With the appropriate ceremony, the laying of the foundation stone of the new Church of the Immaculate Conception at Geraldine was performed on 8 December, 1935 - the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by the Rt. Rev. Dr. M. J. Brodie, Bishop of Christchurch.
Seated on the platform, which was decorated with flowers and greenery, the Papal flag and the New Zealand Ensign being given prominence, were the Bishop of Christchurch (Dr. Brodie), the Rev. Father M. J. Fogarty (parish priest), the Mayor of Geraldine (Mr. B. R. MacDonald) and Mrs. MacDonald, the chairman of the Geraldine County Council (Mr. K. MacKenzie), Mr. T. D. Burnett, M.P., and Mr. C. Ley (Geraldine County). Other priests on the stage were Dean O'Donnell (Ashburton), Dr. Kennedy (Beckenham), the Rev. Bell, S. M., and C. Outtrim, S.M. (Temuka). J. Hanrahan (Riccarton), J. Hanrahan (Papanui), L. Smith, S.M., and B. Blake, S.M. (St. Bede's). F. Maguire (Adm. Christchurch Cathedral), F. Kelly (Ashburton), G. Daly (Addington), T. O'Regan (New Brighton), O. Gallagher (Fairlie), T. Creed (Leeston), M. Murphy, S.M. (Timaru), J. Hendren, S. M. (St. Mary's, Christchurch), P. O'Doherty (Akaroa), T. Brown (Methven), P. Madden (Lincoln).
“On my own behalf, and on behalf of the parishioners of Geraldine,” said Rev. Father M. J. Fogarty, “I extend from the depths of my heart a caed mile failte to each and every one of you. Many amongst you, and especially many of the priests, have traveled long distances and have made great sacrifices to be with us on this great occasion, and we deeply appreciate all your endeavours to honour us on this great day. The solemn ceremony which has just been performed by his Lordship links up the past, the pioneer days, with our time, and will go down into the years that are ahead, telling other people in other days of noble deeds by noble people. The priests and people of former days laid the foundation of our foundation, and to priests like Rev. Fathers Chataigner, Fauvel, Keane, Treacy, Very Rev. Dean Bowers, and Fathers J. O'Connor and J. S. Herbert, a great deal of credit is due. We are extremely sorry that the Very Rev. Dean Bowers could not be with us today, and we hope he will be in better health at opening time. The people in former days were, as they are today, always anxious and will to assist their priests in everything that tended to promote the greater honour and glory of God. Up there, in that magnificent Geraldine Bush, there is a huge tree. It is, I think about 6 feet in diameter. Now this huge tree reminds me of ‘Iggdrasil,’ a tree in Scandinavian mythology. ‘Iggdrasil’ has roots deep down among the dead and its branches in Heaven. It is a figure of our Faith! We see the trunk, this is the faithful on earth - the roots go down symbolic of our fathers who brought the faith to those far distant lands and are now with God in their celestial home beyond the miraculous skies. The roots go deeper down when we think of our ancestors who died for the Faith in early times. How well the blood of our Forefathers has watered the roots of this great tree which has spread its branches and borne fruit all over the world - in Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, in the great American land and in Australia and here in our beloved New Zealand. Our Church in Geraldine is one of the parts of that same Faith. Here then in this beautiful town, so richly adorned by the hand of Nature, we have laid the foundation stone of what, when finished, will be a gem, a splendid ornament giving glory to God, and calling on man to remember that here we have not a lasting city, and so to prepare for that heavenly Jerusalem by proudly honouring the teaching of Holy Faith. Let us then not only be proud of our fathers, forefathers, and ancestors, but imitate them in a practical manner. AT the dawn of Christianity, kings and wise men came with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; so do you come today to the laying of the foundation stone of this Church, your hearts laden with the gold of a simple and firm faith, the frankincense of Divine Love which sours to God and with the myrrh of confidence in the power and goodness of God.”
Father Fogarty expressed his grateful thanks to Bishop Brodie for his great kindness and his magnificent gift of £100 to the building fund. (Applause). He also expressed thanks to His Grace, Archbishop O'Shea, of Wellington, for his kindly letter and good wishes, and to His Grace, Archbishop Mannix of Melbourne, for his gift of £10, and to His Lordship, Bishop Fogarty, of Killaloe, Ireland, who had sent £10, which had meant that the bank had advanced £12 on account of the difference in exchange. (Laughter and applause). Father Fogarty continued that he was deeply grateful for the donations he had received from the priests, who had been most generous. Appropriate words of thanks could not adequately be spoken so he would sincerely say ‘Thank you’.
The Mayor of Geraldine (Mr. B. R. McDonal) extended a hearty welcome to His Lordship on behalf of the people of Geraldine. He recalled the difficulties of the early days, and said that he could recollect how the Rev. Father Chataigner (the pioneer priest in South Canterbury) had frequently stayed with the speaker's father at Waitui. He wished the parishioners every success.
Mr. T. D. Burnett, M. P., expressed his thanks to Father Fogarty for the kind invitation to be present. He referred to the traditions of the early Christian Church, and said that he hoped that, in the near future, there would be less disunity between the various branches of the Christian Church.
Other speakers were: Mr. K. McKenzie, chairman of the Geraldine County Council, the Rev. Father M. Murphy, S. M., Timaru, and the Very Rev. Dean O'Donnell. Father Fogarty apologized for the unavoidable absence of the Very Rev. Dean Bowers, who had sent a cheque for £25.
His Lordship acknowledged the very kind compliments which had been paid by the various speakers. The Mayor has a very precious trust in the welfare of Geraldine, and in regard to the proposal to divert the main highway from the town. They had not got all they had desired, but had gained a little recognition which would prove very helpful to the community in coming years. He wished the town every prosperity and success. Bishop Brodie continued that he was deeply indebted to Mr. Burnett for his remarks, and he complemented Mr. Burnett on having again been returned to the House, although he had been told that there had been something of a ‘landslide.’ He had not known exactly what that had meant, as in his position as a bishop he really did not know much about politics. (Laughter and applause). In spite of the hardship of ill-health, Mr. Burnett had sacrificed himself. As a bishop, he realized the difficulty of the present time, but seeing a man of Mr. Burnett's standing grasping the position,gave them heart in the work they had to do. He felt very much at home with Mr. MacKenzie and those who administered County affairs. Unfortunately there was a trend to devote too much time to the cities and to the growth of the cities at the expense of the rural communities. The Bishop complemented Father Fogarty on his splendid organization, which was a credit to him.
Continuing, he said that the ceremony performed that day was the same as that formulated by the church 300 years after the death of Our Divine Saviour, and included the historic text “Thou art Peter. Upon this rock I will build my Church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” How inspiring. “The Church,” he continued, “is more vigorous now than at any previous period of its existence, and they had the promise of God that it would ever be so - ‘Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world‘.” He hoped the new church would be a house of prayer where the choicest blessings of God would come to those who worshipped there. Today they were placing the keystone to the arch which had been commenced some eighty years ago. Father Fogarty had reminded them of the pioneer priests and the people who had been so zealous that they had walked miles to have Mass whenever the priest could visit the district.
Continuing, His Lordship remarked that a student of international affairs had informed him that there were only two solutions to the unemployment which existed throughout the world to-day; they must either have a war, or else go back to the land. War was certainly a cruel and sad solution, and it would be infinitely preferable to go back to the land. Mussolini had banished unemployment in his land, but he had done so by declaring war, and they had all been sad at the making of such a decision. In England the number of the unemployed was becoming less, but the explanation was that the fear of war in Europe had caused preparation in case England should be involved. It was a very sad development in the history of a grand country.
In Geraldine they had come to the second generation of a development, and the old Church had done duty for some 60 years, and it had become old and decayed, and now provided insufficient accommodation.
They must have a new Church which would help the development of the town of Geraldine, and it would be a memorial to the zeal of the people of the present day. In reverting to the back to the land appeal His Lordship had mentioned Lord Bledisloe who had said to him: “Your Lordship, you have one of the grandest countries in the world, but you must get more people, and closer settlement; you must inaugurate a campaign back to the land.” The farmers of Geraldine of 50 and 60 years ago had not accepted tempting cheques to part with their beautiful farms in spite of difficulties at various times, and their example was worthy of emulation by those of the present generation. It was for that reason, said His Lordship, that Geraldine would be an ideal locality for the back to the land campaign.
In conclusion the Bishop remarked that he understood that Father Fogarty had a ‘five year plan,’ but he hoped that a country other than Russia had sponsored the idea. (laughter.) They had been so generous in their response and such enthusiasm had been shown that probably Father Fogarty would find his building plan completed in one year, and that the speaker would have the honour in a year's time of dedicating the new church, free of debt, as a memorial to the faith of priests and people of the parish of the past, and to the zeal, enthusiasm, and generosity of the people of Geraldine of the present day. (Applause.)
During the laying of the foundation stone the gathering sang the hymn, Oh Mother I Could Weep for Mirth, and other hymns were Sweet Sacrament Divine, and Faith of Our Fathers.
At the conclusion of the service, afternoon tea was served to those present.