Principal’s Message

Sancta Maria – Our Catholic History and how it connects to our school Whakapapa…

A rich tapestry.

Early this year, the Senior Leadership Team accompanied the 2023 Prefect Leaders on a pilgrimage to the Hokianga.  There was a pōwhiri welcome on our arrival at Tamatea Marae in Motuti, where we stayed.  We visited Totara Point, once the property of timber merchant Thomas and Mary Poynton who were among the founding laity of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand.  This site was where Bishop Pompallier, the first celebrant held the first Mass on New Zealand soil on 13th January 1838.  Great numbers of Catholics make their way to the Hokianga close to this date in January each year to celebrate Mass.  Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier became the first Catholic Bishop in Aotearoa, New Zealand.  On our visit, our Special Character Leaders and Head Prefects led us with a Liturgy at Totara Point.

Bishop Pompallier was particularly revered by the Maori people of Hokianga and was sympathetic to their concerns and had an enlightened attitude towards Maori culture.  Following 30 years of missionary work in New Zealand, he returned to France.  He died and was buried at Puteaux near Paris.  His grave was visited by many travellers from New Zealand.

During the 1990s many voices began to call for the return of the Founding Bishop and in 2001 the New Zealand Catholic Bishops gave thanks to the consent and cooperation of the Pompallier family and the Bishops of France, that he would be returned to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

In 2002, a large gathering of bishops, clergy, religious and laity saw the reinterment of the Bishop’s coffin.  Sister Magdalen accompanied us to St Mary’s Church and joined us in prayer while we gave our personal respects to Bishop Pompallier who lay in his resting place beneath the altar in St Mary’s Church, Motuti.






During our stay at Tamatea Marae, Sister Magdalen and Joan from the Marae, took us through the beautiful museum that captures photographs, stories, and photos of significance in the history of the Catholic Church in New Zealand.  Sister Magdalen worked very closely with the late Father Henare Tate who researched these historical records that feature in the museum.

Bishop Pompallier, is a specially honoured pioneer of the New Zealand Catholic Church, arrived in the Hokianga from France in 1838 with a group of Marist Priests.  With this group, he sailed around Aotearoa, New Zealand taking Catholicism to communities in the early 1840s on the mission schooner Sancta Maria.

Sancta Maria is a Latin title for ‘Mary the Mother of God’ and it means ‘Holy Mary’.  On the Sancta Maria were administered the first baptisms in Otago and it brought back from Futuna to New Zealand the remains of St Peter Chanel.  Fathers Garin and Viard who accompanied Bishop Pompallier established the Churches in Howick and Panmure in East Auckland.

We also travelled to the Bay of Islands where Bishop Pompallier bought land in Russell.  We visited the Pompallier Mission and Printery House, once the French Catholic mission to the Western Pacific.  The visit gave an insight into the original purpose the House was built for as a printery, and also as a tannery for book-binding.  It produced its first Māori translations of religious texts.