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Catholic Worship in Northcote-Birkenhead

Until 1902 local Catholics were served by St Patricks in the centre of Auckland, but from 1902 to 1903 the Devonport based Father Joseph Loughlin Ahern included this area in his parish. He was followed from 1903 to 1905 by Father Martin Meagher. Devonport had been served by St Patricks until 1894.

From 1905 to 1923 Father Michael Joseph Furlong was the Devonport based Priest with responsibilities for this area, and continued to be Devonport's Priest until his death in 1962. From 1923 to 1928 Father Eugene O'Connor was the Takapuna assistant Priest, and instead included this area in his Parish. There had been a church in the grounds of St Marys College from at least 1869 and Takapuna was part of the Puhoi Parish from 1880 to 1903. From 1903 to 1919 it was part of Devonport, before becoming a separate Parish based on St Josephs. Father Owen Doyle succeeded Father O'Connor from 1928 to 1930. From at least 1905 local Catholics attended services at the Gladstone Hall, which they rented. In 1916 they finally bought it, and the surrounding 4 and a half acres, for ₤500.

From April 1930, Father John Brennan as the local Priest. The Presbytery was a rented house in nearby Fairfax Avenue. Father Brennan in fact covered a vast area including Puhoi. Father John Taylor succeeded him in May 1932. The other important Catholic institution on Onewa Road came in December 1933 with the Dominican nuns and their parish school on the south side. Father Maurice Hunt was the local priest from April 1936, but drowned on 17 June 1949. My grandfather who lived across the road at 1 Seaview Avenue played chess with Father Hunt, even although my grandfather was a lay reader at St John the Baptist Anglican Church. The Kelly surname at first suggested my grandfather was a Catholic. There was also a Father James Ryan in the late 1900's and 1940's who assisted Father Hunt, along with other assistant priests.

Father Hunt was succeeded by Dr Francis Henry Terry who served until 1963, when he was replaced by Father Philip Bartholomew Purcell. Through all this period the former Gladstone Hall was still being used as the local Catholic church. Nevertheless by the early 1960's the increasing population of the Birkenhead, Glenfield and Northcote area required the building of a new Catholic church.

A six-sided 85 feet diameter building was decided upon, with the 500 seats arranged in a semi circle to encourage a closer relationship with the priest. The 16 mosaic panels were designed by Auckland artist James Turkington, and were actually made in Japan. The old hall was shifted back to become a parish hall and the new building was first used on 24 December 1963. It was formally blessed by Archbishop Liston on 7 June 1964 and in August 1964 Auckland's first Greek Catholic wedding was celebrated there. As well as Birkenhead, Northcote and Glenfield, it also became for a time the "mother church" for Beach Haven, Albany and Hato Petera. Following population trends, Beach Haven had a church hall built in 1959, with that church blessed in 1967. It was still part of the Northcote Parish until 1972 when it became the separate Church of Maria Asumpta. Glenfield's St. Thomas More opened in 1974.

- David Verran


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