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St Patrick’s Basilica has stood the test of time.

Oamaru’s Catholic church is celebrating its 125th anniversary next weekend. Reaching the milestone was a testament to the quality of the construction, chairman of anniversary celebrations Tony Brady said.

“Imagine setting out to build something like this – the faith, commitment and determination it must have taken,” Mr Brady said.

The basilica was built in 1894 by Francis Petre, an architect who designed, among other buildings, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch.

The building, and the faith that inspired the town’s early settlers to build it, remained strong, Mr Brady said.

“It has an earthquake rating in the 80s,” he said.

“Most of the workers, when they built it, came from Italy and what’s interesting for those days is they didn’t stay afterwards.

“Having Oamaru stone to work with was a big thing – that came out from Weston.”

One of the impressive features of the church was the 14 stations of the cross – sculptures depicting the crucifixion of Jesus.

They were sponsored by local people and families, many of whom were local publicans at the time, Mr Brady said.

“It’s an amazing building, we tend to take it for granted.”

Parish priest Father Wayne Healey said the splendour of the building added to the occasion of Mass and events there.

Much had changed in the last 125 years, he said.

“Mass used to be said entirely in Latin. That was just going out when I entered the seminary,” Fr Healey said.

Parish numbers had been bolstered by migrants from the Pacific and the Philippines in recent years, and working together with other denominations was much more common now.

“The interfaith movement is quite strong here in Oamaru.

“It is a lovely spot here, North Otago.”

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said 125 years was a significant milestone, especially for a building in a country as young as New Zealand.

“Since its first service, St Patrick’s Basilica has been the site for many important events – christenings, weddings and funerals amongst them,” Mr Kircher said.

“It has serviced the people of our town well for the past 125 years and may it continue to do so for a great many more years to come.”

The 125-year celebrations include guided tours by local historian Helen Stead and a vigil Mass at 6.30pm on Saturday, November 9.

St Patrick’s Basilica – a history

  • The inspiration and effort behind the building of St Patrick’s came from Father John Mackay, who became parish priest in Oamaru in March 1890.
  • Francis Petre was commissioned to design the building and tenders were called for in April 1893. Mr Petre was known by the nickname “Lord Concrete”, due to his early adoption of the material. While the majority of the church building was made with Oamaru stone, the bottom 2m is concrete – to prevent discolouration and decay from people touching it.
  • The parish accepted a tender from D.W. Woods of Dunedin to construct the basilica for dome, and the contract to build was signed on April 26, 1893. The foundation stone was laid on Trinity Sunday 1893, by Bishop Moran.
  • Construction was halted when Edward Weller (41) died from injuries he sustained when he fell from the roof on May 10, 1894. Mr Weller was working on the string course of the cornice. His grave, in the Anglican section of the Oamaru cemetery, reads that he died “falling from the new Catholic Church”.
  • The basilica was opened on November 18, 1894 by Bishop Grimes, of Christchurch. It was finally completed in 1918.

Source: Heritage NZ