Some History of
The Church of The Immaculate Conception - Geraldine


History of the Parish

The first Catholic settlers in the Geraldine district were visited from Christchurch by the Rev. Father John Baptist Chataigner, who was affectionately known as “the Apostle of Canterbury,” and the Rev. Father Claude Chervier, who, laden with their swags, swam the rivers of Canterbury in their regular journeying to reach their scattered flock. In 1869, Father Chataigner became resident priest of a district stretching from Geraldine to Waimate. Six years later, in 1875, Temuka, with Geraldine as a part, was made a separate parish. The Rev. Father Louis Fauval was appointed the first resident priest at Temuka in 1876, and he built the first church in Geraldine in 1878.

In 1884, Geraldine was made a parish separate from Temuka, with the Rev. Father Keane as rector and the first resident priest. The news of Rev. Father Keane's appointment was greeted with much satisfaction by Catholics in Geraldine, and in a very short time Father Keane enlarged the church and built the Presbytery.

After two years, Father Keane removed to Sydney for health reasons, and was succeeded by the Rev. Father Bowers, later the Very Rev. Dean Bowers, of Christchurch.

The Rev. Father Treacy was the parish priest from 1889 to 1893, while Father Bowers had charge of St. Leo's Academy in Christchurch. In 1893, Father Bowers returned to Geraldine and remained till 1921.

The parish was then confided to the Marist Fathers, to Father J. F. O'Connor, S.M., from 1921 till 1925, and to Father J. S. Herbert, S. M., from 1925 till February, 1934.

The Rev. Father M. J. Fogarty was transferred to Geraldine from Darfield in succession to Father Herbert. He was the parish priest at the time of 1st. November 1936.

During Father Bowers' second term of office, he established a fund as the nucleus for the building of a new church. A number of generous gifts and bequests were made, and the fund was further augmented during the terms of Father O'Connor and Father Herbert. By the time Father Herbert left for Waimate, the building Fund had reached the handsome total of ?.

As soon as Father Fogarty was appointed to the parish, he made strenuous efforts to bring the building scheme to fruition. With the enthusiastic support of the congregation, these efforts were so successful that, by the 8 December, 1935, the Foundation Stone of the new building was laid by His Lordship, Bishop Brodie.

Striking evidence of the wide interest in the new church is shown by the fact that Father Fogarty has received a donation of ? from His Grace, Dr. Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, and another of ? from the Most Rev. Dr. Fogarty, Bishop of Killaloe, Ireland, an uncle of the present priest.

The honour of turning the first sod in connection with the new work was accorded to Mr. Patrick Lysaght., of Orari Bridge, the oldest parishioner. The event occasioned the recall of the early days of the pioneer settlers in the Geraldine district. The first catholic community had been formed by a number of Irishmen who had come to New Zealand for the most part from the goldfields of Maryborough and Ballarat in Victoria.

The Sons of Erin, at first attracted by the timber-milling industry in South Canterbury, later settled on the land as farmers. The last part of the bush to be sawn out became approximately the site of the present township of Geraldine.

In the early days, the priests said Masses at the settlers' homes principally at Kyran Brophy's place. The usual mode of conveyance of the day was the horse and dray.

The daily lives of the settlers were simple, homely, and beset with continual hardship; their chief amusement was cross-road dances in the open - the music being supplied by concertinas, flutes and fiddles.

Development, however, when it did come, came very rapidly.

The opening of the new church marks an important stage in the progressive development of the Geraldine district, and the building stands as a monument to the loyal faith of the Catholic community, present as well as past - a guarantee of the perpetuation of the magnificent spirit actuating the early pioneers.

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