Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington

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Archdiocese of Wellington

Archidioecesis Vellingtonensis

Sacred Heart Cathedral.jpg
CountryNew Zealand
TerritorySouthern North Island and Northern South Island
Area13,831 sq mi (35,820 km2)
- Total
- Catholics
(as of 2014)
78,198 (12.6%)
DenominationRoman Catholic
RiteRoman Rite
EstablishedMay 10, 1887
CathedralCathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Saint Mary His Mother
Patron saintSacred Heart and Our Lady
Current leadership
Metropolitan ArchbishopJohn Atcherley Dew
Archbishop of Wellington
Bishops emeritusCardinal Thomas Stafford Williams
Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington

The Latin Rite Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington is the Metropolitan Archdiocese of New Zealand. Catholics number about 83,214 (2006 census). Parishes number 47 and the archdiocese extends over central New Zealand between Levin and Masterton in the north to Kaikoura to Westport in the south.[1]



The Catholic faith of the new immigrants to Wellington was initially sustained through the efforts of Dr John Fitzgerald who arrived on 31 January 1840, he led the Sunday prayers and organised Christian Doctrine classes. The first resident priest was the Capuchin Father Jeremiah O’Riley who arrived as chaplain to Hon Henry William Petre, a director of the New Zealand Company and one of the founders of Wellington. O’Riley arrived in January 1843 and within a year the first, small Catholic church was built and dedicated to the Nativity. Meanwhile, the Auckland-based French Marists ministered extensively throughout the country and Fr J.B. Compte SM established a permanent mission at Otaki in 1844.[2]


In June 1848, Pope Pius IX divided New Zealand into two dioceses, Auckland and Wellington, consisting of the lower half of the North Island and the whole of the South Island. Bishop Philippe Viard, who arrived in Wellington on the barque “Clara” on 1 May 1850, was the first Bishop. With him were five Marist priests, ten lay brothers, two lay male teachers, three Māori and four young women, the “Sisters of Mary” who commenced teaching at what became St Mary’s College and Sacred Heart Cathedral School.[2]


Viard bought and was given land in Thorndon on which his residence, St Mary’s Convent and St Mary's Cathedral were built. Fr Garin and Br Clause went to Nelson to establish the church there. Fr Lampila and two others established a mission in Hawkes Bay. Fr Forest and Mr Huntley worked in the Hutt Valley. Fathers Petitjean and Seon travelled extensively throughout the South Island. By 1852 a parish had been established in Whanganui and the Māori mission on the Whanganui River had a resident priest. For ten years, however, Viard received no reinforcements and illness took a toll on his personnel. In March 1860 the Sisters of Mercy arrived from Auckland to take over the works of the four Sisters of Mary.[2]


In 1859 three more Marist priests arrived and pastors could be provided to New Plymouth, Christchurch and Dunedin; the discovery of gold in 1857 and after meant a rapid expansion of the Church on the West Coast, and Dunedin which became a separate diocese in 1869. Irish priests arrived and followed their compatriots and their families to the diggings; the Sisters of the Missions also arrived to establish schools in Napier (Sacred Heart College (Napier) and St Joseph's Māori Girls' College) and in Christchurch and Nelson.[2]


Bishop Viard died on 2 June 1872 and was succeeded by Bishop Francis Redwood SM who was to remain ordinary of the Diocese for 61 years; the Diocese was raised to an Archdiocese on 10 May 1887 and Christchurch became a separate diocese. Thomas O’Shea SM became his Coadjutor Archbishop in 1913 and remained so for 22 years. Redwood died in 1935 and was succeeded by O’Shea whose archepiscopate lasted for 12 years. Peter McKeefry was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop in 1947 and succeeded on the death of O’Shea in 1954. McKeefry was appointed as a Cardinal in 1969 and was assisted by Bishop Owen Snedden who was auxiliary bishop from 1962.[2]


During McKeefry’s episcopate the Catholic population of Wellington more than doubled and 39 new parishes were established. New orders arrived such as the Cistercians in Hawkes Bay. McKeefry, who became New Zealand's first cardinal in 1967, was succeeded in 1973 by Cardinal Reginald Delargey and he in turn was succeeded, on his death in 1978, by Archbishop Thomas Williams who was made a cardinal in 1983. In 1980 the Archdiocese was split with the creation of the Palmerston North Diocese. Williams retired in March 2005 and Archbishop John Dew was appointed as his replacement, he was appointed as a cardinal in 2015.[2]


In 2019, Cardinal Dew, addressing the state of the church's buildings and the future of their congregations, stated that soaring insurance costs and a dwindling number of priests meant that the resources of the archdiocese would have to be more efficiently used, he said that fewer resources would be poured into retaining buildings, and more attention and energy would be focused on serving the poor, as required by Pope Francis and the Synod. He said that earthquake resilience issues meant that the archdiocese was liable for unsustainable insurance costs and the strengthening of buildings with unacceptable New Building Standard ratings. Already four churches and Sacred Heart Cathedral had been closed because of this, he also stated that some parishes would need to amalgamate to cope with the lack of clergy. He said that the reduced number of priests, which was accelerating each year, meant that in most parishes there was a single priest - often elderly - expected to minister in more than one church. Availability and ability of priests were highly significant factors governing decisions for the future that could not be delayed. Between 2013 to 2017 the Archdiocese had carried out a parish amalgamation process, which led to the reduction in parishes from 47 to 22 and many of the new parishes had too many churches, presbyteries and other buildings.[3]

Ordinaries of Wellington[edit]

Philippe Viard was Vicar Apostolic of the Diocese of Wellington from 1848 until 1860 when he became the Bishop of Wellington. Francis Redwood was Bishop of that diocese until 1887 when he became Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Wellington (created in that year) and Metropolitan of New Zealand. All incumbents since then carry those latter two titles.

Tenure Incumbent Life
1848–1860 Philippe-Joseph Viard S.M. Vicar Apostolic (1809–1872)
1860–1872 Philippe-Joseph Viard S.M. Bishop of Wellington
1874–1887 Francis Mary Redwood S.M. Bishop of Wellington (1839–1935)
1887–1935 Francis Mary Redwood S.M. Archbishop of Wellington
1935–1954 Thomas O'Shea, SM (1870–1954)
1954–1973 Peter Thomas Bertram Cardinal McKeefry (1899–1973)
1974–1979 Reginald John Cardinal Delargey (1914–1979)
1979–2005 Thomas Stafford Cardinal Williams (b. 1930)
2005 to present John Atcherley Cardinal Dew (b. 1948)

Other Bishops[edit]

  • Owen Snedden (1917-1981), Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington, (1962-1981)

Secondary schools[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington
  • "Archdiocese of Wellington". Catholic-Hierarchy. Retrieved 7 January 2007.
  • Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington (accessed 11 February 2011).


  1. ^ Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington website (retrieved 15 March 2011)
  2. ^ a b c d e f "History of the Archdiocese of Wellington", Archdiocese of Wellington, 2006(?), pp. 1 and 2.
  3. ^ Tommy Livingston, "Cardinal John Dew calls for overhaul of Catholic Church in Wellington Archdiocese", Stuff News, 1 April 2019 (Retrieved 02 April 2019)

Coordinates: 41°16′37″S 174°46′33″E / 41.27694°S 174.77583°E / -41.27694; 174.77583