St John Paul’s NZ chair has a few secrets to keep


A chair was especially constructed for St John Paul to use during his visit to New Zealand in 1986.

The fact that a Protestant was the first person to use it is a source of quiet amusement for the man who constructed it.

Upholsterer Colin Loach tells how he put the very large chair in front of his elderly neighbour’s door.

“He wandered out with his leg in plaster and a smoke in his mouth and in his pyjamas, of course and said, ‘What the bloody hell’s that?’ I said to him, ‘It’s the Pope’s throne’.”

“And that was when he collapsed in the chair, had his photo taken and declared himself the world’s first Presbyterian Pope!”

For security reasons, Loach worked on the chair in secret, not even telling his children what he was doing.

Before completing it, he slipped something special inside.

For many years Loach had been a tram driver at both Ferrymead Heritage Park.

On the back of a photo of a Christchurch tram he wrote his and Joe O’Neill’s details, identifying them as the chair’s makers.

“And I stuffed it in among the springs. I must say I was quietly amused to see him there [the Pope, at Lancaster Park] in all his glory.”

“Little did he know he was sitting on a picture of a Christchurch tram!”

O’Neill, a cabinetmaker, made the frame of the chair. Sisters from the Carmelite Monastery of Christ the King embroidered the Pope’s Coat of Arms onto a piece of cream velvet.

After being rescued from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament the chair has been stored along with other items from the Cathedral in six securely locked shipping containers near the ruined building.

This is a digest of a story produced by Justin Gregory and used archival audio from Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision.  You can subscribe or listen to every Eyewitness podcast on iTunes or at






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News category: New Zealand.

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