Our recent Regional Rally weekend was held at Peter Chanel school grounds, adjacent to St Mary’s Catholic Church. Pukekaraka Catholic Mission was founded in 1844 by French priests. This is one of the few marae in the country that is not associated with any particular tribe, so is open to everyone. Several church services took place over the weekend, but the doors were left open for visitors to explore.
The interior of the old church is light and airy and is adorned with trails of hand painted fleur-de-lis. The statues of Mary and St Joseph were gifts sent out from France from the sisters of the resident priest at the time, Fr Melu.
The new extension grows out of the original church to link all buildings on the site and was completed in 1992. The bell tower was rebuilt at this time, as it had been demolished many years earlier in 1929 after the devastating Murchison (South Island) earthquake.
The woven tukutuku panels in the entranceway were made by local people, who gathered the materials and spent five months on it’s construction.
We walked through the doors into the golden glow of the church, which had sunlight streaming in through the large window.
The French colonial style presbytery built in 1897 during the ministry of Father Francis Melu. It is a large wooden, two-storey building, with a hipped corrugated iron roof. It has an unusual verandah on the front facade, with a triple sunburst motif under the first floor balcony. This building has been empty for some time, and is no longer used for it’s original purpose.
There are two buildings in the Marae which were built in the early 1900’s. The symbol over the larger meeting house, known as Hine, is an “M” for Mary, and a globe representing the world. Roma is the name of the smaller house and the symbol represents the keys Christ gave to St Peter.
A pathway starting at the Wall of Reconciliation passes the Grotto to Mary and leads up to to the Stations of the Cross. The wall was built in 1910 by people from the Ngati Muaupoko tribe who had previously considered the local Maori as their enemies. The wall was built as a symbol of reconciliation between people.
We enjoyed our weekend camping in these beautiful grounds. The Headmistress of Peter Chanel School warmly welcomed us to her school, and shared some of the history of the buildings and the grounds. She took us on a tour through the churches, and guided us up the hill where there are a number of early graves. This is a very peaceful place, quite lovely, and just brimming with early Otaki history.