 57 settlers, 12 German and the rest French, disembarked from the Comte de Paris.  The Catholics among them formed the founding nucleus of what would become St Patrick’s parish, Akaroa.

On arrival they were met on the beach by Frs. Jean-Baptiste Comte and Jean Pezant and Brother Florentin Françon.  These three Marist missionaries had travelled from the Bay of Islands on the Aube which had anchored in the bay in front of the present day recreation ground on 16 August 1840. The first recorded Mass was celebrated on the foreshore on Sunday 23 August 1840.

Accompanied by Fr Jean-André Tripe, Bishop Pompallier arrived on the Sancta Maria, on 2 October 1840.  He commissioned a small church, roughly six metres by four, built on rammed clay and dedicated to Ss Philip and James.  It was completed in February 1841 for 1200 francs. Mission funds from France met the cost.

The Bishop then returned to the north, leaving Fr Tripe to pastor the settlers and Fr Comte to evangelise the Maori. After his six months experience in the Hokianga, Fr Comte found comparatively few Maori around Banks Peninsula, and many of these were already Methodist. So in March 1842 he and Br Florentin went back to the

North Island where there were better opportunities for a Maori Mission.  Fr Tripe remained alone till November, then discouraged by the few demands made on his ministry, he returned to the Bay of Islands, leaving the infant colony without a priest.  Fr Comte visited Akaroa from Otaki in 1844, 1845, 1847 and 1848.

During his two-week visit in April 1844, the Bishop commissioned a larger Church which was built by the crew of the Rhin on the hillside terrace they had cut out near the French cemetery. It was about twice the size of the first clay building but constructed more lightly of timber. Dedicated to St Mary, it blew down in 1849 and was never rebuilt.

BishopPhilippeViardIn 1850 the Catholic Mission in New Zealand was divided in two. Bishop Philippe Viard based in Wellington, assumed responsibility for the lower half of the North Island and all the South Island.  In May 1850 he sent Father Antoine Séon and Brother Euloge Charbany to Akaroa, with Father Jean-Simon Bernard following in September.

The Canterbury Association agent would not recognise the title to the Catholic mission land. And he evicted the missionaries who returned to Wellington in mid 1851. After this, occasional visits by a priest from Wellington had to sustain the small settlement till the beginning of the next decade.

Fr Séon had brought the original clay church back into use. It served for subsequent priest visits until St Patrick’s was opened in 1865. No trace of it remains.

A grant of land by the Provincial Government for a Catholic church in Christchurch led Bishop Viard to send two priests there in May 1860. One was the veteran Fr Séon. His companion was new to the New Zealand Mission, Fr Jean-Baptiste Chataigner. The following year Fr Séon was replaced by the younger, recently ordained Fr Claude Chervier.

These priests, all Marists, methodically visited their huge territory which initially lay between the Hurunui and Waitaki rivers and the Southern Alps, and included Akaroa. With grants from the Provincial Government, they had churches built at Christchurch (1864), Lyttelton and Akaroa (1865) and at Brackenridge near Amberley in 1866.The confiscated Catholic property had later been replaced by several piecemeal grants of land. It was on these that St Patrick’s was built.

Mr John Patrick Cullen built St Patrick’s Church under the direction of Fr J-B Chataigner – known as the Apostle of Canterbury—helped by a grant of one hundred pounds from the Provincial Canterbury Government.

Bishop Pompallier

BishopPompallierOn its way to rendezvous at Akaroa with the Comte de Paris and its settlers, the French corvette the Aube lay over in the Bay of Islands during the second half of July 1840.  There Captain and crew met Jean-Baptiste Pompallier with his base at Kororareka. He was bishop in charge of the Marist missionaries sent from France to establish the Catholic Church in the south-west Pacific. Six weeks later he followed the Aube in the mission schooner Sancta Maria, arriving in Akaroa on 2 October 1840. Between mid-November and mid-

December the Bishop took the Sancta Maria further south to Otago, returned to Akaroa briefly, and then went north to Wellington to spend Christmas there.

Early in 1841 he returned to Akaroa for several weeks using the opportunity to draft a catechism in Maori and to write an 80-page Guideline for his Missionaries in their work among the Maori. He came to Akaroa again in November, leaving from there on the Sancta Maria on a prolonged visit to Central Oceania, escorted by the Allier which was about to replace the Aube and to find and claim the remains of this martyred Marist Missionary Peter Chanel.

The Bishop visited briefly in 1844. He came finally in 1846, taking the opportunity offered to report in Europe on the progress of his mission by accepting a passage on the Rhin. By the time he returned to New Zealand, Akaroa was no longer within his jurisdiction.

stpatricks_smallSome Details of the Architects’ Specifications

Piles should be charred to prevent decay

● With the exception of the doors …it is not proposed to plane any of the timber

● The walls will consist of planks, 9” by 2” full measure

● The windows will be made by simply cutting the shape out of the wall planks

● The timber generally to be black pine for the framings and principals

● Totara for the floor and sills, good white pine may be used for the common rafters.

The church was extended in 1886 by the sanctuary and sacristy, and then by the porch. The tower was added to house a bell gifted in 1893 by Antonio Rodrigues and Patrick Callaghan and cast by Anderson’s Foundry Christchurch. In 1930 Mary and Jules Le Lievre gave the crucifixion window at the back of the sanctuary.

In 1865 Misses Victoire and Josephine Malmanche returned to Akaroa after six years secondary education in France. They established a school and acted as catechists till the late 1870’s. The Sisters of Mercy arrived in 1898.

Initially served from Christchurch, Akaroa was included in Lyttelton parish when this was established in 1871, and a series of priests visited on a monthly basis for the next 18 years.

Fr William Purton OSB was installed as the resident priest in 1869.

This information was sponsored by the Catholic Enquiry Centre from materials produced by Peter Tremewan and Mavis Donnelly-Crequer. Fr Michael O’Meeghan sm wrote the text in 1991 AD.