Sacred Heart Church history
The first church was on the corner of O’Neill Street and Ponsonby Road in 1887, developing around the Bishop who has always lived in the neighbourhood. As a result there have always been a large number of religious houses and services associated with Sacred heart.
Our congregations have traditionally been mixed, beginning with French, English and Maori, and now a blend of their descendants plus Tongan, Samoan, Chinese and Korean.
The resulting parish community provides us with a variety of excellent choirs, Masses with assistance from retired priests and visitors to the seminary and from seminarians.
Sacred Heart Church and presbytery were completed in 1965. The hall was originally Sacred Heart School (opened 5 June 1913). St Columba Centre was originally a Marist brothers primary school (opened 1913). In the 1980s the Centre and hall housed the Vermont Street Catholic School.
O’Neill St history
In the late 1830s, after the arrival of Bishop Pompallier, parishioners attended Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Mount St Mary; when the bishop retired they worshipped at the convent chapel of the Sisters of Mercy for about 20 years.
But the population was growing, and there was need for a more permanent and settled arrangement. So in 1884 the first meeting was held to decide about building a church. By 1886 the land was bought, and at the end of that year the foundation stone was laid.
The new wooden church was opened on 16 January 1887 on the corner of O’Neill Street and Ponsonby Road by Bishop Edmund Luck. This marked the real beginning of Ponsonby as a parish.
Its first pastor was George Michael Lenihan, a 30-year-old Londoner, short, tubby, wearing a short beard, who was fond of music and cricket, and popular with people. He was later to succeed Luck as Bishop of Auckland. In the same year he began work as parish priest (or technically administrator, since Ponsonby was still the Bishop’s parish). He received valuable reinforcements in the shape of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who began their work for the aged in that year.
In 1891 Lenihan moved to Parnell, and was succeeded in Ponsonby by George Gillan, a gifted administrator, later Vicar General of the diocese. It was Gillan who built the Sacred Heart parish school in the section behind the church. The school building became a hall in 1913, when the school was moved to Vermont Street.
The administrator from 1932 to 1957 was Michael Kennedy, a saintly Irishman, whose thin figure could be seen going about the parish on visitation, or taking Communion to the sick, in all weathers. By the 1950’s he was assisted by three curates, all of whom were kept very busy. There were hundreds of confessions every week, an active youth movement, and many well attended sodalities; and most priests had several people for instruction for marriage or conversion every week.
About 1950 the Mill Hill Fathers became an active presence in the parish, working from 4 Renall Street, where a city Maori missioner took up residence. And in 1953 St Anne’s Hostel in Shelly Beach Road, was established, bringing a new work and a new order, the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, into the parish.
After World War II the social makeup of Ponsonby started to change. Many young men did not return from the conflict, some parish women married American servicemen and moved to the United States. The suburb of Ponsonby was changing and many people moved to the newer and more fashionable developing suburbs.
In 1954 the new parish of Herne Bay was set up, taking away a significant portion of the old parish of Ponsonby.
Planning for the Sacred Heart Church in Vermont Street began just as soon as the Ponsonby Parish was debt free after the construction of the old O’Neill Street church.
Monsignor Kennedy opened a New Church Fund that became known as the “Golden Book”. The first name in the book was Bishop Liston – the first of several donations by him. As the fund grew it was invested and it grew to £32,000 however building costs continued to stay ahead of the fund. The introduction of the pledged giving campaign to the diocese led to making the building of the new church a goal.
On Sunday, December 8, 1963, a busload of those regularly involved with the parish toured recently built churches in Auckland and made written comments on the features they liked.
Archbishop Liston suggested the new church be built in Vermont Street where the Mission House stood. The plans were drawn up and the cost held at £44,000 pounds. An adjacent house was purchased and demolished, as was the Mission House. The presbytery was built for £12,000.
On 20 March 1966 a dream going back to the turn of the century was realised, when Archbishop Liston blessed and opened the new church of the Sacred Heart in Vermont Street. At last: church, presbytery and the two schools were on the same site. The parish priest at the time, Father Keane, said he hoped for a church that would be devotional, low maintenance and ultra modem. It was Father Keane whose job it was to take an axe and break up the altar at the old church so it would not end up as a workbench in some workshop.
The church today has a steel frame, concrete foundations, brick walls and a copper roof It seats 500 people and was designed to allow Mass facing the people. Four statues in the church came from O’Neill Street as does the brass sanctuary lamp. A small portable white tabernacle and a crucifix in the presbytery also came from O’Neill Street.
In 1976 the Sisters Disciples of the Divine Master moved into their convent across the road, at 11 Vermont Street. They contribute significantly to the parish as Eucharistic Ministers and florists and care for the retired priests in John Vianney House.
Bishop Pompallier and the early Church in Auckland
As titular Bishop of Maronea, Jean Baptiste François Pompallier sailed With four priests and three brothers of the Society of Mary from Le Havre on 24 December 1836 and reached New Zealand on 10 January 1838.
With the help of English and Irish Catholics and Maori converts, and funding from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, mission stations were set up at Hokianga in 1838; Kororareka, his headquarters, in 1839; Whangaroa, Kaipara, Tauranga and Akaroa in 1840; Matamata, Opotiki and Maketu in 1841; Auckland in 1842; Wellington in 1843; and Otaki, Rotorua, Rangiaowhia and Whakatane in 1844. Pompallier was quick to learn English and Maori, and his impressive bearing – some six feet tall – and charming personality were useful assets. He made four voyages down the east coasts of the North and South Islands, reaching as far as Otago Harbour and tramping long distances inland.
On 4 January 1846 Bishop P. J. Viard was consecrated as assistant bishop. Soon afterwards Pompallier made a mandatory visit to Rome, leaving Bishop Viard to look after the New Zealand mission. During the four years of Pomallier’s absence, Viard saw to the building of the stone St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland and the two-storeyed stone St Mary’s College at Takapuna. The New Zealand mission was divided into two dioceses: Auckland, staffed by secular clergy with Pompallier in charge, and Wellington, staffed by Marists with Viard in charge.
Pompallier travelled extensively in France, Belgium, England and Ireland, with a side trip to the Holy Land, gathering funds and personnel for his new diocese. He returned to New Zealand on 8 April 1850. In Pompallier’s absence the Catholic population of the Auckland isthmus had doubled, largely owing to the four Fencible settlements, strongly Catholic in character, but the Maori missions north of Auckland had virtually collapsed in consequence of the northern war and the feeling against Europeans which it left behind. So Pompallier made use of St. Mary’s College as a seminary and boarding school.
In 1853 the seminary and boarding school were transferred to Freeman’s Bay, next to a 40 acre property which Pompallier acquired that year. The Catholic church made steady progress on the Auckland isthmus, with the Sisters of Mercy and the bishop forming a strong, united team.
In June 1859 Pompallier again sailed for Europe, returning on 30 December 1860 with eight Franciscans, eight seminarians, and four Frenchwomen who were intended to be the first members of his new order, the Sisters of the Holy Family. The party included his nephew Antoine, and his niece Lucie, as well as Suzanne Aubert.
During the wars of the 1860s Pompallier struggled on with a measure of success. His seminary turned out some outstanding priests. His schools continued to grow in size and number. Bishop’s House, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Convent of the Holy Family and the school and orphanage of the Sisters of Mercy grew up as a sort of Catholic colony on Mount St Mary in Ponsonby. Suburban churches and schools were built and grew strong.
But there were financial problems. The bishop borrowed what little he could and mortgaged some 45 acres of the 900 acres of land owned by the diocese, but the debt climbed to £7,000 and creditors wanted repayment. When he left for Europe in 1868, Pompallier was under no illusion that the situation was very bad indeed. He was too old, too sick and too tired to cope with it. He resigned on 23 March 1869 and was made honorary archbishop of Amasia.