Historic Site: St Joseph's Church, Pauatahanui

"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."

- Winston Churchill

Image of St Joseph's church in 1970s.
St Joseph's church in 1970s.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref D.1c.6.

St Joseph's Church is the oldest Catholic Church still in use as a church in Wellington, and was the first Catholic Church building in the Porirua basin. Prior to the church being built, Catholic services were held in the homes of Henry Abott and Roderick Mulhern. Early in 1876, Henry Abbott, Roderick Mulhern, Charles Stuart and Patrick Murphy each donated £5 to buy the land for the church from Thomas Hollis Stace.

The land was eventually purchased in August 1876 while Pauatahanui Catholics were being served by Father Jean Baptist Petitjean S.M., but he died in September 1876. After the death of Father Petitjean, Pauatahanui, Porirua and Makara were put into the Hutt Parish and one of the first priests was Fr Francis Yardin who served from 1878 to 1882, and his assistant Fr. Mc Namara. From 1886 to 1892 was Fr John Joseph Lane, 1892-1895, Fr Donnelly (Petone), 1895-1922 Fr Lane again, later Dean Lane.

The church was designed by Thomas Turnbull, a significant Wellington architect, and built by Blackie and Foster for £200 from timber milled locally by Woodman and Jones. Blackie and Foster completed construction in 1878 and the church was consecrated by Bishop Francis Redwood on Sunday 28 April 1878 as the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The first priest was Father John Joseph Lane, who was appointed parish priest of the Hutt in 1886. Father Lane, later Dean Lane, continued to serve the Hutt Valley and Porirua basin until his death in the 1920s. For information about those buried at St Josephs click here.

The church is a simple timber (mostly rimu and matai) Gothic church measuring 18 ft by 38 ft (5.5m x 11.5m) and contains seating for 100 people. In 1890 the porch and confessional at the west end were built and lining the interior in tongue and groove boards was completed. In 1895 the church was formally reopened and appears to have been called St. Joseph's from this time.

New life breathed into old church

New life has been breathed into the historic Catholic Church of St Joseph's in Pauatahanui, largely thanks to the vision and determination of a group of local parishioners.

The outside of the building has been given a fresh coat of paint that has been matched as closely as possible to the original colours. With a new red-brown roof, tinted white walls and buff trim, the pretty little church looks much as it did when it was built in 1878.

The 30-kilogram bell has been cleaned and repaired and a large white wooden cross tops the belfry. Access to the church has been improved with a new driveway leading right to the church door, and the rickety fence replaced with new white pickets.

Recycled matai floorboards were used to replace the floor, some sourced from the Embassy Theatre in Wellington.

However, restoration of the rare paper transfers on the windows is yet to be done. Known colloquially as "poor man's stained glass" the work of restoring the transfers is highly specialised and expensive and will form part of future restoration efforts.

The Friends of St Joseph's committee has organised the restoration of the church with guidance from Heritage New Zealand and a conservation architect. The $100,000 project was carried out by Freear Philips Ltd of Johnsonville using funds bequeathed to the church by local parishioners.

The Church, which seats up to 80 people, is often used for weddings and other events.

Please contact St Theresa's Parish Office on phone (04) 233 1279 to make booking enquiries.

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