Father David Gledhill – Pākehā priest among Māori

In his last year at school David Gledhill was asked about his future plans. Put on the spot, David admitted that he was considering study for the priesthood…

“I thought ‘I’ll give it a go. They’ll discover I’m not suitable. Then I’ll go home and get on with the rest of my life’.” But they never did. I’m still at it 50 years on!”

Listen to David Gledhill in conversation with Jerome Cvitanovich here.

In the late 1950s David joined students from around New Zealand to begin training at the Society of Mary’s seminary in Hawkes Bay – Mount St Mary’s.

The Society began in France but traces its origins in New Zealand back to the landing of Bishop Pompallier in the Hokianga in 1838. Two Marists came with Pompallier on that journey – Father Servant  and Brother Michel. Their arrival is regarded as the beginning of the Catholic Mission in New Zealand – much of it focused on a mission to Māori.

Fr David’s original plan was to volunteer for missionary work overseas. But in his last years of seminary training he was asked to consider staying in New Zealand.

In 1966, shortly after his ordination, his superior sent him a short note advising him of his posting.

“Dear David,” it read. “You are appointed to Hato Paora college. You may do university if you wish. Kind Regards.“

Hato Paora is a Maori boys boarding college near Fielding, founded in 1947. It was run in those days by the priests and brothers of the Society of Mary.

For the newly ordained priest the school was a culture shock. “I was a pākehā boy from the South Island. I really had no idea of the family Māori. Like most European New Zealanders, I thought we were all Kiwis… untiI I got to Hato Paora”. Continue reading


  • Radio NZ, interview and article by Jerome Cvitanovich.
  • Image: Pā Piripi Cody SM
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