Category Archives: New Zealand

Centenary of the Church in New Zealand: Irish Hierarchy’s Letter of Felicitations

The Irish bishops resolved to send two letters to counterparts abroad during their October meeting in 1937 at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. One was a Reply to the Spanish bishops concerning their Letter on the Civil War in Spain (incidentally today is the 75th anniversary of that War’s outbreak), and another letter, appended below, to the bishops of the Church of New Zealand —  one of the farthest-flung outposts of the massive ecclesiastical empire that was then Irish Catholicism.

At that time Catholicism was a very important factor in how the Irish seen themselves. Just as in the other traditionally White Anglo-Saxon Protestant countries (USA, Australia, Canada, Great Britain) Irish Catholic immigrants and their descendants in New Zealand faced considerable ethnic and religious discrimination.  This, along with the Church’s extensive educational and social infrastructure, helped keep intact a cohesive Irish Catholic community, often maintaining a very distinct communal identity and cherishing its ties to the motherland. This is reflected in the mother-daughter style language of the letter and the response. (The recipient of the letter, Most Rev. James Liston, Bishop of Auckland, was himself a son of Irish Catholic immigrants and had given a controversial speech in 1922 on the Irish political situation, which caused uproar among New Zealand’s ferociously imperialist British Protestant population and provoked William Massey’s government to prosecute him for ‘seditious utterances’.)

Your Excellency,

We, the Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All-Ireland, and the other Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland assembled at our annual October meeting in Maynooth College, offer to your Excellency and to the Archbishop and other Bishops of New Zealand our felicitations and affectionate greetings on the occasion of the commemoration of the Centenary of the Church in New Zealand, and we thank you for your kind invitation to us to participate in the celebrations with which you intend to commemorate the first Centenary of the Church in your country.

This, indeed, is for you an occasion for much thankfulness, great joy and legitimate pride. One hundred years ago the faithful numbered but a very few scattered throughout your land; New Zealand was without her priesthood. To-day New Zealand has her Hierarchy, her very efficient and zealous clergy, her many flourishing Religious Communities of men and women, her well-equipped Catholic colleges and schools, her numerous well-instructed and faithful laity.

Greatly may you rejoice in the extraordinary changes brought about in this comparatively short period. Justly may you feel proud of the many labours and triumphs of that time, and especially those wrought by pioneers of Catholicity in your land.

As a mother participating in the triumphs of her children, we unite with you wholeheartedly in your rejoicings; for truly can it be said that the Church in New Zealand was begotten and nurtured by Irish faith and Irish missionary zeal. Our ancestors carried the faith first given them by St. Patrick to many parts of Europe, to England, Scotland, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

There are many epic tales of their self-sacrifice, their labours, their sufferings and their achievements in the cause of Christ; but we do not know any story that is more appealing or which better illustrates the marvelous fidelity and virtue of the Irish Catholic laity than that of Thomas Poynton and his heroic wife.

As your Excellency is aware, we in Ireland, quite recently celebrated a Centenary — the fifteenth Centenary — of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The success of our celebrations, in point of external manifestation, is a matter of world-wide knowledge. Less widely known, though more important, are the wonderful changes which these celebrations have wrought in the lives of many individuals and the lasting increase in knowledge and love of the Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist which they have effected amongst our people. That your celebrations may be similarly successful is our ardent wish and prayer.

His Grace of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Gilmartin, has consented to act as our representative and to take part with you personally in the celebration. Those of us who cannot be present in person will be with you in spirit during those great days, and we will invite our people to join with yours in imploring God to grant still more abundant graces to the Church in New Zealand.

With respectful good wishes to your Excellency and to the Archbishop and other Bishops, we remain, on behalf of the Irish Bishops,

Yours very sincerely in Christ,



The following reply on behalf of the Bishops of New Zealand was sent to Cardinal Joseph MacRory, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland:

Your Eminence,

The gracious letter that you have sent to the Archbishops and Bishops of New Zealand for our Centenary in the name of the Hierarchy of Ireland touches us deeply, and when it is made known to our people we are sure it will go straight to their hearts. We unite in offering this expression of our gratitude ex imo corde to Your Eminence and to the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland for your letter, your sharing in our joy, and the gift of your prayers.

In a very special way do we thank you all for the signal honour you are showing in asking His Grace the Archbishop of Tuam to be personal representative of our Mother Church. That favour and his presence will crown our joy.

With profound respect to Your Eminence, and cordial greetings to the Archbishops and Bishops, I am,

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Bishop of Auckland.

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