History - In the Beginning
Wellsford of today bears no resemblance to the town of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The first organised European settlement of the district was by the Albertlanders, a strongly non-conformist body, a number of whom settled in the area extending from Port Albert to Matakohe. In the Wellsford district, their selections were based round the banks of the Whakapirau Stream and they planned a town in that area.
The Purchase Line is another story covered in Harry Mabbett's book, From Tidal Creek to Gun Ridge. The Whakapirau settlers referred to the district south of the Line as "the gum ridge". Naturally there was no Catholic influence in Old Wellsford.
Eastwards however, it was different. Here, in an area extending from the Tara to Te Arai, were a number of Catholic families; in fact, Erica Cowan in her book When you and I were young, Maggie, refers to a "Catholic Coterie". Her own forebears, the Jennings, were significant members of the coterie. Other Catholic families were the Rices, the Shannons, and the Logues, and they all seem to have settled in the area in the 1860s or 70s. These four families lived quite close together in the district now known as Tomarata but which was then included in the larger area called Te Arai. A Catholic family named Henry lived at the Tara. The following details of the four Te Arai families comes from Erica Cowan's book.
Margaret, daughter of Ann and Stephen Rice, had been baptised at Mangawhai in a few days after her birth on 20th January 1861 by Father M.D. O'Hara. Further Rice children were baptised, Daniel by Father Walter McDonald on 9th January 1865, and Stephen, born 12 May 1865, was baptised by Father Pompallier. (This was probably the Bishop's nephew, Antoine).
Visiting priests stayed with one of the four families, and it is to be supposed that a house Mass was said with all the families present. The priests were mostly Irish but in 1872 an Italian priest, Father J. Gregory, visited Te Arai. Father E.R. Simmons' book In Cruce Salus, which is a history of the Auckland Diocese, tells us that at this time the district of Puhoi was being "looked after" by Father Hugo d'Akermann and included the North Shore, the Wade and Mahurangi. By 1879 the first resident priest, Father J. L. Adelaar, was appointed to Puhoi and the area covered referred to as extending from the North Shore to Mahurangi.
By the late 1880s Puhoi included Whangarei, Kawakawa, Russell and Whangaroa. Father William Mahoney made trips between Warkworth and Puhoi, the Wade and Puhoi and from Te Arai to Puhoi, as well as numerous walks from Whangarei, Kamo, Herekino, Marsden Pointand Waipu.
By 1897 the Parish of Whangarei included all the east coast from Mangawhai to Kawakawa. During these years a number of people are known to have travelled to Auckland, by boat of course, to be married in St Patrick's Cathedral, Wyndham Street, and the eldest Jennings daughter, Lizzie, went to Auckland for a year of secondary education at St Mary's College.
There was sometimes a long interval between baptisms, presumably because priestly visits were delayed, and the fifth Jennings child was not baptised until he was over two. For the next child the delay was even longer - six years. That time, in February 1880, Father McDonald baptised five-year-old William Jenning and his sister, three-year-old Louisa. Margaret Ann was baptised at Te Arai on 25th April 1884 by Father P.A. Luck, a Benedictine.
Death, mixed marraiges and movement to other places saw the influence of this Catholic enclave diminishing and about the time of World War One they had been overtaken by settlers from Dalmatia.
Kate Shannon, who married a widower named Les Simpson, died in 1957, her sister, Nellie Shannon died in 1968, and Vern Rice, the last Catholic member of that family residing in the district, died in 1971. There seem to be no more Catholic members of those four families still living in or around Wellsford.
We have been able to follow a little of the faith history of these four families because a descendant to the trouble to research and write their story. Scattered throughout Rodney and otamatea there must have been other families, living similarly isolated and difficult lives, and making similar heroic efforts to keep alive their Catholic faith. All of them, the ones whose names we know and those whose names died with them, are the ancestors of our Parish.