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History - Growth and Consolidation

Parish life now settled into a pattern of consolidation, and fund-raising became a less pressing issue.The prosperous decades of the 50s and 60s saw an increase in population in the town and surrounding districts, with a consequent increase in congregation numbers. As this was happening throughout New Zealand, the number of children requiring religeous education outside the Catholic school system was growing too, and eventually prompted the development of new methods.

In Wellsford, the 50s saw the formation of the catholic Women's League, arguably the most important event in the decade for our Parish. With Martha O'Shea as inaugural President, the League provided a focus and support for the women. Not only that, but it also took responsibility for Catechism classes and providing an alternative for Catholic children during the bible-in-schools programme. The League also took care of the church and the altar linen, and organised an annual Christmas party for the children.

About that time too, Father Kavanagh replaced father O'Neill and stayed with the Parish for about ten years. The Warkworth-Wellsford Parish Council was formed and held its first meeting at the home of Mr Pat Wech, Warworth, on 18 August 1968.

A Change of Site

As the town of Wellsford grew, vehicle flow up and down the main road increased, and when Matheson Road was opened in 1966 the problems of noise and traffic became unsupportable. The church was so close to the main road that after-Mass socialising often spilled out onto the footpath creating a real danger, especially for the children. Something had to be done.

There was plenty of space available, thanks to the farsighted generosity of the Curry family, so plans were drawn up to move the buildings to their present sites. The Parish Priest by then was Father Ryan, and he and the Parish Council began preliminary planning; the Bishop's permission was sought and discussions with the local Council set in train.

When the necessary permissions were given, Wally Harrison - Parish Council Chairman, got busy. With an earthmoving machine hired from Noel Kelly, Wally (and many helpers) spent some days preparing the new sites. When all was ready, Father Ryan moved in with the Harrison family and the church was closed. The temporary Mass venue while the move was made was the then local picture theatre, now the Four Square store. The children thought it was exciting having Mass "at the pictures" and as usual the adults handled the difficulties with aplomb. Socialising was still done on the footpath, albiet on the other side of the road.

Sadly, Father Ryan did not live to see the culmination of all the striving and planning. He was returning from a shopping trip one foggy winter's night and was killed when his car failed to take a bend south of Wayby. As the new church was far from ready, Father's Requiem was celebrated in the Warkworth Church.

Despite all, the church was completed on the new site, with a porch added to the front, and Parish life slowly settled into the new surroundings.

After the Move

This was a very active time in the Parish. The liturgy changes following Vatican II were introduced and included congregational singing at Mass, a big innovation. older Catholics will remember the days when there was Solemn High Mass and low Mass. High Mass celebrated on Feasts and Holy Days, was a matter of high solemnity and high drama. The altar, up against the back wall of the Sanctuary, would be ablaze with candles and flowers, and incense was used liberally. Most of the Mass was sung by the priest and the choir, in Latin, of course, and it all took a long time.

Low Mass on the other hand was much quieter. There was no singing, and the responses, still in Latin, were recited by the altar boys. The Priest prayed the Mass with his back to the people, who followed the Mass in the Latin/English Missals, prayed the Rosary, or said their private prayers.

The came Vatican II. The Priest turned to face the congregation, English was introduced and the people were encouraged to become more active participants in the Mass.

One of the most difficlut changes for New Zealand Carholics, reticent folk that we are, was the introduction of congregational singing. Despite our shyness, under the direction of Marie Simmons, church music in Wellsford developed quite professionally and was soon accepted as the norm.

Other changes were introduced gradually - lay readers (only male at first), Communion in the hand, the Offertory Procession and the Sign of Peace. Further changes have come, notably the commissioning of Extraordinary Ministers to assist the Priest in the distribution of Holy Communion.

In due course, Father Gormly arrived as new Parish Priest, bringing with him his black and white spaniel Bruno. The whole town came to know Bruno and the local people referred to him as "The Father's Dog". He was a creature of habit, and just before ten each working day, would set off down the footpath toenails clicking. At the pedestrian crossing he would look both ways then trot briskly to the auto repair shop on the other side of the street. It was smoko time at the shop, the billy was boiling and the biscuit tines being opened. The boys would say "Here comes the Father's Dog", and throw him a biscuit. He was expected and he arrived right on the dot.

Following Father Gormly's tenure, we made a brief acquaintance with Father Jillings, a big man with a huge heart. He was much loved and respected, and his big car was the talk of the district. Then there was Father Menli, who roared around the Parish in a souped-up Mini Cooper and visited every Parishioner in the six weeks he was here. His lengthy sermons were remembered with awe, as is his reaction to anyone whose attention wavered, even briefly.

In 1974 Father Angland arrived. He only stayed a year, but in that time he refurbished the church, laying carpet where none had been before, and draping the Sanctuary in an elaborate brocade. As well, he extended and refurbished the Warkworth Church.

Many will remember the arrival of Father Foley in 1975, and his 11 year stay. Father Joe was a great walker and "did" the length and breadth of Wellsford on foot, getting to know a great many of the local people. He also mowed the lawns - yes, he did.

In 1987 Father Joe was replaced by Father Jim Meates, who introduced us to the Francisan charisma, and remained with us for three years.

And then of course came Father David Whelan of the Mill Hill Missionaries, who happily remained for ten years, and has now been replaced by Father Peter Penny - the encumbent Parish Priest (at August 2006).

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Copyright 2006